Women's group launches sign campaign to make their Iqaluit neighbourhood safer

A group of women calling themselves the Ladies of Lower Base have started a campaign to make their Iqaluit neighbourhood safer. So far, hundreds of residents and businesses have posted signs that read "Our Safety Matters" and "Keep the Beach Safe."

'It's not safe,' says Sheila Flaherty, one of the Ladies of Lower Base

Sheila Flaherty said she sees fires, theft, public intoxication and fights on the beach in Lower Base, a downtown Iqaluit neighbourhood in which she lives. She's a member of the Ladies of Lower Base who have started a sign campaign to make their neighbourhood safer. (Jane George/CBC)

The view from Sheila Flaherty's house, which overlooks the beach in Iqaluit's downtown neighbourhood, includes a line of shacks and, beyond these, the peaceful Koojesse Inlet. But peaceful is not how she describes her area.

Often, Flaherty, who is a city councillor, said she witnesses fires, theft, public intoxication and fights on the beach. Her dog barks at all hours of the night. 

"The beach on the other side of the shacks, especially, is really unsafe. There's human excrement. There's, of course, garbage," Flaherty said. 

She's part of a group of women in Iqaluit calling themselves the Ladies of Lower Base that have put up hundreds of signs as part of a campaign to make their neighbourhood safer.

Flaherty and Madeleine Redfern, a former mayor of Iqaluit, are among about a dozen residents of Lower Base CBC News spoke to about the danger and fear they feel in their neighbourhood. Other residents wouldn't speak on the record over concerns of becoming the target of even more vandalism and violence or other forms of reprisal.

"It's unnerving, and it's unpleasant, and it's not safe," Flaherty said. "These people who are intoxicated, they could have deeper issues than just addictions. They could have traumas that would trigger them into doing something that's not safe."

Madeleine Redfern, a member of the Ladies of Lower Base, has put up hundreds of posters in the downtown neighbourhood. (Jane George/CBC)

The deterioration of the neighborhood has been hard to tackle because the solutions involve many parties — all three levels of government, Inuit organizations and the RCMP.

For Flaherty, no time of the day is sacred. On Friday morning, she saw a group of people dancing and drinking right in front of her house.

"I'm scared," Flaherty said. "It's just become a norm, really. So it's not that I sit in fright all the time, but you know, it's just like … what's going to be next?"

Redfern, who also lives in Lower Base, said she is tired of seeing sexual assaults, attempted sexual assaults and violence behind her house.

"You see people, you know, bloodied and bruised. You see people stumbling and passed out. Peoples' cars are broken into. Peoples' homes are broken into," Redfern said.

"So there are times when it's lovely to be in our neighbourhood. We have great neighbours, but it's those times like that, you know, it's scary."

'Our Safety Matters'

In recent months, after fires and other incidents on the beach, attention has focused mainly on those who frequent the beach. There have been efforts to clean up the garbage and better police the beach area.

But Flaherty and the other Ladies of Lower Base are hoping to pivot the attention onto residents.

They have put up signs saying "Keep the Beach Safe" and "Our Safety Matters."

"This area should be kept safe. And for other areas in our city too, like public safety should be at the forefront of living," Flaherty said. 

The Ladies of Lower Base, a group of women who live in the downtown Iqaluit neighbourhood, put a crate with spray painted messages at a busy intersection as part of their campaign to make their neighbourhood safer. (Jane George/CBC)

Redfern said putting up the signs is "very much a community and collaborative effort."

"There are hundreds of those signs that are on people's homes and businesses," she said.

"So there are hundreds of people who want public safety and the safety of our families or of our elders, and our children, to be taken seriously by all the politicians that are elected or those that want to be elected."

This past Tuesday at the busy Four Corners intersection in Iqaluit, the group put up a crate among posters of candidates in Nunavut's Oct. 25 election. The crate was spray painted with messages that read "Safety First." The City of Iqaluit has since had the crate removed.

Territorial election issue

Redfern said the neighbourhood is "filled with families and elders, single women and children."

The CBC saw two boys biking down the road in Lower Base, who said they weren't allowed on the beach to play. At dark, they have to be inside. 

The women say the goal of their sign campaign is to change that and put public safety on the agenda of elected municipal officials and candidates in the upcoming Oct. 25 territorial election.

On Monday at 3 p.m. in the Iqaluit City Council chambers, residents will have a chance to voice their concerns in a meeting on public safety.