Nunavut Conservative candidate Aglukkaq tries to re-write public record on food scavenging scandal

Aglukkaq issued statement threatening legal action, but now denies she threatened legal action

By Kent Driscoll and Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Nunavut Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq appears to be trying to rewrite the public record on her reaction to images of Inuit in the Nunavut community of Rankin Inlet scavenging for food in the local dump.

In an interview Friday with APTN National News’ Iqaluit correspondent Kent Driscoll, Aglukkaq denied she threatened legal action against Sam Tutanuak, the former deputy mayor of Rankin Inlet.

“I did not, I did not do that,” said Aglukkaq, in the interview.

This contradicts the public record of what occurred last November.

Aglukkaq issued a statement shortly after APTN reported Tutanuak’s accusation the Nunavut MP had tried to force an apology from the hamlet over the deputy mayor’s criticism of the Harper government’s northern food strategy, known as Nutrition North. In the statement, Aglukkaq said she was considering legal action against Tutanuak.

“The deputy mayor’s claims about this conversation are completely false. I am currently reviewing all my legal options,” said the statement, issued on Nov. 28, 2014.

Aglukkaq told APTN Friday she contacted the hamlet out of concern for the situation.

“Sam’s a great guy, I’ve known Sam for a very long time. His wife and I went to high school together. This was an issue, if it was serious, what was the issue? I wanted to know. So I went to the council directly and asked, ‘what is it I can do to help?’” said Aglukkaq in the APTN interview, part of which will be aired Friday evening.

Tutanuak never wavered from his allegation that Aglukkaq tried to force an apology from the hamlet. He won re-election, but resigned soon after citing the stress of the job was impacting his family.

Tutanuak said Aglukkaq phoned the hamlet’s senior administrative officer and demanded the apology along with a letter from the hamlet praising the Harper government’s Nutrition North program. Tutanuak said the senior administrative officer immediately told him about the conversation with Aglukkaq.

“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, at the time.

The Rankin Inlet hamlet council never took an official position on Tutanuak’s allegation.

An APTN Investigates report of the northern food crisis included images of elders scavenging for food at the Rankin Inlet dump. The images triggered shock across the country and sparked a scandal in Ottawa after the Auditor General of Canada issued a scathing review of the Nutrition North program.

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.

Facing a constant barrage of questions over the issue during question period, Aglukkaq at one point was captured on camera reading a newspaper in the House of Commons while opposition MP’s demanded answers from her government on the food crisis in her riding.

NDP candidate Jack Anawak and Liberal candidate Hunter Tootoo are trying to unseat Aglukkaq.

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Video Journalist / Iqaluit

Kent has been APTN’s Nunavut correspondent since 2007. In that time he has closely covered Inuit issues, including devolution and the controversial Nutrition North food subsidy. He has also worked for CKIQ-FM in Iqaluit and as a reporter for Nunavut News North.