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War of words in Rankin
Nunavut MP on hot seat, looking at legal options

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 3, 2014

An ugly battle has brewed between the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet and its deputy mayor, Sam Tutanuak.

NNSL photo/graphic

Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq claims she never asked for an apology from anyone at the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet on Nov. 28, 2014. - NNSL file photo

Tutanuak appeared in a TV documentary depicting elders in Rankin Inlet scavenging at the local dump for food items thrown out by the Northern store.

During the 30-minute broadcast, Tutanuak charged the federal government's Nutrition North subsidy program was not working.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson released a report on Nov. 25 indicating the program lacked transparency, which is necessary to see whether the $60 million in federal subsidies is being passed onto consumers properly by retailers.

Both the Northern store and Arctic Co-ops have issued statements saying they comply with all regulations and support the auditor general's recommendations to improve the program.

Tutanuak was contacted by new Rankin senior administrative officer (SAO) Tom Ng on Nov. 26, asking him to meet at the SAO's office.

Tutanuak said Ng told him he had received a phone call from Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq.

He said Aglukkaq, by what Ng told him, was upset by comments he had made on the food situation in Rankin.

"I was stunned when the SAO (Ng) told me she (Aglukkaq) was demanding an apology for what I had said," said Tutanuak.

"Then he said she also wanted a letter from the hamlet stating that Nutrition North was working.

"The rest of the conversation is a little blurry because that just floored me.

"All I could think or say was that I won't apologize for telling the truth and, as a councillor, will not write any such letter."

Hamlet council called an emergency meeting for the morning of Nov. 27, during which, according to Tutanuak, a "gag order" was placed on anyone speaking to the media about the issue

Things continued to escalate with Aglukkaq issuing a statement denying she had ever asked for an apology from anyone.

"The allegations made against me by the deputy mayor of Rankin Inlet in an article published by the Aboriginal People's Television Network are completely false and must be corrected," Aglukkaq wrote in the statement.

"I was troubled when I heard reports about families in Rankin Inlet struggling to find food, so I followed up with my constituents to address these concerns.

"I also contacted the SAO in Rankin Inlet to learn more about these concerning reports.

"At no time did I, or my office, request an apology from anyone at the hamlet.

"The deputy mayor's claims about this conversation are completely false. I am currently reviewing all of my legal options."

Tutanuak said he stands by what he said the SAO said to him.

He said he also stands by his comments on the Nutrition North program.

"I agreed to do the TV bit and I commented on Nutrition North because I was concerned about the people in this community making $30,000 or less a year.

"I don't know why the federal government continues to insist Nutrition North is working, when it's obvious it isn't.

"Sure, the feds just shoved in another $11 million, but that's only going to help our two main stores, the Northern store and Co-op, maintain their profits.

"They keep saying they are passing all the savings along to the customers, but, in my opinion, that's BS."

Rankin Mayor Robert Janes said he needed to get totally up to speed on the issue.

When asked by Kivalliq News what his SAO's recollections are on the conversation he had with Aglukkaq this past week, the mayor said, "No comment."

In a published report, the SAO on Nov. 28 denied he told Tutanuak that Aglukkaq was seeking an apology.

"We have an idea of where we're going from here, but we won't make an official comment until we've had time to go over everything properly," said Janes this past Friday, Nov. 28.

"We have a regular meeting of council this coming Tuesday (Dec. 2) and that's the time we officially decide what we're going to do.

"It has to be done by consensus at a regular meeting."

Tutanuak said no matter what's decided, he refuses to apologize.

He said he believed what the SAO told him to be the truth regarding the requested apology, and he won't be changing his mind anytime soon about the effectiveness of the Nutrition North program.

"We had a program that worked far better with food mail, and then someone in a suit named Harper decided to screw it up," said Tutanuak.

"It's getting harder and harder to survive here, anyone who thinks Nutrition North is working should come here and try to survive on $30,000 a year or less.

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