Iqaluit council turns up heat on QIA over fire safety at beach

Deputy mayor Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster says she remains concerned by hazards in area

A fire at Iqaluit’s beach burned down two shacks May 27, city officials said. There were no reported injuries. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Flaherty)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association needs to do more to address fire hazards and other safety issues on the stretch of Iqaluit beach it owns, says deputy mayor Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster.

She made the comments at an Iqaluit city council meeting May 27, just hours prior to a fire that burned down two shacks along the beach.

“I have some major concerns still ongoing … about the safety of the shacks and the safety of the occupants,” she said.

Brewster told council she had suggested in the past that QIA provide fire suppressants and work with the shack owners to create emergency exits, as most of the shacks only have one door.

QIA’s manager of lands administration, Joel Fortier, said Mayor Kenny Bell and Coun. Joanasie Akumalik attended a Community Land And Resource Committee session within the last year to forward those suggestions to QIA. Bell said that their suggestions weren’t implemented.

“We talked about the safety issues and some suggestions that we had brought forward, but at the time the CLARC committee was not very receptive of our, basically, stop-gap solutions,” Bell said.

Shortly after Thursday’s council meeting ended, a fire broke out at around 9 p.m. on the beach, burning two shacks to the ground with two others catching fire. No one was injured, according to a city spokesperson.

It was the latest incident on the beach that has been notorious for public drunkenness and fires, both of which were discussed at council.

Fortier told council QIA was aware that there have also been parties at a few shacks on the beach during Iqaluit’s lockdown, which he said posed a health risk to Iqalummiut.

He said QIA issued notices to the owners of the shacks that law enforcement could get involved or that the shacks could be removed by QIA and taken to the dump.

“But that’s obviously not what we want to see,” he said, adding that these shacks are being used for gatherings, not to store hunting equipment or equipment to access the land.

He said the city and QIA can work together to try and mitigate the incidents that occur on the beach by jointly monitoring the beach, and not allowing any fire permits there.

Brewster said the city should consider fining QIA if the problems persist, stopping short of making a motion she had planned.

“I’m just trying to think of a way to help to motivate QIA to ensure these issues don’t rear their heads again,” she said.

Bell said that is an option for the future, but for now, he believes QIA is “trying and that we will see the change here soon.”

Fortier pointed to a survey, announced by QIA in late March, that asks Iqalummiut to give input on how the beach should be managed.

He said COVID-19 delayed the survey, but that once they get the results, QIA can move forward with plans to make the beach safer and nicer-looking.

So far, Fortier said about 50 people have submitted the questionnaire and that QIA is hoping for 100.

“What we’re trying to do is build a piece of land that’s safe, it looks nice and Inuit, specifically, can use it to enjoy the land,” he said.

The deadline to submit input is June 30.

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(41) Comments:

  1. Posted by Bill and Fine QIA on

    Unsightly premises and safety hazards are regularly fined by municipalities across the country. Why is QIA given carte Blanche? It is their land, so force them to clean it up. Send the bill for fire fighting to them also. When you govern by walking on egg shells no one will comply. More fires and drunkenness to come.

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    • Posted by Rezydent on

      I would encourage you to do a bit more homework before you once again force us to take a colonial approach. The area in concern is Inuit owned land but it was selected for hunters to store their hunting equipment and is tax exempt for that reason. The homeless end up taking refuge and build shelters without permission from QIA or knowledge for the most part. If QIA was to evict them, where are they to go? Please be part of the solution not inciting a a dispute between City and QIA. There are many clause from the NA that City has not considered to date that it should have been doing since 1993. So please be constructive and find a solution that meets both Deputy Mayor’s and QIA. Otherwise you are just contributing to the problem and infact you are making it worst!

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      • Posted by Meaninglessness Abounds on

        You realize that the misuse of the word colonial, as in the case, renders it meaningless, right?

        The city has every right to be concerned about what is happening in its boundaries and with its citizens. The QIA are completely in the wrong allowing this happen.

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      • Posted by Stop tiptoing on

        Deeming anything negative ‘colonial’ has no merit. Property owners are required and expected to keep their land orderly and proper. QIA is no exception. Where will the homeless go? Not my problem. Allowing the unsafe conditions to persist is bad for everything, including the homeless. Start with removing the snacks. QIA and NTI can use the billion dollars plus they have sitting in a bank to build housing for Inuit.

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        • Posted by Rezudent on

          The construct of the city council operates on a colonial system. Definitely not a Inuit style. And that’s colonial system I was referring to.

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          • Posted by Council’s Make-Up on

            The city council is meant to represent the population of the city, which is about 45% non-Inuit and growing. Iqaluit will be a non-Inuit majority city in the very near future.

            The city council should certainly represent the cultural make-up of Iqaluit. Should it be “Inuit”? Absolutely not, it needs to be more representative and diverse than that.

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            • Posted by Rezydent on

              Sadly most will not retire up-here, make the dollars and leave and the local people end up with rules and laws that does not represent their life style but that of yours.

          • Posted by Our Legislation Made It on

            Ummm, this ‘colonial’ system is based on the laws of Nunavut.

