Looking for accountability, Iqaluit resident urges public inquiry into water crisis

MP Lori Idlout echoes call on national radio; territorial leaders say third-party review is sufficient

People line up at a water depot near the Iqaluit library in October after the Government of Nunavut issued a do-not-consume water advisory due to fuel contamination in the city’s treated water system. (File photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As some in Iqaluit are calling for a public inquiry into how government leaders have handled the city’s water emergency, those who could call such an inquiry have not committed to such a step.

The city has been under a boil-water advisory for a week as officials try to determine how fuel keeps getting into the city’s water treatment system.

People started reporting a fuel-like odour in their tap water starting on Oct. 2. Ten days later, the territorial government issued an advisory to stop consuming the water. That advisory was lifted Dec. 10.

Six days later, staff at the water treatment plant detected fuel in one of the water treatment plant’s treated water tanks. This incident, which was blamed on maintenance at the plant, was reported to the public on Jan. 6. Then, on Jan. 13, reports once again surfaced that Iqaluit’s treated water smelled of fuel.

The treatment plant’s hydrocarbon monitoring system detected three more breaches over the course of that week, and the city made the call to use its newly installed bypass system on Jan. 19. Each of the contamination incidents in December and January have been at levels below the threshold for Canada’s drinking water guidelines, city officials have said.

The Health Department has confirmed the territorial government will be conducting a third-party review of the government’s handling of the situation. The Health Department is still not offering any details about when such a review will happen, or who will conduct it.

The City of Iqaluit, Department of Health and Department of Community and Government Services will all participate.

But some people don’t think a third-party review is enough.

Iqaluit resident Joseph Murdoch-Flowers sent a letter Jan. 20 to Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok, Justice Minister David Akeeagok, Nunavut MP Lori Idlout, and a list of other politicians, urging a public inquiry.

A third-party review doesn’t have the power or transparency of a public inquiry, mainly, a commissioner who can subpoena documents, said Murdoch-Flowers.

“[A third-party review] will fail to provide the public with the accountability, transparency and confidence that we expect and deserve,” Murdoch-Flowers wrote.

Justice Minister David Akeeagok, who ultimately has the authority to call a public inquiry, was not available for interview. He did say in a statement that findings from the third-party review will help the government decide if further steps need to be taken.

If the justice minister doesn’t call for a public inquiry, regular MLAs can get information through a special committee, oral question period or a committee of the whole review, said Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes.

“There’s a high level of frustration now,” he said.

“I think it’s even gone past frustration. It’s people [have] just kind of almost given up on what type of information is going to be available publicly.”

Hickes called the proposition of a public inquiry an “extensive step” and did not say he supports such a measure.

Another of Murdoch-Flowers’s concerns is that a third-party review could be kept from the public eye, but Hickes says the third-party review will have to be tabled in the legislative assembly, making it available to the public.

If the majority of MLAs vote to refer the report to the committee of the whole, the committee can then call witnesses and do a further review of the report, Hickes said.

Premier P.J. Akeeagok’s press secretary, Sima Sahar-Zerehi, said protocol prevents the premier from answering questions regarding his Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu constituency, but he did say he has received a request and is trying to figure out what the next best step for the government to take is.

Neither Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Lightstone or Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster responded to requests for comment.

Nunavut MP Lori Idlout was interviewed on CBC’s As it Happens on Jan. 20, where she expressed support for a public inquiry.

“I think this current boil advisory … now shows that it’s required,” she said.

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by Meh on

    I don’t necessarily disagree, but I really do wonder why a third-party review with a published report would not be sufficient. Is there really any real concern that individuals involved will not respond to questions? I mean if a GN-mandated third-party review was happening, will individuals at the City (who depend on the GN for all funding) or Department of Health (who can be whipped by EIA and Health senior management) really risk not participating? Pretty much every document would be available under Access to Information, so why do you need subpoenas? I really wonder what value a slow and lengthy GN process would add over a third-party expert, who would work efficiently to deliver for a pre-determined sum of money.

