Kangiqsujuaq copes with fall-out from armed standoff

SWAT team flies in to subdue suspect high on booze, drugs


Life in the Nunavik community of Kangiqsujuaq was in turmoil last week as a SWAT team confronted an armed man in a tense stand-off — and now, its leaders want to make sure a similar incident never happens again.

For 30 hours, the 475 residents of Kangiqsjuaq — a quiet village located 10 km from the Hudson Strait on the southeastern shore of Wakeham Bay — watched as armed police descended on their community in an attempt to defuse the situation.

The Kativik Regional Police Force had called for help from the provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec, after the man had fired at local constables. In response, the SQ sent up a planeload of police, including a SWAT team, from Rouyn-Noranda.

Mayor Charlie Alaku wasn’t pleased by the sight of armed members of the SWAT team around Kangiqsujuaq.

“The people didn’t like seeing guns. We felt bad because we always tell our community that no guns should be carried around in town,” he said. “We don’t like that – everyone was watching.”

Working with the SWAT team was also hard for local leaders and Canadian Rangers, who had been negotiating with the armed man. When the outside police force arrived, they told local authorities the situation was now “in their hands.”

But, despite unease over the SWAT team, Alaku said he now recognizes the need for its assistance.

“It’s good that they did what they did. They are good negotiators,” he said.

Alaku said the community had to put their trust in the SWAT team’s experience, and, as a result, the “bad story” had a good ending.

Now, Alaku said he’s trying to clamp down on the volatile mix of drugs, alcohol and guns that fueled last week’s near-disaster.

Alaku, who described the gunman as a “quiet, nice guy who needs help,” said the man was out of control and wouldn’t listen to reason due to a potent mix of drugs and booze.

“He was too intoxicated and drugged up,” Alaku said.

As soon as he sobered up, the gunman came out of the residence where he’d holed up, put his gun down, lay on the ground, put his arms behind his back and allowed police to handcuff him.

Alaku said the municipality and the KRPF have been working together to stop pushers and bootleggers, and are making slow progress.

“I think it’s a problem for all Nunavik,” Alaku said.

However, getting rid of firearms to end armed violence isn’t an option. There are hundreds of guns that are owned and used by hunters in Kangiqsujuaq.

Alaku and his council want to make sure these aren’t improperly used, but are kept in storage sheds and boxes.

“All the guns should be in a safe place and locked up,” Alaku said.

Alaku said council members have been on the local FM radio urging all residents to keep their guns locked up when they’re not being used.

Locks are available without charge through the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau.

The standoff is one of the most challenging events the young mayor has been faced with since he was first elected in 2000.

But the standoff doesn’t top the list. Alaku said dealing with the community’s dire need for more housing is almost as difficult — and that’s a problem he faces every day.

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