Friday, November 23, 2007

Igloolik, or How I Made My First Submissions Under a Disco Ball

I just got back from my first circuit a couple of days ago. Susan and I were slated to go to Igloolik and Hall Beach, communities that are next door to each other just off the Northwestern tip of Hudson's Bay. We were scheduled to leave on Saturday but got weathered in both Saturday and Sunday. When we finally made it out on Monday, I was ready to cheer as the plane took off, though I thought better of it given I was sitting next to Igloolik's mayor and only 3 feet away from the judge. We got to Igloolik in the afternoon. The judge cancelled court so that we could meet with witnesses and police and the defence counsel could meet with their clients. After waiting several hours for the police, who were out on calls, we ended up meeting with defence counsel and sharing a dinner of fried eggs, fried potatos and chicken fingers while we discussed possible resolutions. We got to the police station at 7, to discover that they had rounded up a grand total of 2 witnesses. At 9, we met with the local Justice Committee at our hotel.

Our hotel was the Tujormivik Hotel, which is more like a hostel than a hotel really. It reminded me of the places I stayed travelling in Southeast Asia and Sout America--only it was a lot more expensive. The cost for full room and board is $250 per night per person, shared room and common washrooms notwithstanding. The meals are pretty simple (think first-year undergraduate residence) though the staff are kind and the living room really homey. I brought my own veggies and my own breakfast food. I even brought soups and tofu for meals, but I hesitate to make them because I don't want to offend our hosts. After all, a little fried chicken never killed anyone.

Tuesday was our big day in court. Susan and I are the last to arrive. Court is being held in the local community hall. The tables are those big, metal tables we used to write exams with. As we walk in, they tape one up with duct tape just for us. The judge, clerk, interpreter, translator, and defence counsel already have their tables. When we sit down, I take the chance to look around and notice that a disco ball hangs from the ceiling and that there are giant woofer speaker in the corner. The judge wears a sealskin vest and kammiks. I wear hiking boots. It strikes me that this is a far cry from Finch or the West Mall.

As things progress, however, they are a lot like Finch or the West Mall. We deal with the easy matters first: adjournments and speak-tos. As accused and witnesses appear, counsel take breaks to talk to them. After lunch, we start the pleas and I realize--suddenly on my feet--that I am making my first submissions. I launch right into them until the judge gently reminds me that I need to start with the facts. Flustered, I forget to enter the criminal record. I sheepishly do so after defence counsel makes his submissions, as the judge gives me an impatient stare. Still, nothing dire happens and I am ready for the next time, when I make sure the criminal record is entered and I have the facts ready to go. It's all a lot of fun, actually, as well as a little frenetic.

Sadly, that was my one day to make submissions. When we get to the airport ti fly to Hall Beach on Tuesday night, we find out defence counsel has been bumped off the flight. They ask if I mind staying behind since I have so few matters on the go. So, I spent the night in Igloolik, reading a book and chilling out at the Tujormivik. The next day, I fly back to Iqaluit.

I plan to do it all over again next Friday, when I head to Taloyoak and Gjoa Haven, via Yellowknife. It'll be the farthest west I've ever been in Canada. And this time I may even get to run a trial...

Monday, November 12, 2007

On Frozen Pond

On Monday, I had my first outdoor Arctic adventure. I went for a hike with Mark and Sophie--or rather Mark and Sophie took me for a walk on the tundra. We just did a little circle near town that took us out into the hills and back for a couple of hours. It was nice to get out and see a bit of the land, even if it is a stone's throw from home. I found some caribou antlers and took one for my office. Everyone laughed at me--silly kudlunah--but it's made for good decor!

The coolest part of the day was walking across frozen ponds. I surprised myself in that (a) I did it and (b) I did not fall down. The ponds have all these wild frozen bubbles in them caused by the separation of oxygen and hydrogen on freezing. It's pretty trippy and I will eventually get some photos so you can see. You can even see to the bottom of the pond!

I also crossed a frozen river. I do not recommend standing still when you do that and hear a little bit of cracking. It's counterintuitive, but you have to keep moving! (as Mark and Sophie put it). No worries. The river was really a creek. And I am still here. :)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Long Day's Journey Into Night

The days are getting shorter now, and when we turned the clocks back last week, it was stunning the difference it made. The sun sets at 3-3:30. The sun rises at around 8, which means I am already getting up and getting ready for work in the dark. I know the change affected me because my body reacted to it, both when I arrived and when the time changed. I would wake at 5 in the morning and be ready for bed at 9. I imagine those of you with small children are wondering what the big deal is! But if you know me well, you know that night is the time I can have the most energy, though I am usually up by 7 or 8 in the morning.

