Iqaluit MLAs: we need better comms, better mental health treatment

“A lot of concerns I heard from constituents was about the communication lines”

By THOMAS ROHNER

Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes Jr., whose constituency includes Happy Valley, said he heard a lot of concerns from constituents who felt they were not getting enough information about their options during a 42-hour standoff and lockdown at the end of April. (FILE PHOTO)


Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes Jr., whose constituency includes Happy Valley, said he heard a lot of concerns from constituents who felt they were not getting enough information about their options during a 42-hour standoff and lockdown at the end of April. (FILE PHOTO)

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu Pat Angnakak said people in Nunavut communities should take more responsibility for responding to mental health issues. (FILE PHOTO)


Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu Pat Angnakak said people in Nunavut communities should take more responsibility for responding to mental health issues. (FILE PHOTO)

Times of trouble can lead to lessons learned.

And the two standoffs that recently shook Iqaluit for over 50 hours in a single week — both of which ended without injuries — presents a good example.

Two Iqaluit MLAs see room for improvement in the performance of both Nunavut’s government and the territory’s police force in the aftermath of those standoffs — especially with respect to communication and addressing mental health.

“I can’t thank the [Nunavut] RCMP enough for their patience and for making sure it ended peacefully,” George Hickes, MLA for Iqaluit-Tasiluk, which includes Happy Valley, said of the 41-hour standoff in the town’s Happy Valley area.

That standoff ended without injury on April 30, as did the second standoff, which spanned about 12 hours, ending on May 2 just before noon.

“But on the negative side of things, a lot of concerns I heard from constituents was about the communication lines. A lot of people were unclear of what options were available,” Hickes told Nunatsiaq News from his office at the legislative building in Iqaluit April 30, just hours after the standoff ended.

Specifically, many residents locked in their homes within the secured Happy Valley area didn’t know they could ask the RCMP to bring them basic supplies, Hickes said.

The Nunavut RCMP’s commanding officer, Mike Jeffrey, agreed with Hickes’s observation during a news conference the following day.

“That’s probably one of the items we’ll look for in our after-action report: how we can better inform the public during situations like this,” Jeffrey said May 1.

Hickes said the lack of communication likely led to greater anxiety for Iqalungmiut.

“People don’t need to know the intimate details of the individual [involved in the standoff], but if their lives are going to be impacted… there should be some type of coordination on information-sharing so that people will know what their options are,” he said.

An expert in community emergency planning, who helped develop Iqaluit’s emergency response plan, recently told Nunatsiaq News that the slow information release by both RCMP and City of Iqaluit during the standoff was unfortunate.

“The first thing to fail in an emergency is communication,” said Richard Kinchlea, chair of the Emergency Management and Public Safety School at Centennial College in Toronto.

But beyond the failure of communication, Hickes pointed out the mental health issues involved in standoffs.

“It scares me when someone thinks their last resort is to pick up a gun, and think that’s going to solve their issue. If anything, it magnifies it,” Hickes said, acknowledging that May 4 marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week across Canada.

“We gotta find ways, outlets for people to express themselves without fear and violence.”

Hickes said a shortage of resources for dealing with mental health hampers Nunavut’s efforts to address the very serious and widespread mental health issues that many Nunavummiut face.

And his fellow MLA, Pat Angnakak, who represents Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu, agrees.

“What we need is a better system in Nunavut to deal with those kinds of issues that come up when people feel angry. I just feel there are a lot of people in Nunavut who feel angry, for whatever reasons,” Angnakak told Nunatsiaq News April 30.

Angnakak said it was perhaps the territory’s difficult past and its present challenges, like widespread poverty, food insecurity, low graduation rates and overcrowding, that leads to that anger.

But Angnakak is right that standoffs, and the mental health issues they imply, are a problem across the eastern Arctic in Nunavut and Nunavik.

For example, police in Arctic Bay recently arrested a 22-year old man barricaded inside a home, and in March a 24-year old Inukjuak man killed himself after barricading himself in a house for three days.

“I think one of the things we need to focus on is counselling on family relationships, and relationships in general,” Angnakak said.

To that end, Angnakak said communities need to lead the way in addressing mental health issues, and that the Nunavut government must support them

“The Government [of Nunavut] expects to be able to take over everything and then is unable to deliver. And maybe sometimes communities expect government to take over everything, and then people are disappointed. And everyone blames each other,” she said.

Instead, community members, including in Iqaluit, should get together and take on the responsibility of addressing mental health issues.

“Communities [have] got to decide how it’s going to be done, and then the [GN] should support that,” Angnakak said.

The Canadian Mental Health Association suggests a number of tactics to avoid the escalation of a crisis due to mental health, such as trying to connect with other people, exercising and developing hobbies outside of work.

For more information on how to deal with mental health crises and emergencies, you can visit the CMHA website here.

Nunavummiut in distress can also call the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333.

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