NOTES/QUOTES #19: Lucky Laura’s $55M; Surfacing Stupidly; Toni Tobac’s travails; Erasmus educates; and Trudeau’s new tresses
“You are the kindest country in the world. You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab.” — The late American actor/comedian Robin Williams’ famous quote about Canada.
In these crazy and troubling times, it’s comforting to be living in the relative safety and peace in Yellowknife.
Sure, we have our own issues — historical wrongs against Indigenous people, laid bare in the tragic stories of generational abuse I hear when I cover law courts — but we generally don’t start burning down our communities and killing each other to express our feelings.
However, in the NWT we are still largely locked down in a COVID-19 pandemic response I consider to be excessive. And there are still political puzzles and public issues for me to explore.
LUCKY LAURA’S LIFE-CHANGING LOTTO WIN
“Are you all right, Grandma?” — Laura Tutcho’s grandkids as she realizes she’s a multi-millionaire
For the past month, a big question on many peoples’ minds was, “Who has the $55 million ticket?”
Well, the big mystery over who won the NWT’s largest-ever lottery jackpot was solved Monday when NWT & Nunavut Lotteries announced Yellowknife resident Laura Tutcho is a very, very rich woman.
Tutcho, originally from Délı̨nę, spent her career as a Sahtúgot’ı̨ne interpreter and is dedicated to the revitalization of the language. I’ve learned “Sahtúot’įnę Yatį́” refers to Northern Slavey as an entirety. Northern Slavey is an amalgamation of three separate dialects: K’áshogot’ine (Hare); Sahtúgot’ine (Bear Lake); and Shihgot’ine (Mountain). All are spoken in the western NWT, while Mountain also has speakers in Yukon. So cool.
What I’ve been told is the dreamy lotto win couldn’t have happened to a nicer woman. And she reportedly has spent the last month doing the smart thing: working with financial advisors. She has more than a life changing amount of cash; she has a huge mountain of money.
For example, if she, or her family or grandkids enjoy swimming, they could fully fund a replacement facility for Yellowknife’s aging Ruth Inch Memorial Pool. And I mean the swankier, 50-metre lane version that some city councillors have been loathe to proceed with.
But I’m not suggesting she do that. I’m just daydreaming a bit. Please excuse my digression.
Here is a bit of Cabin Radio’s story on Lucky Laura:
“My granddaughter told me that someone in Yellowknife won the jackpot,” she told NWT & Nunavut Lotteries, “so I went on the internet to check the numbers.
“I was in shock! I said, ‘Oh, my God!’ My grandkids came in right away and my grandson asked, ‘Are you all right, Grandma?’
Good for her. And it’s fantastic that an Indigenous woman has been blessed with such good fortune. Tutcho could do a lot of good for her community with some of that money in ways government just wouldn’t know how.
NWT & Nunavut Lotteries stated that Tutcho’s $11 quick pick was purchased from the downtown Reddi Mart in Yellowknife. I often purchase quick picks from that same convenience store. Am I envious of Tutcho? Of course I am. But I’m also happy to see the money go to such a worthy winner.
EMERGING WISELY? MORE LIKE SURFACING STUPIDLY
The GNWT has to get more reasonable with its Emerging Wisely COVID-19 recovery plan. There was a glimmer of hope Wednesday, when CBC North reported this in a story about Phase Two coming inline on June 12: “… officials have made a few changes to the plan after fielding many calls and emails from organizations that want to re-open, but did not elaborate.” Good grief. Why the mystery? It’s clear people are starting to push back against the lockdown as they are fed up with the unwarranted intrusion into their lives.
There are long lines at the city’s dump, as the city has determined the GNWT’s rules forbid more than a few people at the time in the sprawling, outdoor Solid Waste Facility that is also operating at reduced hours (“to ensure physical distancing and to adhere to the public health orders currently in effect in the NWT.”)
People eager to enjoy our short, sweet summer are forced to park their campers in areas alongside Ingraham Trail highway as the lovely territorial parks won’t open until later in the month. Maybe.
And a silly example of #CovidCrazy happened at the pet store I frequent for cat supplies. For about one month, Crooked Whisker (what a great name!) was forced to close to customers. I would need to call from my truck parked outside the door of the strip mall store and watch through the glass as the employee would retrieve my order and deliver it to me outside. However, suddenly last week I was able to enter the place as usual. What had changed regarding the pandemic’s effects in the NWT over the month since the initial lockdown order? Nothing. No new cases. No community spread.
Why can’t I today walk into Mark’s to buy a pair of jeans? There was never more than a handful of customers at any time in the place anyway, and I don’t believe the ‘rona would be lurking in the denim.
