Nunavik’s epidemic of violence
The people of Nunavik have lately suffered from so many horrifying incidents of mindless, often fatal, violence, it’s been a challenge just keeping up with them all.
But there’s no doubt about it. Here’s a sample of what’s been happening:
* January: A teenager walks into the school in Kangiqsujuaq and inflicts a brutal beating on the principal. School staff hold three days of meetings, and the school director helps organize a burning of hip-hop and heavy metal CDs at the local evangelical church.
* February: In Kuujjuaraapik, a 17-year-old boy is charged with first-degree murder, and a 21-year-old man charged with second-degree murder, in the fatal shooting of a young man after a drunken argument. A 15-year-old boy is sent to hospital with serious injuries.
* February: A 50-year-old employee of the Kativik Regional Government is found dead at his home in Kuujjuuaq after a late-night torture-killing. Three young Kuujjuaq men, all under the age of 25, are charged with first-degree murder. The story makes the front page of Quebec’s most popular tabloid newspaper.
* February: In Salluit, an 18-year-old boy walks into the school, shoots a 43-year-old teacher through the neck, then kills himself. School staff react by staging what, in effect, is a wildcat strike, refusing to teach until they get more resources. The KSB eventually gives them what they want.
* March: Again in Salluit, another teenage boy holds a gun to the head of a member of a teacher’s family.
All this violence is happening in a small region with a population of only 9,000. And they can’t be called “isolated” incidents. They’re happening within a context of nearly continuous mayhem: wife-beatings, sexual assaults, drunken brawls and random shooting incidents.
They’re perpetrated by different people in different places. But they have much in common: young, out-of-control males, usually drunk, who have learned to believe that violence will produce results.
The social deterioration that produces this violence took a long time to develop, and it will take a long time to change. But the regional leadership must begin, now, to acknowledge the problem and take steps to mitigate it.
Here are some suggestions:
* Nunavimmiut should take a long hard look at alcohol and drug abuse in their region, and do something about it. That includes a long hard look at the two booze-holes in Kuujjuaq, where a community-owned corporation profits from the sale of poison to its own people.
* Nunavik leaders must continue to insist that the provincial government help them build a regional justice and correction system: with a resident judge, more resident Crown lawyers, more legal aid lawyers and a regional correctional centre staffed by Inuit.
* Political leaders must make it clear that frontline public servants aren’t punching bags, and that they are not to be used for target practice by rampaging thugs.
* The administrators who run Nunavik’s governing organizations – the KRG, the KSB, the KRPF and the health board – must do everything they reasonably can to create safe, secure working conditions for their employees. If they don’t, the unions should take their members out on strike until their employers get serious about workplace safety.
* If public servants believe they’re not safe, how insecure must everyone else feel? That means political leaders must strengthen public security by supporting their police force. Too many demoralized police officers are quitting their jobs or taking prolonged periods of stress leave. And the Kativik Regional Police force is not a colonial imposition. It exists because the people of Nunavik, including many political leaders, asked for an Inuit police force. But its members are abused and spat on anyway, and neglected by the leadership.
* The James Bay Cree are using money from their Paix des Braves agreement to train and strengthen their police force. The Inuit of Nunavik made a major mistake when they failed to do the same thing with money they received from the Sanarrutik agreement. If they’re serious about building an Inuit police force, they must provide more training and better housing.
* Specifically, political leaders should also support the police in efforts to enforce the safe storage and handling of firearms everywhere, and provide them with the means to do it. When guns and ammunition are safely locked away, it’s a lot harder for crazed teenagers to get their hands on them. Too many harvesting tools are finding their way into the hands of people who use them to hunt human beings. JB