Jorge Barrera and Annette Francis
APTN National News
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq tried to force an apology from a Nunavut hamlet over statements made by its deputy mayor who said high grocery prices in the community forces dozens of residents to scavenge the local dump for food.
Sam Tutanuak, deputy mayor of Rankin Inlet, said Aglukkaq’s office called the hamlet’s senior administrative officer Wednesday asking for a letter of apology addressed to the minister and the Conservative party.
“She wanted to talk to the mayor of Rankin in regards to the comments I had made and that the hamlet of Rankin Inlet should write an apology letter to Leona Aglukkaq and the Conservative party that the Nutrition North program is working,” said Tutanuak, in an interview Thursday evening.
Aglukkaq is the MP for Nunavut.
Tutanuak said no apology is forthcoming.
“I am not apologizing,” he said, in an earlier interview with Nation to Nation host Nigel Newlove. “We have elderly people picking up food from the dump to eat. How can I apologize for something like that?’
Aglukkaq’s office did not return APTN National News’ request for comment on the claim she tried extracting an apology from the hamlet.
The Auditor General of Canada delivered a report Tuesday containing a scathing review of the Harper government’s new Nutrition North food subsidy program for remote Northern communities. Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s report said the federal Aboriginal Affairs department had no way to determine whether the program was making food affordable or improving Northern residents’ access to healthy foods like vegetables.
On Wednesday, NDP Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair led Question Period on the subject of Nutrition North and referred to the APTN story. He asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper whether he felt “shame” people in the North were getting food at the dump.
Harper sidestepped the question, but Aglukkaq, who sits on the front government bench, began heckling, according to five opposition MPs interviewed by APTN.
All five MPs, three NDP and two Liberals, said Aglukkaq yelled “that’s not true” when Mulcair mentioned the dump.
“The minister clearly said, over and over again, when anyone mentioned the question of people eating out of garbage dumps, that it wasn’t true,” said NDP MP Carol Hughes.
“When our leader (Mulcair) asked about the situation in the far North, Leona was shouting and heckling him,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus. “When the issue came up of people trying to find food at the dump, she said, ‘that’s not true.’”
Liberal MP Judy Sgro said Aglukkaq repeated the words three or four times.
“The minister hollered out ‘that’s not true,’ to the first NDP question, the second NDP question, and the third NDP question,” said Sgro. “She said ‘that’s not true,’ very clearly, those three words.”
Aglukkaq’s spokesperson Ted Laking said Aglukkaq never said those words during Question Period.
“It is false,” said Laking, in an email.
“She denies that she says it, but she said it over and over again,” said Hughes. “She is in denial that it’s happening, but it’s clearly happening and she clearly said it.”
Tutanuak said Thursday that between 50 to 100 people in Rankin Inlet regularly go to the dump looking for food.
“Yeah, you see it. Unfortunately, it’s a common sight,” said Tutanuak.
When asked what he thought when he found out Aglukkaq wanted an apology, Tutanuak said his reaction was not fit for publication.
-with files from Francine Compton-Padilla