The village of Nunavut with 1,300 people forced to use metal shed as temporary mortuary

Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press

Published Wednesday, November 24, 2021 at. 05:38 EST

GJOA HAVEN, Nunavut – When James Dulac’s friend died in 2019, his body was stored in the same way as others in his northern Nunavut community – in a shed with no heat or electricity.

Dulac, who lives in Gjoa Haven, said he was shocked to see his friend’s frozen body in a bag and covered in blood on the floor.

“(His) corpse was in an RCMP plastic bag lying frozen on the ground. Another corpse was also lying on the ground with its head resting on (his) feet,” Dulac wrote in a letter in January last year to Tony Akoak, his member of the Legislative Assembly of the territory.

His friend’s arms and legs were twisted and frozen in place, making it impossible to put him in a coffin. He should instead be put in a cardboard box, Dulac said.

With no morgue to lay corpses, the community of about 1,300 people uses an old storage shed, which Dulac describes as a container with clad windows.

“When someone dies, there is nowhere to place them. They walk on the floor, and if there is more than one person, the other person walks on top,” Dulac told The Canadian Press.

Not much has changed since he wrote to Akoak, Dulac said. Another friend of Akoak, who recently died, was left in the same condition.

‘There were two other corpses lying over his feet. One over his feet, one over his legs. It’s incredible, ”he said.

“I tried to clean him, but he was frozen. It’s just heartbreaking.”

Dulac wants to see a new room built with an area for preparing bodies as well as a room where people can pray.

Akoak said the shed has been used as a morgue for as long as he can remember. He said he has raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly six times, most recently in the fall, but nothing has changed.

“I’m hoping this will be the last time I need to raise it,” Akoak told the September assembly.

“It’s not a pretty sight to see if you walk into that building.”

Hamlet Gjoa Haven had applied to the Nunavut government to pay for a morgue through a program called the Small Capital Fund, which supports projects worth up to $ 250,000.

Jeannie Ehaloak, Nunavut’s Minister of Social Affairs and Prime Minister at the time, told Akoak that Gjoa Haven had applied too late and was missing a deadline on September 1, so the request was denied.

The next deadline for funding is April 1, Ehaloak said.

“We want to put them to rest with respect. I really want to. But I guess we’ll have to wait another year before that happens,” Akoak said.

Community and government services purchased two portable morgues in May 2020, but it is unclear what has been done with them. They cost about $ 77,000 each.

The department did not respond to a request for comment on Gjoa Haven’s application or to how many other Nunavut communities need a morgue or have applied for funding to build one.

Dulac said at the time that he called on both federal and territorial governments for help.

“Ask them in the south of the city of Toronto or Ottawa or Montreal if they would accept a container as a morgue. Why us?

“What makes them different from us?”

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