More alcohol-fueled mayhem in booze-soaked Kuujjuaraapik

Two Nunavik elders killed by drunk snowmobiler


A 20-year-old man faces four criminal charges following the deaths of two elders who died after being hit by a snowmobile in Kuujjuaraapik March 14.

Shortly before 9:00 p.m. last Friday night, an intoxicated man on a snowmobile rammed Mina Tooktoo Meeko, 70, and Mary Unganak Angatookalook Fleming, 72, in front of the community radio station, say the Sûrété du Québec provincial police, who handled the investigation.

Police say the man was driving home from one of two notorious bars located in the Inuit-Cree community.

When the snowmobile hit them, the two elders were walking home from teaching a handicrafts class at the gym.

Witnesses say visibility at the time of the incident was excellent on the flat stretch of road in front of the community's FM station.

Because the pavement on the road was free of snow, the snowmobile is thought to have raced down the road's icy shoulder, where the women were walking.

The first people to arrive at the scene saw the two women and the driver of the snowmobile lying on the ground.

Mina Tooktoo died immediately after the collision, while Mary Fleming died the next day in a Montreal ­hospital.

Tooktoo and Fleming were devout church-goers who looked after grandchildren left in their care. According to those who knew the women, they were the glue who held their large extended families together.

"These women have given us a great example of how to live. The best memorial we can give to both of them is to live as they lived and to adopt their teachings in our own life," said Anglican minister Tom Martin of St. Edmund's Church in Kuujjuaraapik.

Inuit and Cree residents of the James Bay and Hudson Bay coast regions will mourn the two well-known elders throughout the Easter weekend, Martin said.

Ricky Weetaltuk, 20, of 223 Tukimuaqtuk St. in Kuujjuaraapik, was charged earlier this week with two counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing death.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

On Saturday, Kuujjuaraapik's two bars, the Qilalugaq Pub and the Social Club, remained closed following the deaths of the two elders. Earlier this week, many in the community wanted the bars to stay closed at least until after funerals are held, probably by the end of the weekend.

Some residents say the bars have no business letting drunks leave if they know they intend to drive themselves home.

Licensed establishments elsewhere have been held liable in civil courts for injuries their intoxicated patrons suffered or caused, either on or off the premises.

For years, people in Kuujjuaraapik have endured high levels of alcohol-related violence, which include a stabbing earlier this month.

In February 2007, a Quebec judge blasted Nunavik leaders for allowing alcohol to flow freely into the region when he sentenced two young Kuujjuaraapik men for their involvement in a deadly shooting spree on Feb. 9, 2005.

Judge Daniel Bédard of the Quebec travelling court issued lengthy jail sentences that day to Michel and Allie Tooktoo of Kuujjuaraapik, who are both related to one of the deceased elders, for an armed attack on two other young men that left one dead and the other disfigured for life.

"Inuit authorities, well aware of the social impact of alcohol abuse on the members of the community and the violence associated with it, permit the operations of the bars located in Kuujjuaraapik and Kuujjuaq," Bédard said.

Bédard's comments were, however, ignored, and the two Kuujjuaraapik bars continue to operate.

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