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Vandals lay waste to POV school

Damage could cost $1M

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

Puvirnituq’s Iguarsivik School is closed early for the holidays, after vandals broke in last weekend, overturning filing cabinets, ransacking classrooms and smashing every computer, every photocopy machine, and every musical instrument in the building, causing an estimated $1 million worth of damage.

Police arrested and detained five people, who face charges of mischief over $5,000 and break and enter with intent: Joanasie Angiyou, 18; Josie Cruikshank, 18; Aisa Sivuarapik, 19; and two youths, aged 14 and 13. A sixth suspected vandal is only 11 years old and cannot be charged under the Youth Justice Act.

Police announced the arrests this Wednesday, but say they have held the suspects since last weekend.

That would surprise principal Aipilie Kenuajuak, who said on Monday he was frustrated police didn’t move quicker to make arrests following the trashing of his school and the community’s adult education centre.

Kenoujuak said suspects were caught on the school’s surveillance tape and quickly identified.

“I have a feeling the Kativik Regional Police Force is using our situation to protest against their employers. People are not being protected,” said Kenuajuak.

A teacher, who did not want to be identified, said non-Inuit and Inuit teachers at the school now fear for their safety, partly because of death threats left on a blackboard and partly because, when she spoke on Tuesday, no announcement had been made of the arrests.

Reached earlier this week, Kenuajuak was still in shock over the far-reaching vandalism, which he says damaged 99 per cent of school equipment, including musical instruments, and left all but three classrooms in disarray.

“We were expecting arrests the same night or the same morning,” Kenuajuak said.

“They’re not rushing it. It doesn’t help us at all. I’m frustrated about that.”

On Monday morning, with the suspected vandals still believed to be around town, Kenuajuak discovered that a window had been broken at the adult education centre.

“We were too busy during the weekend,” said Cpl. Jean-Mathieu Lafleur. “It never stops.”

Cells at Puvirnituq’s police station were bursting, Lafleur said, with 13 arrested over the weekend, mainly for drug and alcohol-fueled offenses. Several were sent south into remand.

“It was a typical weekend in Puvirnituq, but I don’t have the staff to do the job. That doesn’t help,” Lafleur said.

Lafleur and two other officers worked all weekend, non-stop. On Monday morning, Lafleur was still knee-deep in paperwork and left alone to answer the telephone.

From the time police first called Kenuajuak about 1:30 a.m. last Friday, asking him to come to the school, things went from bad to worse.

“It was unbelievable because everything was upside down, desks, computers all over the place, student files, filing cabinets,” Kenoujuak said. “I couldn’t feel anything at that time. All I thought was, how did they get in? How did that happen? Who would do that? I was hoping it wasn’t students.”

The damage follows an announcement made in August that the Quebec government would spend $7.8 million to build a new elementary school in the community of about 1,300 people.

Kenuajuak, who has worked at the school for 24 years, said there have always been some problems with violence, but, until recently, these were manageable.

The school has shut its doors several times in the past, mainly to protest against violence in the community.

Two years ago, the school closed for two days to focus on how to stop bullying. That was shortly after two violent incidents in the community, which left one woman dead and another man gravely wounded in hospital.

And in January 1995, the school closed to protest an assault against a female teacher and a series of break-ins over the Christmas holiday that saw walls in teachers’ homes smeared with ketchup and valuable items destroyed or stolen.

Now, Iguarsivik faces a much larger challenge.

“It’s a community problem that has gotten into the school through the children,” he said.

Top on the list is drug and alcohol abuse, which Kenuajuak said isn’t just Puvirnituq’s burden.

“The problem is everywhere,” he said.

For the moment, Kenuajuak simply wants the KRPF to hop on the case. Until Christmas, teachers and staff will pick up the pieces around the school. However, there’s no guarantee that the school will reopen immediately after the holidays.

Yet Kenuajuak sees some good coming out of the destruction.

“It’s a wake-up call for the community, and we can use it to deal with the community problems because it has touched so many people and so many parents. They have to recognize it and see what’s happening and ask themselves why is it happening to our school, to our children? We’re going to use it to improve many things,” he said.

Members of the KRPF are already pointing to the weekend’s mayhem in Purvirnituq to say that the police force’s cost-cutting plan to reduce arrests in Nunavik is doomed to failure.

“It’s very sad,” said a KRPF officer stationed outside of Puvirnituq who asked to remain unidentified. “I understand that they need to cut the deficit, but I don’t think reducing arrests is the answer… what are you going to do to people who are actually committing the crime? Say it’s okay?”

The officer also questioned the legality of a policy to reduce the number of arrests.

“It’s not their call. Their mandate as a police force is to protect and serve the communities. Are they going to be doing this by letting people off on criminal charges? I don’t know. Are the minister of public security and the Sûreté du Québec going to hear this and say ‘we have to come back and do the job?’“

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