In Kugluktuk, Nunavut RCMP urge united action to restore peace
“it’s not just about the police—it’s about everyone”
What Nunavut RCMP Superintendent Amanda Jones heard last Friday evening from people at a public meeting in Kugluktuk was clear: residents are dissatisfied with how police officers respond to calls, and they don’t feel safe.
Hamlet leaders, government officials, the local MLA, Mila Kamingoak, and police attended the Aug. 2 meeting, called after a group of Kugluktuk residents protested last month outside the RCMP detachment and sent a letter to officials, condemning what they call police inaction in dealing with increased amounts of alcohol-related mayhem.
“Kudos to them because they don’t want to tolerate it,” Jones told Nunatsiaq News from Iqaluit after the meeting. “But it’s not just about the police—it’s about everyone.”
Jones said the RCMP will do its part by boosting its enforcement and trying to be visible during the busier times.
“But the community needs to stand up too,” Jones said.
The RCMP doesn’t have immediate solutions to offer the western Nunavut community of about 1,500 people.
“It’s something that everyone is going to have to work on together,” she said.
Ideas raised at the meeting included setting up a neighbourhood watch program, the creation of an RCMP auxiliary to assist police, and the hiring of a second bylaw officer by the hamlet.
Adding an officer to the five-member RCMP detachment won’t happen, Jones said, because the budget isn’t there.
But she said efforts will be made to ensure the detachment is fully staffed.
Since residents voted to remove restrictions on alcohol imports last October, drinking has fueled a huge rise in calls to police.
“It’s pretty shocking,” said Jones.
Calls are up by more than 150 per cent, from 709 between Jan. 1, 2018 and July 29, 2018 to 1,999 calls during the same period this year, from Jan. 1, 2019 and July 29, 2019, she said.
That seven-month figure of 1,999 calls is more than the total number of calls—1,440—made to the detachment in the entire year of 2018, she said.
And, of the calls in 2019, 95 per cent are linked to alcohol, she said.
The number of calls made to police by intoxicated people complaining about other intoxicated people have doubled over the last seven months, as have the number of assaults and impaired driving incidents.
Last Thursday, Aug. 1, a crash involving a single all-terrain vehicle, in which alcohol was implicated, killed two residents in Kugluktuk, a 33-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy. The driver’s sister, 22, survived.
“It’s one thing if you’re 33 years and you choose to drive impaired, but the 17-year-old is trusting you,” Jones said.
As for the big fix, the RCMP can’t do it alone, said Jones.
“We’re a band-aid. There’s a social underlying issue as to why people drink, and until we solve this issue, people are going to drink,” she said.
The same problem can be found in other Nunavut communities, where it’s even worse than Kugluktuk, she said.
“It seems bad to them. They’re seeing it because it’s so bad, but there are other communities which are worse off,” she said.
However, the situation is “right in their face” in Kugluktuk, Jones acknowledged. That’s because of the noticeable difference in alcohol-related incidents between October, when the plebiscite on lifting restrictions took place, to December.
“Everyone expected that when you lift restrictions you’re going to get a peak, but eventually you think that it will start dropping down. But it hasn’t peaked and it’s just going on a straight line,” she said.
As for RCMP response times to calls, one of the major complaints made by members of the public about police, Jones said some residents call the detachment for help after hours and leave a message.
But often the on-call members can’t respond, because they are already dealing with a situation.
Jones encouraged people to call the RCMP number, 1-867-979-1111, which receives calls 24-7 and passes them on to police in the communities.