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Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway sign blunder drove up cost by 43%, emails show

The N.W.T. Infrastructure Department had problems with signs informing drivers of where they were entering and leaving private Inuvialuit lands, where caribou hunting is banned, and where tags are required to hunt big game.

Spelling, translation errors added more than $49K to sign costs

This photo, which was submitted to CBC in 2018, shows a translated sign along the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway. N.W.T. government emails show that someone noted incomplete translations on the signs. (Submitted by Roy Goose)

In late April 2017, a team of officials at the N.W.T. Department of Infrastructure started working on getting road signs for the brand new Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway. They likely had no idea it would take a year and a half — and more than $164,000 — to complete the task.  

Though it is not evident in departmental emails obtained by CBC News through an access to information request, the officials were likely aiming to have the job done in time for the opening of the highway to the public seven months later, on Nov. 14.

The department had problems with signs for the highway, informing drivers of such things as where they were entering and leaving private Inuvialuit lands, where caribou hunting is banned, and where tags are required to hunt big game, such as grizzly bear. There are a total of 27 such signs on the highway.

In early April 2018, a year after work on the signs began, the department finally sent the proofs to the company that was producing them, Poison Painting in Hay River. The company is owned by Minister of Infrastructure Wally Schumann. Under rules for cabinet ministers, Schumann had to give up control of the company while serving as minister.

But after the proofs were in, someone noticed an error right away (it's not clear if it was noticed by the department or the official at Poison Painting handling the job). Inuvialuktun was spelled wrong. The department ordered the signs to be redone.

Frustration building

By early May 2018, frustration was starting to show among Infrastructure officials involved in the project.

"Are you aware there was an error in the graphics submission for the Inuvialuktun Siglit dialect sign?" wrote senior project co-ordinator Larry Purka in a May 7 email to communications official Greg Hanna.

"Since I don't speak any indigenous languages and was not part of the design process, I was not aware," responded Hanna. "I am only being brought in lately to bring this project in for a landing."

"This was all under the care and control of communications," replied Purka. "I too have no capacity for anything but English, so I couldn't check either."

Poison Painting had already produced the signs based on proofs approved by the department. As a result, the department had to pay to have them corrected.

According to emails obtained by CBC, the translator was selected from a list compiled by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. It turns out the department did not approve or vet any of the translators on the list. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

A few weeks later, there were more bad news, this time involving signs that had already been installed.

Following a drive down the highway, someone — whose name is redacted from the records provided to CBC — pointed out that some of the translations were incomplete.

"I saw the partly translated signage for, 'You are now entering/leaving Inuvialuit Private Lands. Aullaqtuaq Inuvialuit Private Nunami' It is not complete as the English word Private was not translated. Can you tell me why that is?"

Shortly after, the same person pointed out the same problem with other signs where the translations included English words Private, HTC, Special and Regulations.

According to the department, the signs initially cost taxpayers $115,354.51 to manufacture, ship and install. The corrections added another $49,264.12.

Within those costs, the initial incomplete translations cost a mere $240. It cost $1,000 to review and correct them.

Unapproved translator

According to the emails, the person who provided the translations was selected from a list of translators compiled by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. As it turned out, the department did not approve or vet any of the translators on the list. It was simply a list of people known to do translations. 

Infrastructure's senior program manager, Dean Ahmet, said the signs were "created, drafted and reviewed and approved by or in conjunction with" two other departments as well as the Inuvialuit Land Administration (ILA), a division of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation that's responsible for managing and administering Inuvialuit lands.

They are not happy. It looks like they do want to point fingers. Am not comfortable with this.- Kelley Ryder, manager of public affairs at the Department of Infrastructure

But Hanna later said there was no email record of any involvement by the ILA or the other departments, and that the translations seemed to be handled only by Infrastructure and the translator.

Ahmet stood by his claim and said he had emails to show other departments were involved and the ILA reviewed the translations. The emails Ahmet produced apparently did not show that the ILA had seen the translations — "Basically no key answer to your question," said Ahmet of his email evidence. "But the signs were reviewed by ILA."

Then the Inuvialuit Cultural Centre got involved. Someone there, whose name is redacted, emailed Kelley Ryder, Infrastructure's manager of public affairs, asking who verified the translations for the signs on the highway.

The person said they would not be available immediately to oversee the corrections and that they were going on leave for a month.

"There is no one to follow up with in my absence," the person wrote. "This is how this mess started. I was not involved from the beginning."

Ryder emailed her boss, director of communications Sonya Saunders: "They are not happy. It looks like they do want to point fingers. Am not comfortable with this. The most important thing is fixing it, and ensuring things don't go wonky in the future."

Three months later, in October 2018, the department had approved the proofs for the corrected signs.

"Now let's hit the production button so that these signs are in Inuvik before Oct. 31, 2018," said Purka.

Emails indicate that 18 signs needed to be redone. The department says there were 12.

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