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Downtown problem needs downtown solution
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The long search for the sobering centre's permanent home is over.

The facility will be housed in the former Canarctic Graphics building adjacent to the Northern Lites Motel downtown. The building is - full disclosure - owned by Northern News Services. As well, the Safe Harbour Day Centre will also move under the sobering centre roof.

Predictably, and perhaps understandably, feedback from neighbouring businesses is resoundingly wary. Many believe the centre will make the area a hotbed of loitering, littering and public intoxication. These concerns certainly aren't unreasonable and it's fair to say any proposed location would be met with the same not-in-my-backyard reaction. Yellowknifer understands this, and feels for those who aren't excited about this development.

In fact, by all accounts, the Department of Health and Social Services struggled to find a suitable space and willing landlord in a central location for almost a year. Government officials looked at a whopping 22 potential sites before settling on one.

But here's the thing - Yellowknife's homeless problem is unquestionably a downtown problem. The people who use the day shelter and sobering centre hang out downtown for the most part, so making sure services available to them downtown is key. It just wouldn't make any sense to put a shelter out in Kam Lake, Old Airport Road or near the airport, where nobody can get to it.

Now that the space has been selected and the wheels are moving to get approvals and needed renovations finished as soon as possible, Yellowknifer is interested to see how things will go. The GNWT is responsible for security, and of course that includes making sure the new facility isn't a lightning rod for neighbourhood issues.

A future step is identifying a space where homeless citizens trying to overcome addictions and alcoholism can seek shelter without having to share it with people who are not. The current shelter and sobering centre are not equipped for that.

In the meantime, hopefully the best case scenario comes to fruition - that the new day shelter and sobering centre provide good services to those who need it, and help to reduce the city's homelessness problem overall, along with all of the other great initiatives that have been rolled out in the past year.

Downtown revitalization deja vu
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The road to revitalize downtown has been a long one. Multiple iterations of city council have wrestled with the problem over multiple years with just as many false starts.

Last Monday, council directed administration to develop a three-year action plan, which looks like more of the same from this vantage point. To understand why, let's rewind a bit. In 2011, the city decided a "Range Street" revamp was in order, so it bought a bunch of property along the infamous road and tore down the buildings sitting on them in the hopes of developing eco-housing.

This never happened. Two years later, the city waded back into real estate by purchasing the 50/50 lot at the corner of Franklin Avenue and 50 Street, in the hopes of building a state-of-the-art park plaza. This plaza idea was soundly panned by Yellowknife residents and council but the purchase was approved.

The city's new three-year action plan will include plans for these properties, along with other initiatives such as sidewalk patios, anti-littering campaigns and small-business incentives. These are all wonderful ideas but why not focus on the $1,000,000 question first - what to do with all the land the city purchased?

Yellowknifer hopes to one day see a vibrant Dene cultural centre downtown and the 50/50 lot would be the perfect place for it. As for the other lots -- until the city finds a buyer, this area will remain a gaping hole in the city's core.

Directing administration to come up with a three-year plan to revitalize downtown may have been one of Coun. Adrian Bell's proudest moments, but the day council decides on a realistic plan for the superfluous property it owns - that's when Yellowknifer will applaud the city.

Many tears until victory
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

There has been some talk surfacing the past little while questioning whether suicide prevention walks and various live-and-love-life events actually do any good.

The folks who look at them skeptically see no need to raise awareness about suicide in Nunavut, because we're all too aware of it already, and better to spend your time and effort doing tangible things to help others.

On the surface, the view has merit, and it's always a great thing to see people doing something to help others in their community. But the notion that the walks, gatherings and special events do no real good is just plain wrong.

Awareness opens doors of communication, and bringing the issue out into the light places the beast at its most vulnerable.

Although its origins are as an African proverb, it has often been quoted in many cultures, that it takes a community to raise a child.

The proverb is alluding to partnerships within the community with neighbours, police officers, clergy members, teachers, sports coaches, cadet and Girl Guide leaders, and so on.

On a clean slate, the partnerships focus on keeping youths moving in a positive, productive direction, hopefully away from the dark temptations that cross all our paths, especially in today's world.

