Skip to main content

Just when the Prime Minister was escaping the political controversy swirling in the nation’s capital – at least for a few hours – Mother Nature let him know she had other plans.

After holding a news conference in Ottawa early Thursday to answer questions about the latest testimony about the SNC-Lavalin affair, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew off, bound for Iqaluit.

He was to apologize for how past governments mistreated Inuit who went south for tuberculosis care in the middle of the last century, some of whom died and were buried rather than being returned to their families.

But, an early morning windstorm in Iqaluit quickly turned into a blizzard that by the lunch hour forced his plane to divert to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.

While Prime Minister’s Office staff in the capital of Nunavut voiced hope initially that Mr. Trudeau could arrive later in the evening, the whiteout conditions and wind chill temperatures of -45 C – winds gusted to nearly 80 kilometres an hour – soon made it evident the event would be postponed until Friday morning at the earliest. Friday, the weather forecast calls for light snow rather than a blizzard.

The apology has been in the works for the better part of two years since Mr. Trudeau signed an Inuit-Crown partnership agreement in 2017.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the organization that speaks for Inuit in Nunavut, has said it wants to help family members locate burial sites of those who died during tuberculosis treatment from the 1940s through the 1960s and whose bodies were buried in southern Canada.

A dinner feast that was planned for the event Thursday, which was to include samplings of narwhal and caribou, was also postponed as Iqaluit was virtually shut down.

“Services such as water delivery, waste management, garbage pickup and snow removal are being suspended, and city facilities are being closed to the public, until further notice, due to severe weather conditions,” the city said in a statement posted on social media. Taxis and local residents were also advised to stay off city roads.

Tuberculosis rates among Inuit are still 290 times higher than among Canadian-born non-Indigenous people, according to a 2018 paper from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Canadian Press

Interact with The Globe