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Sex assault unit will lead to better cases
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sexual assault is widely regarded in Canadian society as one of the most heinous crimes there is.

It's also one of the hardest crimes to prove. Even if there is physical evidence left behind, it is really, really hard to prove a lack of consent.

When these cases make it to open court, the public has the opportunity to track conviction rates. But if a complaint dies in the police station without charges laid, nobody ever knows about it. That is, until Globe and Mail investigative reporter Robyn Doolittle compiled data from across the country on the rates of sexual assault cases deemed unfounded. This term means the investigating officer does not believe there was a crime committed or attempted.

Across Canada, Doolittle found the average rate of cases deemed unfounded to be 19.39 per cent but that number varies wildly, and randomly, in individual communities. Yellowknife, for example, has an unfounded rate of 36 per cent.

This data certainly suggests police could be a doing better job at investigating sexual assault and it's a positive development to see that the RCMP and Department of Justice seem to agree. Nationally, the RCMP is reviewing the system they used between 2010 and 2014 for determining sex assault cases as unfounded to ensure they actually meet the criteria. As well, Yellowknife RCMP are operating under a new policy that will see every unfounded complaint automatically reviewed by a senior officer.

Women's advocate Lynn Brooks proposed another great suggestion to Yellowknifer last week. She believes Yellowknife RCMP should create a dedicated sexual assault unit. Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green agrees with Brooks, and so does Yellowknifer.

RCMP's G Division created a diamond unit in 1998 specifically to combat what was then an anticipated upswing in organized crime and earlier this year created a unit to investigate online child sexual exploitation. If RCMP can launch both of these things, there is no reason why there shouldn't be a specialized unit to deal with sexual assault. As far as crimes go, sex assault is incredibly common, causes lasting -- sometimes debilitating harm, and much of the time evidence stems from testimony.

As it stands, every person who reports this crime knows the deck is stacked against them when it comes to conviction. Better investigations could lead to better conviction rates, so let's see this happen.


Alcohol program would be useful for Yellowknife
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Last week, the city saw its federal application to fund a managed alcohol program denied.

This initiative, which is part of the comprehensive action plan to combat homelessness, would see addicted people served small doses of alcohol throughout the day in order to keep people from binging.

The first managed alcohol program in Canada opened in Toronto in 1997. Since then they have mushroomed to communities such as Thunder Bay, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria and Sudbury, Ont.

A 2014 Yellowknifer story on Thunder Bay's managed alcohol program, ("I'm lucky this place opened," June 25, 2014), describes the principle of managed alcohol programs as "harm reduction" rather than abstinence.

The Thunder Bay program provides admitted patients two meals per day and six ounces of white wine every 90 minutes.

A doctor also visits residents once per week. Studies show this type of treatment helps stabilize the behaviour of alcoholics, reduces dependence on non-beverage forms of alcohol such as hand-sanitizer and hairspray, and according to participants, creates a sense of community.

Yellowknifer doesn't know why the federal government rejected the city's $500,000 funding request.

But take a walk downtown any day of the week and the bottles of rye and vodka lying everywhere illustrate a real problem that municipal enforcement is not going to fix by simply handing out tickets.

Nobody can force the city's alcohol dependent population into sobriety but the government can give these people a way to manage their addiction.

Hopefully the territorial government will step up, as a managed alcohol program surely is an essential component to alleviating social problems in the city.


Thanks, hockey folks
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, March 8, 2017

By the time you're reading this, I will be about to take to the ice this week to officiate my final senior men's hockey tournament in Rankin Inlet, the inaugural Terence Tootoo Memorial.

At its conclusion, my knees will decide if there's enough left in the tank to help out with a few games in the Powerful Pewees the following week, or if this was the last hurrah.

Either way, it's been one hell of a ride.

I don't mind admitting the eyes were getting a little moist during the presentation made to me by my longtime friend and fellow hockey fanatic, David Clark, prior to the start of the Plate's final game.

When the puck drops for the 2018 Polar Bear Plate, it will be the first one I'm not a part of and I'm still having a little trouble accepting that.

Don't get me wrong, I know it's time to hang them up because my body tells me so. It's the stereotypical situation of the mind is still willing but the body is weak (in this case, knees).

As much as I'm going to miss it, reffing here has provided me with a ton of memories guaranteed to put a smile on my face during my golden years.

I can't say enough about the hockey fans in Rankin Inlet. You folks have made the past 18 years very, very special to me and we've been through a lot together.

I smiled when a couple of people in the crowd started chanting my name in that eerie way fans do, to either show their displeasure or to try and throw an opposing player off his or her game, during David's presentation.

It wasn't that many years ago a Rankin team just wouldn't calm down during a tournament playoff game no matter how many darn penalties I assessed them.

The hometown crowd was getting more and more irate every time I raised my arm to send another Rankin player for a well-deserved timeout.

