Pubdate: Tue, 20 Feb 2018
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2018 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Alexandra Paul
Page: A1


A NORTHERN Manitoba First Nation is building a permanent checkstop on
the only highway into the community to combat the illegal drug and
liquor trade.

"It's like a border crossing and you'll have no choice but to go
through it. And if you don't want to be searched, you're not going to
go in," Norway House Chief Ron Evans said.

The small building next to Highway 373 looks a bit like a transport
safety weigh station. As of this month, the Norway House Cree Nation
Safety and Security Checkpoint will be open 24/7. Its official opening
is scheduled for Feb. 24.

It will be staffed by unarmed constables with the power to seize
contraband. Any motorist who wants to drive onto reserve land or visit
the neighbouring Metis community will have to pull over, register and
agree to have their vehicle searched.

Motorists who run the checkpoint risk a fine up to $1,000 under a
bylaw the northern Cree nation passed a year ago. It carries the
weight of federal law under the Indian Act.

This week, the community held an open-line radio talk show to explain
how the checkpoint will work.

The plan has been in the works for years, as have discussions to get
co-operation from the provincial government.

The province has erected three highway signs, including one on Highway
6, which is the main highway to the north, at the junction with 373.
Two signs that inform motorists they have to stop at the checkpoint
have been erected on the approach to reserve land.

Indigenous Relations Minister Eileen Clarke said the province's
policing contribution, its share of funding for local policing
initiatives on Manitoba First Nations, includes $174,000 for Norway
House this fiscal year. She said she expects that money will pay for
checkpoint staffing.

"I spent three days up in Norway House Cree Nation three years ago and
considerable time with Chief Ron Evans. He showed me (then) where they
hoped to put this checkstop, and he relayed all the information on why
he felt it was absolutely necessary to do so. I've been in
conversations with him since then," Clarke said.

The province paid $3,600 for new highway signs to alert motorists to
the new security measure.

In return, Norway House leaders invited Clarke and Infrastructure
Minister Ron Schuler to attend ceremonies to celebrate the opening of
the checkstop.

Norway House has a ban on alcohol. Prohibition is a common
administrative tool that's intended to limit the destructive effects
of alcohol abuse. However, the measure opens up the community to a
thriving bootlegging trade in liquor and home brew. Evans said the
checkpoint will make the community safer and protect residents' well-being.

"With this security, we at least have an idea of who's coming into the
community, why they're coming into the community, and we're preventing
a good portion (of contraband) coming into the community."

"We're not naive enough to think we're not going to have any
(contraband) coming into our community but at least with this, we're
taking active measures, putting them in place," Evans said.

He also said there's a shortage of law enforcement in the community
even though the RCMP has 19 members at the local detachment. At any
given time, there are about a dozen officers working.

The Metis community next door to the First Nation, which is also known
as Norway House, issued a statement supporting the checkpoint.

Until now, there's been no enforcement or active measures to stop any
of that traffic on the highway.

Community leaders said they are satisfied there are adequate security
measures involving flights in and out of the reserve.

Although RCMP could not make crime statistics available, a list of
charges and arrests that Norway House released indicated there are
hundreds of stops for impaired driving and calls about liquor
violations every year.

Police can expect to be called to a disturbance daily and the vast
majority of arrests and charges involve intoxicants, the chief said.

In 2016, RCMP took in 1,100 prisoners in a community of just over
6,000 people living on reserve.

The only other community with a similar initiative is Tataskweyak Cree
Nation, which is at Split Lake, north of Thompson.

The province's policy is to co-operate with Indigenous communities on
measures such as this, Clarke said.

"We're certainly hearing from First Nations, though not a lot of them,
where they are trying to ensure their communities, their people are
safe," said Clarke. "They're very concerned about drugs and in some
cases, alcohol," Clarke said.

"This is their initiative. We're partnering up with them and doing
what we can to facilitate it happening," the minister said.

Ivan Keeper, the supervisor of Tataskweyak's force of community safety
officers said the first checkstop was during the Christmas holidays in
2016. Since then, other checkstops have been mounted on its only
highway access and seizures turned over to the RCMP.

Tataskweyak doesn't operate from a permanent building - although
they'd like one - and it's staged regularly but not 24/7.

Keeper provided photos of drug and alcohol seizures over a three-week
period during the Christmas holiday as evidence the checkpoint works.

Hydro development at Keeyask opened the flood gates to illegal drugs
and alcohol in volumes the community has been trying to hold the line
on since construction started.

"Since they began Keeyask, more hard drugs have been coming in.
There's all kinds of new drugs community into the community," the
policing supervisor told the Free Press.

One photo Keeper provided shows a drug called Shatter, a potent
cannabis concentrate seized over Christmas. It was packaged in a
cellophane Ziplock bag, like rock candy. "I saw it, and I didn't know
what it was," Keeper said. He's pretty sure kids wouldn't either.

"It sure does look like candy," Keeper said.

Northern Grand Chief Sheila North said checkpoints signal a strong
political will to fight the illegal traffic and the substance abuse
that follows it.

"We're not seeing this in just northern communities, but down

(too): dangerous drugs and devastating consequences, from the stronger
drugs that are out there," North said.

"Two communities are taking matters into their own hands, and I don't
blame them. They're sovereign nations and they have to do what they
can to keep their people safe," North said.

Norway House and Tataskweyak are among the 30 First Nations in the
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak that North represents.

Critics who might question the infringement on civil rights are so far
silent. It may be because the social and criminal costs of addiction
are well publicized. It's linked to suicide epidemics and the sense of
despair on northern First Nations.

Legally, First Nations are on solid ground.

"This Norway House issue is a serious issue for First Nations across
the country, regulating drugs and alcohol on reserve. It's a difficult
situation for them and it's common to search when you come in by
plane, into remote communities," said Bruce McIvor, a Manitoba-born
lawyer and constitutional expert who specializes in Indigenous law.

"I have clients who don't have road access and they'll have a
curtained off area in the airport on reserve. People arriving by plane
are subject to search. I've seen that on a regular basis," McIvor said
from his office at First People's Law in Vancouver.

Under both the Indian Act and the Constitution, First Nations have
jurisdiction over their land. The Indian Act lends authority on the
basis of public safety, health, law and order and trespassing, McIvor

"Another part of this is it's an exercise in sovereignty, too, "McIvor

"If it's within their territory, there's an argument to be made, it's
part of self-government rights. They have their own Indigenous laws
and they have the right to enforce their own Indigenous laws and to
decide who's allowed to use the road and who's not," McIvor said.

That means if a motorist has a suitcase full of prescription pills, it
will be seized. Same with any amount of alcohol over and above
duty-free limits at the border.

Once recreational marijuana is legal in Canada, a person will be
allowed to carry 28 grams.
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