            The Iqaluit city council is a product of Nunavut legislation.

            Any talk of ‘colonial structures’ is misguided and wrong-headed.

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          • Posted by Nattering Nabob on

            So, in context, to make any sense of your comment the only conclusion is that any action on this issue should be taken outside the bounds of what city council decides to do? Is that correct?

            Will you give us your alternative “approach”?

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          • Posted by Colonial on

            So a municipal government system, designed in accordance with the Nunavut Land Claim, which Inuit negotiated via NTI, is colonial? Please get a dictionary or start saying ‘democratic’ when you say ‘colonial’. What did you have in mind, rule by a specific bloodline?

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  2. Posted by Escape Hatch From Reality on

    Take the party shacks to the dump and get the Deputy Mayor a clue!
    This has been going on for decades. Clear the beach. Let the children play.
    Taima!

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    • Posted by Reality on

      The Deputy Mayor is an effective member on council who cares about the safety of the people living in the shacks being one who actually expresses concern for them. The reality is that as long as QIA doesn’t remove them and the shacks there is a risk that someone could die in a fire. She has been a tireless advocate for homeless people in Iqaluit.

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      • Posted by Crack shacks not homes. on

        Conflating party shacks where antisocial people go to get wasted on drink and drugs and cause trouble with actual homeless people is not being an effective advocate nor is it actually helpful to the homeless or the community at large. We need less performative pearl clutching and more action to stop the endless mayhem and destruction on the beach before more people get hurt. Escape hatches just shows the lack of any real ideas and solutions being proposed here. It’s pathetic.

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        • Posted by Crack Up on

          Continuing working together to solve the problem is not performative it’s proactive and engaged. So called crackheads and otehr people struggling with trauma and addictions are just as important as the elitists who want them out of sight and out of mind. There’s nothing more pathetic than NIMBYists who offer nothing but criticism tearing down good people.

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          • Posted by A clean and safe beach is no threat to the homeless on

            “these shacks are being used for gatherings, not to store hunting equipment or equipment to access the land.”

            This event has nothing to do with homelessness. There are hardly any homeless left on the beach. The drunk partiers drove them all away and QIA allowed them since it’s easier than dealing with all the morons going on about homeless people every time some intoxicated fool sets fire to another set of crack shacks.

            As for people arguing for keeping people in plywood shacks out of compassion, give your heads a shake.

            While it’s no doubt more cathartic to whine online and in one’s social bubble we need less people pretending they give a toss about homelessness and more people doing the drudgery of lobbying and filling in funding applications to get housing projects built.

            We also need QIA and the City of Iqaluit to create a clean and safe beach area for the whole community to use and enjoy.

            These goals are not mutually exclusive.

            Time for QIA and councillors to grow a pair.

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      • Posted by Why Not? on

        The actual number of sheds/shacks being used by hunters is going down; with people having more boat trailers means they don’t need to store their hunting/camping equipment at the beach. The beach should not be used to house people. If any landowner allows, which includes the City(i am referring to the unauthorized cabins along the Grinnell River) and QIA, they should be held accountable. As a homeowner, I would never allow anyone to set up their residence within my landless. QIA, you need to understand that that not people use the beach shacks for store hunting equipment.

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  3. Posted by “…help to motivate QIA” on

    “…think of a way to help to motivate QIA,” says deputy Mayor of Iqaluit.

    As a person from North Baffin, I’d like to say to the City of Iqaluit is that QIA cannot, I repeat CANNOT take care of their duties.

    Creating a new organization away from QIA is the only option left.

    We’ll get it next time.

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  4. Posted by Leesee Papatsie on

    Let me get this right, Brewster wants QIA to clean up the beach, take away the shacks. Forget homeless people, let’s make it harder for them as it is. These people have no where to go, and yet, you want to take away where they are going to sleep at night. Talk about privilege person, a person who doesn’t have to worry where they are sleeping tonight. Instead of assisting QIA on “How can we work together on this”, they are pointing at QIA to fix it, and this is for real.
    For example, the City can assist the homeless people to built proper cabins along the beach, just do it.

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    • Posted by Wrong on

      Nope you got it wrong. Deputy Mayor Brewster spent most of that discussion advocating for the homeless people living in shacks and talking about how they can continue to work together. She prodded QIA on what they are doing to support the homeless people living there to move into permanent housing.
      Judging by the comments on this story, she’d damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.
      Keep up the good work Brewster.

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    • Posted by Easy Words, Difficult Solution on

      All kinds of legal issues assisting with structures on land that you don’t own.

      All construction that had any sort of city money in it would need to be at code.

      The liability issues in this suggestion are huge, and it would take the lawyers forever to work out what the division is between QIA and the city.

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      • Posted by Take it easy on

        What’s the liability of providing fire suppressants?
        Make it a good one because cities and fire safety organizations distribute them all over the place because they save lives.
        What’s the liability of providing fire safety education, because that’s what I see suggested: Make sure you have more than one exit, in case of fire.
        Deputy, don’t be discouraged by these armchair warriors.
        Keep fighting the good fight.
        We see you.

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        • Posted by I Always Take It Easy on

          I’m glad that your eyesight is effective, I appreciate the acknowledgment, thank you.

