Group needs to focus infectious energy and enthusiasm to engage a multilingual city

Safety committee will seek more public input


It's a shame that the second meeting of Iqaluit's new public safety committee got derailed when councilor Jim Little overlooked language needs.

The energy and commitment that members showed at the committee's first meeting was infectious.

Participants seemed reluctant to end their first three-hour-plus session last month – and scheduled their second meeting for a Saturday 10 days later.

"I left the meeting full of optimism," Little, who chairs the committee, said in a follow-up email.

"What I found especially encouraging was the expressed willingness of everyone to meet again so soon, and to do homework –fantastic."

That's where the process got derailed. The 10-day gap before the next meeting didn't leave enough time to get essential documents translated, and the Saturday date made arranging simultaneous translation impossible.

Even though Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik pulled the plug on the second meeting over lack of translation, she shared Little's enthusiasm for the first meeting.

"I was so excited when I got home, it took me until one in the morning to wind down," she said the next day.

The challenge now, Little also said in his email, is to share the optimism and give people hope that "a better community is not just a dream."

The city formed the safety committee after a public outcry following a vicious sexual assault near the high school last fall.

The first meeting, a three-hour getting-to-know-you and brainstorming session, got a jump-start when Shylah Elliott told how someone had broken into her apartment two nights earlier.

The intruder left without further incident, which was fortunate, she said, because the police never responded to her call.

"When I talk to young people about what is going on in their lives, it's absolutely frightening," committee member Cam McGregor said at the meeting. "In the last three years drugs and alcohol have become a flood here."

Committee member Bernice Neufeld, who has served on a similar committee in Edmonton, introduced "the crime-prevention triangle."

Three factors have to be in place before any crime is committed, she explained: opportunity, desire on the part of the perpetrator, and a victim. Remove one factor and you prevent the crime.

Neufeld said opportunity and victim elements are the easiest to change:

  • better lighting and locks can limit the number of criminal opportunities;
  • teaching people about how to avoid activities and places where they're more likely to become victims, can also make a big difference.

Members agreed a longer-term challenge will be to discourage criminal motivation by changing social factors like poverty and addictions, and improving education and mental-health treatment.

Neufeld noted safety issues occur in three physical locations – home, workplace and public spaces. The city only has direct responsibility for public spaces like roads, walkways, parks and playgrounds.

Success will depend on forming strong partnerships and supporting other sectors like the police, Neighbourhood Watch, and social services.

Creativity and imagination are key, Jack Anawak said. "It's important to go forward on these issues, not just on what we think can be done. The silent majority is just waiting for something to happen; it's important that people know what we're trying to do."

Next on the committee's agenda is to refine its vision, identify areas it can address quickly and effectively, and involve more community members in working groups.

Recognizing the original mandate will end with October's municipal election, the committee wants to hold a public forum before the summer.

That will depend on how quickly committee chair Little can arrange the next meeting – with proper translation requirements in place.

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