Still, as Lily Tomlin says, it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. We lose six minutes of daylight every day. That's about 45 minutes a week. Grise Fjord, far north on Ellesmere Island, changes 45 minutes a DAY. Soon, they and the other communities north of the Arctic Circle will see the sun set for four months. I'll actually see it next week because I will be in Hall Beach on November 22nd, which is north of the Arctic Circle.

Coping with the dark is one of the biggest challenges of living here. The cold, eh, the cold is something you can dress for. But the dark is another thing entirely. There are too many unhealthy ways to try to forget it. I have attempted to plan for it. I get as much Vitamin D as I can. I own a SAD lamp, because why wait to get SAD? Sitting in front of it is easy enough. I also sit or walk in direct sunlight, when we have it, for at least an hour a day. I go home for lunch, and when the sun is warm in my window, I bask in it while I eat--usually listening to Neko Case. I exercise every day. The endorphins are awesome. I am also lucky enough to have a job that lets me go home for the holidays. I will be in Toronto on the longest night of the year. After that, I can look forward to the days getting longer sooner.

So, we shall see over the next six weeks how I manage with the long journey into the winter solstice.

Monday, November 5, 2007


So, I saw it. Tonight. For the first time in my life: the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, the magical phenomenon created by sunspots and atmosphere. They flicker across the sky, sometimes slim tubes of light, other times a wider beam. Sometimes they look like an eerie watercolour wash against the dark night sky. People tell me that in NWT, they ar more colourful. Maybe if I get to go to Yellowknife, I will see them like that...if I get outside the city!

I am awed. Too awed to wax on about it much. I think it would diminish the grandeur.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Baffin Canners

I had my first houseguests this weekend. Mark and Sophie came over for brunch. I made home fries for the first time. They turned out well, but the combination of roasting them and frying breakfast sausage set off both smoke detectors, which went off for almost minutes! Mark finally climbed up to the top of the second level of my place to wave a towel under the one upstairs. That and the combination of open windows seemed to work. A price to pay for sausage and potatoes.

We walked over to Baffin Canners after that. It's a small warehouse with plain shelves full of veggies, cheese, canned stuff and groceries and big freezer cases full of frozen meat, seafood and fruit. I got big bags of raspberries and blueberries for about $7.00 each. Cheaper than home! It was kind of exciting. I have been missing berries in my cereal this week. It isn't a place for lingering, though. I took up so much room in my purple parka that it was hard for people to get around me with a cart. My problem is that I can't help being fascinated by everything because it is so new. Also, I have always loved grocery stores. In every place I visit, I go to the market or the grocery store. It's my obsession with all things culinary.

As most of you will know, my culinary obsession goes hand-in-hand with my gym obsession. Yesterday, I officially joined the gym here. It's called the Atii Fitness Centre and it's located right across from the airport. And I mean right across. Most people would probably mistake it for a cargo hanger. Of course, you could mistake almost any building here for a cargo hanger... In any case, it's a nice little gym with a few treadmills, a couple ellipticals and bikes and the requisite weight equipment, i.e. squat rack, bench press and free weights. There is also a decent sized studio where they offer step, pilates, and circuit classes--no spinning, though. And no change rooms or showers. You change in the washroom. Since a lot of people drive to the gym, most change at home. I walk there and have accepted the fact that I will change in the washroom. But many people rely on swimming in the small pool and the many team sports for fitness. I am hesitating joining because I fear my lack of athletic skill will drive people away rather than make me friends! I trip and fall on the way home from the grocery store. On the way home from Baffin Canners, I had quite an impressive fall, complete with a 2 foot skid along the snow. If only I could channel that into something like baseball to steal bases...

This weekend I also discovered the movie theatre. It's at the Frobisher Inn, which, as Mark pointed out, is more of a mall than an Inn really, what with the pharmacy, the bar, the restaurant and the pool all being located there. I walked over with Mark and Sophie to see Into the Wild--perhaps a poor choice given my new surroundings. Or maybe the best thing you could see? It makes you realize how fragile life is in surroundings as harsh as ours. Indeed, our surroundings are harsher than those depicted. There are no trees here, and you would be fortunate to find any kind of berry or plant, even if it is poisonous, in the early spring. It gives you a healthy respect for the outdoors and makes you realize that nature is still a force to be reckoned with.

Right, speaking of nature, the sun is out and the day is bright, so I need to go make the most of it. Scary or not.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Welcome to Iqaluit

Before I got here, I would never have imagine that the Arctic would be overstimulating. I mean, Times Square is my idea of overstimulating. But my brain had trouble absorbing the first couple of days in Iqaluit. It doesn't just look and feel different. It smells different. It sounds different. And the sky is so different from home that I cannot believe it is the same sky. Every time I look at the mountains and the ocean, I feel happy. It could be just a glimpse as I turn a corner on the way to work, or I could be staring out the window while I eat breakfast. The snow diminishes the beauty not one bit. In fact, I would say it improves it. The contrast of bright white against blue on a sunny day is something to see. I have not yet seen the Northern Lights, namesake to my blog title, but there's no lack of opportunities over the next few months.

