The Yukon government is saying little about how it will respond to the death of a Ross River man killed by feral dogs last October.
The NDP and Liberals have pressed the government for immediate action during question period this week, in the wake of confirmation from Yukon’s chief coroner that 22-year-old Shane Glada was mauled to death and partially eaten by dogs in Ross River.
Chief coroner Kirsten Macdonald attended a meeting in Ross River last week to discuss the death, and says that community members are carrying pepper spray and hockey sticks to ward off attacks from the feral dogs.
“What steps is the government taking in the short term to address the current public safety concerns in the community of Ross River?” Liberal Leader Sandy Silver asked in the legislative assembly on Tuesday.
Environment Minister Wade Istchenko said the government is working with Ross River, but was vague on the details.
“We have done a lot,” he said. “This is a very sad incident, and we have tasked our staff to work with Ross River. We have sent letters and we are working with them, as we speak, to move forward and to ensure the safety of the Ross River people.”
When Silver asked whether any elected official has spoken with the Ross River Dena Council about the situation, Istchenko didn’t answer directly. Instead, he said that “letters have been sent from the deputy minister and from our chief veterinary officer.”
Silver said the least the minister could do is reach out to the community himself.
“What’s wrong with the minister responsible making a phone call, leader to leader?” he said to the News. “Why wouldn’t you do that right away?”
On Monday, NDP MLA Kate White asked the government to re-implement a dog control pilot program that was designed for Ross River in 2010, but was subsequently cancelled.
She also wants the government to overhaul the Dog Act, the legislation that governs the treatment of dogs but is difficult to enforce in unincorporated communities like Ross River.
But Istchenko was non-committal.
“The coroner is still working on this ongoing case,” he said. “Once the report is complete, we will review the recommendations carefully.”
Macdonald says her report will likely be complete by the end of June. But she said that shouldn’t stop anyone from taking action on the issue now.
“I think that there are plenty of issues and concerns that have been raised by the community and others that are within the public forum,” she said. “There’s nothing to say that some of those issues couldn’t be looked at before my report comes out.”
In an interview with the News, White questioned whether the government’s response would be different if the death had happened in another community. Ross River is a small, primarily Kaska community in a fairly remote location off the Campbell Highway.
“If this was a different demographic … would government be reacting differently?” White said.
Both she and Silver felt it was necessary to point out that Glada was sober when he died.
Still, neither White nor Silver proposed concrete solutions for the feral dog problem in Ross River.
White said she would contact the chief and council right away to offer support.
Silver said the Ross River Dena Council would have to go to the federal government to pass a bylaw allowing it to deal with feral dogs, since it is not a self-governing First Nation.
“If the bylaw has to be made through Ottawa, then I would help them,” he said.
In the short term, though, Silver seemed open to more immediate action. He said stray dogs have been culled years ago in Dawson City, his home community. On a designated day, any dog that wasn’t tied up by its owner was shot.
“At some point, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “We’ve done that in Dawson before, and it’s effective.
“There are solutions out there for the long term. Maybe in the short term, if a dog killed a human, then that dog needs to be terminated. Absolutely.”
Ross River Dena Council Chief Jack Caesar did not respond to a request for comment.
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