Friday, April 15, 2011

The trials of Nunavut: Lament for an Arctic nation - Part Four

Part IV

By day, Iqaluit can seem downright sleepy. Locals sit for hours in warm hotel lobbies to pass the time. The half-dozen restaurants here keep such irregular hours that it's a gamble to try to find breakfast on a weekend morning.

“From the statistics, one would get the sense that you walk around our communities and you get shot at,” said RCMP Chief Superintendent Steve McVarnock, head of Nunavut V Division in Iqaluit. “It's not like that. We don't have the big-city crime issues. Our stuff is self-destruction.”

And on a weekend night, those implosions are on full display.

That's what makes the detachment a perfect place to break in fresh-faced Mounties such as Constable Shane Pottie, a 23-year-old Nova Scotian nearly two years out of training, who patrolled the capital city on a recent Friday night.

“It's a great experience,” he said of northern policing, navigating his GMC pickup down a hill overlooking the small bowl where most of Iqaluit's inhabitants live. “I'll kick in more doors in a year than a lot of guys do in a career.”

His shift began at 9 p.m. For an hour, he crisscrossed town waiting for a call, slowing down on each five-minute pass to idle around a knot of kids playing road hockey late into the night.

“That's just the way it is up here for kids,” he said. “Safer to be on the street than at home.”

But after that, the whole city seemed to erupt. Over the next few hours, Constable Pottie would kick in two doors, wrestle several drunkards to the ground, track footprints at a break-in scene outside a school, help process 15 prisoners, continually dodge the widening river of urine forming on the floor of the detachment's lock-up and save an infant from falling out of her mother's amauti (a Inuit parka with an extra-large hood designed to carry a baby).

At 2 a.m. came an innocuous-sounding call. “Detox male standing in the road punching cars,” a dispatcher monotoned over the truck radio.

“Alpha-7, 17,” Constable Pottie responded. He was on his way, deking around the hockey boys again, their little bodies now steaming in the minus-10-degree night. Then the dispatcher crackled again: “Detox male now has a knife and is threatening people.” The policeman gunned the truck. City scenery blurred past: unsteady drunks milling around the four main bars, the dim orange lights of an entire grid run on diesel generators, dinged-up cabs delivering intoxicated people or their intoxicants.

Constable Pottie fishtailed around a corner and headed down an alley until his brake lights burst red against the snow. Thirty metres ahead, barely visible at the edge of his high beams, someone in socked feet leaned unsteadily against a house. Constable Pottie drove close, jumped out and drew the nine-millimetre gun from his holster.

Another squad truck charged in from the opposite direction. Two Mounties jumped out, nine-millimetres up. The young man was cornered.

“Get down on the ground!” one of the other officers yelled. “Drop the knife and get down now.”

The guy's eyes darted about until three blurry gun barrels came into focus. He couldn't have been more than 15.

He glanced down at his two-inch blade and then at his socks. For a moment, he seemed to think he would test his knife-at-a-gunfight odds, and lunged forward.

The three Mounties raised their guns. In the midst of his lunge, the kid lost his footing, stumbled and, finally, fell, belly against snow. One young Mountie leaned his knee against the man's back. There were convulsions, then vomit – the rage all gone.

The officers took turns comforting him, patting the back of a teenager who had threatened them with a knife moments earlier.

Ambulance lights reflected off the dark white hills surrounding Iqaluit. Constable Pottie's shift had several hours to go.

White, Patrick. 2011. "The trials of Nunavut: Lament for an Arctic nation". The Globe and Mail. Posted: April 1, 2011. Available online:

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