Iqaluit Coun. Paul Quassa facing mayoral complaint over Pride crosswalks remarks

A Pride flag painted outside of Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit in June 2022. (David Gunn/CBC News - image credit)
A Pride flag painted outside of Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit in June 2022. (David Gunn/CBC News - image credit)

Iqaluit City Coun. Kim Smith has filed a complaint to the city's mayor in response to remarks made Monday night by fellow councillor Paul Quassa regarding Pride flags being painted at city crosswalks.

During a discussion on road infrastructure at Monday's finance committee meeting, Quassa shared concerns he says he'd heard from Inuit regarding the rainbow-coloured crosswalks. He described the crosswalks as "not Inuit culture" and said "not many Inuit are happy about this."

At Tuesday night's council meeting, Smith read a statement in response to Quassa's remarks, saying she was "disappointed and apologetic" at what Quassa said, and that his comments were contrary to the councillor's code of conduct.

"I want to say first and foremost, to members of the Pride community, you are valued and important citizens of Iqaluit. To the children and youth who may be listening, you are also worthy, loved and important citizens of Iqaluit and members of society," Smith said, adding she is a proud member of the LGBTQ2+ community.

"I have often wondered how different my younger years could have been if my school had created a safe and positive space, or even a rainbow crosswalk."

Smith later confirmed to CBC News she had filed a complaint to Iqaluit Mayor Solomon Awa — who later in the meeting had his "acting" tag removed as council voted unanimously for him to stay in the role permanently until the next election. Council also passed a motion to temporarily make the mayor's role a part-time position, allowing Awa to continue his day job with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

Nick Murray/CBC News
Nick Murray/CBC News

"Bigotry and homophobia have no place in our community, and certainly no place in these chambers," Smith continued in her statement.

"Our code of conduct clearly states that we as councillors must respect the diverse nature of council and the citizens of Iqaluit. Furthermore, it states we must treat all members of the community honestly and fairly and in a way that does not cause offence or embarrassment to individuals or groups."

Smith's complaint is the first step in addressing alleged breaches of the councillor code of conduct, as chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma reminded councillors on Tuesday night.

CBC
CBC

"[The mayor] can attempt to resolve the matter, if possible. If the parties feel the complaint hasn't been resolved, it can be sent to the CAO to initiate professional review," Elgersma said.

"Based on the determination of such review, disciplinary actions at the full discretion of council may be applied. And just to note, the mayor has the authority to recommend sanctions listed in the bylaw."

Such sanctions include a reprimand, an apology, training on respectful conduct, or counselling.

'Inuit wanted this brought up'

Quassa also issued a statement following Smith's, where he reiterated he was relaying concerns from Inuit in the community, which he emphasized is the duty of an elected official to do.

"I value my culture very much, being Inuk. And I value Inuit culture, Inuit traditions. Iqaluit is an Inuit community, let's remember that," Quassa said in Inuktitut, translated through interpreters.

"Let us remember it was Inuit who were discriminated against. Their dogs were killed. Their children were taken from their parents. They had no choice. They could not vote until 1960. When you talk about discrimination against Inuit, let's not forget that and be grateful that people that come here, that we welcome them, whoever they may be in this community."

Quassa also said he felt it was wrong his comments were facing criticism because they came from community concerns.

"I want to clarify what I said. This is from our constituents. Not that I'm racist in any way. But it was Inuit wanted this brought up, that elected you. We have to be like that as councillors. To oppose what is said is not right, it shouldn't be like that. Please feel welcome, you're a good councillor and we have different views."