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Nunavut minister stripped of portfolios says he does not regret social media post

Patterk Netser said he was practising free speech


October 9, 2020
By Emma Tranter/The Canadian Press

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IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut’s former housing minister says he does not regret making a Facebook post about the Black Lives Matter movement that saw him stripped of his cabinet portfolios.

A post on Patterk Netser’s Facebook page Wednesday said “All lives matter” and criticized Black women for having abortions.

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq on Thursday removed Netser from his roles as housing minister and minister responsible for Nunavut Arctic College after learning of the “unacceptable social media post.”

Netser said he does not regret the post because he was practising free speech.

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“I practised my freedom of speech as a Canadian citizen, which is protected in the Constitution … Our freedom of speech is just automatically taken away, little by little, and before we know it, we’re going to be a country like China or Russia,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Savikataaq said his staff brought the post to his attention and he phoned Netser and asked him to resign.

“I told him there was two options: he could either resign and, if he didn’t resign, then I would remove his portfolios. He chose the latter,” Savikataaq told The Canadian Press.

The premier said there “can be no tolerance for disrespectful, hurtful remarks or actions.”

“I was quite shocked that a post like that was posted by one of the executive council members, as part of my cabinet. It’s his own personal post, but as a member of cabinet … that is your position 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Daughter apologizes for her post

Malaiya Lucassie, Netser’s daughter and an Iqaluit city councillor, commented on her father’s Facebook page with her own post. She wrote that “All lives matter” and questioned why there was not a similar movement to Black Lives Matter for Indigenous people.

Lucassie later posted an apology on her own Facebook page.

“My intentions to call for change for Inuit was presented poorly, and I in no way meant to take away from the BLM movement or from any other group fighting against the systemic racism we face,” she wrote.

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell said councillors are accountable to the city’s human rights and anti-harassment policy.

“Council … will take this opportunity to look at additional ways to educate council on racism, biases, and other social discrimination,” Bell said in a statement.

Netser said he believes he has a right to express his views and did not mean to target a particular group with his post.

“I support the Black Lives Matter movement. I respect them, but I was just thinking about the little babies that were aborted and that have been aborted,” he said.

“I respect equality, especially equal treatment of people and the current laws that are in place that support women and the right to choose. My personal views based on my religious faith differ, but those are my personal views and my personal views alone,” he added.

In a Facebook post, Nunavut’s Black History Society praised Savikataaq for “taking the hard decision to remove a cabinet member who had made insensitive comments towards our local Black Lives Matter movement, Black women and women generally.”

First elected in 2004

Netser, who represents Coral Harbour and Naujaat, was first elected to the territory’s legislative assembly in 2004 and has held several cabinet portfolios in Nunavut’s consensus-style government, which has no political parties. Cabinet ministers are chosen by all elected members of the legislature and their portfolios are assigned by the premier.

Savikataaq said he will bring the matter forward when the legislative assembly reconvenes Oct. 21. Legislature members must vote on whether to remove Netser from cabinet.

“As a premier, I can remove portfolios but I cannot remove a minister. Only full caucus can remove a minister,” Savikataaq said.

That means Netser can still join cabinet meetings at this point, because he is still a minister.

In the interim, Savikataaq will act as housing minister and Education Minister David Joanasie will take on responsibility for Nunavut Arctic College.

Netser says he will respect whatever decision the assembly makes.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian press News Fellowship.