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Nunavut MLA ousted from cabinet after social media post criticizing Black women for abortions

Nunavut MLA Patterk Netser has been removed from cabinet, after a vote 14 to 3 by his fellow MLAs in the legislature on Friday morning.

MLA Patterk Netser's removal from executive council forces leadership forum to fill the vacancy

MLA Patterk Netser posted comments on Facebook criticizing Black women for having abortions, and stating that 'all lives matter.' Premier Joe Savikataaq said Netser's comments were 'based in racism and gender violence.' (Travis Burke/CBC)

Nunavut MLA Patterk Netser has been removed from cabinet after a 14-3 vote by his fellow MLAs in the legislature on Friday morning.

"I sometimes have to make difficult decisions in the best interest of our territory. This is one of those times. There can be no tolerance for disrespectful hurtful actions," said Premier Joe Savikataaq. 

Savikataaq introduced a motion on Wednesday — the first day of the fall sitting — to remove Netser from the executive council. Savikataaq accused Netser of making comments "based in racism and gender violence."

Netser's demotion follows a recent Facebook post in which the MLA criticized Black women for having abortions. In the same post, Netser also stated "all lives matter," a phrase largely seen as a criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement because it discounts the disproportionate racism that Black people face.

A post apparently made by Netser refers to "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)

Two weeks ago, the premier stripped Netser of his ministerial portfolios. The Aivilik MLA was minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation and the Nunavut Arctic College.

In a statement on Friday morning in the legislature, Netser denied the premier's claim that his words were racist or gender violent. 

"I never raised any issues on ethnic groups. I spoke out about unborn babies that have been aborted," he said, in his response to the motion.

"My reference to 'all lives matter' was not stated in that context and I would not have used those words if I knew they could be used to negate the struggles of my Black brothers and sisters," he said.  

'We cannot say whatever we want'

Iqaluit Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone seconded the motion to oust Netser. 

MLAs Tony Akoak, Emiliano Qirngnuq and Netser opposed. MLA David Qamaniq abstained from voting while three others, Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik, MLAs Cathy Towtongie and Margaret Nakashuk were not present in the house for the vote.

Qirngnuq said he was uncomfortable with the motion because the statements by Netser were made outside of the assembly. He asked for deep reflection on the severity of government reaction. 

Jeannie Ehaloak, minister of Justice and responsible for Human Rights Tribunal, supported the vote to oust Netser from cabinet.

Justice minister Jeannie Ehaloak says saying 'whatever we want to' puts the credibility of government at risk. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

"We can believe whatever we want to. But we cannot say whatever we want when those statements have a negative impact on the rights and dignity of others," Ehaloak said.

"This is particularly true for those of us in office."

Doing so puts the credibility of government at risk, she added.

"We have a code of conduct, when you're elected to MLA you are held to a higher standard than the general public. When you're elected to the executive council you are held to an even higher level, you are speaking on behalf of the government," premier Savikataaq said to media following the vote. 

Savikataaq said Wednesday that he expected MLAs to support his motion to take the next step and remove Netser from cabinet. The premier wanted MLAs to vote on his motion on Wednesday, but Netser voted to delay it until Friday.

The ousted minister also spoke out on Wednesday, making no apologies for his social media posts. In a member's statement, he said he was being punished "because of my Christian principles and values."

Now out of cabinet, Netser told reporters on Friday that he will continue as an MLA.

To his constituents he said, "This is what happened, we can't do anything about it, we will be OK."  

 The cabinet vacancy has triggered a leadership forum to be held to elect another MLA to fill the spot. The date for the forum has yet to be determined.   

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