RCMP in Whatì say 2022, the first full year in which the community has been connected by an all-season highway, has brought a “significant increase” in reported crime.
In a news release issued on Friday, RCMP said the detachment had so far received 747 calls for service this year, compared to 596 over the same period in 2021, a 25-percent increase.
Police said many calls involve alcohol or drugs. “There has also been an increase in violent crime, from 57 assaults to 149,” RCMP stated, “and 18 reported sexual offences, as opposed to six.”
Why RCMP chose to issue the mid-August update was not immediately clear. Police in the territory regularly report local crime levels to municipal authorities, but a public update on a specific detachment’s figures – without apparent prompting – is less common.
“The RCMP are monitoring the situation and developing short, medium, and long-term strategies to address the increased workload for our members, while working with stakeholders to improve the overall wellness of the community,” Insp Dean Riou, officer in charge of NWT RCMP’s south district, was quoted as saying.
The potential for the all-season road to increase crime was noted long before the Tłı̨chǫ Highway’s completion in November last year. The highway connects Whatì to Highway 3 and on to Behchokǫ̀, Yellowknife and southern Canada.
Approving the road in 2018, even a regulator primarily tasked with examining environmental concerns issued a warning about the potential impact on community members themselves.
The Mackenzie Valley Review Board said in its report: “Although the project is proposed partly for socio-economic benefits to Whatì, the evidence indicates that it is also likely to cause certain adverse impacts that have the potential to cause serious harm, such as impacts related to harmful behaviours such as addictions and crime that will increase, at least temporarily, with new access from the project.
“Permanent road access to places outside of Whati, including Yellowknife, may be one of the biggest changes to the community in its history. The board believes that an additional degree of caution is reasonable when considering a project that can make profound permanent changes to a community’s well‐being.”
As the road opened last year, the territorial Department of Health and Social Services pledged to work with local governments to monitor the highway’s impact on residents’ health and well-being over the next 10 years.
At the time of the highway’s opening, Whatì’s chief said his government had been educating residents about drinking responsibly.
Last November, most community members considered the highway to represent “history being made” despite the potential negative consequences.
The road is seen by many as an improvement to their quality of life, allowing easier access to other communities, greater freedom of travel outside the winter months when an ice road was previously built, and an increased likelihood of economic benefits from tourism and a planned nearby mine.