When Elayne (my heroic officer manager who you may recall from the previous post) and my deputy director, John, picked me up at the airport, I experienced in full force the reality of life here. Duffle bags, hockey bags, and large rubber maid containers are the luggage of choice. People clamor around the small baggage conveyor to grab them. One woman had actually carried her 24 package of toilet paper onto the flight. Toilet paper is very expensive here. It takes up so much room in the plane.

Elayne, John, and a fellow member of the force, Constantin, whisked my 3 bags and I into Elayne's jeep and off to my new place: Capital Suites. I am lucky. The job I have qualifies for subsidized housing. I have a large 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath split level suite in a hotel/apartment complex in central Iqaluit. For those unfamiliar with the housing shortage in the North, I can advise you that this is riches beyond imagination--and quite controversial. I'll leave the controversy for another day, however. This is the happy part of our story. And until I get my goods in air cargo, I'll be rattling around the place like the last peanut in a can of Planter's.

Elayne took me to dinner at the Storehouse (a bar/resto) and then to buy groceries. I had no pillows or comforters (all in the truck with my worldly goods), so she took me to raid the "staff house". The staff house is a 3 bedroom apartment Justice Canada maintains here in Iqaluit so that visitors of all stripes can have a place to stay when they are here. I stayed there when I interviewed here. There is a TV, phone, and (now) internet access. There is also a large kitchen where the archives of meals and dishes past go to wait for the next guest. My personal contribution in August was a jar of spaghetti and a bag of oatmeal. In return, I ate all the leftover BBQ potato chips.

In the odd little way that is Iqaluit, my dinner at the Storehouse grew from 2 to 6 thanks to the addition of Elayne's husband, my friends Mark and Sophie, and Telesat Tony. Yes, his name is really Telesat Tony. He works for Telesat and happens to have a house right next to my apartment building. Mark and Sophie are from Toronto, and I met them because Deb Krick has a friend who knows Mark. Despite my having persuaded them to drink far more than they wanted the first time I met them just 5 or 6 weeks ago, they have befriended me. Already, they have invited me to dinner and offered to take me to a grocery store called Baffin Canners. Sophie makes homemade bread. There is no fresh bread in Iqaluit unless you bake it yourself. Sophie is a good person to know.

Here, it is also good that people show you grocery stores. Most streets have no names (oh yes, Bono, you wish you filmed that video here), and there aren't really street numbers so much as building numbers. Almost every building in Nunavut is a strange, pre-fab, shed-like structure. At home, you can see something like it near the water on the Leslie Street spit. The exteriors are nothing to speak of. Inside, however, is another story. On Hallowe'en, I got lost looking for the Atii fitness centre, the gym. In my cold meandering, I wandered into Baffin Flowers. From the outside, Baffin Flowers looks like a flower shed. Inside, it could be the Christmas Store on Front Street. Every square inch is packed with nick-nacks, gift items, candy, coffee, name it. If Carleton Cards or Hallmark has ever carried it, they have it. They also own Fantasy Palace, the coffee shop around the corner: also nothing to look at, also a surprise inside--faux vines and all. I guess when you spend so much time inside, you make the most of the space.

Apartments are no different. Some of the residents of my building have transformed their places. I glimpsed into one apartment and saw a collection of Inuit sculpture that made me eager to barge in and poke around the pieces. I guess I am my father's daughter. I live on what one person called the "government floor" of my building. There's me, the INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) people, the Parks (Parks Canada) people, the Geological Survey people, and the RCMP. I'll offer a prize to anyone who can think of the most interesting set of facts on which all of us would be involved in an offence--and I don't mean personally! But all of Iqaluit is like this.

It is easy to meet people doing interesting work. They sit next to you during the buffet at the Francophone Society. They are in line with you at the grocery store. They buy coffee where you buy coffee. And me, being the shy, retiring individual that I am, talk to them as much as I can. Today, I stopped a woman wearing a pink amautiit with embriodered roses so I could ask her who made it (her mother) and have a look at her baby in the hood. She laughed and told me her mother was one of the best seamstresses in town. Another good woman to know. I wondered if her mother had also made the baby's little, thick, woolen hat. I was wearing one that was pretty similar. It was a gift from my dad's friend in Cape Dorset. It doesn't match my purple Snow Goose parka, but it's damn warm. And warm is all that matters here. That's another thing I learned my first week.

I'll let you know what the first weekend is like soon. :)