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Federal election Inuktitut service under scrutiny in Nunavut

Elections Canada expects to hire up to 300 people in total for advance and ordinary polls in every Nunavut community and another 30 to 40 employees in the returning office for the upcoming federal election.

Elections Canada expects to hire up to 300 people in total for advance and ordinary polls in every Nunavut community and another 30 to 40 employees in the returning office for the upcoming federal election.

But questions remain over the adequacy of Inuktitut services as the Sept. 20 voting day approaches.

“I know that the federal government would say they’ve made advances in terms of the Indigenous Languages Act and I recognize how it talks about within Nunavut the federal government needs to provide services where there is capacity,” said Aluki Kotierk, president of land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. “But one of the things I’ve been advocating for and one of the reasons I often say we need to be equitable in terms of language services similar to that of French is because it shouldn’t be reliant on capacity, but it should be reliant on need. There certainly is a need within Nunavut when the public majority language is Inuktut.”

Nunavut languages commissioner Karliin Aariak said she has been reassured of Elections Canada’s “commitment to continually improving their election services to Inuit electors and our communities… I will continue to monitor them, and I encourage Nunavummiut to be aware of language rights. If they feel their language rights have not been respected, they should contact the office (of the languages commissioner Of Nunavut).”

Diane Benson, spokesperson for Elections Canada, said that returning officer tries to hire Inuktitut speakers.

“In communities outside Iqaluit, most workers we would hire would typically speak Inuktut (either Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun) if that’s what people in that community speak. In Iqaluit, the returning officer would try to hire as many people who speak Inuktitut as possible,” Benson stated. “We encourage people to apply to work in the election so we can help serve the community. We make every effort to have at least an information officer — who greets electors and can answer their questions — at the polls in in Iqaluit who speaks Inuktitut so we can serve electors in their own language.”

Interpretation services can also be arranged up to Sept. 14. As well, voters can bring their own interpreter to the polls. Interpreters do not need to be eligible electors, but must make a solemn declaration to protect the secrecy and integrity of the vote, Benson noted.

Kotierk said it shouldn’t be the responsibility of voters to find interpreters to help them.

“That seems a little bit absurd to me. I would think that they should have an interpreter there because it’s not my job to be able to understand the democratic process, it’s the job of the people who are conducting the election to be able to help me understand it,” she said, adding that at least the three election candidates in Nunavut all speak Inuktitut.

Benson added that voter information cards are sent in English and Inuktitut, posters are put in place at the polls listing candidates in Inuktitut and Elections Canada has produced a Guide to Elections as well as information on voter identification in Inuktitut.

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who is not seeking a second term, fought to have Indigenous languages, including Inuktitut, included on federal ballots, but that proposed legislation was not passed before Parliament was dissolved.

“I ask the minister responsible for this legislation, Dominic LeBlanc, to recognize that it is imperative we reduce every possible barrier to Inuit, First Nations and Metis participation in our democratic process during this extremely challenging time for the Indigenous peoples of these lands,” Qaqqaq stated in June. “Reducing barriers must include respecting our languages.”

Positions and pay

Elections Canada’s poll worker positions include deputy returning officer for polling day and advance polling, information officers and registration officers. Nationally, the hourly rate of pay for all of these positions is $17.72. However, there’s a 20 per cent premium offered in the North, according to Benson.

A central poll supervisor earns $23.44 nationally, plus an additional 20 per cent in the North.

Advance polls for the federal election will be held Sept. 10 to 13.

About the Author: Derek Neary

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