While some MLAs advocate for relief for businesses ordered closed since March — since MARCH! — only one that I know of has made any serious inquiries as to the reasons behind the decisions made by the Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola in the Emerging Wisely document.
If I was an MLA representing an area that has several closed businesses — or even those who have found some way to stay partially open, dealing with take-out or reduced capacity — I would hopefully have some questions for Premier Caroline Cochrane.
So kudos to Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, who on May 26, asked this of Health Minister Diane Thom: “I have no doubt that the Chief Public Health Officer has been making numerous decisions on data, and we’ve heard that today. We have heard numerous requests, from members and the media and the public, to see some of that data.”
Of course, judging by her answer — click on the Hansard link of you want to read it on page 12 — she didn’t quite understand the question, or was simply trying to duck it.
So frustrating. Can’t anyone understand the damage being done to not only our economy, but the students who aren’t receiving a proper education and he work ethic of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have no work to go to each day.
And, tracing the push by the U.S. Democratic Party, our premier is trying to shoehorn extra social programming into our post-COVID-19 society. While some are actually good, others would need much more study before committing so many of our tax dollars to them.
Egged by, of course, Frame Lake lefty MLA Kevin O’Reilly, Cochrane essentially admitted it would be foolish to let a good crisis go to waste. From Hansard, May 26:
- O’REILLY: Clearly, there have been some success stories during this pandemic, and I mentioned some of those in my statement. We have got social programs that are starting to deal with homelessness. We have got a managed alcohol program, wage subsidy for low-income workers, payrolling of Income Assistance and more. Can the premier share her thoughts about how we can keep these significant gains and how we can continue to plan for economic recovery at the same time?
- COCHRANE: Those who were here in the last Assembly would remember one time I had been asked in the House about where I stood. I said people have called me many names, but they haven’t called me a name, but people have called me at times a socialist. I don’t think I am really that radical, but people have said that. I am all about universal childcare and guaranteed living wage. I think it is part of the answer. I do not believe the perception that people will just sit back and be lazy. I think that would tire people very quickly. I have already started to put the fuel in the fire. As I meet with our premiers across Canada, with our prime minister, I have already been saying to them things such as, “You’ve given the wage increase. You are giving these out to people. How can you ask us to take it back?” So I think that that is really important. It is a matter of not only what we do as a government, what the federal government does. I have been working very closely with our three territories on both sides, and we are looking at providing a win-win to the federal government. These programs, getting people in housing, giving people almost a guaranteed wage, giving people more access to childcare are all things that all of us in this House should be proud of. It would be a sin … to take them back.
While I couldn’t help but chuckle over the “people have called me at times a socialist” comment — would that be me, Premier Cochrane? —I do think the wage increases need to be fully examined on what impacts it could have on employers. Would government be subsidizing it? How would that effect workers just above the cut-off? Would they then demand higher salaries? It would be a trickle up theory, and one that could have seriously negative unintended consequences.
Why can’t we just re-open everything — except the border — and we’ll wear masks if we want to, wash our hands a lot and be wary of anyone who has been out of the territory.
HYSTERIA AND HYPE ARE ALSO COVID-19 SYMPTOMS
Then there is the COVID-19 hype machine. Driven either by uninformed fear or some sense of partisan duty (the American Blue State model) it’s no wonder we see people driving alone in their car, or jogging outside, or really anywhere right now — or since the last of our five COVID-19 cases over seven weeks ago — wearing a face mask.
I’ll start with Dr. Kandola, who has advised us human resources that we may engage — carefully — in a “staycation” this summer.
Thank you, Premier Kami … err, CPHO Kandola.
A couple of weeks ago, Kandola reportedly was “encouraging residents to consider a holiday this summer in their own backyards.”
Sounds great! Do tell me more.
“I wholeheartedly support staycations,” said Dr. Kami Kandola during a teleconference. “Visit the regional hubs … enjoy this 1.2-million square kilometres of amazing land that we have.”
Kandola added that her team is working on allowing public and private campgrounds to be used in the next phase of lifting COVID-19 restrictions.
That will perhaps be later this month. We are experiencing temperatures tickling 20C right now and the ice has gone from our lakes. It is our summer.
“While public and private campgrounds are still not allowed to open for overnight use, there is nothing stopping northerners from camping in the backcountry or going out on the land to their own camps — an activity the territorial and federal governments have encouraged for its physical-distancing benefits,” commented Kandola.
But is that safe for the kiddies, Kami? Isn’t it wiser to simply open our campgrounds?
Oddly, Kandola said “potential visitors should check ahead of time if their presence would be welcomed” in small communities. Check with who?
