Patterk Netser was successfully removed from the Nunavut cabinet Friday by a vote of 14 to 3, but not before delaying the proceedings, rising on a Point of Order, and reading a conspiracy-filled letter into the Assembly record.
Two weeks ago, Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq stripped Netser of his cabinet portfolios following a Facebook post from the Aivilik riding MLA. In that post, Netser wrote “All Lives Matter” and went on to question how many abortions #BlackLivesMatter supporters had.
Under Nunavut’s consensus system of government, the premier assigns and removes cabinet posts, but only the full Assembly can remove a member from cabinet. That process started Wednesday, when Savikataaq asked for unanimous consent of the Assembly to debate Netser’s removal.
Netser objected, so the matter was scheduled for Friday.
“Whereas this house has lost confidence in the member for Aivilik, now therefore I move…that the member for Aivilik be removed as a member of the Executive Council,” Savikitaaq told MLAs.
Savikitaaq then outlined his reasons for requesting the removal.
“The Government of Nunavut values diversity, equality, and fairness for all,” he said.
“There can be no tolerance for disrespectful, hurtful remarks, or actions. We must uphold our government’s principles and values. Unfortunately, Minister Netser’s comments have damaged those basic values, and proceeded to cause pain and division across our territory.”
On Wednesday, Netser argued his freedom of expression was being limited due to his religious beliefs on abortion.
The premier took direct aim at those comments saying, “This is not an issue of religion, or freedom of expression. It is an issue of targeting specific groups and voicing unacceptable opinions on the value of an entire group of people, as well as women’s access to healthcare.”
Netser then interrupted the premier on a Point of Order saying, “My Point of Order is that, I never raised any issues on ethnic groups. I spoke out on behalf of the unborn babies across Canada that have been aborted, and I had no intentions of saying any racial remarks toward any ethnic group.”
Paul Quassa – speaker of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly – turned down Netser’s objection saying, “It’s not a Point of Order, it is a difference of personal interpretation.”
Savikitaaq continued: “This kind of intolerance is not covered under one’s freedom of expression, and it is simply not an option to ignore this intolerance. Nunavummiut deserve better.”
He closed by saying “Women’s rights are human rights.”
Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak-Lightstone was the seconder for the motion, saying: “The comments in question was intolerant, inappropriate and hurtful to many Nunavummiut.”
After pointing out Netser’s political experience, Arreak-Lightstone added, “The member should have known better. The fact that the member is still defending his position leads me to believe that there is no remorse for the actions.”
Netsilik MLA Emiliano Qirngnuq rose to support Netser, telling his colleagues, “The written note that he made was not written in the House, therefore I’m not comfortable with the motion put forward and the removal that we’re trying to proceed with. We do have freedom of expression in Canada.”
Justice Minister Jeannie Ehalok is also the minister responsible for Human Rights and Status of Women, and used that as the basis of her support for removing Netser.
“I support the rights of all women and girls currently living in Nunavut,” she said. “We can believe whatever we want to, but we cannot say whatever we want when those statements have a negative impact on the rights and dignity of others.”
Netser then took to the floor to make the case for remaining in cabinet.
“I would like to provide you with some clarity over comments I made on social media,” he said, describing the phone call from Savikataaq removing him from his cabinet posts.
“I offered right away to offer my apologies, but he said, ‘No, it’s too late.”
Netser said the premier insulted him on the call.
“He [Savikataaq] accused me of being arrogant and refusing to apologize. My wife was next to me and she heard what he said.”
It was then Savikataaq’s time to rise on a Point of Order saying, “At no point, in any communications or conversations that I had with the member, did I call him arrogant.”
Speaker Quassa responded, saying “We were not privy to the conversation” before inviting Netser to continue his statement.
Netser described himself as “a man of principles and values, and I wear those on my sleeve like a badge of honour” and cited those principles and values as the reason he was voted in to the Assembly.
“My values are a part of my cultural identity as an Inuk,” said Netser. “These values have long existed, about the value of life, before Christianity ever landed on our Inuit shores.”
“For me, Inuit social values will always be a part of who I am,” added Netser.
“Inuit have always celebrated life, and we will continue to do so. My cultural identity as an Inuk – or Eskimo – whose people survived genocide, gives me some insight to systemic practices that discriminate against visible minorities. I am guided by my faith and convictions, and I’m a product of my cultural identity as an Inuk.”
Netser made the leap from asserting his cultural identity to defending his comments on Facebook by saying, “My lived experience caused me to ask similar questions about the high abortion rate among our own people. The government raised systemic racism, and I – perhaps naively – thought I was free to ask about this problem that we are all working collectively to change, which is racism.
