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December 2019 in review: Doctor fights for respiratory vaccines; Baffin Fisheries wins in court; NTI accuses feds of sabotaging Inuit language

A look back at 2019’s top stories, month by month.

Doctor seeks more RSV shots for Inuit infants but GN skeptical

Dr. Anna Banerji, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, left, has launched a petition calling on the Nunavut government to immunize every Inuit infant outside of Iqaluit against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), an illness particularly prevalent in Inuit infants. The petition has garnered more 60,000 signatures so far. photo courtesy of Sarah Edwards

An Ontario pediatrician had launched a petition calling for every Inuit baby outside of Iqaluit to receive an injection that would prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), an illness particularly prevalent in Inuit infants. The petition at has garnered more than 70,000 signatures since it launched on Sept. 24.

"Canadian Inuit babies have the highest rate of hospitalizations with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the world," read the petition. "Every winter intensive care units fill up with very young Inuit babies on life support due to RSV, a disease that can be prevented with medicine."

Dr. Anna Banerji, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, believed a preventative RSV medicine called palivizumab could "greatly reduce these RSV hospital admissions and save the Government of Nunavut "a lot of money."

She wanted to administer palivizumab to all infants under six months in Nunavut communities outside the capital.

However, Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief medical officer, believed the rationale for using palivizumab for "all infants" under six months of age is "very weak" and based on some assumptions that have never been proven. He stated that palivizumab has been shown to be effective for a certain group of infants. For instance, besides babies who were born prematurely, it has been effective in babies with heart and lung disease and babies with immunodeficiency.

"We'd (Health Nunavut) quite happily adopt it," Patterson stated. "But so far there's no real world evidence that it's an effective strategy."

Judge rules in favour of Baffin Fisheries

Baffin Fisheries was awarded $544,049 in a court case against the organization's former CEO.

The Newfoundland Supreme Court judge also ordered the defendant to pay legal costs and interest as part of the Dec. 17 decision.

The judge found that former Baffin Fisheries CEO Garth Reid had used company funds for personal purposes. Baffin Fisheries and Niqitaq Fisheries filed the lawsuit after accusing Reid of diverting fisheries money to build a mansion and guest house in Newfoundland.

Baffin Fisheries is pursuing an additional $855,983 in court from Reid and his spouse.

Iqaluit musician teaches ukulele

Uke'cray participants at the Clyde River workshop. From left to right, top to bottom: Tyra Joanas, Alicia Arreak, Charlotte Palluq, Colleen Aasiva Nakashuk, Arlene Kautuq, Tanill Sivugat, Julianne Joanas, Josephine Palluq, Gloria Tigullaraq and Candace Palluq. photo courtesy of Colleen Aasiva Nakashuk

Colleen Aasiva Nakashuk, better known as the Iqaluit-based singer and songwriter Aasiva, was on a mission to teach ukulele to young Nunavummiut. With the support of Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Hitmakerz, the 22 year old artist planned to visit three communities on Baffin Island.

From Nov. 15 to Nov. 16, Nakashuk held workshops called "Uke'cray" at Quluaq school in Clyde River. She taught and practised ukulele chord sequences, strumming patterns and two songs with 15 participants between the ages of 13 to 18. In addition to the workshops, Nakashuk donated two ukuleles to help encourage students to practice the instrument.

The Ilisaqsivik Society of Clyde River had also supported the artist's cause by donating two more ukuleles to the community.

She had plans to hold workshops from Nov. 29 to Nov. 30 at Nasivvik School in Pond Inlet. Lastly, she had plans to visit Inuujaq school in Arctic Bay from Dec. 13 to Dec. 14.

Cargo troubles ensue after airline merger

Canadian North's merger with First Air has been followed by some cargo headaches.

The Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce released a statement describing freight arrival as “horrific at best” since the airlines started combining services on Nov. 1. Mail is slower and perishable products on grocery store shelves have been in worse condition, according to feedback from Chamber members, stated the organization's executive director, Valter Botelho-Resendes.

In Iqaluit, mechanic Mike Gilbert, who runs Upper Base, said auto parts are taking weeks longer to arrive.

Canadian North spokesperson Dan Valin said delays and cancellations due to mechanical or weather situations were contributors to the problems.

NTI accuses feds of subverting Inuit language

Land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) gained access to a 1990 cabinet document that it claims is evidence that the Government of Canada sought to block the use of the Inuit language as the new territory was established.

The document forbids any “general linguistic guarantees for the use of Inuktitut in government and the legal and educational system in the claims area.”

To this day, Inuit “continue to suffer from a lack of adequate accessible government services in their own homeland,” NTI stated.

A federal government spokesperson replied that that document doesn't reflect the Government of Canada's current priorities. The spokesperson provided a list of past and ongoing initiatives to support Inuit.

Arviat company forms mining supplies partnership

Peter Corcoran, managing director of Sandvik Canada Inc., left, and Ryan St. John, president and CEO of Northern Networks Ltd. and Eskimo Point Lumber Supply, have struck a deal for Northern Networks Ltd. to provide Sandvik's equipment to mining companies in Nunavut. photo courtesy of Sandvik Canada Inc.

Northern Networks Ltd, a general contractor under Arviat's Eskimo Point Lumber Supply, signed a partnership deal with Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology to bring Sandvik's products to Nunavut's mining companies.

Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology supplies drills, underground loaders and trucks, automation and digital solutions, rock tools and various parts.

"Becoming an authorized Sandvik distribution partner will allow Northern Networks Ltd to leverage their extensive knowledge of Canada’s North to support the growth of the mining industry and stimulate further economic development in their community," a news release stated.

Ryan St. John, president and CEO of Eskimo Point Lumber Supply and Northern Networks Ltd., equated increasing technology with "more opportunity."

NDP leader Singh wants 'bolder' legislation to tackle climate change

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh announced he would be introducing a bill to the House of Commons to confront climate change during his visit to Iqaluit, Dec. 1. His announcement came as the United Nations 25th climate conference was set to convene. The legislation, which is inspired by former NDP leader Jack Layton's 2008 bill (the Climate Change Accountability Act), would have "bolder" and "more ambitious" targets to reduce emissions, he said. The targets would be based on science but would also be enforceable.

He said he hopes to end fossil fuel subsidies and reinvest into clean and renewable energy, which needs to be both viable and sustainable in the North. Singh also stated that he wants to retrofit homes and make them more energy-efficient.

The 20-minute press conference, held at the Qajuqturvik Food Centre around noon, was followed by both Singh and MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq serving some food to the public at the soup kitchen.

During his three-day visit, Singh also met with residents at various venues like: the Black Heart Cafe, Inukshuk High School and at the Arctic Winter Games Arena. The public had an opportunity to take photos with the NDP members dressed in their orange and grey seal skin customized parkas.

-with files from Derek Neary