The right woman for the job
Suzanne Erkidjuk is training to be Iqaluit’s first female bylaw officer.
IQALUIT — “I had to hem these up and try and make the pants fit,” Suzanne Erkidjuk says, pinching the fabric of her dark blue pants at the hip.
The slacks are part of the uniform of Iqaluit’s bylaw officers. Erkidjuk, 26, is the department’s newest six-month trainee.
Erkidjuk began her new job June 18. She’s the first Iqaluit woman to train as a bylaw officer and she admits the whole thing makes her nervous.
“I always try and keep telling myself that every job isn’t easy. It’s difficult. I get nervous all the time. I worry I might do something wrong or make a mistake.
“This morning, I had to give out a warning ticket because a guy didn’t have a tail light. That made me nervous,” she says. “If I was to stop a friend… yes, I’d be very nervous. I’d be wondering if I was going to lose a friend.”
But for someone who claims to be nervous just walking to work each morning, she admits she likes to challenge herself, especially after hearing some words of wisdom from her mother.
“She told me at my age you had to keep going and they did more difficult things than we do now. I always try and keep that in mind: her job was much more tiring and more tough. She always reminds me it’s tough, but you’ll learn as time goes by.”
Being interviewed makes Erkidjuk a little nervous too, she says.
Sitting outside City Hall in bright sunshine, looking dapper in her striped pants, blue shirt, official badges and tie, she doesn’t appear quite as uncomfortable, but she fidgets and picks at the grass nearby.
After being complemented on her clothes, which are usually seen only on men, she smiles broadly and admits people tell her it’s nice to see her dressed in the uniform rather than casual clothes. The wide grin comes quickly and easily.
She talks about her duties, saying that even after work she notices when vehicles speed or commit other traffic infractions.
She says some people didn’t want her to become a bylaw officer because they thought she’d make enemies. But after hearing her father Celestine recently say on the radio that he was proud of her, she’s become proud of herself, too.
Calls of congratulation
Erkidjuk says she’s been receiving calls of congratulation from people who’ve seen her learning the ropes. The only criticism she’s received was when union members hurled insults at her for crossing the picket line on her first day of work, she says.
Erkidjuk was schooled in Iqaluit and took general academic courses at Arctic College. She met chief bylaw officer Terry Augustus about two years ago when she was working at the Toonoonik Gas Bar for Augustus’ wife, the manager.
Until recently, Erkidjuk worked as a security guard at Iqaluit’s legislative assembly building. Augustus asked her if she wanted to become a bylaw officer. Since then, she says, she hasn’t looked back.
Augustus says he hopes there will be a position in the department for Erkidjuk when her training is complete.
“If there’s openings, we hire them — that’s the plan.”
Erkidjuk’s gender was not considered when she applied, but Augustus is pleased there’s a female officer in training.
“There was a perception in town that women couldn’t be bylaw officers and it’s just great to see women taking these roles,” he says.
Erkidjuk’s fellow officers have treated her well, but she says they’re still treating her like… well, a female.
The other day some City Hall workers came to the office to get help moving boxes. They asked the men, but not her.
Erkidjuk’s figures that will change over time.
“Any woman could do just as good a job as the guys,” she says, becoming more animated. “I’m hoping in the future there will be more females applying to be bylaw officers. It makes me feel kind of left out being the only female.”