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Nunavut’s blind-as-a-bat approach to eye care

“Citizens must wait months or longer for simple eye exams that are needed as a prerequisite for glasses”


Every summer I take my family south for a few weeks of holidays. I feel so fortunate and indeed blessed to be able to offer this to my family as I know that it is unaffordable for most Nunavutmiut.

Our objectives on these holidays are simple: rest, recreation and shopping (not necessarily in that order). However, this year there was a fourth objective that was no less important.

We needed to arrange an eye examination for our son. We knew months ago that he had likely become nearsighted as his teacher said that he was having trouble seeing the blackboard.

When I inquired at that time, I was told that it would take many months to get him an appointment with the “eye team” that travels infrequently to Iqaluit.

In fact, my wife told me that she herself is currently on a waiting list to get on a waiting list to see this team, if that makes any sense.

After having lived in Iqaluit for so long, I forgot how incredibly easy it is in the South to get a simple eye check-up. We made an appointment for my boy for the following day, the eye test took half an hour, and he got his glasses the day after that.

I couldn’t help but shake my head and wonder why such a simple service takes so many months to obtain in Iqaluit.

A person could respond by stating that we live in the Arctic, and it is unrealistic to think that you can expect the same level of service as one could expect to receive in the South. Fair point.

However, this reasoning doesn’t apply to all public services offered in this territory. Legal services in criminal law are a prime example. A person of limited means who is accused of a criminal offence in Iqaluit can receive virtually immediate free legal assistance by a local team of legal aid staff lawyers, or a number of senior lawyers from the South who visit Iqaluit on almost a bi-weekly basis.

This service is no doubt as good as, if not better, than one could expect to receive in southern Canada, and it is so good because it is resourced so very generously by the Government of Nunavut. Last year, the Legal Services Board received a 20 per cent increase in their budget with no questions asked by the politicians.

As a result, in Nunavut we have a rather odd and nonsensical reality where criminal offenders can get immediate, top flight assistance for their problems, and yet law abiding citizens must wait months or longer for simple eye exams that are needed as a prerequisite for glasses so that they can see properly.

A reasonable person might look at this sad state of affairs and conclude that:

a) the legal aid system is funded too generously and limited resources should be spent elsewhere; or

b) the Department of Health isn’t getting enough funding, or otherwise doesn’t have it’s priorities straight.

If the preceding statement is not fair comment, can a politician please come forward and try to make sense of all this for me.

In closing, I don’t want to be perceived by this letter as a malcontent or a complainer. My child has his glasses and my life is good. I just feel sorry for others.

(Name withheld by request)

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