A file photo of RCMP officers in Hay River. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Residents of Hay River are being asked to volunteer for a citizens-on-patrol program in response to a surge in reports of crime.
The town held a community meeting on Saturday after a run of break-ins. Both the town’s mayor, Kandis Jameson, and the chair of a committee formed to look into the issue, Brian Willows, said they had been targeted.
RCMP called for help from the community as Hay River residents described a constant feeling of unease on some streets and a fear that their town is no longer safe.
“I feel like we are losing our town. And I feel like those people are in charge,” one resident said at the meeting, referring to local drug dealers.
“It’s kind-of scary,” said another. “I don’t want to get a German Shepherd. I don’t want to get a gun. But I bet you there are some people who are thinking vigilante thoughts.”
The Town of Hay River formed a social issues committee earlier this year, tasked with devising new approaches that address the issues of crime, shelter, health and wellbeing that the town is confronting.
The committee brings together community leaders and municipal workers alongside territorial education, health and housing staff, the RCMP and the coroner.
Saturday’s meeting, Willows said, was held to “explore solutions” and seek volunteers.
Cpl Kevin Devoe, representing Hay River’s RCMP detachment, urged residents to make more use of the Crime Stoppers anonymous online tip service.
“It’s not solely on the police. People may think that – that’s a myth. We need your help to basically be the eyes and ears of the community,” Devoe said.
“A tip … might be the final piece that we need in order to add that information to a warrant in order to get into a house.”
He also asked for volunteers to come forward and “take charge” of a citizens-on-patrol program, but warned that such a group – which involves residents sharing information with police – would be “a lot of work to set up.”
“You would be the eyes and ears on the street and that’s as far as it goes. You can report stuff through an app … it’s still at the ground level,” Devoe said.
“It’s a kind-of hands-off approach from the RCMP perspective. We would only act as the liaison officer … provide you with some crime prevention strategies, what to look for, hot spots in town to look for, perhaps even some training when it comes to what you should be looking for.”
‘Get our town back’
After Devoe spoke, residents shared stories about the way crime in the community has affected their lives.
An overarching theme became residents’ impression that drug dealers in Hay River are taking advantage of subsidized housing.
“I get sick to my stomach every time my kids leave the house because we have known about drug houses that the government is paying for. It is complete nonsense that we enable these people to live in our community and do this to us,” one woman said, to applause.
“We need to get our town back and the government needs to stand up and start doing something about it.”
“I feel like I’m having thoughts I would never normally have about what I can do to act on protecting my family, protecting my home,” another resident said, as many at the meeting drew a direct connection between the prevalence of drugs and the number of break-ins. “And I feel like I need a better avenue to channel my energy, rather than a baseball bat in the bedroom and big dog in the house.”
Other voices sought to make a clear distinction between criminals and vulnerable people who live in public housing or are homeless.
“Please understand that the percentage of people [engaged in crime] in lower-income housing or social housing is actually quite small,” one resident said.
“Regardless of being small, the impact of the people that are engaged in that type of behaviour is large … It’s not that the housing authority wants people who are drug trafficking in there to stay there.”
A housing worker attending the meeting described gradually losing the power to ensure people are evicted when suspected of crime. They alleged that multiple eviction notices had been quashed by ministers who did not want the evictions to go ahead.
Mayor ‘understands frustration’
Rocky Simpson, the Hay River South MLA, asked residents to email him as they listed concerns about how the justice system works, how the town’s RCMP detachment is staffed, and whether a treatment centre will be built.
“Send emails to me – or you could send them to a minister and copy me – because if I get them, then I’ve got some ammunition when I’m in the legislature,” Simpson said. His son RJ, the justice minister, was unable to attend the meeting through sickness, Willows said.
Jameson, the mayor, said people “have literally come to me in tears and don’t know what to do” when they find drugs being dealt near their homes or even in property they are renting out.
She added: “I, too, was broken into last week. I definitely understand the frustration out there. It is rampant, what’s going on … and it’s a little frustrating to see the same people who broke into your place, in the afternoon the next day, walking down the street.
“The message needs to be very clear to the drug dealers that you are not welcome and we don’t want you.”
As the meeting ended, several people came forward to volunteer for a potential community watch program.
Willows said anyone else interested in volunteering should call (867) 875-8242.