Pubdate: Mon, 29 Oct 2007
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2007 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Author: Elise Stolte, CanWest News Service


With The Boom Comes Big Trouble. Northwest Territories Ailing: 
Violent Crime, Drug Offence Rates Higher Than Rest Of Country

RCMP Cpl. Eric Irani always keeps an eye out for the extras when he 
pulls over a car speeding toward the Northwest Territories.

In one five-day stretch in June, a team of officers from Alberta, 
British Columbia and the Northwest Territories found 1.25 kilograms 
of powder cocaine, as well as magic mushrooms, marijuana and crack 
cocaine heading north. They also found a loaded 9-mm handgun and a 
bundle containing $20,000 cash.

"The Northwest Territories is booming right now. It's kind of an 
untapped market for drug traffickers," said Irani, who heads the unit 
that patrols Alberta's highways.

"A lot is slipping through. It's getting into our communities, 
harming our families and our kids. That's what's scary."

In 2006, Statistics Canada listed the rate of violent crime as almost 
seven times higher in the Northwest Territories than the rest of 
Canada. The rate of drug offences was 2.6 times higher.

The community most on Irani's mind is his hometown of Hay River, 
N.W.T., where his colleague, Constable Christopher Worden, was shot 
to death Oct. 6.

The small shipping and transportation hub instantly became notorious, 
and town residents - who all know the rundown, government-subsidized 
house across the street where Worden lay that morning - point their 
fingers at the drug traffickers.

"Ten years ago most of the drugs were brought up by locals," said 
Robert Halifax, Irani's stepfather and retired chief judge of the 
Northwest Territories.

"Now, you're finding a lot more of the southern guys coming in. That 
puts a different perspective on it, and it brings a lot more 
violence. And the reality is, they're better armed."

Halifax moved north as a lawyer in 1972, retired in 2003 and now 
lives in a home he built on the edge of town overlooking the Hay River.

He saw the first wave of marijuana-related charges come through court 
in the 1970s. Cocaine became popular among young professionals 15 
years ago, and crack - "the poor man's cocaine" - followed about five 
years later, Halifax said.

Now, "there's just about every kid in town has tried something here. 
Kids tell me it's easier to get drugs than alcohol," he said.

The situation is much the same in nearby Fort Smith, as well as in Yellowknife.

"It's time the public didn't put its head in the sand and play 
ostrich any more," Halifax said.

When Hay River Mayor John Pollard heard a Mountie was shot, his first 
thoughts were for the safety of the community.

Pollard called a community meeting one week ago and about 300 people 
filled the community hall. Residents called for a curfew, for parents 
to keep a closer eye on their teenagers, and for the whole community 
to watch out for drug use and strange Alberta or B.C. licence plates. 
They called for the housing corporation to quit allowing people 
convicted of drug trafficking to stay in subsidized houses, and asked 
how they could help police.

"Whatever anyone wants to do to get our town back, I'm part of it," 
said one resident, Donna O'Brien.

That attitude is exactly what's needed, said Cathy Prowse, a 
professor of anthropology at the University of Calgary who previously 
served with the Calgary police service during that city's first wave 
of gang activity. "You have to infiltrate," she said.

"You need community-based policing. You need to be seen talking to 
people constantly. Then nobody can identify a snitch."

Others said the problem isn't just the traffickers, it's addicted 
adults and youth who slip into drugs because they're available.

Down the road from the community hall, the Hay River Community Youth 
Centre is falling to pieces. The paint on the front steps is nearly 
worn off, the side window is smashed and the vinyl siding behind is 
curled and twisted. The skateboard park is covered in glass.

On the Hay River Reserve across the river, Melvin Larocque runs a 
treatment centre for drug and alcohol addictions, and welcomes up to 
30 new clients every five weeks. The first thing he would do to 
reclaim the town from the drug traffickers is fix up the youth centre.

"If you have a busy child, you have a child who's not on drugs," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom