An Iqaluit man asked city councillors Tuesday night to review where fox traps are permitted around the city after his dog was caught in one over the holidays.
Thomas Rohner was walking his dog Nacho, a 30 kilogram husky, on Dec. 23 in the Upper Base area of Iqaluit. The two were about 8 metres off an access road and within the city limits.
Then without warning a fox trap slammed on Nacho's leg.
Rohner was with a friend and the two of them were able to free Nacho, who Rohner said didn't suffer much more than some swelling on his leg.
"It was kind of traumatizing for everyone involved, including the dog who was trying to bite my arm off, trying to bite his own leg off, trying to bite my friend's arm off," Rohner told councillors.
"It could have very easily have been me who stepped in the trap and it could have also very easily been a child or someone else that stepped into the trap."
Rohner also shared a story of an Iqaluit couple, who were walking even closer to the road where he and Nacho were when their puppy was caught in a trap and instantly killed.
"I don't want to exaggerate, but this incident has left me more fearful to leave my home," Rohner said, adding he knows the issue is divisive.
"I don't know where I can and can't walk myself or my dog."
Rohner also came to council with letters of support from Iqaluit Humane Society president Jannelle Kennedy, and local veterinarian Dr. Leia Cunningham. Both letters called on city council to take action.
Nunavut Agreement addresses trapping near communities
In preparation for Rohner's presentation, Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern reached out to several groups for their input, including lawyers from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
Redfern quoted NTI lawyer Arthur Yuan, saying while Inuit enjoy hunting rights in Nunavut, they "do not have the right to set traps within one mile of any building, structure or any facility located on lands subject to private ownership."
Those rules are echoed in Nunavut's Wildlife Act.
However, Nunavut's Towns and Villages Act gives municipalities the option to outright ban trapping in areas where they might pose a danger to people or pets.
Redfern said she's meeting with the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Organization on Thursday and will be discussing the trapping issue.
'Not an Inuit versus qallunaat issue'
The trapping issue has also come up sporadically on local social media, often raising Inuit rights as a stance to defend trapping practices.
At the council meeting Tuesday, Councillor Simon Nattaq noted how the area where Rohner was walking was a known trapping area for a long time — well before residential buildings were built in the area.
Nattaq also noted how Northern newcomers may not know to watch out for traps on the city's outskirts.
Still, Nattaq thanked Rohner for bringing the issue forward and said thanks to animal rights activists fox traps are deadlier than ever (as a way to hunt more humanely) so something should be done about the issue.
Councillor Joanasie Akumalik also highlighted both Inuit hunting rights and the right of pet owners as contributing factors to the issue's divisiveness, and asked Rohner what he wants from council.
"Obviously I have my biases coming up from Southern Canada, but as a Canadian I believe I have the right to leave my home and be safe when I do so. And I feel that has been somewhat compromised by this incident," Rohner said, adding he does take cultural sensitivity seriously.
Redfern followed up, saying this is not an Inuit versus qallunaat [non-Inuit] issue.
"Inuit also own pets. There have been other Inuit who have had their dogs caught in traps within the municipal boundaries. There's also people who go berry-picking up in that area," Redfern said.
"It is a public safety issue. The land claims agreement does state quite clearly that there is no hunting, harvesting and trapping within one mile of a building, probably to attempt to address that balance of issues between allowing Inuit the right to harvest, but also to ensure public safety is paramount at the same time."
City councillors agreed to further explore the issue alongside partner organizations, but in the meantime the city will send out public service announcements regarding traps within city limits.
A year ago, the Government of Nunavut sent out a territory-wide PSA, advising that anyone walking on the land is responsible for their own safety.