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Save money by saving lives
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 8, 2013

Money should be no obstacle when it comes to desperately-needed treatment services for Yellowknife residents afflicted by alcohol and substance addictions.

Professionals and a designated treatment centre are needed to help people live productive lives, not only because it is the compassionate thing to do but also because it will save taxpayers money in the long run.

Take, for example, the case of Rose Martel, a 39-year-old 14-time repeat offender who is serving five months in jail for a shoplifting spree that took place over 21 months. Martel's string of crimes began at Canadian Tire in April 2011, followed by Shoppers Drug Mart, the Yellowknife Downtown Liquor Store and, last month, Barren Land Jewellery, where she stole a rack of earrings valued at $1,665.

Martel has a painful past, and satisfying her crack cocaine addiction is the motive for her crimes, according to her lawyer.

Also disturbing is the case of Shane Elanik, a 35-year-old offender with 56 prior convictions who was sentenced to 30 months in jail for nine more convictions, most of them related to a month-long rash of thefts late last summer. He stole from the Old Airport Road Extra Foods, Sears, and broke into Acme Analytical Labs Ltd., the Super 8 Motel, and Staples, where he stole laptops valued at $1,945. He also attempted to steal cash from the Monkey Tree Gas Bar.

Like Martel, Elanik suffered a painful past, and similar to Martel, his lawyer said feeding a crack cocaine addiction was the motive for his crimes.

Clearly, the court costs and costs to businesses that were the victims of these crimes makes a mark on the public and private bottom lines. Reaching out to support people with addictions before they end up in jail, or soon after they are released, is key to cutting this human and economic toll.

Yesterday's territorial budget announced $1.15 million for mental health and addictions prevention and awareness initiatives. The funding also aims to develop detox program models, improve case management for people dealing with mental health issues, and connecting clients with mental health treatment and follow- up services through the tele-health system.

Another $339,000 is being set aside to continue the pilot alcohol and drug treatment program at the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre in Hay River, where a majority of the offenders suffer substance abuse problems.

However, the new funding merely represents a refinement and maintenance of the status quo when it comes to pulling addicts away from the criminal margins of society.

More in-depth intervention is needed given the scale of the problem in the NWT, which is concentrated in the capital - the North's largest centre and the place where many addicts from communities land. This will come at a cost.

Operational expenditures for the Department of Justice, of which court costs account for a substantial portion of the expense, amount to almost $117 million in the 2013-2014 budget. Each person accused of crimes costs thousands of dollars in expenses related to police, court clerks, judges, and jail staff if they are kept in custody or given a sentence behind bars.

Money spent on a Yellowknife treatment centre would be a wise investment to help lower these lofty figures over the long term while improving lives along the way.


Serving in a red hoodie
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 7, 2013

It's great to hear about the strength of the Canadian Ranger patrol in Fort Providence.

The patrol has more than 30 members, 21 of whom participated in a training session and on-the-land patrol last month. As the five-day patrol demonstrated, the Ranger program brings with it a number of positive benefits.

One of the great parts of the Ranger's program is the emphasis it places on traditional and bush skills.

Being on the land is one of the parts of being a Ranger that Sgt. Clifford Vandell, the officer in charge of the Fort Providence Rangers, enjoys most. Vandell joined the Rangers 13 years ago after being away from Fort Providence for approximately eight years.

He wanted to get out on the land more often and learn more while he was there. It's great to be on the land and learn from more experienced Rangers, he said.

In the Deh Cho, a lot of emphasis is placed on the importance of teaching youth traditional skills. However, there is seldom talk of how to pass on or strengthen those same skills in adults who may not have learned them, or simply haven't had many chances to use them.

The Rangers fills that gap. Sgt. Marcy Maddison, a Ranger instructor, said the annual patrols gives the older Rangers a chance to pass on knowledge to the younger ones.

"They've got that experience on the land," she said.

In addition to passing on bush skills, the Canadian Rangers can also play an important role when disasters strike or search and rescues have to be undertaken.

While on patrol, the Fort Providence Rangers did a search and rescue drill in which they were tasked with locating two hunters, known to be in their area, who were two days overdue.

