Iqaluit council turns up heat on QIA over fire safety at beach

Deputy mayor Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster says she remains concerned by hazards in area

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association needs to do more to address fire hazards and other safety issues on the stretch of Iqaluit beach it owns, says deputy mayor Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster.

She made the comments at an Iqaluit city council meeting May 27, just hours prior to a fire that burned down two shacks along the beach.

“I have some major concerns still ongoing … about the safety of the shacks and the safety of the occupants,” she said.

Brewster told council she had suggested in the past that QIA provide fire suppressants and work with the shack owners to create emergency exits, as most of the shacks only have one door.

QIA’s manager of lands administration, Joel Fortier, said Mayor Kenny Bell and Coun. Joanasie Akumalik attended a Community Land And Resource Committee session within the last year to forward those suggestions to QIA. Bell said that their suggestions weren’t implemented.

“We talked about the safety issues and some suggestions that we had brought forward, but at the time the CLARC committee was not very receptive of our, basically, stop-gap solutions,” Bell said.

Shortly after Thursday’s council meeting ended, a fire broke out at around 9 p.m. on the beach, burning two shacks to the ground with two others catching fire. No one was injured, according to a city spokesperson.

It was the latest incident on the beach that has been notorious for public drunkenness and fires, both of which were discussed at council.

Fortier told council QIA was aware that there have also been parties at a few shacks on the beach during Iqaluit’s lockdown, which he said posed a health risk to Iqalummiut.

He said QIA issued notices to the owners of the shacks that law enforcement could get involved or that the shacks could be removed by QIA and taken to the dump.

“But that’s obviously not what we want to see,” he said, adding that these shacks are being used for gatherings, not to store hunting equipment or equipment to access the land.

He said the city and QIA can work together to try and mitigate the incidents that occur on the beach by jointly monitoring the beach, and not allowing any fire permits there.

Brewster said the city should consider fining QIA if the problems persist, stopping short of making a motion she had planned.

“I’m just trying to think of a way to help to motivate QIA to ensure these issues don’t rear their heads again,” she said.

Bell said that is an option for the future, but for now, he believes QIA is “trying and that we will see the change here soon.”

Fortier pointed to a survey, announced by QIA in late March, that asks Iqalummiut to give input on how the beach should be managed.

He said COVID-19 delayed the survey, but that once they get the results, QIA can move forward with plans to make the beach safer and nicer-looking.

So far, Fortier said about 50 people have submitted the questionnaire and that QIA is hoping for 100.

“What we’re trying to do is build a piece of land that’s safe, it looks nice and Inuit, specifically, can use it to enjoy the land,” he said.

The deadline to submit input is June 30.

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