Nunavut Health Minister Defends Suicide Remark

Nunavut Health Minister Tagak Curley was on the defensive this week over a comment he made to a national newspaper, in which he said suicide “isn’t such a big problem anymore” in the territory.

About 30 people gathered in the gallery of the Nunavut legislature in Iqaluit on Tuesday, hoping that Curley would explain the remark he made in a Globe and Mail feature in April.

“Suicide isn’t such a big problem any more,” Curley told the newspaper in a feature about Nunavut’s social problems, which include suicide and alcohol abuse.

Fourteen people have committed suicide in Nunavut, a territory of about 33,000, so far this year. Last year, 29 Nunavummiut took their own lives.

Justice Minister Keith Peterson told the Globe that there have been more than 320 suicide death notices since 1999.

Held photographs of loved ones

Many of those who came to the legislature on Tuesday held photographs of loved ones who have died by suicide.

“Suicide is a big problem in Nunavut,” said Johnny Issaluk, whose mother took her own life when he was younger.

Issaluk currently works for the Embrace Life Council, a non-profit group that encourages people in Nunavut “to value life.”

The group waited in the gallery for Curley to make his member’s statement, but he instead used that time to congratulate winners of a fishing derby in his constituency.

It was only after the gallery had almost cleared out that Curley stood up for nearly half an hour and expressed his rage at the Globe and Mail’s reporting.

“What did you read? Five words — [a] mischaracterization of what I said,” he said in the legislature.

‘One suicide is too many,’ says minister

Curley told MLAs he spent more than 30 minutes with the Globe reporter, explaining that nothing had been done about suicide a decade ago, but some programs are in place today.

Outside the legislative chamber, Curley later told reporters that “one suicide is too many.”

But when asked by CBC News if he believes suicide is a big problem in Nunavut, Curley replied, “Well, it’s a concern. We can certainly debate the degree of any situation, but I’m reluctant to say that.”

Curley said Inuit in Nunavut must take responsibility for suicide prevention. As well, communities need adequate housing and recreational facilities so that young people can pursue healthy lifestyles, he said.

The minister cited the strength and resilience that Inuit have long had in facing difficult circumstances.

“Your destiny is to survive, regardless of the adversity that you’re facing,” he said.

But Issaluk and others said more needs to be done. He said an action plan to implement Nunavut’s Suicide Prevention Strategy is long overdue.

“If it doesn’t go through, if we have to keep fighting it, we’ll keep fighting it,” he said.

“We need this strategy to get in place. And even if it’s not gone through, I’ll still implement it personally if I have to, door to door if I have to.”

CBC News

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