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Quebec security minister bombarded with demands

On a visit to Kuujjuaq this week, Quebec’s public security minister, Serge Ménard, heard about lawsuits against his department, plus a long shopping list of demands from the Kativik Regional Government.

By JANE GEORGE

KUUJJUAQ — The shadow of this year’s New Year’s avalanche in nearby Kangiqsualujjuaq hung constantly over Quebec’s public security minister, Serge Ménard, when he visited Kuujjuaq on Sept. 21.

Ménard had just learned that two families who lost relatives in the killer avalanche are seeking damages from his department.

The Kativik School Board, the community of Kangiqsualujjuaq, and their insurers also received notices of intention sent by Montreal lawyer Jacques Stuart on behalf of the Etok and Annanack families.

This legal move surprised Ménard, because he considers civil protection to be a local, municipal responsibility.

“I didn’t expect that my department would be sued,” Ménard mused. “Maybe somebody will sue another department because, after all, we have no responsibilities for telling people where to build their houses and where not to build their houses or where they can circulate and where they cannot. This is a lawyer’s problem.”

But Ménard also encountered some challenges of his own in Kuujjuaq.

During a meeting with the Kativik Regional Government and Makivik Corporation, Ménard was peppered with requests for more money and better services.

Quebec’s unpaid bills

Ménard was reminded of the $210,000 in unpaid bills that Quebec still owes Kangiqsualujjuaq and the KRG for additional expenses due to the avalanche. The government was told to ante up by the end of the month.

Ménard assured the meeting that $153,674.14 owed by his department is on its way.

“We’ll respect the promises we gave in January,” Ménard said.

The KRG council also informed Ménard that they won’t take the $135,000 he wants to give them to study the risks of avalanches in other Northern Quebec communities, because it’s not enough money to do the job properly.

“We have to refuse it because for the amount of money offered, we can’t do it,” the KRG’s vice-president, Jean Dupuis, told Ménard.

Ménard did agree to a request that that the soon-to-be-released coroner’s report on the January 1 disaster be translated from French into Inuttitut and English.

More money needed for police

But the minister pleaded “hard times” when it came to meeting other demands which included a new police station for Puvirnituq.

The present station, a cramped, second-hand Hydro-Quebec trailer, has only two cells, so prisoners are sometimes flown two hours away to Kuujjuaraapik to sleep in a secure cell. The holding cells in Puvirnituq’s court house can’t be used, because they lack proper toilets and showers.

“We really need $400,000 to replace that police station,” Dupuis told Ménard.

Ménard was also cool to the idea of paying $100,000 more a year to the local Kativik Regional Police Force so that it can increase security when Quebec’s traveling court sits in the region.

Last year’s court sessions were marred by vandalism, including damage to a government plane, theft and destruction of court records.

And Ménard wasn’t interested in picking up the tab for investigating any complaints against the Kativik police, either. Police in other regions of Quebec pay for these internal inquiries, Ménard explained, so it wouldn’t be fair if an exception was made for Nunavik.

“It’s a very stong incentive to have strict discipline and avoid police abuse,” Ménard said.

Correctional centre wanted

Those present at the meeting also wanted Ménard to tell them when Quebec will deliver on the jail that the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement promised to build back in 1975.

At present, prisoners from Nunavik are housed in the St-Jérôme Detention Centre near Montreal, far from their homes and families — a solution that was supposed to be a stop-gap measure.

Ménard said he was “extremely sensitive” to the issue. He admitted that Quebec had defaulted on meeting some of the provisions of the James Bay land claim deal in order to invest more money into education and health services in the North.

Ménard wants a working group to study corrections issues in Nunavik for nine months before moving ahead with a jail. This suggestion was generally condemned by those at the meeting as another waste of time, and a repetition of other similar efforts, such as the Makivik Corporation’s 1993 Inuit justice task force.

“Although it is true that other issues must be addressed regarding correctional services, one fact remains that there will always exist cases in Nunavik which require a detention centre and we believe such detention would be best served if it were to take place in our own region,” Makivik’s president, Pita Aatami, had told Ménard prior to the minister’s arrival in Kuujjuaq.

But jails, maintained Ménard, might not be such a good idea, anyway, because they don’t reflect native traditions and skirt around the deeper issues of alcohol and drug dependency.

“I don’t believe much in jail,” Ménard told the gathering.

The volume of demands voiced in Kuujjuaq didn’t appear to discourage Ménard, who was pleased to receive a soapstone carving as a gift.

Those present at the meeting with the minister later joked that it might take another 25 years for Quebec to deliver on their “Christmas Wish List.”

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