If two hunters had really been missing, they would have counted themselves lucky to have the Rangers on their trail. In the simulation, the Rangers found the two mock hunters in approximately 45 minutes and were quickly administering first aid, warming them up with blankets and a fire and setting up a tent for shelter.

The patrol members in Fort Providence and other Northern communities are upholding the history of the Canadian Rangers. They are keeping traditional bush skills alive and preparing to serve when they are called on.

The distinctive red hoodies that Canadian Rangers wear should be considered a sign that deserves respect.


Time to get excited about Inuvik
Editorial Comment by Miranda Scotland
Inuvik Drum - February 7, 2013

It shouldn't be news to anyone that Inuvik is struggling through a difficult economic period.

Nevertheless, a visit by the GNWT Economic Opportunities Strategy panel last week brought many issues to the forefront.

Several local business owners grumbled about the lack of proper marketing, direction and resources from the GNWT when it came to tourism. Others blamed the government for creating a regulatory nightmare that chases potential big-bucks developers off. Still others blamed the government for contributing to, if not creating, a system of dependency that is robbing people of their independence by making it difficult to cut themselves off from support programs, if not outright discouraging it.

All these claims have validity to them, but the onus cannot be put solely on the government.

Rather than take the blunderbuss approach, I'm going to narrow my focus to the tourism market, and the problems it has that we can fix.

"Tourism is a 24/7 business," assistant deputy-mayor Alana Mero said at the panel. "Tourism has to be a lifestyle. The community has to be motivated, or there's no buy-in."

I think Mero put her finger on one of the cruxes of the problem when it comes to tourism here. I've travelled extensively across Canada, in small Northern towns and larger urban centres, and there are places that just "get" the concept of tourism, which is strongly associated with customer service, but far more don't.

Now, I don't want to ruffle too many feathers here in Inuvik, particularly since I've been here only a week or so but I am going to stir the pot a little. Or maybe, I'm going to stir it a lot.

While I've found most people here to be extremely friendly and welcoming (which is something I truly appreciate), Inuvik immediately strikes me as a place that doesn't, to use Mero's phrase, buy into tourism. By extension, customer service in town needs to satisfy tourists. Instead of enthusiasm, apathy abounds.

While people are fiercely protective and loyal to the town, and justifiably proud of many things associated with it, my first impression is that there is a profound ignorance, if not outright obliviousness, as to why someone would want to visit here. It's an indication of a troubling and perplexing lack of curiosity and appreciation for what surrounds you.

I've seen the same thing in town after town and region after region. It's not so much that residents are jaded about the charms of where they live, instead, it's more likely they've never experienced them at all because the "grass is always greener somewhere else."

I lived just outside of one small town in Ontario for more than 10 years. Just beyond the town limits is a fantastic cave system with spectacular photographic possibilities. You know who visits it though? Tourists and transplants. Most people born and raised there had never visited.

I see signs of the same apathy in Inuvik, and that's clearly one of the problems with tourism here. Many people just aren't excited to be living in the town, and I think they should be. That's also something that visitors will quickly pick up on, and word of mouth, especially with social media, travels fast and far.

As chamber of commerce president Newton Grey said at the meeting, "we have to get Canadians excited about coming to the NWT."

The people here already have to be excited, too.


Pump price has people fuming
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The disparity in the price of gasoline in NWT communities has some motorists angry as they pull up to the pump in Yellowknife, faced with paying $1.38 per litre for regular grade gasoline while our southern neighbours in Hay River were paying only $1.12 last week. The price has since climbed by nine cents.

Mixed with the outrage that the cost has remained high in the capital city for so long is the question, "Why?"

Finding that answer is no easy task because there are so many factors at play.

Included in the price of gasoline is the cost of producing the fuel itself, of course. Then there is federal tax, the GST, which is unfairly applied to the after-tax price, territorial tax, the cost of delivery and a built-in margin of profit for the retailer.

Setting the wholesale price at the refinery gets complicated simply because gasoline is a commodity. Its price is set in part based on the trading price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil on the global market. There are other factors to throw into the murky mix as well, such as the location of the refinery being used to supply communities in the North. When a refinery shuts down for regular maintenance, it is not uncommon for there to be a spike in prices before they gradually come down again.

