Op-ed: Time for Inuit Nunangat community safety program
Over the past few years, we’ve been working with community first responders on the Kitikmeot Search and Rescue Project.
While focused on improving SAR operations, we also heard a great deal about broader emergency management and community safety concerns, from structural fires and prolonged power outages to the natural and human-made hazards related to climate change.
Across Inuit Nunangat, risks are amplified by the limited emergency management resources available to most communities and by the fact that, moreso than any other jurisdiction in the country, they lack access to rapid assistance from external agencies.
The response to these challenges must start at the local level. A good place to begin would be the establishment of an Inuit Nunangat Community Public Safety Officer program — similar to those already in place in some Eeyou Istchee Cree, Nunavik, and Alaskan communities.
Such a program would provide communities with full-time community public safety officers responsible for SAR, all-hazards emergency management, fire prevention, land and marine safety, and emergency medical services — taking some of the burden off the volunteers who currently fulfill many of these roles.
A Community Public Safety Officer program would build off the local knowledge, Inuit Qauijimajatuqangit, and community relationships of the officers, while providing the space for the development of new capabilities through a tailor-made training program.
Critics will, no doubt, highlight the costs of such a government-funded initiative, but imagine the savings these officers would generate if they could prevent even a few SAR cases requiring an aerial response from the south, or reduce the number of structural fires in the region, to say nothing of the lives they might save.
The risks are increasing. The time has come for the creation of an Inuit Nunangat Community Public Safety Officer program — an equitable solution to the unique emergency management challenges facing the region. It would answer recent calls for improved regional emergency management capabilities made by Inuit, territorial, and federal leaders, while helping to implement the Inuit Nunangat Policy’s commitment to support well-being throughout Inuit Nunangat.
And we believe there would be no shortage of recruits. As one community responder explained to us: “I’ve been a volunteer firefighter, a member of the [coast guard] auxiliary, volunteer ambulance, and I go out on a lot of searches. If this kind of job existed, I’d apply for it in a heartbeat.”
Let’s give him the chance.
Calvin Avigak Pedersen is a search and rescue volunteer, former MLA, and former supervisor of operations at a correctional facility, from Kugluktuk.
Peter Kikkert is the Irving Shipbuilding chair in Arctic policy and assistant professor of public policy and governance in the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University.
P. (Paul) Whitney Lackenbauer is the Canada research chair (tier 1) in the Study of the Canadian North and a professor in the School for the Study of Canada, Trent University.