The best kind of sordid boondoggle: an instructive one

It seems that a once-viable sports hunt company in Nunavik, Tuttulik Outfitters, now lies frozen in a state of suspended animation, while some 280 pissed-off caribou hunters feel like some grifter’s just run a game on them.

Not too surprising, given they’re holding the bag for at least a million dollars worth of guided caribou hunts they never got to enjoy. Tuttulik’s marketing manager in the U.S. also alleges he’s out $40,000. He’d like his money back too.

Each unlucky hunter spent up to five grand in advance, but never received the service he paid for. Tuttulik phoned most of them last fall to say their trips were cancelled, then ducked inside an armour-plated cone of silence. Some hunters got the news while en route to the airport in Montreal.

In any event, you can read about the whole sorry mess at this aptly entitled website: caribouhuntingripoff.com.

The hunters want the company to make good on the contracts they all signed last year. But the Quebec Outfitters Association, the Nunavik Tourism Association, the RCMP, the Quebec government and even the FBI all turned out to be rather less than helpful. It seems Tuttulik hasn’t even bothered to file for bankruptcy protection.

So if you want to do business in northern Quebec, keep your hands on your wallets, my friends, because your contracts may be unenforceable.

If you want a taste of what this means for the reputation of Nunavik’s tourism industry, please peruse this discussion thread from Field and Stream’s website. Thanks to the internet, the stench blew this year across every valley and mountain-top where manly sports hunters gather to tell their tales.

Your humble content provider notes with amusement that in spite of all that, Nunavik Tourism — Friendly, Beautiful, Wild! — still lists Tuttulik Outfitting on its website.

Tuttulik Outfitting is, or was, owned by an entity called Aanniturvit Land Holding Corp. of Umiujaq, which means it’s a creature of the James Bay land claim agreement. The landholding companies — each Nunavik community has one — are kind of like little brothers to that rent-seeking, Frankenstein’s monster known as the Makivik Corp.

So it’s not surprising that Roy Goodwin, a sports hunting consultant from Hopedale, Massachusetts, believes Makivik ought to give Tuttulik the financing it needs to go back into business long enought to pay its creditors, or at least put up enough dough to compensate the sports hunters.

Lotsa luck, Roy.

You have to admit, though, the man’s got a point. Makivik legalists responded to some of the aggrieved hunters and Makivik generally keeps a close eye on the business affairs of the land holding firms. If Aanniturvit is like other such firms in Nunavik, they’re likely raking in cash from other contracts and possess valuable assets that could theoretically be targeted in a class action suit. This assumes, of course, that Quebec’s rickety legal system is actually capable of functioning in Nunavik.

If Makivik  Corp. can afford to use First Air to pay $1.5 million in bonuses to a bunch of non-management board members, then finding another million to salvage their region’s tattered reputation ought to be like finding spare change in their pockets.

Many of the hunters allege they’ve been swindled, and you can’t blame them for wondering what happened to their up-front cash. But incompetence, stupidity and complacency are the likely culprits here — which marks this as a rather typical northern business fiasco.

Numerous service businesses in northern Canada display the vices that appear to have gotten Tuttulik into trouble: financial ignorance, irresponsible management, a screw-the-customer approach to service.

And when the rule of law is so enfeebled that contracts can’t be enforced, your economy becomes a danger zone for hapless consumers.

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