The Minister responsible for municipal and community affairs faced tough questions in the Legislative Assembly March 7 for his departments’ response to the sudden death in Fort Smith.
The community of Fort Smith was rocked by a sudden and suspicious death early on Friday, March 4, which led to a day-long shelter-in-place order and a days-long manhunt by the RCMP. A 17 year-old was arrested on Sunday in connection with a series of break-ins and the theft of a vehicle and multiple firearms.
During this time, the Town of Fort Smith was providing regular updates to the situation via its Facebook page. However, during an Assembly sitting on Monday, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby argued the GNWT should have played a role in keeping residents up to date. Over the weekend, the GNWT was not providing updates on its social media channels, and as of March 7, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs had not published any releases on its website on the situation.
“The RCMP were busy doing their job; Why couldn’t the government communicate to reassure residents that things were still ongoing and they couldn’t leave their homes?” asked Nokleby.
Minister Shane Thompson said that all levels of government, as well as individual departments, have a role to play in communication during an emergency. “In this situation here, it was the RCMP who were responsible law enforcement,” he said. “They were the lead agency on the tragic events that were happening, and they were the ones in charge of the situation.”
“We as a government, the Northwest Territories, do not want to get misinformation out there.”
That didn’t satisfy the Yellowknife MLA.
“I don’t understand why this government, if they are being notified by the RCMP, cannot turn around and utilize social media and other methods in order to inform residents,” said Nokleby. “This is not a silo. This is a multi-departmental and multi-agency function, and for this government to wash its hands, yet again, at the disadvantage of our citizens is not acceptable.”
Thompson said that “ there will be lessons learned” following the weekend’s events: “We will be working with Justice and Health and the community and the RCMP on this,” he said.
Nokleby asked Thompson to respond to a rumour that the stolen weapons belonged to the Department of Lands.
In response, Thompson said only that “all equipment on site in Fort Smith was securely and safely stored in adherence [to] the policies and legislation of this government.”
Thompson wouldn’t respond to a question from Nokleby about the theft of firearms from a GNWT office.
Nokleby also criticized “the lack of information from any of cabinet over the weekend about what was happening,” asking: “Can the minister please commit that next time, as anything is occurring, that he actually notifies other members that things are going on in this territory?”
Thompson said both he and the premier had reached out to Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos once they were made aware of the incident, as well as the ministers of Justice and Health.
“The leadership in that community, including the RCMP, they took the roles and responsibilities sincerely,” he said. “We don’t want to get out there spreading rumours until we have facts.”