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Communities still appealing for morgues

Seven years after raising a lack of morgues as an issue, the Nunavut Association of Municipalities (NAM) will once again press the Government of Nunavut to establish proper storage facilities for corpses.

Sixteen Nunavut communities have to use alternatives to morgues – sea cans, community freezers or storage sheds – as places to temporarily store corpses. The issue will be on the agenda at the Nunavut Association of Municipalities meeting in Cambridge Bay this week.
NNSL file photo

Sixteen Nunavut communities still use sea cans, community freezers or storage sheds as places where human remains are temporarily locked away, meaning little headway has been made since NAM passed a resolution in 2011 calling for morgues across the territory.

"In a (NAM) teleconference the other day, this was one of the big topics... it's a problem in small communities," said Iglulik Mayor Celestino Uyarak, who said his community is fortunate to have a morgue in the local health centre. "If a community doesn't have a morgue, the family may be told that (the body) will be stored in a sea can or community freezer and to do that is very hard on any family."

Netsilik MLA Emiliano Qirngnuq said the topic is worth pursuing in the legislative assembly. It's not right to put a human body in a community freezer with harvested meat and placing a corpse in a shipping container is problematic during summer months because, even in Arctic communities, temperatures rise enough that it can get very warm inside, he said.

"You can actually fry in a (shipping) container in the summertime," he said.

In Gjoa Haven, an aging storage shed with a padlock is used as a makeshift morgue.

"There's no power. It's dark. There's old stuff in there for storage," Mayor Joanni Sallerina said of the building, which is on GN property and is accessible to health staff and the RCMP.

Sallerina agreed with Uyarak that it's "very hard on the families" to know their relatives are stored in a shed, particularly when multiple deaths occur in a short period of time and privacy is wanting.

When the issue was raised in 2001, then-premier Eva Aariak recognized the priority but stopped short of making any promises.

"We have plans to get all the nursing centres established with morgues in the communities," Aariak said at the time. "We can't make any commitment at this point about getting a morgue in the community because I'm sure that Inuit organizations would like to be consulted as well on how we can deal with this morgue issue."

Tabitha Mullin, mayor of Resolute Bay, was in office in 2011 when NAM passed its resolution on morgues. She said the RCMP continue to place corpses in a cool garage in Resolute, as necessary.

"We have to do something about it. I know other communities need it too," she said. "I do hope something will happen after that NAM meeting."

The Nunavut Association of Municipalities meeting in Cambridge Bay is set for Tuesday through Thursday.