The same focus has to exist here for there to ever be any hope of slaying the monster that suicide is. And, no matter how big or how small, every awareness walk or celebrate life event strengthens, in some small way, the community's resolve to fight back.

When yet another person takes his or her life in our region, all but the most hardhearted among us collectively sag, fear the monster, and curse the futility of the battle we find ourselves in.

But we've really only been truthfully fighting this battle out in the open for the past decade, and it was destined to be a hell of a fight because of how ingrained the monster had become in our communities.

Nobody likes to hear it, but suicide had become almost an accepted way of life by the time people screamed enough and began to take the fight out into the light.

It's much easier for the combined force of a community to be effective with a clean slate, with almost everyone pulling in the same direction.

But when a monster has dug in deep, it takes away from a collective's singular focus and forces it to expend energy on harm already done.

In a number of our communities, the battle is a promise of many tears being shed before ever being won, as some will slip through our fingers as our attention wades in numerous directions. That is often how the cycle survives.

But we are making progress, and I believe we will one day win this battle, at least for the majority who spend their lives on the edge.

Every single cheer we can muster for enjoying life, every inch of light we drag the monster into by raising awareness and talking openly, and every single person we show that we care, we inch one step closer.

I'll walk for that any day.

Run for your lives
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, September 18, 2017

It's impossible to hear stories about people fleeing for their lives from wildfires - or losing expensive properties, many part of the NWT's tourism draw - without wondering what the heck is wrong with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

What they're saying

"We're asking, 'why did these mistakes happen and what is going to be done about that? This could have so easily been prevented." - Dave Olesen, who lost his Hoarfrost River home to fire in 2014.

"I don't know if there were lessons learned from the 2014 fires. If there were why weren't they put into practice in 2016." - Rodney Kenny, who lost his Moraine Point Lodge to fire in 2014.

"They did not give us any warning and now ENR will not answer any of my questions." - Bryan Chorostkowski, who lost his Namushka Lodge in 2016.

"Everybody is trying to make decisions and calling me and saying do this or don't go here." - Band manager Mark Pocklington, before Nahanni Butte residents self-evacuated as a wildfire rained embers on them a few weeks ago.

Predicting Mother Nature's next move is always difficult. But not impossible.

Sometimes, it could require more preventative equipment, such as sprinklers, be placed as fires blaze toward property and people. Perhaps firefighters on the ground and in the air should be called in to try and stop the wildfire, or at least try to change its direction.

At other times, a firm order to evacuate might be needed - even if it is made out of an abundance of caution - as we repeatedly hear of people literally self-evacuating in their own boats at the very last minute.

"Elders, some more than 80 years old, adults, kids and a baby only six months old were among those who had to get loaded into pickup trucks, drive about 10 kilometres to the Liard River, get into several boats, cross the river and then take more community-owned trucks into Fort Liard," said band manager Mark Pocklington ("People flee fire near Nahanni Butte," News/North, Sept. 8), after a harrowing self-evacuation in the dark the night before.

"It was dark. It was windy. The water was rough but no one panicked. We had to hold and carry some of the elders with mobility issues."

Most people fled the thick smoke and hot embers with little more than the clothes on their back. No one was hurt and no structures were lost as winds shifted the fire. Most residents evacuated to Fort Liard.

All returned to Nahanni Butte on Sept. 9. This after more official bewilderment as to when to allow people to return.

In that incident, Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) officials are alleged to have told residents they were not in danger Sept. 7, just hours before they had to flee -- that as those workers were themselves leaving.

Allegations have also been made against the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) for not helping with the evacuation, once the community made the decision to leave.

MACA officials defended their inaction, stating they had received "the best information" available from ENR. But in the end, it was up to the people to make a potentially life-saving decision.

Is that the rule of thumb that needs to be followed in the NWT? While we admire and celebrate the men and women on the front lines - firefighters, pilots and everyone back at the office who does their best to predict and fight fires - we can only surmise that serious communication issues remain in the territorial government's chain of command.