    • Posted by Don’t promise; prove on

      The city is still not subject to access to information.

      The GN’s expert engineer Jack Hinds said in a GN commissioned report about the City contaminated water that “Wood continues to believe that there is insufficient data gathered to date to verify that the single suspected source and transport mechanism resulted in the [water treatment plant] contamination,” reads the report. “In addition, focusing on a single potential source of contamination could cause other potential sources to be overlooked, and present future risk to the facility.” That’s why Wood has recommended the city commit to another, more thorough, risk review, on top of more than 30 other tasks designed to protect Iqaluit’s entire water treatment system from contamination.”

      Whereas, City hired WSP company concluded that the contamination came from a forgotten, decades-old fuel tank that was found in an underground area just outside the plant called “the void,” and the city has endorsed this conclusion.”


      Before residents did not know which expert to believe but it now seems clear that Wood is better than WSP.

      Plus residents got a little bit of insight from Nunatsiaq News that the former Deputy CPHO Dr. Anne Huang said she was alone in trying to get GN and City to take the October contamination seriously. Seems GN decided to get rid of her at the six month probationary period instead of keeping her around. The powers that be hate a whistleblower.


      Residents are entitled to get good trustworthy information and that things being handled properly. We’re talking about water and resident’s health.

    • Posted by People Leave on

      If employees have left, retired, are on leave, or terminated without the power to subpoena them they may not participate. This review may need to look into conduct leading up to the crisis and after it. Also I may be wrong but as the City of Iqaluit
      Is not subject to Access to Information they may not be compelled to cooperate. Minister Akeeagok or the Legislature need to call for a public inquiry as Mr Flowers suggests!

  2. Posted by Shawn on

    Liver cancer could show up along with many other problems.
    The government is corrupt.
    The public housing system is fk’d up

    • Posted by monty sling on

      let the heads roll, endangering almost ten thousand ppl, government? new guys are farce, armatures; having titles they don’t deserve, what a joke, bye bye in integrity.

  3. Posted by By George He’s On It! on

    Bet you Mayor Bell and Premier Akeeagok just broke into a sweat reading George Hickes comments about holding them accountable in the legislative. Get ready for Kenny to fire off on Twitter to try to deflect blame on everyone but himself. Shame that already PJ isn’t standing up for his own riding too. Iqalummiut deserve answers and leaders willing to be held accountable. Go George go.

    • Posted by shame on

      Hey now, give Kenny a break, he’s got an after term book to worry about!

  4. Posted by Kenny smells on

    George for Mayor!! No wait he’s already doing bigger and better. Jealous Kenny??? You won’t get the votes to be an MLA.

  5. Posted by Up Here Forever on

    Locating any technical or qualified staff to,work in Nunavut has become nearly impossible. The idea that some sort of inquiry into conduct should be made trying to hold individuals accountable will only make matters far, far worse. There are currently over 80 technical and double that medical and education vacancies across the Territory. Iqaluit as a City is even worse positioned to recruit and retain with no housing and a poor pension and pay that is no longer competitive for the difficulties living here. Any prosecutorial action would only make recreational and retain much worse.

  6. Posted by Think twice on

    A third party review is only good for whoever is paying for it.

  7. Posted by iWonder on

    Would a petition help make this happen?

  8. Posted by Iqalummiut on

    How do you hold colonists accountable when they’re always leaving town? Who gets to answer for the shoddy work done by itinerant workers that have no interest in living here?

    • Posted by Easy Peasy on

      That one is easy – the people of Iqaluit via their elected representatives. If the reps aren’t delivering, then replace them…so, the voters of Iqaluit are responsible.

      Next question please.

  9. Posted by Take a guess !. on

    If one of them is a supportive to Conservative Government. He sure will block the the water problem in Iqaluit. Is Bell one of them?


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