Nunavut needs Inuktitut speaker at all hours for emergency calls: MLAs

Nunavut’s justice minister says she has told the RCMP that it needs to have a bilingual person on hand at all hours to take emergency calls.

Territorial justice minister says there may not be a bilingual person to answer emergency calls after hours

Jeannie Ehaloak, Nunavut's minister of justice, said she has talked to the new commanding officer about hiring an Inuktitut speaker to answer emergency calls after business hours. (David Gunn/CBC)

Nunavut's justice minister says she has told the RCMP "over and over" that an Inuktitut-speaking person needs to be on hand at all hours to take emergency calls.

When pressed on the issue in the legislature on Wednesday, Jeannie Ehaloak said she brought it up with the RCMP's new commanding officer.

"One of the top concerns was when Inuit call the RCMP station, and if it's after hours, the call will go to a number here in Iqaluit ... I've raised the concern that we need bilingual, first-hand and first-contact people," she said.

The hours of operation for the Nunavut RCMP are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, according to the detachment's website. 

MLA Joelie Kaernerk said for unilingual Inuit phoning in an emergency, it can be life or death if they can't speak to someone in their language right away.

Ehaloak said finding bilingual people to take emergency calls is one of her department's top priorities.

She said that during business hours, there should be an Inuktitut speaker who can answer emergency calls.

After hours, "we try and find someone as soon as we can to try to help the individual who is calling."

The RCMP detachment in Iqaluit. Nunavut's justice minister says having a bilingual person on hand to answer emergency calls at any hour of the day is a top priority for her department. (CBC)

She said the new commanding officer and the Department of Justice is working to remedy the situation.

Ehaloak said they hope to hire a bilingual person to take emergency calls "within the next sitting."

The number of Inuit RCMP officers from Nunavut is now in the low single digits, as there have been no new recruits in more than 15 years and many have left for other jobs.

With files from Nick Murray