Pubdate: Mon, 25 Apr 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Page: A1
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Douglas Quan


Police On Isolated Reserve Know Of 12 Dealers Who Confound Efforts To
Halt Illicit Trade

Each winter in northern Ontario, a 300-kilometre ice road that
connects Attawapiskat to the rest of the world becomes a pipeline for
drug smugglers and bootleggers who conceal contraband in engine
compartments, diaper bags, even in children's Ski-Doo pants.

The only other way into the town - in the headlines recently for a
massive suicide and overdose crisis - is by plane. Drug couriers have
flown in to the local airport with narcotics stuffed in their pockets,
shoes and carry-on bags, police say. Pills are also sent into northern
communities by mail, sometimes hidden in children's toys or sewn into
the seams of baby blankets.

"We're working hard to try to intercept, but some of it is going to
get through; you won't get it all," acknowledges Terry Armstrong,
chief of the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service, the largest First Nations
law enforcement agency in Canada, with 35 detachments across northern
Ontario, including one in Attawapiskat.

Police know of 12 drug dealers in Attawapiskat, individuals who
arrange drug shipments by plane, car or mail. Payments are typically
made through bank transfers, though it is not unheard of for suppliers
to travel up north to settle debts.

But dealers are not t he only source of drugs. It is not uncommon for
residents, in the interest of turning a quick profit, to sell their
prescription pills and "live with the pain," Armstrong says.

In fact, the most common substances police encounter are pain
relievers, such as OxyContin and Percocet, as well as amphetamines and
marijuana. Occasionally, officers will find cocaine, and recently,
they've seen fentanyl creep in.

Drug prices up north can be as much as five times higher than in the
south; police declined to say what the going rates are now, but said a
single OxyContin pill has fetched $ 400 in the past. It raises the
question of how residents can afford it.

Nishnawbe- Aski police Insp. Eric Cheechoo says some residents will
put some of their government assistance money toward drugs. Others
will steal items from homes, re-sell them, then use the money for drugs.

Adds Armstrong: "Presumptively, kids (are) going without boots, 
houses (are) going without a fridge full of food."

Police suspect the youths involved in the recent rash of suicide
attempts likely did not buy their drugs, but simply stole them or
found them lying unsecured in the home.

Cheechoo says the number of attempted suicides - including 11 in a 24-
hour time span this month - caught officers off-guard. "We weren't
prepared to have so many attempted suicides, so many youth thinking
about suicide all in one weekend," he says. "You've read about all the
different problems, the lack of recreation, lack of something to do.
It was sad to see the desperation in the children."

The crisis has brought promises from provincial and federal officials
of more mental health support. Police say they, too, are desperate for
extra support to deal with the illicit drug trade.

Cheechoo says he lacks the investigative resources to go after the

"We know where they live. But gathering evidence to bang on the door,
there are so many roadblocks," he says.

Investigators typically have to apply for a warrant over the phone and
send supporting documents to a justice of the peace via fax, which
slows things down.

A spokesman for Ontario's attorney general said justices of the peace
are available 24/7 to consider warrant applications over the phone and
the process can sometimes be more efficient than doing it in person.

Conducting covert surveillance on an individual is also fraught with
challenges since everyone knows everyone in the community, Cheechoo
says. "Our officers are all reactive, there's very little time, most
of the time, (to be) proactive."

Armstrong says he has 132 officers spread across northern Ontario, but
could use 52 more to shore up the front lines and to create
specialized investigative units. Currently, he has only one drug
sergeant and one drug constable on the entire force.

"We're underfunded, under-resourced," he says. "Something's got to
give.... We're so behind right now."

A spokesman for Public Safety Canada, which provides 52 per cent of
the police service's $ 24- million annual funding, says the current
agreement is effective until 2018. As the renewal date approaches,
consideration will be given to updating First Nations policing policy
and learning from experiences.

Ontario's Ministry of Community Safety, which provides the remaining
48 per cent of the funding, supplements that with various grants, a
spokeswoman said. The Ontario Provincial Police also provides support
with its specialized resources.

In the meantime, the Nishnawbe-Aski police say they are doing what
they can to curb the drug trade. During the winter, they carry out
vehicle stops along the ice road looking for contraband.

Recently they brought a sniffer dog to a postal outlet in Dryden,
Ont., to try to intercept contraband-laden packages destined for
northern fly-in communities.

Among the items officers seized: gabapentin pills used to treat
neuropathic pain and seizures; "shatter," a derivative of marijuana
that resembles peanut brittle; marijuana cupcakes and suckers; and

"We do the best the can with what we have," Armstrong says. "We could
do a lot more."  
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