Pubdate: Mon, 29 Oct 2007
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 The Windsor Star
Author: Elise Stolte, CanWest News Service


Traffickers Plague Northwest Territories

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 Territories.

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 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."

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 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, "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.

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.

Hay River Mayor John 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 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.

Down the road from the community hall, the Hay River Community Youth 
Centre is falling to pieces.

"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."


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.

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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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom