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Banishment not the answer
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, Sept 28, 2012

Yellowknife city council candidate Beaton MacKenzie has raised some eyebrows with his stance that the City of Yellowknife should urge the Department of Justice to send released inmates back to their home communities in an effort to clean up downtown streets.

Although only a very small percentage of criminals released from the North Slave Correctional Centre stay in Yellowknife by request, and the department typically does return inmates to their communities, MacKenzie's statement does more than just draw attention to his candidacy.

It reflects the frustration of people who keep running into drunk and homeless individuals on downtown streets. They want something done about the problem.

While MacKenzie seems to believe sending the offenders among those troubled people back to their home communities will solve the problem, we suggest there is more to consider. The issue is much more morally and legally complex than simply shipping off those released from custody, including the many who were incarcerated for relatively minor offences - usually fuelled by substance abuse.

It's actually a mental health issue in many cases. It is frequently an issue of people who require detoxification, followed by psychiatric care, counselling or other forms of treatment, with their consent.

Let's not forget that governing bodies cannot withhold the mobility rights of citizens. There is nothing preventing a released offender from staying in Yellowknife or travelling back to the capital after they have returned to their home community.

At the end of the day, MacKenzie's statement underlines a demonstrated need for a dedicated facility to provide assistance to those members of society who are suffering from mental-health issues, drug addiction, alcoholism and other conditions.

Banishment isn't the answer.

Athletes shortchanged by AWG decision
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, Sept 28, 2012

What would have happened to Michael Gilday's speedskating career had the Arctic Winter Games organizing committee decided to scrap speedskating in 1998?

The first gold ulu an 11-year-old Gilday earned at those hometown games in Yellowknife would have been an unfulfilled dream, of course. But what about the five golden ulus he captured two years later in Whitehorse? Or the four more he claimed at the 2002 Arctic Winter Games in Iqaluit? Or the five after that in 2004 at Fort McMurray?

Would Gilday, now 25, be sitting at the pinnacle of potential Olympic glory today had the rug been pulled from beneath his fledgling speedskating career before his first taste of international success 14 years ago?

We never had to ask these questions, of course, because speedskating remained an integral part of the Games during all those years. Gilday and his sister Jill, who finished first twice in her category at the Arctic Winter Games in 2004 and 2006, had an important venue at an early age in which to hone their chosen sport. Michael went on to become a member of the national team with a real shot at the Winter Olympics in 2014.

The same can't be said about the up-and-comers heading into the 2016 Arctic Winter Games in Nuuk, Greenland. The organizing committee has cut speedskating from those games, along with gymnastics, figure skating, curling, and dogsledding. Because Nuuk is incapable of hosting these sports, those athletes must do without that critical exposure to international competition in 2016.

Such a pity. Yellowknife, with a population of 19,200, has just a few thousand more people than Nuuk but is capable of hosting all the sports that fall under the AWG banner. Yellowknife taxpayers made certain of this by forking over hard-earned dollars to pay for multi-million dollar facilities.

Two questions for the AWG organizing committee: What has Nuuk done to deserve the games, and why are our young athletes losing out so Greenland can host them?

Give youth a centre
Editorial Comment
Miranda Scotland
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012

During Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger's visit to Fort Simpson on Sept. 19 the village's mayor brought up the need for a youth centre in the region.

The kids need somewhere to go after school to keep them out of trouble, Sean Whelly told the small crowd gathered in the Dehcho First Nations office.

How right he is.

A centre in the village and other small Northern communities would be beneficial to the kids in the community and there is reason to believe that over time it would also help reduce the overwhelming social problems seen on the streets of Yellowknife.

Studies have shown that about 40 to 50 per cent of homeless youth living in major centres are originally from rural areas. Their presence increases the strain and cost on the city's social programs as well as the justice system. Currently, the GNWT spends $98 million on justice and public safety, which accounts for 8.5 per cent of the budget.

But, early intervention can reduce the number of kids who find themselves living difficult lives.

A study by the Centre for Research on Youth at Risk at St. Thomas University in Fredericton shows the peak times for youth crime is between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m, the time after school while they're idle.

Youth centres help prevent kids from engaging in delinquent behaviours, such as committing small crimes, drinking and doing drugs, by fighting off boredom and keeping their minds focused on positive activities.

This is especially important in the North because youths here are more likely to smoke, while one in four boys in the region report heavy drinking practices, according to Statistics Canada's study on health status and behaviours of Canada's youth.

More than that, youth centres provide young people with a safe place to seek assistance with any issues they might need help resolving. This is key given that youth in rural areas, and especially those living in the North, are at a higher risk to commit suicide compared with those living in major urban centres.

A youth centre, while expensive in the short-term, has many long-term benefits down the road and in the end the positive results will more than likely outweigh the costs. The government should look into building a youth centre in Fort Simpson or give incentives to encourage a non-profit organization to take on the work.

Check the box
Editorial Comment
Danielle Sachs
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012

Residents across the NWT will head to the polls Oct. 15 for municipal elections.

Locally, in Inuvik, there's a wealth of choice for consideration.

There are two mayoral candidates and 15 residents standing for the available eight councillor jobs.

We're lucky to have choices and options and shouldn't waste it by skipping the vote.

In the last municipal election, held in 2009, Denny Rodgers won over Derek Lindsay by 180 votes.

In total, 956 votes were cast for the position -- just under 400 for Lindsay and 568 for Rodgers.

The 2009 election turnout was an improvement over the one held in 2006, which drew only 777 votes.

More people should make an effort to vote in municipal elections. It's promising that numbers have gone up over the past two elections but local voices matter and electing someone that understands what it's like to live in your community is of utmost importance.

Who else can bring local concerns to territorial and federal attention?

Sure, the mayoral position is paid, but there are eight councillors who basically work a second full-time job for free.

It's not made for everyone, which is what makes it so impressive that there are so many choices for residents.

No one is saying it's easy living in Inuvik right now. Energy costs are rising and people are saying they've never seen so many houses for sale at once.

It's amazing that there are so many candidates willing to deal with these issues and take a stand for the community.

It is all because they care about their community and the people who live in it.

Yes, it's important to vote but it's equally important to understand the choices.

That's why we'll be profiling each candidate, both returning and new, so you can get to know a little bit more about the people who are running.

With all these people willing to take on a role to represent their neighbours and their community, the least the rest of us can do is take five minutes to put pencil to paper.

Deadly combination
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, Sept 26, 2012

For generations, young people have been hearing messages about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse from parents, teachers, peers and police officers. It's not working.

Last week, the chief coroner of the NWT asked everyone in the community to face the grim facts.

Cathy Menard took the unusual step of releasing information about the fatal overdose of 20-year-old Jessica Koe prior to the publication of a complete coroner's report.

Koe, who was found dead in a cabin off Highway 3 near Yellowknife last spring, died from a lethal mix of alcohol, morphine and cocaine, according to a toxicity report conducted as part of a coroner's inquest.

Koe's death is part of a tragic trend and Menard is making sure Yellowknife residents are aware of the long-term statistics.

Between 2001 and 2010 in the NWT, almost half of suicide deaths were drug- and alcohol-related, while 57 per cent of accidental deaths and more than 75 per cent of homicides involved drugs or alcohol during the same period.

The coroner also regularly finds drugs, particularly alcohol, in the system of people who die from natural causes.

"I think when you look at the statistics, there's proof that more work is needed to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol and drugs and mixing them together," Menard said.

The wide variety of drugs being mixed with alcohol is nothing short of disturbing. Earlier this year Menard concluded that 29-year-old medevac nurse Tara Osmond died in 2009 from a mix of alcohol, narcotic pain relievers, minor tranquilizers, an antihistamine and an antidepressant, some of which had been taken intravenously.

Osmond's death prompted Menard to recommend that "Stanton Territorial Health Authority complete an independent audit during the lifetime of all medevac services contracts to ensure policies and proper procedures are being followed for quality assurance."

Koe's death underscores the need for institutions and authorities to take swift and serious measures to restrict the illegal flow of medicinal drugs into the community.

Health education should reflect the reality that Yellowknifers are being exposed to a wide variety of illegal drugs so at-risk individuals become aware that such substances are deadly.

The rest of society also must take a sober second look at ways the community at large can guide people of all ages, but young people in particular, away from self-destructive drug and alcohol abuse and toward more healthy ways of coping with stresses and struggles.

Midget hockey might never return
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, Sept 26, 2012

It's hard to believe it's already been eight years since peewee hockey was last played at the Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in 2004 at Fort McMurray, Alta.

For a sport many Northerners are supposedly so passionate about, the outcry over dumping the peewees was surprisingly low key.

There were some complaints and a few letters written, but, overall, it was more than a little tame.

The lack of resistance to losing the peewees had more to do with political correctness than the kids who, arguably, best exemplified the true spirit of the Games.

The popular consensus at the time was that the choice of who was to be dropped came down to the peewees and female hockey.

And in a world of political correctness gone mad, nobody was going to say it should be the girls let go.

It was also pointed out the peewees still had four more years of AWG eligibility, so they'd get their chance to compete and at a higher level.

Fast forward to today and after Fairbanks, Ala., in 2014, Nuuk, Greenland, is set to host the 2016 Games.

It's been announced Nuuk will not have curling, figure skating, shorttrack speed skating, dog mushing, gymnastics or midget hockey.

Nunavut is trying to help, with Iqaluit to host bantam and female hockey.

Some involved with gymnastics and speedskating have cried foul and intend to protest the decision to the highest levels of government.

But still not a whisper from the Northern hockey world, despite its creme de la creme of minor hockey being axed from the AWG.

Apparently, even when it's their showcase event, hockey folks are loathe to speak up for fear of angering the funding agents or getting a nasty letter from a Gloria Steinem disciple.

