Nunavut premier rejects defamatory petition from Rankin Inlet
Aariak will work on complaint through education department
(updated Nov. 8, 2:10 p.m.)
Premier Eva Aariak dismissed a petition Nov. 2 that had been tabled in the legislative assembly Oct. 23 by Rankin Inlet MLA Tagak Curley, saying the document raises serious legal issues.
The petition alleges that a teacher in Rankin Inlet told students to “go home you don’t belong here” and “I’ve lost all hope in you.”
The Rankin Inlet petition, which names the teacher and contains 84 signatures, calls for the immediate resignation of the teacher for allegedly sending students to the administrative office for speaking Inuktitut.
“This teacher has demonstrated her inability to interact with students/parents at a professional level and is therefore causing concern for the welfare of the students to complete their academic studies successfully,” it said.
In the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, petitions containing “libelous, false or defamatory statements” or “false, scandalous or groundless allegations” are not acceptable and could be found to be in contempt of the Legislative Assembly.
But the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut does not appear to have any published rules governing the acceptance of petitions.
In her response to the petition for resignation, Aariak said, however, that the petition carries serious legal implications.
Although under the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act members are not liable to civil action or prosecution, arrest, imprisonment or other liabilities, they still “have responsibilities that we should carefully consider,” Aariak said
“When a petition is tabled, I submit that we should ensure that it is in a form that enables us to know that those who have signed the petition actually exist and that they were able to clearly understand the substance of the petition. On that front, I find that [the petition of resignation] does not measure up,” she said.
In her statement, Aariak added that members should “ensure that no confidential information is unnecessarily revealed.”
That includes matters relating to citizens’ employment and staffing relations, she said.
“It is important to know that the school administration and the Department of Education take parents’ concerns seriously and, in the case referred to in [the petition] have been, and will continue to be actively engaged with parties on this matter,” she said.
Aariak first addressed the petition on Nov. 2 and then again on Nov. 5 after Curley called a point of order.
“Despite the immunity of Members of this House, when we table petitions, we as members have responsibilities that we should carefully consider. I note that under section 43(5) of the Rules of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut that “a Member presenting a petition shall be answerable for any impertinent or improper material that it contains,” Aariak said Nov. 2.
Curley’s point of order was that “the member is providing information that was not at all the subject of the petition. I believe the minister has an obligation to respond very simply a yes or no type question with respect to the petition,” he said.
After accidentally leaving the microphones on, Speaker Hunter Tootoo consulted with the clerk before saying he would rule on the point of order at a later date.
Tootoo asked Aariak to provide a copy of her statement in response to the Rankin Inlet North MLA’s tabled petition.
Tootoo ruled on Nov. 5 that Aariak’s response did not break any house rule, but said it’s not the role of the chair to determine whether or not her response was satisfactory.
“Members who are dissatisfied with the government’s response to a petition are at liberty to ask questions to the responsible minister or make statements in the House concerning the substance of the response,” he said.
In raising his point of order, Curley did not explicitly indicate which rule he believed to have been broken, Tootoo added.
But Tootoo also suggested Aariak’s response should not have commented on the issue of whether or not the petition was in line with Curley’s obligations as a member.
“Accordingly, I would strongly urge the government to ensure that future responses to petitions focus on the subject matter in question,” Tootoo said.
He also said that individual members, cabinet ministers and their officials do not have the authority to unilaterally decide whether “a given item is in compliance with our rules, procedures, practices or precedents.”
Tootoo ended by saying that the assembly’s standing committee on rules, procedures and privileges is able to review the assembly’s rules concerning petitions.