In her interviews with the staycation promotion, Kandola again warned us folks to make sure we have adequate supplies should a second wave of the pandemic strike.
That last time she issued such a warning, in late February, she caused a rush on grocery stores and prompted people to hoard all types of baking supplies, cleaning products and toilet paper.
Now perhaps at the time, when here was some legitimate fear of the unknown effects and potential penetration of the novel coronavirus, the good doctor’s warnings were justified. But now? There is plenty of information out there countering the theory of a “second wave” this fall, as that prediction is based on how he normal influenzas act. This is a “novel” — or new — virus that is already potentially burning itself out in places such as Italy.
And as long as we keep our borders closed and have good tracking of any people who do return here or have to travel up here for work, we really do not have to live as if we are in downtown New York City.
An editorial in News/North (paywalled, no link) on May 30 stated: “…public health officials and politicians trying to walk the fine line between safety and the public interest and the rights of the individual. It’s an example of the sensitive dynamic of imposing rules and restrictions on people: if officials push too hard, or the public thinks a rule is outrageous, it will be broadly ignored.”
But later in the piece, the writer supported Cochrane’s caution for residents “not to get too comfy as some restrictions are lifted since the devil is still at the door.” And it also stated: “The spectre of a possible or even likely second wave of infections in the fall and a third wave sometime after that has people in her position staying vigilant.”
Third wave? Well, that’s the type of information from a publisher running a contest for kids, called: “Whatcha doin’ to #PlankTheCurve?” Besides providing a poor spelling and grammar lesson for children, we didn’t have a curve up here to plank, flatten or beat with a stick. Even GNWT officials are admitting that — but you have look through answers on a GNWT Facebook post to find those admissions.
“The initial response to COVID-19 was to ensure that our hospitals and the health system in general didn’t get overwhelmed,” stated an unnamed official in a response to a question.
And it didn’t.
“Flatten the curve” is a slogan adopted in southern Canada to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 victims. That quite small percentage of people who actually catch the virus who get really sick. And sadly, many, many people have die either directly from, or after existing health issues were made worse by the vexing invisible virus.
And News/North also ran this headline in late May: “COMMUNITY REPORT: Jean Marie River preparing for second wave.”
Huh? Yup. The chief of this idyllic community of 100 people nestled at the confluence of the Jean Marie and Mackenzie rivers, Stanley Sanguez, is reportedly “pleased to hear that the GNWT is planning to ease pandemic-related restrictions but is fearful of any chance the virus threat could come back.”
The story continues: “Like many other Dene community leaders throughout the North that NNSL Media has contacted during the pandemic, Sanguez continues to worry about the impacts of alcohol and drug addiction could have to the health of his people in the event the virus ever did reach the Dehcho community of just under 100 people.”
I’ve blogged about that before. The $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) cheques have been rolling in and people in many communities are finding less than ideal ways to spend that cash. The people have been cooped up since March and most jobs don’t exist at present.
Sanguez is concerned for his people. And that is exactly what he should do — protect the health and safety of the residents in the place that doesn’t have robust medical facilities. But he needs good, balanced information. Including the latest on the lower chances of a second wave. And nothing really about a third wave. Or any other ‘rona ripples after that.
And such a small community with restricted access should be able to monitor people from the outside quite easily. It should also be very simple to know which resident has left the territory for a trip. And they need to isolate for 14 days when they return.
Since COVID-19 doesn’t simply appear out of nowhere, I worry that Sanguez is worrying too much.
ERASMUS OFFERS THE ABCs OF THE CERBs
In his latest News/North (paywalled, no link) column, Roy Erasmus explains how some people could be digging a pretty deep hole by fraudulently claiming the very enticing and easily obtained CERB $2,000 monthly payment.
As it’s on the honour system to claim the cash, it can be unavoidably attractive for people who might not have a lot of surplus money in their bank accounts. Or any money.
Erasmus uses the narrative tool of a conversation wth a friend to get his point across. Here is an excerpt.
“Did you get your $2,000 this month?” my friend Luke McGluke asked me excitedly. Before I could answer, he said “I don’t understand why the government is giving us all $2,000 a month for nothing.”
Eschia, take it easy eh.
I was walking when I met him. Making sure we were six feet apart, I said, “They’re not giving everybody $2,000 a month for nothing.”
Luke said, “Is it because they stole all of our land and took us away from our parents then put us in Residential Schools when we were kids?” I said no. “Well, why then?” he asked, shaking his head over this mystery.
I explained that the money is supposed to go to people who were working for someone, or owned a business, on March 15, 2020 and had to stop working because of COVID-19.
I asked Luke how he got his money, and he said, “Jude called me and said everybody’s getting $2,000. All you gots to do is call a certain number and answer a few questions and they send you the money.”