Reports into incidents that caused near loss of life and major property damage have been done. But they aren't made public without a fight.

When leaked to the media, we learn of out of date maps, contradicting reports of radio or phone contact with lodge owners and a lack of equipment.

We urge the GNWT, and specifically Environment and Natural Resources Minister Robert C. McLeod to increase support for ENR -- in money, equipment, personnel and training.

Unless there is change, the GNWT will have done nothing except to fiddle while Rome burns.

Three years to make beer store's case
Nunavut/News North - Monday, September 18, 2017

Even if you don't live in Iqaluit, you've probably seen the lineups at Nunavut's pilot project beer and wine store in the capital on social media or on TV.

It's amazing to witness the demand, especially considering the early outcry from factions in the city who overwhelmed government consultations insisting that making alcohol more readily available would create problems.

In response, the government says making the right kind of alcohol - low alcohol content beer and wine rather than hard liquor - is actually a solution.

There is a relevant precedent just across the Davis Strait, as Greenland took a similar approach and found that serious crime dropped.

The whole point of this is to disable bootleggers who can make a hefty profit from each bottle of vodka, to put that money back into the customers' pockets, and to stop said customers from slamming back $300 in vodka in one session. The courts are full of the results of such activities.

We've supported the government's case that this is a good idea. At the very least, they have to do something.

Now the store's doors are open. And already it's the hottest shop in town.

Reports are that the store sold 10 per cent of its annual supply in four days. If this pace keeps up, the warehouse could require an airlift resupply almost every month.

Presumably the long lines will abate once the novelty wears off.

But perhaps the government underestimated the demand and the buy-in from residents.

Lineups show the demand is there but the government needs to work on eliminating that line or risk undermining its harm-reduction goals. An ever-present line will make it appear as if Iqaluit is full of people desperate for alcohol. That's not a win.

Governments are not exactly known for their retail prowess. Lineups at Iqaluit's Canada Post are legend. Equally, the reputations of high-demand licence and passport offices in the south come to mind.

The demand so far in Iqaluit shows even half the demand would still result in a lineup. Retail solutions, such as online and mobile pre-orders, and increased staffing and supply methods, need to be considered at peak hours.

The government gets one chance to get this right, and the project's promise of lowering the possibility of a person getting dangerously drunk - risking their own and others' lives - is too important to fail.

As evidenced by the Greenland example, a beer and wine store, with profits going to government to fund alcohol-education programs, will almost certainly be better than letting bootleggers control the market.

Nunavut has an alcohol problem but this beer and wine store could be part of the solution. And if demand remains this high, all of the funds bootleggers have taken could be used for something good, such as an addictions treatment facility.

If this is done right, and stores open in Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet to similar effect, the territory could start to see real change.

Fear of home-grown beer
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 15, 2017
The NWT Liquor Licensing Board may very well pride itself in its independence from government or private interference. But it's the lack of transparency that has people upset, compounded by decisions that don't make any sense.

The board recently denied requests from Yellowknife businesses to purchase beer directly from the NWT Brewing Company, a local company that saw immediate success when it opened for business two years ago and now employees dozens of people.

Logic dictates that government, even quasi-judicial government such as the liquor board, would not want to interfere with that success unless there was good reason. The fact is the bars and restaurants wanting to buy beer from the NWT Brewing Company already sell beer so why not beer that's locally produced?

Alas, the brewing company can't compete with major breweries down south, not when it is required to sell its beer through the NWT Liquor Commission which cares not a bit about the unlevel playing field created when charging the same fees for locally-produced beer made by the kegful as it does giant, stadium-sponsoring companies that ship by the truckload.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize how the current regime creates a system that discourages home-grown ingenuity and enterprise while favouring large corporations down south that can afford the territory's fees and taxes -- and then pass them on to consumers in the form of more expensive beer.

Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod tells Yellowknifer the issue is already on his radar. Last week he said a review of the guidelines and legislation the board functions under has already begun, and something should be in place to address the concerns of restaurateurs and the brewing company by the end of the month.

That would be a surprisingly quick turnaround for the territorial government so we hope that is true. Surely, as finance minister he would support practices and policies that favour business growth in the North over suffocating red tape that smothers them.

