'The security of the staff at the school and the students are of the utmost importance.'
Inmate's release panics Grise Fiord: MLA
About 30 residents of Grise Fiord – nearly one-quarter of the tiny community – were prepared to flee town last week, warned Levi Barnabas, MLA for the High Arctic, in the legislature Feb. 22.
Barnabas later said in an interview that the panic was prompted by the release from prison of Jimmy Nungaq, the 22-year-old man who in January smashed the community's sewage truck into the RCMP detachment and truck, and a house and two skidoos, causing more than $9,000 in damage.
Whatever happened on Friday, which Barnabas and other MLAs are simply calling an "incident," was serious enough to close Grise Fiord's Umimmak School that day, in order to protect children and teachers. It also prompted police and hamlet councillors to meet.
Premier Paul Okalik reassured Barnabas his government would "deal with it directly because we don't want to put anyone in a dangerous situation."
But police say no crime was committed, and no one was arrested or charged.
So, what happened? Barnabas won't say. And neither will anyone in Grise Fiord.
Perhaps residents were simply spooked by the release of Nungaq, who wrote a menacing letter after his arrest that gives plenty of reasons to be uneasy with the six-month conditional sentence he received.
Nungaq wrote that he committed his crimes to punish "evil white people," who he blamed for the relocation of his grandmother from northern Quebec to the High Arctic half a century ago.
"My grandma feared white people. As for me, I have absolutely no fear over you wannabe rulers. I fear no death! I will humiliate you white people so much that I bet you will kill me in the end! No one knows how much I am willing to sacrifice myself for my people, and I'll tell you how much! I will die for my people. I will risk my own life for my people!"
Few mental health resources exist in Grise Fiord, Barnabas complained in the House Feb. 22. A social worker and mental health worker only briefly visit during High Arctic tours.
A mental health worker is expected to visit Grise Fiord next on March 3.
But whatever panic had been worked up on Friday seemed to have settled by Monday. The school had re-opened, and while residents either didn't know what had happened or wouldn‘t say, nobody sounded worried or fearful.
The school principal would only say the school closed on Friday because of an "operational problem." But Ed Picco, the education minister, responded to a question about the school closing in the House Feb. 22 by saying "the security of the staff at the school and the students are of the utmost importance to the government."
On Monday the RCMP sent Sgt. Dale McLeod from Iqaluit to Grise Fiord. But McLeod says he was simply sent to fill in until a new member arrived.
Hamlet officials could not be reached by Nunatsiaq News deadline. In fact, the secretary seemed unsure who the mayor is currently, because the recently-elected Mary Pijamini has since moved to Iqaluit.