Thursday, 15 April 2010

Freedom of the press at jeopardy at #Inuit meeting in Nunavik, Quebec, Canada

Nunavik April 13, 2010 - 5:42 pm

Makivik blocks independent press from covering annual meeting

Reporter unable to cover Quebec minister, self-government discussions


"Sometimes when we say things, they get twisted and reported in the Nunatsiaq News," Makivik president Pita Aatami said April 13 at the organization's annual general meeting in Kangiqsualujjuaq. (PHOTO BY PASCAL POULIN)

(Updated April 15, 2:30 p.m.)

KANGIQSUALUJJUAQ — Makivik Corporation, which manages more than $200 million on behalf of 10,500 Inuit in northern Quebec, decided to kick all but a government-subsidized radio network [Taqramiut Nipingat Inc.] out of its annual general meeting this week in Kangiqsualujjuaq.

Pita Aatami, the president of Makivik Corp., did not mince words during his welcoming address to the organization's annual general meeting in on April 13, saying the media is focused on problems of Inuit in northern Quebec.

A day later he told the only independent media operating in the region, the Iqaluit-based Nunatsiaq News to leave the meeting for the week.

"[The meeting] should be open to reporters because we read the newspaper," said Kangiqsualujjuaq resident David Annanack, a one-time Makivik board member and former municipal councillor.

"Beneficiaries should have the right to read about it. The way I see it, someone is shooting themselves in the foot by not allowing media in."

The decision by Makivik leaders means no reporters will be allowed in to listen to a presentation by Pierre Corbeil, the Quebec minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, who is scheduled to speak to the meeting on April 16.

"We're no different from other populations around the world," Aatami said to the gathering of about 40 delegates representing Inuit communities in northern Quebec.

"But because we're so few in the region, when something happens, everyone knows about it. Journalists are always looking for a story, especially when something has gone wrong," Aatami said.

Aatami may be referring to media coverage of the plight of children in the region.

In April 2007, investigators from Quebec's human rights commission came out with a report that slammed youth protection, social services and youth justice in Nunavik.

Investigators found that in Nunavik "a large number of children are physically, psychologically and sexually mistreated. Some children, despite their young age, are addicted to alcohol, drugs or other substances that cause serious physical or mental disorders."

They found the region's social network failed to give children and youth the protection to which they are legally entitled.

They produced 21 recommendations on how Nunavik, lead by Makivik, and working with the provincial government, should act to correct the situation within a year, with Quebec premier Jean Charest taking the lead to make sure change happens.

Now it's two years later, many of the problems remain, according to recent media reports, which have also called attention to the region's struggles with alcohol and drugs.

On April 14, the second day into its week-long assembly, Makivik declared the rest of its annual general meeting "in camera."

In Kangiqsualujjuaq, the Makivik meeting remained open to local residents and continued to be broadcast throughout the region on Taqramiut Nipingat Inc. Inuktitut-language radio.

But Makivik asked the Nunatsiaq News, an Iqaluit-based newspaper, which has covered the region for more than 15 years to leave.

The Nunatsiaq News is the only independent news organization operating in northern Quebec.

The newspaper reported in 2008 about $1.5 million in bonuses that the Makivik-owned airline First Air handed out in bonuses to its executives, including $600m00 to Aatami.

Jean-François Arteau, a Makivik lawyer and personal assistant to Aatami, said the decision to close the meeting to media was taken earlier this week.

The decision was taken by the entire board of directors.

Makivik's definition of "in camera" is that the meeting is closed to anyone but beneficiary members, Arteau said.

While Nunavimmiut have access to the meeting live on radio, many are readers of the region's only newspaper.

Aatami declined an interview with Nunatsiaq News on the board's decision.

The annual general meeting kicked off April 13 at the community centre in Kangiqsualujjuaq, the easternmost village in the region, situated 25 kilometres from Ungava Bay on the George River.

On Thursday morning, the assembly heard from Nunavik self-government negotiators Minnie Grey and Harry Tulugak, who are drafting a final agreement, which is supposed to be put to a ratification vote by Inuit in the region sometime this fall.

Part of their mandate is to communicate the details of the process to the people of Nunavik.

The final agreement will form the basis of the Nunavik Regional Government, expected to be functioning by 2013.