Two times the tragedy that taxes are


NASIVVIK By Zebedee Nungak,

Windspeaker Columnist; Archives 2005

Nasivvik is an Inuktitut word that means vantage point. It can be a height of land, a hummock of ice, or any place of elevation that affords observers a clear view of their surroundings to make good observations.

"We are the most taxed people in Canada!"

This complaint has passed the lips of most of the 10,000-plus people who live in the Nunavik Territory. If some people have not actually said this, they have certainly heard it being said by others. This statement has been asserted to an assortment of government ministers and commissions in a wide variety of meetings and hearings. It is not a frivolous or whining statement, because it happens to be true.

The taxes paid to two levels of government by the people of Nunavik have often been calculated as being $10 million a year. In return, the Nunavik Territory, its people and its institutions are recipients of combined federal and provincial transfers of around $270 million annually. For all the taxes we complain about paying, these are phenomenal returns, when figured on a per capita basis.

Anybody who is required to pay taxes will state with some authority that taxes hurt. But, the truth attached to this is, taxes also help. This is dramatically true in the remote Arctic communities of Nunavik. The taxes we pay result in provision of housing, medical care, education, welfare, employment insurance, family allowances, old age pensions, police services, community infrastructure, day care programs and a host of other benefits.

We never consider thanking our governments for these, because we are entitled to them as tax-paying citizens. Some of these also result from land claims agreements, and would not exist without governments being pushed and prodded to provide them, seemingly against their will.

Government generosity, on the whole, has a lot to be desired. The more or less permanent housing crisis in all areas of Canada's Arctic regions continues to be the most widespread evidence of this lack.

Occasionally, news reports point out another major transfer of money from Nunavik, to the "outside", besides taxes paid out to governments. It has been estimated that $20 million annually is spent on illegal drugs and bootleg alcohol. Now, here is expenditure of money truly worth groaning and grumbling about! It is double the pain of the taxes we complain about paying. The main difference here is that this is money literally thrown away, for no return benefit whatsoever.

The $20 million our territory exports for illegal drugs and bootleg alcohol causes poverty, child neglect and hunger, distressed families, broken lives, and far too many untimely deaths. The only "benefits" of this trade, if it can be called that, are the lining of pockets of criminals, who prey upon the addictions of people in all levels of society in Nunavik. No life is left untouched by all this.

The consequences of this import of substances and export of money also feed a sizable criminal justice industry to overflowing. Courts, which used to fly in and out of communities in a few hours, now spend days in session, without making much of a dent in the caseload. This will surely cause the establishment of a permanent, resident criminal court system in the territory.

Sadly, occupations of the future with the brightest prospect of guaranteed employment are those related to the criminal justice system.

What's tragic about this is that people who can recall a totally different life from what is going on now, are not yet old men and women. A mere 40 years ago, there was no need for police, the courts, or the criminal justice system with all its trappings and expense. Some of the very first judges who presided over cases used to give stern lectures to accused offenders, naming abuse of alcohol as the primary culprit for Inuit having to stand before a judge.

"Without alcohol, you are a peaceful and peaceable people," the judge would exhort. This is true enough. But individual freedoms, and the lack of any way for institutions and authorities on the ground to regulate or deny such substances to people, continue to contribute to the widespread availability of the items that cause such grief. A present-day judge could well say, "With alcohol and illegal drugs so readily available, we are also here to stay!"

The further tragedy of all of this is that the "trade" will flourish as long as the appetite for drugs and booze exists. Police have made several large drug busts without making much of a dent in this major drain on the fragile, underdeveloped Nunavik economy. This great open hemorrhage of money out of Nunavik is beyond shocking. Somebody is getting very rich out of all this misery!

The thought to ponder here is this: If the taxes we pay to governments are painful, the money we lose to illegal drugs and other intoxicants hurts us at least twice as much.