Rankin residents threaten blockade

Some Rankin Inlet residents say they will commit acts of civil disobedience to counter efforts to evict families in mid-winter.



Jack Anawak says he would have been arrested before allowing police to evict a fourth Rankin Inlet family from their home last week.

“I was prepared to get arrested,” Anawak said. “I was prepared to take some drastic action but fortunately we did not have to get to that stage”

Block the sheriff

Anawak and other Rankin Inlet residents say they would have tried to prevent a sheriff from serving an eviction notice to a family that were to be evicted last Thursday.

“We’ve decided that we will not tolerate it and block passage,” said Marius Tungilik on Thursday morning, as he prepared to take part in the blockade.

“There may be some people arrested. One of them being Jack Anawak our MP,” Tungilik said. “We have to put an end to this nonsense.”

But Tungilik tipped off the housing corporation about the planned blockade, and meanwhile the hamlet of Rankin Inlet got involved and challenged the legality of the eviction notice.

Several Rankin Inlet residents fighting the evictions made a flurry of phone calls to media outlets, MLAs and bureaucrats in Yellowknife.

Later that day, Rankin Inlet’s housing association backed away from serving the eviction notice and the blockade was called off. The association manages tenants on behalf of the NWT Housing Corporation.

But the threat of civil disobedience highlights how frustrated many people in Rankin Inlet are with what they call the “cultural insensitivity” of their government.

Debtors must pay up

Bill Gofton, the interim manager of the Rankin Inlet Housing Association, says that public housing tenants owe the association about $450,000 in back rents. There are also at least 50 people waiting to get into public housing units.

Gofton says the association tries to do everything it can before resorting to evictions. He says the evictions served last week had been in the works for about 18 months.

Some families had been ordered to vacate their units as early as last June but had refused.

“It’s not something we take lightly. It’s the very, very last step we take,” Gofton said. “The policies we have are very compassionate and liberal.”

But while the people fighting the evictions agree that debtors must pay up, they don’t like the way the association is collecting its bad debts.

Earlier this month, Peter Kapuk, the hamlet’s sheriff, quit his job and refused to serve eviction notices. Rankin Inlet Mayor John Hickes says the sheriff’s children were being threatened.

“We don’t need that kind of dissension in the community,” Hickes said.

No winter evictions

Hickes says his hamlet will be talking to Goo Arlooktoo, the minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation, about the sudden rash of evictions.

For starters, he says the government shouldn’t evict people in mid-winter.

“Not only is it inhumane ­ it’s dangerous,” Hickes said, adding that most people no longer have experience living in a tent or snow house.

Hickes says there may be as many as 25 more families in Rankin Inlet who could soon face eviction, and many more in other Nunavut communities. The GNWT has to try to come up with a better process for dealing with people not paying their rents, he says.

Anawak suggests that the government should not evict any families between November and May.

“If they have it in Ontario, then surely it is much more needed in the Northwest Territories,” Anawak said.

Anawak says the government should also spend more time educating people about what can happen if they don’t pay rent, and how they should respond to a court action.

Anawak said a fourth family threatened with evictions had been paying $744 a month in rent since Feb. 1996. The eviction order was issued because they weren’t paying down the $6,000 in rental arrears they owed.

“Common sense should have prevailed,” Anawak said, adding that one woman in the family is pregnant, and that she and her husband were going to have to move back in with her elderly parents if evicted.

A dance last Saturday in Rankin Inlet helped raise about $450 to help the evictees pay back their rental arrears, and another dance is planned for this weekend.

Gofton says he hasn’t received any new directives from Yellowknife to change the association’s eviction policies.

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