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6 Nunavut schools are uninsurable because of past arsons

Six schools in Nunavut are uninsurable because of the territory's sky-high insurance deductible, thanks to a pair of school arsons over the past few years.

Nunavut government's insurance deductible rose to $20M after 2 school fires

Nanook School in Iqaluit's satellite community of Apex is one of six uninsurable schools in Nunavut since its value is lower than the government's $20 million deductible. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Six schools in Nunavut are uninsurable because of the territory's sky-high insurance deductible, thanks to a pair of school arsons over the past few years.

According to Nunavut's Finance Department, the lone schools in the communities of Chesterfield Inlet, Whale Cove and Resolute Bay are valued at less than the government's $20 million deductible for property insurance. Two schools in Iqaluit and the elementary school in Gjoa Haven are also uninsurable. The department said the government doesn't pay insurance premiums on those six schools.

A deductible is the amount of money that the government has to pay out of pocket before the insurance company will reimburse any remaining value of the schools.

The government's insurance deductible rose to $10 million after Cape Dorset's Peter Pitseolak School was destroyed by arson in 2016 — at the time, the school was under-insured by $17 million.

The insurance company raised the deductible again in 2017 to $20 million after Kugaardjuq School in Kugaaruk burned down.

Peter Pitseolak High school in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, was engulfed in flames on Sept. 6, 2015. (submitted)

"Any school that's been burnt, and hopefully that will never happen, will have to be replaced through our appropriations. If they're valued at under $20 million, then we have to pay for the full amount," Finance Minister David Akeeagok told CBC News in March.

"For liabilities it's huge. With the amount of incidents that's taken place, we're trying to promote that people should [refrain] from doing these unnecessary incidents."

'We need to do more': MLA

Akeeagok said the government is doing what it can to mitigate arson potential at schools across Nunavut, including closing off access under buildings and installing security cameras in every school.

Specifically in Cape Dorset, the government hired a private company to provide 24-hour security services to protect Sam Pudlat Elementary School, according to documents obtained by CBC through Access to Information.

Nunavut's Finance Minister David Akeeagok says the government is working to mitigate arson risks across the territory's schools. (David Gunn/CBC)

The government hired the security company after there were five arson attempts from the time Peter Pitseolak High School burned down in September 2015, to when the tender was ordered in December 2016. 

Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes raised the issue in the Legislature mid-March, asking Minister Akeeagok what implications there would be with the territory's insurance provider if another school goes up in flames.

Akeeagok responded that the government needs to show insurance companies it's doing a better job of protecting schools.

"We need to remind all of our students and all of the public that schools, health centres, garages are all of the public's buildings, and they are there to serve the public," Akeeagok said at the time.

Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes says the government needs to do more to protect schools from being vandalized or burned down. (Vincent Robinet/CBC)

Speaking with CBC News Monday, Hickes said there's more the government can do to prevent schools from being intentionally burned down.

"There needs to be more diligence," Hickes said, pointing to a recent arson attempt in Iqaluit, and a break-in and vandalism of a school in Baker Lake in April.

"Thankfully those people who broke into the Baker Lake school didn't start a fire ... We need to do more from a security standpoint."

Arsons have wide-reaching impact

In a statement, Nunavut's Department of Finance said it's prepared if another school were to go up in flames, but said it will put a strain on other areas of funding programs and services.

"In the event of another school fire, the GN will be able to handle the costs of rebuilding a school, but this reduces funds available for other important programs and buildings. School fires have serious impacts on the GN's overall ability to deliver the programs and services Nunavummiut expect," the department said.

"Also of concern, another school fire would have significant negative impacts on the GN's ability to purchase affordable property insurance for schools in the future."

The department said the government sets aside a contingency fund every year in its budget — $40 million in 2017/18 — which the government uses to cover emergencies and other unforeseen events like school fires, but also to introduce or expand new programs or infrastructure needs over the year.

About the Author

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.