          I’m not encouraging doing nothing, not by a long shot. Fire extinguishers is a simple solution yes, and probably realistic with owner consent.

          However, my answer was much more focused on the suggestion of the city building structures on land that they don’ t own. That is a non-starter, very expensive, and a legal minefield.

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    • Posted by Let’s find the truth together! on

      Interesting analysis, and I am with you on “getting this right.” With that in mind I didn’t notice any of what you have observed about clearing off the beach in the article. Can you point out what lead you to that?

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    • Posted by The FaceBook Answer Applies on

      Privilege person? Really?

      Not at all, these are the comments of a person who understands the difficulties of working the QIA, the difficulty of imposing municipal rules on IOL, and the liability that the city risks.

      As FaceBook says, “It’s complicated”, and Brewster properly recognizes this.

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    • Posted by Common Knowledge on

      Aasi. Brewster has shared her own experience of being homelessmultiple times as her motivation for helping people. Watch the meeting and you will see that she is not doing what you wrongly claim. Get the whole picture before you point fingers.

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  5. Posted by Question on

    Did the councilors who work at QIA/NTI declare a conflict of interest in this discussion?

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  6. Posted by Eyesore on

    Whenever I go to iqaluit and see these shacks it saddens me that this is what the QIA wants for its waterfront. Instead of shacks, sh*t and squalor, these area could be so much more. Imagine what this land could be if the QIA even cared. Sure it’s inuit land but it’s also within the city’s boundary.

    Lucky nobody got injured or died. Next time they might not be so lucky. They should just give a 24 hour notice and then bulldozer all those shacks to the ground. A true disgrace.

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  7. Posted by Glass house, meet stone on

    The City of Iqaluit has its own messes to deal with. Perhaps they should start in their own back yard?

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  8. Posted by Iqaluit rezident on

    I generally get what the Deputy mayor is saying, however the city has the authority and can excercise their power to make owners of the cabins / shelters to be made with safety in mind. By-law can conduct inspections just like they can inspected peoples property if they are too messsy. The tenants are responsible for their safety on the property. The beach that is predominantly hunters storage area however this has slowly started expanding to homeless building temporary / permanent resident. The Deputy Mayor needs to takes it responsibility and not blame anyone else and including QIA. City has authority to take action. I as a resident should able to complain to the city to address this issue!

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    • Posted by huh on

      The city IS working with QIA on addressing the issue that’s the whole gist of the story. Where in this article does it say that the deputy mayor is blaming QIA and not taking responsibility for working on addressing the pressing issue of the situation on the beach? I’m happy that she is taking initiative to keep the dialogue open and that she demonstrates not only responsibility as a member of Council, also personal responsibility over many years of activism and cleaning the area of garbage. Why are so many commenters making it about her??? Anyway, these problems can’t be solved over night and there seems to be progress. Glad nobody got hurt in the fire and that they had it on their agenda to begin with.

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  9. Posted by Blowed over on

    Just bulldoze the shacks one post whi obviously cares more about the scenery then the disadvantaged. Instead of brushing aside the issues work on setting up temporary shelter where the homeless can go. All this space and yet homelessness is still an issue from time immemorial.

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  10. Posted by Qikiqtaalummiu on

    replace the whole council and mayor ,they have no idea or clue what to do with what is happening with local resident people,only visitors are playing a roll that is creating non effectiveness of real city/community level of citizenship and economics.what really matters is working together and taking care of each othere and this past fives years has not been the greatest nor the worst.time for change vote wisely and with good intensions.

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  11. Posted by Me on

    Housing Units lots of them have only one door only entrance only exit, amazing hardly any casualties by burning fire & smoke. Cabins needs two doors or door & window since they have smaller space and most don’t have windows for escape but still fire is still dangerous once it gets out of hand

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  12. Posted by Homeless advocate on

    Aasi, how about find out why there is such a influx now of men living in shacks in the beach? I have been donating food to the men staying there in the shacks, and they are all former Uttuuq society clients. They all left the mens shelter in the last year due to feeling unsafe there. What is the point of having homeless shelters if Qallunat from the south run it in such a way that keeps the homeless away?

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    • Posted by Uquutaq on

      If you say some of the homeless clients who are now using the beach are former Uquutaq clients that have left due to feeling unsafe at the new 60 bed facility, the question should be what is happening at the men’s shelter? Are these men breaking the rules? Which rules? Is there a problem with management? Does the board know? Does the funders know?

  13. Posted by Xeno on

    You know the xenophobia is strong up here when fire safety becomes a race issue.

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  14. Posted by Kanayuq on

    QIA – You want to help homeless and clear the beach in relates to Fire Hazardous matters. QIA build the homeless a Cabin for thier usage and away from beach…common sense.

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  15. Posted by If on

    What if the fire had spread to the elders center, pictured in front of the burning shacks, how many homeless, injured or dead would you have to deal with.

  16. Posted by No heart on

    Some People have no heart these are homeless People. How would you feel if you were in their shoe. Making it harder for homeless wait till one of the homeless is found frozen because of homelessness what will the city councillor think wake up and help the homeless now.

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