To be fair, McLeod is at least indicating there is a problem. Hopefully a review will produce legislative or regulatory changes that allow local businesses such as the NWT Brewing Company to succeed and grow.

As for the liquor board, its cone of silence does it no favours. The liquor board is an arms-length quasi-judicial body, and much like the courts, does not comment on its decisions for fear of showing bias. But if it can't comment on its decisions, it should at least provide them, like any other court or public tribunal would. Not providing reasons suggests it doesn't have any good ones - and hence the review.

Fentanyl is out there; deal with it
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 15, 2017

Two milligrams of fentanyl, the equivalent of two grains of salt, is enough to kill a person. It's hard to think of another drug that can hit this hard - fentanyl is about 40 to 50 times more powerful than pharmaceutical-grade heroin.

Alberta reported 368 fentanyl-specific overdose deaths in 2016 - up from 257 in 2015 and 117 in 2016. In November 2016, Yellowknife saw eight overdoses in just 48 hours. During a search of one of the scenes, an RCMP officer was exposed to the opioid. The officer received medical attention and recovered but the near-miss was a wake-up call for the community.

Last week, the fire department talked to Yellowknifer about updating its fentanyl-specific overdose policy. That includes having first responders don appropriate protective equipment -- coveralls, gloves, safety glasses, respirator -- when fentanyl is suspected.

Given the drug's rise, availability and potency, this is a no-brainer. Organizations should do whatever they can to protect first responders.

The fire department often gets called to overdoses -- more and more they will involve fentanyl. Chief coroner Cathy Menard told Yellowknifer in June opioid deaths were on the rise in the NWT - with five in 2016.

As one of the firefighters Yellowknifer interviewed said, very matter-of-factly: "it's out there."

Fentanyl is just part of the job now for those who risk their lives to help others. It's only right these people should get the education, tools and support they need to do their jobs safely. Good on the department for being proactive about protecting its people.

Let's clear haze around pot talk
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 14, 2017

By July of next year, the federal government will legalize marijuana, making good on a promise that proved popular among many parts of the electorate during the 2015 election campaign.

The Liberal government's aim is to take pressure off the criminal justice system, regulate cannabis sales, restrict access to the substance and tighten laws around impaired driving.

Meanwhile, provinces and territories including the NWT are working to come up with their own laws.

They'll have the power to increase the minimum age of access in their jurisdictions above 18 years old and reduce possession limits.

They'll also be able to restrict where cannabis is used and set rules around growing marijuana at home.

While the debate about whether or not to legalize cannabis is over, Inuvik residents still hold wide-ranging opinions on the pros and cons of that decision.

That much was clear at a public engagement meeting the GNWT hosted at the Mackenzie Hotel on Sept. 11.

While some people worried about the effects of marijuana on young brains, others felt the substance is less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes.

When it comes to law enforcement, some people want to see a zero-tolerance attitude toward impaired driving, while people on the other side of the debate argued marijuana affects everyone differently.

Yet, despite the strong views, many people at the public engagement session were hesitant to speak openly about the subject with media that attended the meeting.

It's clear the subject is still taboo. And their position is understandable.

People are worried about the stigma attached to marijuana or how discussing the issue may affect their jobs.

There's also the fact that recreational cannabis isn't legal just yet.

But with new laws just around the corner, open and frank discussions on the subject are important.

We need strong education and accurate information about marijuana so people can make decisions that are best for their own health and safety, and so policy-makers can make decisions that are best for society.

We need to talk openly with young people about the effects of cannabis so they can make informed choices when they're faced with the opportunity to try it.

Instilling fear will only keep them from asking the questions they need to ask to be informed.

According to information provided by the GNWT, the Government of Canada has already started public education and awareness campaigns on the topic.

In their latest budget, the feds proposed to spend $9.6 million educating the public about cannabis.

Whether people agree or not, marijuana is going to be legal by next summer.

We should continue fostering safe spaces to discuss the issue now, to quell misinformation and stigmatization when it does roll out.

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