Pubdate: Mon, 29 Oct 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Elise Stolte, CanWest News Service
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


HAY RIVER, N.W.T. -- RCMP Cpl. Eric Irani always keeps an eye out for
the extras when he pulls over a car speeding toward the Northwest

In one five-day stretch in June, a team of officers from Alberta, B.C.
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

"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."

The community most on Irani's mind is his hometown of Hay River,
N.W.T., where his colleague, Const. 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 from where Worden lay that morning -- point
their fingers straight 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 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, "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

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

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.

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 an closer eye on their teenagers and for the whole community
to watch out for drug use and Alberta or B.C. licence plates. They
called for the housing corporation to quit letting people convicted of
drug trafficking 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

"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, as if someone lit a bonfire too close. The
skateboard park is covered in glass.

"It's pretty ghetto, eh?" said Shayne Beck, 17, called over to look at
the mess. Four years ago, the place would have been packed, he said.
"That was actually a half-pipe over there and a bunch of dirt jumps.
We had skateboard competitions. Now nobody hangs around here anymore."

Everyone knows where to get drugs, he said. "That's why this place is
so crazy."

On the Hay River Reserve across the river, Melvin Larocque runs a
treatment centre for drug and alcohol addictions and welcomes as many
as 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

Hay River is a great place to grow up if you can afford
extracurricular activities. His daughters, 8 and 15, take karate,
swimming and piano. "But we can afford to pay for it. Not a lot of
people can."

As for the adults already addicted, "asking for help is a personal
choice. When have they hit their own personal bottom?"

Quitting is emotionally painful, said Amanda Edgi, 29, who is raising
two boys in one of the small homes near where Worden was shot.

She said she used to smoke marijuana but stopped several years ago to
make a safe home for her kids. Getting rid of the drugs in Hay River
will be more difficult than people think.

"This is an issue that has been going on for years.

"[To fight the addiction], a person has to be willing to look deep
inside them to find all the problems that they pushed away. It's
painful," she said. 
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