I knew the Rankin fans know their hockey and were fully aware the penalties were justified, but they just kept coming.

Once it reached the point where there were seven or eight Rankin players in the box, and I had to go over to make sure the timekeeper had everything straight with the expiration of every penalty slowing the game and bringing a whole lot of unwanted attention to myself the boos started.

They didn't last all that long. Then, just as I was thinking that wasn't too bad, a handful of fans started that eerie chant using my name.

It quickly spread around the arena until every fan was doing it and every eye in the barn, be it player, fan, coach or fellow zebra, was on me.

It was the weirdest experience of my career and, if I had a highlight reel of said career, you'd appreciate just how impressive that is.

Yet, as weird as it may sound, there was something special about the experience.

It was special in a traditional hockey sense because it was something different, and a whole lot better than having fans throw things at me, including every curse word known to humanity.

It's truly special to be on the ice with the players during big games.

It's a world onto itself, where you had better know what you're talking about when asked a question on the rules or all your hard work building up credibility goes out the window in the wink of an eye.

There are nights you leave the arena wondering what you're doing there in the first place.

And there are other nights when everything goes perfect and you would protect your whistle with your dying breath. Those are ones worth remembering, and the ones that keep bringing you back.

I will never forget the time, in Rankin, when a hockey mom came up to me and said the only time she felt truly comfortable with her son playing was when I was refereeing. I floated home that day.

To all the players who I've had the honour to work with in Rankin and across the Kivalliq, thank you for the excitement and the memories. A special tip of the hat to those who I began officiating when they were in peewee and leave the game with them playing senior men's.

Went by fast, didn't it?

To people like David and Donald Clark, Darrin Nichol, Steve Faulkner, Jim MacDonald, Jim Ramsay, Pujjuut Kusugak (and your dad), Troy Aksalnik, Gleason Uppahuak and so many, many others, thank you for all you do to keep the games going.

Thanks to David Tulugak for all the road trips when we didn't have many refs who would go, and for never taking my meals away from me after we had reffed from 9 a.m. until midnight.

But, especially to the Rankin fans, thank you so very, very much for restoring my faith in the game, and showing me what a true hockey town is all about, tournament after tournament.

You are the best hockey fans in the world and I will miss you almost as much as the game itself.

Almost!


GNWT failing students
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, March 6, 2017

The kids aren't alright when it comes to reading, writing and arithmetic.

An analysis of student achievement presented at the Beaufort Delta Education Council board meeting last month in Inuvik showed poor performance and a stark trend among students entering high school ("Dismal student scores show need for fix," News/North, Feb. 20).

Among Grade 6 students, only 37 per cent read and write at an acceptable level (using Alberta Achievement Tests). The territory as a whole averages 50 per cent.

That number falls to 23 per cent for the Beaufort region at the Grade 9 level, compared to 44 per cent for the territory as a whole.

It gets worse when numbers replace letters.

In math, 34 per cent of Grade 6 students in the Beaufort Delta perform at an acceptable level, compared to 42 per cent for the territory as a whole.

Those numbers drop to 16 per cent and 36 per cent in Grade 9, respectively.

That's simply not acceptable. An entire generation of young people face struggles in life because the education system has failed them. For whatever reasons, the current classroom structure and curriculum isn't being bought into by parents, caregivers and youth.

Robert Charlie, representing the Gwich'in Tribal Council on the board, said the issue can be talked about forever but action needs to happen.

"We need to do something, we have to do something," he said. "How many years we've been talking about it, and what have we done?"

He said it's not just about the council or schools or parents but everyone in a community, and that youth need guidance.

"I have to say enough talk," said Charlie. "Let's put some action behind some of the things we already know and see if we can make some changes because we're not helping our kids by letting them take the easy way out, the easy programming."

But what needs to be done? Perhaps a little more focus on common sense and a bit less on outside experts, baseline data and endless consultations.

And yes, it will all come down to money. As we see it, the only real answer is to have more teachers and educations assistants in each classroom to both provide engaging instruction, smoother integration of special needs children and to make sure the students show up and pay attention.

The latter aspect of education is especially crucial in the Beaufort Delta.

Last spring, as the temperature warmed up outside, attendance inside schools dropped to remarkable lows.

"This time of year is not a good time for study," Denise McDonald, then-superintendent of schools for the Beaufort Delta Education Council, said at the time.

McDonald said while community and aboriginal leadership must step up and help encourage students to stay in school, the schools also have to be more responsive.

"Schools need to be more proactive in contacting families," she said, "They can't be so accepting of the way things are."

Here's another thought: why not just ask the teachers what they believe would work?

Our idea of more staff in the classes was derived from informal talks with educators. Why not ask them - individual teachers - what a better education model would be for the Delta? Then attach a price tag to it and see what can be done.

Sounds a bit unworkable? So does the current system.


