Fentie and ministers not sheltered from questions

The need for a youth shelter dominated the premier’s community tour meeting in Whitehorse on Tuesday night.

The need for a youth shelter dominated the premier’s community tour meeting in Whitehorse on Tuesday night.

Though many citizens questioned Premier Dennis Fentie and several ministers at the Yukon Inn, the fate of the city’s youth was a thread that ran throughout the night — especially the uncertain fate of Angel’s Nest youth home.

Project champion Vickie Durrant wanted to know how committed the government was to the project.

Specifically, will it fund the project that aims to provide 20 beds in a shelter for at-risk youth?

“Organized crime would hate this shelter, because these youth are who it targets,” said Durrant, who is the executive director of the Youth of Today Society.

“The government investing $440,000 a year is nothing compared to the ripple effect of what would be stopped.

“Sometimes I don’t think the politicians and bureaucrats see that — the big picture.”

The government is working fast on a response to the society, said Fentie.

“To make informed decisions we require a high a level of due diligence,” he said.

“The compressed timeline for (the shelter) makes that difficult.”

A response to the society’s proposal is expected by the end of the week, said a cabinet spokesperson.

Even seemingly unrelated questions led back to the Youth of Today Society’s shelter plan.

Talking about his first week in Whitehorse, a young man from Montreal told the political panel he was struck by how prevalent drunkenness and crack smoking is downtown.

One month into his stay, he felt compelled enough to tell the territory’s leaders he felt “unsafe living downtown.”

The government is doing a lot, said Justice Minister Marian Horne, listing several government projects.

The territory is fighting crime and addiction through the Substance Abuse Action Plan, funding for Drug Abuse Resistance Education and increased funding to the Outreach Van for a replacement van.

And she mentioned SCAN, the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, which established an office that investigates complaints about bootlegging, drug dealing and prostitution.

“Citizens have access to a way to complain about something you see that you feel is a detriment to your community,” added Fentie.

Shutting down the notorious drug den at 810 Wheeler is a big win for SCAN, said Horne.

But it’s also a shortsighted move, said Durrant.

“It’s good to deal with the drug dealers, but the kids we deal with, that’s their homes,” she said.

“Where do they go once the crack houses shut down?”

Everything about the drug culture in Whitehorse is connected, like an ecosystem, said Durrant.

“The drug dealers need the kids and the kids need the drug dealers,” she said.

“Did anybody go into 810 and see who was living there? Did they know there was a 16-and 17-year-old girl living there?”

Angel’s Nest will house 20 youth for only $440,000 per year — about $22,000 per individual.

The project plans to use Hide on Jeckell hostel as a shelter.

Angel’s Nest is named after Angel Carlick, a 19-year-old Whitehorse youth who disappeared in May 2007. Her remains were found near the Pilot Mountain subdivision earlier this year.

The quick response from the government could indicate a positive decision, but Durrant doesn’t want to assume anything.

“Is it convincing me of a positive decision? I’m hesitant,” she said.

“I’ve spoken with many governments, First Nations and other organizations and had enthusiastic responses. We haven’t had that yet from the territory.”

Later on, the chair of the Yukon Human Rights Commission took the mike and advocated for improved human rights legislation.

“It’s time Yukoners benefited from an up-to-date act, an act that’s on par with the rest of Canada,” said Melissa Atkinson.

The Human Rights Act is 20 years old.

At the time of its drafting, the act was “leading edge” in Canada, said Horne.

“It recognized rights others didn’t,” she said.

A select committee consisting of MLAs from all three parties has met several times to discuss rewriting the act.

A community tour is set to gather public input on the legislation.

In response to a question about increased heating and fuel costs, Fentie said the Yukon is facing a challenge of inefficient heating.

“We got into a bad habit over time, given access to cheap energy, and we didn’t pay attention to construction (of homes),” he said.

The government has several programs — the pioneer grants, appliance rebates — that can help offset high fuel costs, added Fentie.

“Subsidizing is not always the best option, though,” he said.

“One thing I can say is we won’t support a carbon tax. It’s a ridiculous measure.”

The community tour, which runs for two months, stops in Carcross on Thursday.

Meeting are open to the public, and people can question Fentie and his officials on any topic.

For a complete schedule, visit www.yukonpremier.ca.