Question re: Dog Act application to unincorporated communities - May 17, 2016

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I think all of Yukon was taken aback last week when the chief coroner confirmed what had been rumoured for some time. Last year, a young Ross River man was killed by dogs. Yesterday, the government said three separate times that they were committed to reaching out and working together with the Ross River Dena Council. The minister also said that senior government staff attended a recent public meeting in Ross River.

Madam Speaker, has anyone from this government — and I mean an elected official — spoken with the Ross River Dena Council since this public meeting was held?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Of course, we share Yukoners’ shock and sympathy over the terrible tragedy. It’s also important to remember that the coroner’s investigation is still active and that we must allow and respect her to complete that work. However, I would like to share some of the things that the government has done in the past.

Yukoners should know that government staff have supported clinics in Ross River multiple times since 2010 — spayed and neutered dogs in the community. Staff also contracted dogcatchers to capture stray dogs in the community. We can improve the safety in Ross River by working together with the First Nation and the community. The government has reached out to the chief, outlining a number of options that can be undertaken to address community safety. Letters have been sent from the deputy minister and from our chief veterinary officer. We’re working with the community of Ross River.

Mr. Silver: Madam Speaker, this is a very disturbing incident and it’s hard to imagine something happening in Canada, let alone in the Yukon — but I am quite surprised, honestly, that no one from this government has spoken to the chief, for example.

A 2010 report on the situation in Ross River provided direction on how to address ongoing dog problems. We talked about that yesterday. A pilot program was started later on and abandoned. The minister said yesterday that some of the issues identified in the report have been addressed; some have not; it has been updated again here from the minister. Obviously, a long-term solution is needed to solve the problem, Madam Speaker.

What steps is the government taking in the short term to address the current public safety concerns in the community of Ross River?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Like I believe I said yesterday, the government has reached out to the chief, outlining a number of options that could be undertaken to address the community safety. It’s important to remember that this is an ongoing coroner’s investigation. It’s still active and we must allow her to do the work, but our government immediately took action to address this issue. We directed staff, including the chief veterinary officer, to attend the community meeting and work with Ross River to develop next steps.

Mr. Silver: Madam Speaker, ongoing report aside, the minister can pick up the phone and call the chief. The Chief of the Ross River Dena Council has described the situation in the community as “dire”. I appreciate the fact that the government intends to reach out, as the minister said, but there’s a lack of urgency here. One of the issues that the Chief of the Ross River Dena Council spoke about this week is a lack of capacity to address the issue and a lack of authority as well.

It is my understanding that the Ross River Dena Council would need to pass a bylaw in order to even gain that authority. This is where we, as a territorial government, can help the Ross River Dena Council.

Is there something the government is working on with the Ross River Dena Council, and if so, how is the government prepared to assist in this regard or is it pursuing other arrangements?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I can absolutely say that we’re up front, right there working with Ross River on whatever they need. We have reached out to the chief. We have done a lot. 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.