This is not to knock female hockey - a wonderful sport in its own right - but if the AWG committee has decided a hockey bracket must go, eliminating its premiere spectacle is pure folly.

Many of these midget players will have spent up to 10 years in their minor hockey system, only to have the biggest event of their hockey lives ripped away from them.

With peewee hockey long gone, many of those in the 2016 age group will only have the chance to play in the AWG once as a bantam.

Hardly seems fair does it?

The move also puts a great deal of pressure on female hockey to ice a competitive division in 2016 (sorry, folks, it's not just about fun at this level), something it's rarely been able to do.

When one looks at the numbers (only 25 of 314 midgets registered in the NWT and Nunavut in 2011-12 were female, and only 474 were registered in total for all ages) it's easy to see why.

At the 2012 AWG, the Nunavut females lost three games by a combined score of 42-0, while the NWT went 1-4 and were outscored 34-5.

The Nunavut midget boys won bronze in 2012, while the NWT took silver after losing 2-1 in the final.

Dropping the midgets in 2016 has nothing to do with sportsmanship, competitiveness or fairness.

It has everything to do with one thing and one thing only - politics.

Hopefully, we'll see the midgets back in 2018, but there's no guarantee once they're out the door.

GNWT financial priorities
NWT News/North - Monday, Sept 24, 2012

As summer fades and winter draws near, the often quiet NWT legislative assembly is entering into one of its most stressful times of year.

Between now and February, territorial politicians will be deciding how to spend taxpayers' money. A wish list crowded with infrastructure needs, programming desires and rising costs of essential and basic services will present the usual challenge of dividing too few dollars among too many pots.

The result is usually met with disappointment and protests as citizens disagree with such decisions. Although the outrage is often varied, it is frequently voiced the same way - "Why doesn't the government listen?"

Well, perhaps this year the GNWT will be listening. Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger has embarked on a territorial fact-finding mission to discover what Northerners want their money - and about $1 billion of federal funding -- spent on.

Miltenberger's tour, which began in Inuvik on Sept. 17 and wraps up in Yellowknife on Oct. 23, is bound to yield a bounty of spending ideas. Among the items near the top of the list, at least in dollar amounts, will surely be helping Norman Wells and Inuvik out of their present energy crunch, implementing a territorial midwife program, addictions treatment expansion, long-term care for our aging population, and the perennial call for more health professionals, better schools, jobs, and a road up the Mackenzie Valley.

That small list alone is worth tens of billions of dollars. With an annual budget of a little more than $1 billion, the GNWT can't possibly hope to meet those demands.

Miltenberger said the tour is sincere and not merely a publicity stunt. When the final spending plan is released early next year, his statement will be put to the test. It's simply not possible for every item suggested to make the final cut. But, hopefully, the government will choose the best priorities with the information it gathers.

Come the next election this exercise should help voters decide if their elected representatives truly listen to them, and that should help them vote accordingly.

Collaborate to strengthen suicide prevention
Nunavut News/North - Monday, Sept 24, 2012

The numbers don't lie. There is an epidemic of suicides in Canada's North.

Strength and support can be summoned, however, by looking past territorial borders and learning from each other to stop these unnecessary deaths. Sharing observations, programming ideas and analysis of results will build better equipped armies working on all sides to combat the fierce pain and loneliness being felt by too many of the North's people.

Between 2003 and 2007, 39 people in the NWT took their own lives. In Nunavut, the stats are even more grim. As of Aug. 31, Nunavut has experienced 18 suicides this year and a staggering 379 since 1999. The territory has a suicide rate 11 times the national average.

The GN has failed to develop a mental health facility or addictions centre, and has made little progress in hiring more mental health professionals in the communities. Nunavut's Suicide Prevention Strategy was just launched 12 months ago after years of development, years of loss. The NWT is introducing its Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan this year. The initial steps to establish a sorely needed support system are being taken.

The similar programming the NWT and Nunavut show the territories are already moving in parallel directions. Both territories have been laying the groundwork for community members to acquire the knowledge to act in raw, emotional and high-pressure situations through the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) program. This way, resources such as someone who knows the signs of a severely depressed person, someone who has intervention skills and someone who can aid in the healing and grieving process will be accessible right in the community, by someone who is invested in the place they call home.

The wounds have common root causes for aboriginal people throughout Canada's North: forced relocation and assimilation, poverty, a disruption of cultural identity and a healthy community, struggle with addictions and a lack of mental health support. The victims of suicide are similar as well. The victims are youth. The victims are men more than women.

Increased collaboration to guide our way through the darkness that has been plaguing the people of the North for decades would be wise. Governments play a key role, but cannot solely solve this problem. Looking to our neighbours for support, for suggestions and solutions is not an act of weakness.

We don't know all the answers to stop this often silent killer, but by sharing strategies across the North we improve the odds of saving precious lives.

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