La Presse responds to complaints about its Nunavik coverage

“Careful to present positive role models that emerge from these communities”


The Quebec daily newspaper

The Quebec daily newspaper “La Presse” ran this image Feb. 25 on the front of a section containing a series of articles on Nunavik. (IMAGE COURTESY OF LA PRESSE)

(updated with video links)

The Quebec daily newspaper La Presse responded March 2 to criticism from 60 people in Nunavik that it ran a “negative” and “prejudiced” portrayal of Inuit in a Feb. 25 feature section, which contained several stories on Nunavik.

Many were incensed with the image that ran on the front page of the section. The image shows two photos, which, when pieced together, form the body of a chained sled dog with an Inuk man’s head.

In response to a letter of complaint by McGill University law graduate Joseph Flowers, and signed by 60 of his fellow Nunavimmiut, La Presse‘s news editors, Katia Gagnon and Paul-Emile Levesque, said March 2, that they were sorry for the shock caused by the image, “dont nous regrettons qu’elle ait choqué nos interlocuteurs.”

“It was inspired by the work of our photographer, Edward Plante-Frechette, who has followed two homeless Inuit for five years. He was deeply moved by the plight of these men, lost in the city, cut off from their culture, who drown their desperation in alcohol and drugs,” they said.

“And what more powerful symbol of Inuit culture is there than sled dogs, which the Canadian government slaughtered by the thousands during the 50s, causing irreparable psychological harm to the entire community?”

The La Presse multi-story feature on Nunavik, called La Tragédie inuite [The Inuit Tragedy], was followed by other articles on the two subsequent days.

La Presse reporter Pascale Breton and photographer Hugo-Sébastien Aubert travelled to Puvirnituq for their series of articles, which included stories on a recent murder and local school drop-out rates. The Feb. 25 feature package also included a photo spread on homeless Inuit living in Montreal.

(Note that although the stories were printed in French only, with the permission of La Presse, the Nunatsiaq News has so far translated two into English: The Inuit tragedy: a northern dead-end and The Inuit tragedy: Nunavik drops out )

But many Nunavimmiut said the coverage focused too much on the social issues plaguing their region.

Kuujjuaq-raised Joseph Flowers wrote a letter, signed by 60 Nunavimmiut, to La Presse’s editor, which argued that the series of articles contain racist overtones. Ivujivik graphic artist Thomassie Mangiok also wrote his own letter to La Presse.

The newspapers’ news directors defended the package of Nunavik stories March 2, explaining why Breton had been on assignment in Puvirnituq.

Several months ago La Presse decided to visit Nunavik to talk about the high number of students who drop out before finishing school, they said.

“The drop-out rate is approaching 80 per cent and “this kind of figure is an alarm signal that can leave no one indifferent.”

Breton spent hundreds of hours gathering information before she left to spend a week in Puvirnituq. For her articles, she interviewed 50 people, they said, and “she saw first-hand that social problems in Nunavik, which help explain the dropout rate, and, are many and serious.”

“As rightly said by the principal at Ikaarvik, Aipilie Kenuayuak: ‘It’s a sad story, it’s the facts.’ Now if we want these terrible facts to change, the first thing to do is to talk.”

In her 5,000 words of stories and videos available on-line at, Breton “was careful to present positive role models that emerge from these communities,” they said. “You should see the athletic prowess of these young virtuosos of the kayak, in boats they build themselves under the supervision of a teacher. Or the story of Kyle Hitchison [Aitchison], shown with the midget hockey team, overseen by the ex-hockey player Joe Juneau.”

To see the video that accompanied the story on the high drop-out rate in Nunavik, go here.

To see the video on the Nunavik Youth Hockey Development program, go here.

To see the video on the kayak-building program at Iguarsivik school in Puvirnituq, go here.

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