Housing unit fire marks six steps back
Nunavut/News North - Monday, March 6, 2017

After reports from Iqaluit's fire chief of a relatively safe and loss-free 2016, it's difficult to cope with the sight of six housing units going up in smoke.

Our hearts go out to the two families of nine people, and the residents of three single units, who lost their belongings and homes.

As residents of social housing, they likely did not have insurance, so we are thankful the community and the Red Cross are able to provide help. These people did not have to find their own temporary housing thanks to the Red Cross, which provides funding for hotels, clothing, and supplies in the immediate aftermath of such emergencies. Residents also made personal donations to bring back a measure of normalcy.

We are also thankful to hear from the mayor that Iqaluit Housing was able to find new homes for the fire victims within the first week of the incident.

Just days after the fire, we heard from Finance Minister Keith Peterson, whose budget address included a note that the territory will see 90 new units built this year.

"But clearly we need more," he said.

This week's fire just moved the progress marker six steps back.

It's hard to catch up to the growing need for housing in our territory. We have homeless people who live in shelters but an overwhelming number of hidden homeless need new units built en masse to relieve the pressure they feel.

As Peterson said, three in 10 Nunavut housing units are overcrowded. Considering Nunavut has Canada's highest fertility rate, we simply don't have the space to provide proper homes for our people.

It's not clear how to speed up progress in this regard. House construction gets more expensive every year, land is expensive and slow to develop, and the government has limited resources.

From our research, Nunavut Housing is experimenting with new-to-Nunavut technologies, such as space frame foundations. These weight-distributing foundations are far cheaper than piles but remove some of the problems, such as heaving and wall-cracking, associated with piles driven into permafrost. Plus, they can be installed by unskilled local labourers.

Homes that are on piles but not driven into the bedrock are at risk of becoming write-offs as climate change erodes permafrost.

The technology reduces this long-term risk, and saves a lot of money.

The next step for the government is to take a serious look at how it can save money by investing in renewable energy. How much money do we as Nunavummiut consciously burn by powering our homes with diesel-generated electricity. It will take a bold effort to make change in this regard but there are savings to be had there.

Nunavut has 185 housing units coming online by next year. Now imagine saving enough money to build six more.


Questions about class-time cuts should be answered
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 24, 2017

The education department's proposed pilot project that will see class times reduced across the territory has not won much support from MLAs seated on the Standing Committee on Social Development.

Education Minister Alfred Moses says the project is intended to both improve student success and teacher wellness, yet MLAs remain skeptical of the project and for good reason.

First, as Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart pointed out, it is not clear how the reduction in class time will benefit students or how that benefit, if it exists, will be measured.

Moses explained that there is no single evaluation model for the program because every school is different and will require individual evaluation for each school. This may be true but the question remains how a project without clear criteria for success could have reached this advanced stage with such gaping holes in the information available.

This also leads to the second cause for concern.

The project is not only optional as far as individual schools are concerned but each school will develop its own approach to the project. Of the 10 schools territory-wide that have submitted project proposals thus far, class time reduction varies from 45 to 65 hours a year.

Presumably, any school that does not participate in the project will proceed according to the status quo. And for all those that do participate, since each school is submitting their own proposals, the number of hours of class-time reduced will not be the same.

How can this be considered an equitable and collective agreement fair for all teachers when teachers will face different teaching loads depending on which school they happen to be teaching in?

Everyone agrees, from parents to teachers to government officials counting the dollars while wondering how to increase the abysmal success rate of NWT students that the status quo is not working. English test scores from 2012 show NWT students are behind their Alberta counterparts in every community, including Yellowknife.

But without a clear sense of how success will be measured or how the cuts will provide equal benefits to teachers across the NWT, MLAs are right to demand better answers from the education department and its representatives.


Wellness centre offers traditional help
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, March 3, 2017

For all the services geared toward First Nations and Metis in the city, there is not a whole on the table when it comes to medicinal and spiritual help according to their traditional practices, and in their languages.

The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation is hoping to change that after making a presentation to city council Feb. 13, where it asked for a four-acre gift of land with a 30-year lease, and the waiving of property taxes, so it could begin constructing a multifaceted indigenous wellness centre that would include a sweat lodge, traditional Inuit house and an area to grow plants used in traditional healing.

This comes after hopes of including a wellness centre into construction plans for a new Stanton

Territorial hospital went unfulfilled.

Dr. Nicole Redvers told council traditional healing methods First Nations have used for centuries are "on the verge of extinction" both in the NWT and in Nunavut, while pointing to the alarming tide of homelessness, addictions and youth in crisis among the city's aboriginal population.

The group's plan also includes training for future healers, counsellors and researching indigenous healing systems. The area they have chosen is adjacent to the Fieldhouse and Multiplex, where Redvers points out is close to the North Slave Correctional Centre where many inmates would stand to benefit from such a facility.

