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The capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit, is outraged over this picture of two young boys sleeping on the street outside a local grocery store on July 26, 2009. (Evie Eegeesiak)
The capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit, is outraged over this picture of two young boys sleeping on the street outside a local grocery store on July 26, 2009. (Evie Eegeesiak)

Life on the mean streets of Iqaluit Add to ...

RCMP had seen the boy before. Many times, in fact: Sometimes his parents would call the police and report that their son was missing; other times police would find the 10-year-old wandering the streets of Iqaluit at night, just to avoid going home.

They were used to bringing him back to his parents night after night, said Iqaluit RCMP Staff Sergeant Leigh Tomfohr.

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"He just doesn't like to stay at home. … He was just basically a runaway, if you want to call it that. They have a hard time containing him and keeping him at home."

A photo of the boy, curled up asleep just a few feet from another 10-year-old, has sparked outrage in the northern community, as well as a debate on just how extreme the region's social problems are.

The children lie next to the wall of the Northmart supermarket in Iqaluit, the riding of federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. It is 6:30 on a Sunday morning. The boy to the rear is wearing shorts.

A few hours after the picture was taken on July 26, the federal government held a joint press conference, involving three ministers who outlined Ottawa's strategy on sovereignty and northern development, talking of their hope for the area.

In a region the federal and territorial governments say they are determined to develop, thousands of young people, many of whom grew up in dysfunctional or abusive environments, find themselves without education or employment prospects in the territorial capital.

On Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make his sixth visit to the territory since taking office. He will be visiting a place where the suicide rate outpaces the national figure by 11 to one.

Painting a complete picture of how many runaway young boys exist is not possible because formal numbers are not collated unless the young are placed in care. But for Nunavut's youngest, the risks are high. The youth suicide statistic alone is troubling.

In Nunavut, where Mr. Harper will spend five days, the number of suicides among boys aged 15 to 19 is 40 times higher than in the rest of Canada. Although the rate of suicides for that age group decreased from 850 to 415 per 100,000 from 2003 to 2008, the suicide rate more than quadrupled for 10- to 14-year-old boys over that same period - from 25 per 100,000 to 103.

Amanda Eegeesiak saw the sleeping boys that Sunday morning, took the pictures and phoned the RCMP. By the time they arrived, one boy had already gone. Authorities haven't seen him since.

The other boy, well known to them, was taken home. Staff Sgt. Tomfohr said police contacted social services and the boy is now "somewhere safe." The police officer declined to say if the boy was at home or not.

"If there was any kind of criminal activity there, [social services]would have notified us to step back in," he said.

Ms. Eegeesiak sent the photos to the Nunatsiaq News, where their publication garnered thousands of outraged responses - and a degree of blowback for having published them in the first place, Ms. Eegeesiak's mother Evie later told The Globe and Mail.

"I almost started crying when I saw the photos," she told The Globe in an earlier interview. "Nobody's out to help them. Nobody's there for them. You can't just leave them on the street. What if it was wintertime? You'd be finding little bodies all over the place. It's awful. It's horrible."

The boy's mother spoke with CBC Friday, and said she was "humiliated" by the press the photo of him has received. The mother of five said the police officers who brought her son home called her one of the worst parents they had ever met. The mother told CBC she and social services officials have agreed to put her children in temporary care for a month while she regains her strength.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Aglukkaq said the Minister would consider giving an interview next week.

RCMP and social workers say this case is a rare occurrence in Iqaluit. The temperature that night never fell below 16 degrees, aided by the long hours of summer daylight.

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