Nunavut MLA doesn't regret Facebook post criticizing Black women for having abortions

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq has stripped Patterk Netser of his ministerial portfolios after Savikataaq said he was made aware of an "unacceptable social media post."

Premier strips MLA Patterk Netser of cabinet portfolios after social media post

As a minister, Patterk Netser oversaw the Arctic College, and the Nunavut Housing Corporation. He was stripped of those portfolios Thursday. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq has stripped Patterk Netser of his ministerial portfolios.

In an announcement Thursday morning, Savikataaq said he was made aware of an "unacceptable social media post."

In a Facebook account purportedly belonging to him, Netser stated that "All Lives Matter," a statement largely seen as a criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement because it discounts the disproportionate racism that Black people face.

The post then goes on to criticize Black women for having abortions.

"I wonder how many Black ladies go through abortion and at what stage of the gestation? Are they not lives too?" the post reads.

Netser was the minister responsible for Arctic College and the Nunavut Housing Corporation. He was given the option to resign or be stripped of his portfolios by the premier, according to a spokesperson from the premier's office.

"The most shocking [part] was who made it," Savikataaq said in an interview with CBC. "A post like that should not be made by anyone from the executive council or as an MLA. You represent all of Nunavummiut and we are held to a higher standard."

Premier Savikataaq said the post was 'shocking'. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Netser says he doesn't regret what he said, but apologized for offending anyone, in an interview with CBC News. 

"I wasn't targeting any interest groups at all," Netser said. 

"It's unfortunate. People get offended, people lash out at me because I have this point of view.... People are so insecure these days, you have to have duct tape over your mouth," he said.

Netser was adamant that despite being a public figure, he has a right to speak his mind, and that the Premier overreacted.

"The current laws that are in place in Canada that support women's ... right to choose are in place. My personal views, based on my convictions, differ from those," Netser said.

"They are my personal views and my personal views alone. I don't impose my beliefs on anyone, and I respect people that don't impose their beliefs on me," he said.

City condemns councillor's remarks

Malaiya Lucassie, an Iqaluit city councillor and Netser's daughter, responded to his post and said she had the same thought. In her comment, she says nothing is done to recognize Indigenous deaths, unlike the protest held in the City of Iqaluit after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a police officer in the United States. 

"All lives matter. Why don't we do something for everyone and not just BLM," she said in her comment. 

CBC has reached out to Lucassie for comment.

A post apparently made by Netser says 'all lives matter,' a slogan which undermines the Black Lives Matter message by discounting the disproportionate racism that Black people face. His post then goes on to question how many Black women undergo abortion. (Patiq Netser/Facebook)

The City of Iqaluit said in a news release Thursday that the views of the councillor do not reflect the views of the city, adding it's committed to inclusion of all its community members. It says Lucassie has since publicly apologized. 

The release says Iqaluit's city council intends to discuss the incident at its next meeting and will take the opportunity to look at ways to educate the council on racism and bias.

Lucassie's apology post on Facebook says she has learned from this event.

"My intentions to call for change for Inuit was presented poorly, and I in no way meant to take away from the BLM movement or from any other group fighting against the systemic racism we face," she said.

"I was wrong to reference the Iqaluit BLM protest in my desire to see similar action on behalf of Inuit and Indigenous Canadians."

Advocacy groups weigh in

Sileema Angoyuak, president of Qulliit Nunavut Status of Women Council, says she was enraged when she saw the post.

"We are entitled to our opinions and our beliefs ... but as a public figure ... [he] should keep that at bay, keep our personal beliefs and opinions to [himself] instead of expressing it out to everyone," Angoyuak said. 

She said the council looks out for all women in Nunavut, not just Inuit women, and it needs to be understood a woman is considering many things when she opts for abortion.

Stephanie Bernard is the president of the Nunavut Black History Society and Clayton Greaves, left, is a board member with the society. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Nunavut's Black History Society and Black Lives Matter Committee commended the premier on his leadership in swiftly stripping Netser of his portfolios. 

"He has shown himself as a leader that really understands that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere'," the society said in a statement.

In an interview with CBC, the society's president Stephanie Bernard said her reaction to the post was "extreme horror," saying it was especially upsetting coming from someone of his standing.

The society recently started a petition, addressed to the government of Nunavut, asking for a territory-wide conversation about systemic racism and its effects. 

Clayton Greaves, a board member with the society, says racism affects the whole community, not just the Black and Indigenous communities. 

"We've been stating all along that there needs to be a real open dialogue in community, in the the territory, about race," Greaves said. 

The movement is not about any one segment of the community, but confronting the issue of racism wherever it appears, he said. 

"Since the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement, which started on June 5 [in Iqaluit] with a demonstration, it has always looked at issues that affect Inuit as well," Bernard said. 

"The national and international Black Lives Matter movement is under the premise that there is Indigenous sovereignty in Canada," she said. "So by looking to protect Black lives, we're looking to protect Indigenous lives as well."

The premier has the power to strip a minister of their portfolios, but if they do not resign, a motion in the house is required to eject them from cabinet. (Submitted by John Quirke)

House to decide next steps in fall sitting

Nunavut's premier has done what he can, in regards to the Facebook post, by stripping Netser of his portfolios, the premier's press secretary said. He does not have the power to remove a minister from cabinet. 

The spokesperson said this is the first post of this kind Savikataaq has encountered and he acted quickly to make sure the values and ethics of the government were upheld. 

David Joanasie has been handed the portfolio for Arctic College, and Savikataaq will act as minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation.

If a minister does not resign, it is up to the House to pass a motion to remove them from cabinet. 

The release said Savikataaq will take the issue of Patterk Netser to the members of Nunavut's Legislative Assembly when they reconvene for the fall sitting later this month.

With files from Nick Murray