“I never intended my words to represent anything derogatory to women, whom I respect with all humility,” explained Netser.
“I value all Nunavummiut as equals and all life as precious. I have never passed any judgement on those who have gone through abortions. I understand it is a horrible experience for the women that have gone through it, and there is hope for them.”
Netser described talking with “close friends from the Black community” and learning how the phrase “All Lives Matter” is a loaded one.
“I have come to understand the term “All Lives Matter” has been used to undermine the cause of the Black community, whose goal is to highlight how society has systems in place that devalue their lives. The reference to “All Lives Matter” was certainly not stated in that context.”
He expressed some regret, saying “I would have not chosen these words if I knew they could be misconstrued as attempting to negate the struggles of my Black brothers and sisters.”
Netser is the fourth cabinet minister to be removed since the Nunavut Assembly was formed in 1999.
Regular MLAs receive a salary of $103,324, and Netser received an additional $30, 821 for his cabinet work in 2018-19 (each minister gets a different amount, a ministerial indemnity). For 2018-19 he was paid $164,040, including that base pay, his ministerial bonus, a northern allowance and a housing allowance.
Telling a story
Netser continued by telling a story about how his mother saved her dog team from government officials when RCMP were killing Inuit sled dogs in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, before reading an anonymous and unverified letter into the official record.
He described the author of the letter as “a friend who lives in Nunavut and is not Inuk”- a letter Netser says was one of many he has received in support.
The letter states, “I have not read your actual Facebook post, only the news reports and articles. I agree with you to speak your mind and your thoughts. Abortion to Black Lives movement – as I see it – is not a concern to the organization. In the USA, 247 babies are aborted every day. No protests or speeches from Hollywood movie stars, only silence. Then, is the Government of Nunavut sending a message? All lives don’t matter? By stripping you of your government portfolios for expressing an opinion?”
Netser continued to read the anonymous letter writer’s note into the record: “As you know, people are stuffed into houses, and some with outrageous mold conditions, across Nunavut, which might mean our lives don’t matter. If we don’t respect the lives of the unborn, or fight for their life to live, why do our lives matter?”
The letter goes on to take a shot at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “Last July, 2019, Trudeau committed $14 billion dollars over 10 years to be spent outside of Canada for women’s reproduction (sic) services and half of that for abortion, and here we are struggling for housing.”
You were sorry
“Patterk, you don’t need to say you were sorry or just talking out loud. Say what you want to say without apology. Never back down when our freedoms and Charters of Rights are being infringed and trampled. Have they come for you, then who’s next in their wrong thinking. You expressed an opinion on the internet and stripped of your portfolios and possibly further action coming.”
Netser continued reading the letter aloud as it veered into conspiracy theory, complete with the government controlling thoughts and taking away people in the night.
“Is the government testing control over social media and the internet? What one can say and one cannot say? Are you Nunavut public example of no speak (sic), the government control over speech and thoughts? What’s coming if average Joe criticizes the government, or has an opinion about anything? Will they be picked up and shipped into the dark of the night to one of the many new internment camps built across Canada today? It would be easy to become an unreported lost soul, now that the federal government pays Canadian news media, and currently rushing toward controlling what is said and reported on the internet. How quickly it has become “All Lives Don’t Matter.”
Netser continued to read the missive into the record, as the author drew an analogy between Inuit shipped South for tuberculosis treatment and their claim the government is snatching people out of bed for improper internet posts. “Today, an expression of opinion, or to think out loud, and you’re removed, impose mind control for all to stay silent.”
Netser began to close his nearly 15 minutes of remarks by saying “I understand that all lives cannot matter if Black lives don’t matter, but my post on social media was meant to bring to light to those without voices, the unborn.”
Since Premier Savikataaq made the original motion, he was also the one who got the last word.
He followed Netser’s statement by saying, “The fact is, as members of this Legislative Assembly, our code of conduct states that we will acknowledge the need to conduct ourselves in a manner that will withstand the closest public scrutiny. We will refrain from behavior that brings dishonor or disrepute to ourselves, the Legislative Assembly, or the people of Nunavut.”
Savikitaaq closed his remarks by adding: “It is vital we uphold our privilege of service to each and every Nunavut resident. It is clear the Minister Netser’s comments do not respect or honour them, and these views should have no place in our leadership.”
Both Netser and Savikataaq asked for a recorded vote, rather than a simple yea or nay.
Fourteen members voted to remove Netser from cabinet. Netser and two others –Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak and Netsilik MLA Emiliano Qirngnuq – voted to keep Netser in Cabinet. Pond Inlet MLA David Qamaniq was the lone abstention.
With Netser removed, the Assembly will hold a forum to determine who will replace him in cabinet, but the date of that forum was not immediately available.