The feedback from council has been positive. Councillors obviously support at least the idea of having a wellness centre in the city. Now they have to follow through on land and tax support. The territorial and federal governments must also show support.

Given that there are 5,000-plus aboriginal people living in the city and that Yellowknife is the primary hub servicing mainly aboriginal communities in the territory and Inuit living in the Kitikmeot region, the wellness centre would be a welcome addition to the city.

Not only does the city stands to benefit from the new development but it will be one more facility that makes Yellowknife a better place to live where people can heal and keep traditional knowledge alive.


A call for women to serve in politics
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, March 2, 2016

Fort Simpson's Reannda Cli is surprised at how few women are in territorial politics, and frankly, so am I.

When the 18th Legislative Assembly was elected toward the end of 2015, only two women secured seats as MLAs. That's out of a possible 19 seats.

And while that is old news at this point, it still bears mentioning in light of the Daughters of the Vote initiative, which brought women from across the territory together in Yellowknife this month.

Cli was one participant in the initiative. She says she learned more about territorial politics than she expected to - and that includes learning about the numerous barriers women face when deciding to run for office.

Rightly, the legislative assembly has identified increasing the number of women who run for office as a priority. If women don't run, how can they get elected?

It is fitting, then, that the assembly hosted Daughters of the Vote, an initiative from Equal Voice Canada, which gave politically inclined women like Cli a chance to speak with women who have run and held positions in the past, as well as women who currently hold political office.

The various workshops Cli participated in aimed to break down some of the barricades women may feel they face when considering whether to run. Those barriers vary from familial obligations to simple confidence issues.

In order to for more women to enter politics, first they must see a political career as a viable option. Thankfully, the first step toward that goal is taken when initiatives like Daughters of the Vote take place.

Frankly, the Northwest Territories has a fairly dismal record of women running and being elected to the legislative assembly.

That being said, those who do get elected can be seen as role models for the rest of us.

Whether you agree with their politics or not, MLAs such as Julie Green and Caroline Cochrane - one developing a reputation as an outspoken critic of GNWT decisions when she feels the need, and the other having a seat on cabinet - seem to show women have a real say once they actually get a seat at the territorial table.

It seems that the majority of the struggle is getting women to the table to begin with.

That's not surprising, considering how many different factors can discourage women from putting their names forward - from traditional expectations of women to be caregivers and look after the family to the re-election of Dehcho MLA Michael Nadli, who was convicted of domestic assault but released from jail just in time to run in 2015. The political climate in general can be seen as unfriendly to women.

One barrier that should be addressed is that of attending initiatives like this to begin with.

It would be ideal to see localized workshops held in smaller communities to encourage women to put their names in for a political seat. While there's value to holding these workshops in Yellowknife, that doesn't help women whose work, family and fiscal obligations mean a trip to the capital is not possible.

It would also be great to see high schools facilitate similar workshops for students in junior and senior high. After all, Cli's interest in politics started with school politics.

There is plenty of time left before the next territorial election. If increasing the number of women who run is indeed a priority for this assembly, we will hopefully see more workshops like Daughters of the Vote in the future.


Lighting the competitive fire
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, March 2, 2016

There are too many youth sports happening these days to keep up with them, and that is a great thing.

Few pursuits at that age are more educational or fundamental to development.

Learning to operate as a team, play your position, delegate tasks, divide the workload and perform under pressure are key skills in the working world.

Sports teach youth to embrace the natural spirit of competition, which appears in all aspects of life.

Economic competition seeks to constantly lower prices and improve products.

The free competition of ideas progresses science and finds truth in the world.

Even competing with ourselves serves to make each of us the best version of ourselves we could possibly be.

Competition drives us to be better than the other person applying for a job, a better suitor for a desired spouse and a better person compared to who you could be, should you not compete.

Your skin colour, social status and background all don't matter on the court. All that matters is your ability to perform.

This is the same for competition in the entrepreneurial world. No one cares what the person who made the iPhone looks like. They just love the iPhone.

Sports teach the difference between talent and hard work.

Everyone has talent. Not everyone gets out of bed and puts it to use.

It doesn't matter how smart you are if you don't do anything with it. Someone much less "smart" might be the one staying up all night, putting in the time and changing the world.

In so many ways, the world's talent is squandered because people aren't encouraged to use it.

Youth learn this early in sports. You can dipsy doodle like a rock star all day but the person hustling every shift and sweating buckets is going to have a bigger positive impact on the team.

There are few places where youth get such a raw simulation of the competitive environment of the real world as youth sports.

I guarantee the people who emerge as leaders there will go on to be leaders in adulthood. The hustlers will go on to be hard workers. The dipsy doodlers better learn that won't take them far.

It's good to see all the competitive pursuits youth have in Inuvik.

Light those fires early and they will do great things.

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