Some are ready to blame Deh Cho Bridge tolls - which have been in effect for a little more than two months - for keeping the prices high. However, the Department of Transportation insists that those tolls account for only up to half a cent per litre in additional costs.

Gasoline is perceived as a necessity. It keep the wheels of commerce turning because it is a basic ingredient of the transportation industry. Groceries wouldn't get to the stores, the gasoline itself wouldn't be delivered and many goods in the North wouldn't be available if it wasn't for the diesel fuel used to power the vehicles used to transport them. As well, most consumers use gasoline to get to work and back.

That is also why emotions run high when there is a disparity in price, especially when the difference in price is 26 cents per litre. People feel like they are being unfairly targeted. Adding to the frustration is the fact that there is no single entity through which people can vent their anger. Therefore the best place for people to make their opinions known is to their elected officials, who can give those concerns voice in the legislative assembly. That isn't to suggest that Yellowknifer is endorsing government regulation of gasoline prices, as exists in some other jurisdictions, like Nova Scotia. That would surely result in residents of the capital subsidizing gas prices in far northern and remote communities, where prices are much higher than here.

What we do need is for some authority to at least force answers to emerge. In the absence of a competition bureau, the territorial house of government is the obvious place to turn. The problem is that the government is notorious for acting slowly and motorists will spend the interim growling at the pumps and lighter in the wallet.


Reality check at healing centre
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 6, 2013

While we're confident the new Rankin Inlet Healing Centre should, in the long run, prove itself beneficial to the region, it is not without hiccups despite all the back-slapping surrounding its grand opening in Rankin this past month.

The news of construction overruns and staffing difficulties is nothing new to the Kivalliq, nor across Nunavut for that matter, but there are some disturbing trends surfacing at the new facility.

Despite Minister Daniel Shewchuk's assurances to the contrary, word coming out of the healing centre is that not everyone's walking around all smiles and contentment.

Supervisors are putting in far too much time on the job waiting for proper staffing, and a number of the caseworkers and supervisors appear to be less than enthralled by the leadership, or lack thereof, they've seen at the facility to

date.

And, let's be honest, it's never a good thing when your first choice for leader is suspended and investigated for workplace incidents during his first year on the job.

We can't help but wonder if the right message is being sent to the inmates using the titles of warden, and deputy warden, etc., to begin with.

After all, Nunavut's Department of Justice is going out of its way to build the new facility up as a healing centre and downplay the whole "jail" concept.

If that's truly the case, and the message we want to send the inmates, maybe programs co-ordinator and general manager would help make a more positive connection with the inmates.

That's always the problem when you start tinkering with concepts and terminology, and decide you don't have a jail with guards, you have a healing centre with caseworkers.

The same can be said when you guarantee your healing centre will only be home to low- and medium-risk inmates, while knowing full well it will also be home to people on remand.

Even though they've yet to be convicted of a crime, those held on remand are considered high risk.

Many don't want to be in custody to begin with and others aren't exactly looking forward to their day in court.

They are regarded by the system as high risk because there's more likelihood they may try to escape.

In the every day life of the incarcerated, inmates have to be taken out for such things as a dental appointment or a hospital visit, especially in an emergency if, for example, one inmate were to injure another.

Sentenced inmates in low- or medium-risk institutions are almost always escorted by a single guard (caseworker) while someone on remand is escorted by two.

We can't help but wonder, also, if our healing facility is properly prepared if an inmate decides to act more like a criminal than a client being rehabilitated.

If you're too focused on being a healing facility, and downplaying the fact your inmates did break the law to be there, some priorities may slide down the list.

It would be nice to know the healing centre has pepper spray on hand should one inmate try to hurt another and a supervisor intervene.

Jails and healing centres are very different concepts in their practical application, and the people who inhabit them on both sides of the legal line stand to lose the most when decisions are made on concepts rather than reality.


Investor confidence is crucial
NWT News/North - Monday, February 4, 2013

Resource development is vital to the NWT economy. Although tourism, agriculture and small business, to name a few, are worthy investments, combined they will fall well short of the economic power of mineral and oil and gas projects.

