POLITICS

RCMP hold public meeting in Arctic town where officers shot at

08/02/2012 11:43 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT
Nunavut's top cops are heading to the tiny hamlet of Kimmirut on the south shore of Baffin Island to try to figure out why young men are shooting at RCMP officers.

"We asked to meet with the community," said Supt. Hilton Smee, who will be one of the officials at a public meeting Friday that was called after a man fired multiple rounds at the detachment office and a police truck last weekend.

"We don't want to attend the funeral of another police officer in Kimmirut."

A 20-year-old man, who was arrested after being disarmed and subdued by 10 fellow citizens, has been charged in the most recent shooting.

Police say it's the latest episode of someone deliberately firing on officers in Kimmirut — eight of them since 2006 in a community of just over 400. On Nov. 5, 2007, Const. Douglas Scott was killed in his vehicle by a gunshot to the head.

Just last March shots were fired into the homes of two Mounties, who were with their families. No one was injured, but an RCMP emergency response team was dispatched from Iqaluit. A man was arrested following a tip from a community member.

"There must be this undercurrent of anger from those who do this kind of action against police and we have to address it at the community level and the government level," Smee said.

"To be effective, it has to be community-driven solutions."

All the shootings have been committed by young men, said Smee. Almost all had been drinking.

Smee linked the recent shooting to the delivery of a large amount of alcohol in Kimmirut, which has recently voted to allow legal shipments of booze. Although the other shootings occurred when Kimmirut was officially dry, bootleg liquor was widely available.

Ping Kolola, serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of Scott, was drunk when he pulled the trigger.

But Kimmirut Mayor Qinuayuaq Pudlat suggests that drinking isn't the cause of the violence, just the solvent that releases it. Young people no longer have the kind of social supports they did in traditional times, he said.

"Back in the days, they had elders that were open to talking to people with problems," he said through an interpreter.

"Some of the people tend to be bottled up inside. Some people start using alcohol and it comes out (in the wrong way).

"The residents of Kimmirut need to talk about the problems that may arise in these kinds of situations."

Pudlat points out that violence is not a problem unique to Kimmirut.

Criminal Code charges in Nunavut increased 40 per cent between 2002 and 2010.

In 2006, Nunavut's rate of violent crime was four times the national average. In 2007, its rate of domestic violence was 13 times the national average for women and 14 times the national average for men. In 2010, its rate of sexual assault was 10 times that of the rest of the country.

But only in Kimmirut is so much of that violence directed against police officers. No other community has seen deliberate gun violence against them.

Why Kimmirut?

"I wish I could answer that," said Smee.

Officers do their best to get involved in the life of the community, he said. And there's no indication of any specific resentments over how the force has treated Inuit people.

"That's not why people do these things, because we're southerners."

Smee believes the anger is more generalized.

"It's because we represent authority — a very visible authority within the community. I don't see anything else there."

Pudlat is similarly puzzled. He's also frustrated that the only time southerners hear about the community where he's spent his whole life is when something goes wrong.

"The people of Kimmirut are very friendly," he said.

"It's violent to be targeting RCMP and it's scary. But I wish that southerners could see the positive side of Kimmirut."

Smee agreed.

"The people of Kimmirut are very supportive of police," he said.

Both men are hoping something good will come of Friday's meeting between the RCMP, the community council and residents. It's not only the safety of RCMP that's at stake, warned Smee.

"If the officers aren't safe, the community's not safe."