Oh my god, I thought, there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people in a few months.
What a brilliant column. Well done, Roy.
The feds will conduct audits of the CERB payouts and many people could be forced to pay the cash back later this year. Obviously, for many, it will have been long ago gone,
While not only are the easily obtained payments creating problems in smaller community with boozing and partying during the lockdown, it could create horribly financial — and the subsequent social — situations down the road.
TOBAC’S TROUBLED TRAVELS
On May 27, RCMP issued a plea for the public’s help in locating Toni Tobac. I thought that was strange as my understanding was that she should be in jail. Hmmm.
I saw Tobac, 29, in Territorial Court on Jan. 10, when she was sentenced to six months in jail after selling cocaine to undercover police officers in the RCMP’s Project Gloomiest investigation. Here’s is part of the coverage I provided to Cabin Radio:
A Yellowknife single mother struggling with addictions was swept up in two RCMP operations within a year after selling cocaine to undercover police officers.
Toni Lynette Marie Tobac was sentenced to six months in jail on Friday in Territorial Court. She was charged in March 2018 as part of the RCMP’s Project Gloomiest drugs investigation, following a so-called “dial-a-dope” operation.”
In the same month, March 2018, Tobac had been sentenced to six months’ jail by a Supreme Court judge after being arrested one year earlier in another RCMP dial-a-dope operation – this one named Project Glacier.
At the time of her sentencing for that trafficking conviction in 2018, a pre-sentence report stated Tobac was originally from Fort Good Hope and had a difficult upbringing, being exposed to alcoholic abuse and physical violence before entering the care of social services and a string of foster homes.
After her release from jail, Tobac will be on 18 months’ probation and under a 10-year firearms prohibition.
Tobac was in the late stages of pregnancy, which might have explained why she was out of custody in late April, when she was reported missing in Edmonton. Her partner posted on Facebook that she had “vanished without a trace.”
An RCMP spokesperson told Cabin Radio that Tobac was “under the supervision of the GNWT Department of Corrections at the time of her alleged abscondment.”
A spokesperson for the Edmonton Police Service said officers had located and been in contact with her and that she was “safe was not under duress,” Cabin Radio reported.
Tobac was arrested May 6 and brought back to the NWT. But apparently, not back to jail, even with an apparent probation violation.
In a May 8 Facebook post, her partner, Russell Hamilton stated:
Yes my wife Toni Tobac is found. I appreciate everyones time and effort in this sad confusing time. Until the whole story is heard that only me and my wife can talk to each other about. I humbly ask all snide comments be put in check. As this is also a sad confusing time for my children. Whatever the outcome I personally know ppl make mistakes and everyone is allowed a second chance. There are alot of questions to be answered but hopefully time will bring out the truth. Once again thank you everyone for your prayers thoughts and well wishes!!
One of the many replies of his post in support was this from a woman: “Happy to hear she’s not another missing and murdered indigenous women.There are way too many serious cases. Glad she’s home with her family.”
But on May 27, RCMP issued that missing person’s report, identifying Tobac as “Indigenous, measuring 5’4” (163 cm) and weighing 150 lbs. (68 kg). She has shoulder length brown and orange hair” and that “public assistance is requested to confirm her well being.”
She was located the following day. No further details were made public. And I haven’t seen her name on any court dockets.
Court was told in January that Tobac started abusing alcohol and drugs in her teens. She ended up living on the streets of Yellowknife.
At the time of her sentencing, she had three children of her own and was expecting another. Judge Christine Gagnon said Tobac must “participate actively in a treatment program” including counselling as directed by a probation officer.
That condition was expected to include programs related to alcohol and drug abuse, violence and trauma, parenting, and pre-natal or post-natal issues.
This case worries me. I’m genuinely concerned for Tobac’s personal safety. Through no fault of her own, she was raised in a very unsettling setting. I also wish the couple could find a calmer, more peaceful path together in life. I hope their kids are all right.
But then there is the trouble she has had with the law. And the justice system only works if it is seen to be fair to everyone.
WHAT’S WITH THE HAIR, DUDE?
I figured I’d end with a photo of our supreme leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I took the screen grab from a livestream from Parliament earlier this week. He was speaking about racism in Canada. Hence, he positioned some MPs of colour from his caucus behind him.
I have also grown out my hair since the COVID-19 lockdown forced Ragged Ass Barbers in YK Centre to close (it re-opened in mid-May). I have grown fond of my lengthy locks and plan to keep them around for a while.
I guess Justin has the same idea. Or is he simply virtue signalling to those few parts of Canada that might have salons and barbers still closed?