Baffin board defends new Iqaluit social services
Baffin health board officials say they will do their best to find Inuktitut-speaking social workers for Iqaluit.
IQALUIT — Some Iqaluit town councillors say local residents may receive less service in Inuktitut now that the Baffin Regional Health and Social Services Board is in control of social services in Iqaluit.
The health board says local residents shouldn’t notice any change to delivery of social services.
But two Inuit social services workers have not signed on with the health board, and one town councillor says he believes services will be affected.
“You said we’re not going to see a change in services, but right away we have,” said Iqaluit town councillor Doug Lem, pointing to the lack of Inuktitut-speaking social services workers.
“The new staff coming into positions are going to be new to Nunavut, and I’m wondering about the cultural aspects as well as the language issues,” he said.
The health board’s new director of health and social services for Iqaluit, Derry Martens, met with Iqaluit town council’s finance, legislative, administrative and community services committee last week.
Committee members questioned the health board’s ability to provide the same level of service when none of the town’s Inuktitut-speaking employees had accepted the board’s employment offer. Board officials hired candidates from southern Canada to fill some of the positions prior to Martens’ arrival.
“I met with both of the Inuit social workers and I was disappointed that they decided not to move,” Martens said.
“From my perspective, I will make every effort to try to address the concerns you’re raised,” Martens told committee members.
Prior to the transfer, half of the Town’s 10-person staff spoke Inuktitut. Martens has since hired two new Inuktitut-speaking employees. Neither are social services workers. The board still has one probation officer position to fill.
Martens said the board would continue to provide interpreters for Inuktitut-speaking clients.
“There must have been a system in place for interpretive services and we’ll continue on with that,” Martens said.
The FLAC committee now plans to recommend that town council ask a representative of the health board to explain its hiring and training practices.
The health board should try to hire local employees instead of hiring southerners, said committee member Ben Ell. And he asked the health board to provide answers to the committee’s questions.
“I really want to know. I think there will be continued frustration by the community if they’re not given answers,” Ell said.
In fact, the Town first began delivering social services in 1981 to ensure local people would be hired, said Paul Fraser, Iqaluit’s former director of social services, and the acting senior administrative officer.
He said having interpreters on staff is not as good as having bilingual workers.
“There’s a degree in comfort that takes place that can not be replicated through translation or interpretation,” Fraser said.
The board did look for Inuktitut-speaking candidates to fill the social workers positions, said Judy Watts, the board’s acting chief executive officer. She said if any qualified Inuktitut-speaking candidates had applied, they would have been hired.
“We would be very, very happy to have Inuktitut speaking social workers,” she said.
Council will consider FLAC’s recommendation at its next meeting on August 10.