Last year, the NWT was hit with a scathing assessment by the Fraser Institute when our territory was ranked last in Canada among global mining and exploration destinations. At the heart of the critique was the territory's regulatory system, which was described as difficult to navigate and too slow to attract investors. Part of the problem is difficulty accessing private lands. In most cases, private lands in the NWT refer to areas with negotiated or interim land claims agreements. In rare cases, it applies to single land owners surrounded by Crown land where land claims are still being negotiated.

To help restore investor confidence, the federal government has come forward with legislation to enact a new surface rights board. In essence, the board will have the power to settle disputes and negotiate access to land where mineral rights have been attained or need to be crossed to reach such areas.

The new board is receiving mixed reviews. Where industry is hailing it as a step forward, opponents view it with fear.

Some First Nations chiefs say it will undermine land claims negotiations and give companies carte blanche to run over privately-owned lands. Considering the history among First Nation groups, Northerners as a whole and the federal government, these concerns are not surprising.

However, the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada insists the board's purpose is to settle land access disputes fairly. Stephen Traynor, a senior adviser with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, said the board will not have the power to supersede land claim agreements, nor any currently established licensing and permitting process.

"This is just about when someone needs access to land that is occupied," he said.

Further, he said not only will the board act under the constraints of land claim agreements, Traynor said a clause in the legislation creates a requirement that the surface rights board act be amended should it fall into conflict with any future settled land claims. Also, in cases where land claims do differ with the surface rights board act, Traynor said the land claim agreement would take precedence.

Although the surface rights board is designed to resolve lengthy disputes between companies and land owners, Traynor assures it will not free developers from their obligation to consult. He said disputes will not be heard by the board if a company has not shown a demonstrable effort to negotiate with the land owner.

As yet, the board's regulations have not been set and Traynor said that will be at least a year-long process after it is passed into law.

If the intent described by Traynor holds true in practice, this new board will help improve the NWT's image as a place to do business, providing investors with a measurable tool to ensure projects begin in a timely fashion. That will mean more resource dollars, more jobs and a stronger NWT, which can benefit everyone.

We all see the need to diversify the territorial economy to lessen our reliance on the development of non-renewable resources, but until that day comes, they will continue to be our bread and butter.

It is up to Northerners to hold government to its promises and ensure that development is conducted fairly, with the highest environmental standards and in a way that maximizes benefits to Northerners.


Art display a win-win
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 4, 2013

When art is hung upon a wall, the wall is transformed into a showcase for culture.

The Iqaluit Centennial Public Library's decision to hang youth-made art upon its walls has not only enhanced the atmosphere in its facility, but it's given artistically-inclined youth a venue for public display and shows them a career in art is possible. This is not to say such a path is easy, but one would be hard-pressed to find a better place than Nunavut to give it a go.

Art is among the strongest staples of Northern tourism. Those venturing to, say, Pangnirtung or Cape Dorset often do so with the intention of picking up some of the communities' world-renowned print and carving work. According to a GN study from 2010, the territory's 3,000-artist-strong industry was the cause for $33.4 million to change hands in the territory in a single year. That's no small feat for a remote territory of close to 32,000 people.

Creative support for the industry from groups like the Iqaluit library could help artists further promote their work and make our communities more appealing to residents and southerners.


Judges safeguard of a strained system
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 4, 2013

Justice Robert Kilpatrick has often been the voice of reasoned protest for a better justice system in Nunavut.

The justice department's limited resources are often strained by lawyers' schedules, and numerous cases can face excruciating delays due to vacations. Beyond this, ever-growing piles of paper on lawyers' desks contribute to the backlog.

When trials - or even preliminary hearings - drag on, they put pressure on the court that is tasked with handling all of Nunavut's crime. This task, in a territory whose 28 communities are all fly-in and whose per capita crime rate dwarfs that of most other jurisdictions, is substantial.

Despite these challenges, those accused of crime have rights that cannot be ignored. When those rights are violated, justice is jeopardized.

Last month, Kilpatrick warned lawyers that ongoing delays are causing a manslaughter case to become "stale."

Nunavut's justice minister cannot turn a blind eye to these problems. An analysis of these recurring issues is in order. If these sorts of delays were happening within the health-care system then there would be deaths as a result, and that would not be tolerated.

The same standard must apply to justice.

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