Umiujaq connects to new emergency call system

Three other Hudson communities to be added this year; rest of region waiting on Tamaani rollout

The Umiujaq police station is seen here in this file photo. The community, located on Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast, is the first in the region to connect to a new emergency police and fire phone system. (File photo)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Umiujaq has become the first Nunavik community to link to a new emergency call system that connects callers to dispatchers at a centre in southern Quebec.

Kativik Regional Government, the provincial government and the City of Saint-Eustache, Que., announced Thursday the launch of a one-year, $900,000 pilot project to manage and streamline emergency calls.

People needing emergency police or fire services in Umiujaq will be connected to a call centre in Saint-Eustache, which will transmit the information to officers in the community.

The system will be expanded in the coming months to Kuujjuaraapik, Inukjuak and Puvirnituq, which are the other villages connected to the Tamaani fibre-optic internet network.

The new system has been 10 years in the making.

On March 2, 2013, Nunavik police Cst. Steve Dery was killed in the line of duty in Kuujjuaq.

Following his death, the police service was forced to implement many changes, according to deputy Chief Jean-Francois Morin, who was a captain in Puvirnituq a decade ago.

A Quebec workplace safety watchdog said at the time that Nunavik police officers should not be answering phone calls they need to respond to.

Morin said in an interview the new centre will begin phasing out the old system of officers answering calls and then heading out in response.

“They’re able to enter all the information that the officers will have available to them,” he said of the southern dispatchers.

“It’s making the reception of the calls perfect, there’s no delay, it’s actually better than the officers answering on the radio.”

The emergency phone number won’t change. In the event of an emergency, people will still need to contact their local 819-XXX-9111 number. The three digits after the area code are unique to each community.

KRG chairperson Hilda Snowball said the system’s launch in Umiujaq on Monday was a success.

The plan is to ensure that eventually every Nunavik community is served by the Saint-Eustache call centre, but that depends on the rollout of fibre-optic across the region.

“Within the coming years, when fibre-optic is being connected to other communities, then we can include more communities to the calling centre,” Snowball said.

“For the other communities, we’re planning to complete the project by 2026.”

She said the call centre is staffed by English and French speakers and equipped with technology that translates Inuktitut for people who need it.

The hope, she added, is to hire more Inuktitut-speaking dispatchers to address the long-time issue of mostly French and English speakers taking emergency calls in the region.

“It has always been a challenge for us but we make do, and … it will probably continue like that for now since it’s a pilot project,” Snowball said.

“In the future, we’ll probably have Inuit staff who will be answering those calls in Inuktitut.”

Ian Lafrenière, Quebec’s minister responsible for First Nations and Inuit relations, is a former police officer and said he attended Dery’s funeral in Ottawa a decade ago.

He said he’s happy to see the change — a direct result of a fellow officer’s death — finally implemented.

Lafrenière expressed confidence in KRG’s approach to rolling out fibre-optic across Nunavik, and said the province will work with the region step by step.

“We have the request for that and, as you know, bringing the fibre-optic to all of Nunavik, it’s quite expensive,” he said.

“We’re talking about having it completely deployed by 2026, but it’s going to take time and money.”

Lafrenière said that all parties involved can see how the new system works and look at improvements as it expands.

“In terms of timing, it’s starting slowly with one community just to see the capacity and how people are reacting, and the other villages will be added,” he said.


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