Chief Supt Syd Lecky, commanding officer of RCMP in the NWT, is seen in June 2023. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
NWT RCMP’s top police officer says Indigenous recruitment and a new drugs strategy are two of his leading priorities after half a year in the job.
Chief Superintendent Syd Lecky became the new leader of G division – the RCMP branch responsible for the Northwest Territories – in November last year. Last week, he held his first news conference since taking the position.
Lecky set out concerns about drugs in the territory, referencing a string of deaths in Hay River last year and describing “what would appear to be organized crime, or certainly the use of violence in relation to the drug subculture.”
“We’re working on a new drug strategy to try and address some of the issues that you’re seeing,” he said.
While specifics of that strategy were light, Lecky suggested doing a better job of getting tips from the public, acquiring and executing search warrants, and picking off “quick hits” were likely to form part of it.
However, he urged residents not to “take matters in their own hands” as was recently reported in Fort McPherson, where RCMP said residents had been found “aggressively assaulting” suspected drug traffickers. Lecky said vigilante action risked the safety of those intervening as well as suspected offenders, and could raise a concern about the potential for retaliation.
Meanwhile, Lecky – a member of the Peskotomuhkati Nation in New Brunswick – said there are currently no more than a handful of Indigenous members of the NWT RCMP, and most of those are longtime employees with few new recruits.
“That is the biggest challenge,” he told reporters, saying he had asked members of an Indigenous consultative committee to “try and help us with that recruiting effort, to be able to see if we can help improve that profile in the demographics within the RCMP here.”
Lecky also suggested that police have suffered a gradual erosion of their powers that, in his view, was detrimental to public safety and the safety of officers.
“What’s happened in my opinion, over time, is a lot of our tools have been taken away or have been lessened,” he said.
“The effectiveness of tools has been reduced. So it makes it more challenging to be a cop. And then on top of that, you get a lot more scrutiny. And it’s not for me to say whether that scrutiny is not justified or otherwise. I can just tell you that when you have less tools, it’s less effective for you to do the job.
“So give us the tools to do the job, and then you can better evaluate the outcomes.”
Below, you can read the full transcript of Lecky’s Q&A with reporters from Cabin Radio, True North FM, the Canadian Press and the CBC. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams, Cabin Radio: Whatareas do you hope your drug strategy will address, and when you hope that strategy will address them?
Chief Supt Syd Lecky: This is going to be an ongoing process. All of the Northwest Territories, as we’re seeing in Inuvik, Aklavik and Fort McPherson, everywhere has the presence of drugs. I don’t have a large drug unit that I can deploy and address issues all over the Northwest Territories, so we do have to find more strategic ways of being able to address it at the local level.
Certainly interdicting and intelligence-gathering is a key part of that strategy. We encourage the public to get out and get that message to us on whatever they can. When I talk to the community leaders, one of the big messages I have is: “We need the information to come in from the public.” That can be through Crime Stoppers, but what really helps us is to have that one-on-one information provided where you’ve given us information about where that drug is, who’s responsible for it – information that we can then use to gather a search warrant to be able to effectively do the job.
Part of the strategy is to give members that help to be able to effectively draft search warrants. We have a lot of turnover and very junior staff in many of our areas. That’s a constant, and that’s why a key part of our strategy is how they’re going to get that support here from our operations division. But we’re also working on ways to be able to support them out in the communities and if you have questions, how are you going to get that answer?
There are partnerships internally and externally to the division, keeping in mind that all drugs that flow don’t flow locally. They come from somewhere. Without getting into the details of that, working with those partners, whether they be other policing agencies or external RCMP agencies. We have a very capable analysis unit to be able to track and analyze where that stuff is coming from, who’s responsible for it, so we can focus on those individuals when possible.
What’s equally concerning for me though, as you’ve seen of late, is some of the crime that’s related to it. So it’s bad enough when you have drug issues, but what often comes with that is the crime associated, and firearms specifically cause me concern. One of the things any detachment commander, any operations officer, and any commanding officer is going to have concern for is our members’ well-being and safety. We’ve lost members this past year. I’m part of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police board of directors. We’ve sent a letter off to the federal public safety minister on the concerns we have about the safety of our police officers. We’ve had I believe it’s 12, now, killed in the past year, and of those I think eight of them, nine of them were murdered. It also ties into the bail reform issues, of which I’ve also been a part on a national scale.
I worry about the people that have to go home to their families. I worry about our members that have to do the work that they do under these challenging circumstances. I worry about our emergency response teams that are called in, in the most challenging and difficult situations. And that’s a big weight for us as leaders to be able to address, and I’ve had to look families of members in their eyes when they’re involved in a major police incident. And I’ve also had to look, obviously, the families in the eye of victims, whether it’s opioid deaths or violence related to shootings and so on. So it is a big concern for us. What we’re seeing now are things we hadn’t seen before: 3D-printed guns, you know? Very difficult to track in any circumstance. These are emerging trends now that we’re having to adjust to as we go.
That’s a key reason why part of our strategy is to be able to get out there in quick hits. The long projects? Maybe that’s not the direction we need to head in. Maybe it’s more focused. And that’s where the public’s input is going to be key, and we realize a key part of that is public trust. They have to be able to trust in us to do our jobs. And we do have strategies in terms of developing our intelligence. Part of that training is to get our detachments to understand how not to breach those confidences and how to be able to get that message across.
When I say strategy, there’s no one thing that’s going to do this. There are a lot of things that have to come together and training is a big part of it, especially when you’re dealing with a largely junior workforce. But I’m confident that we’re going to make strides in the right direction.
Ollie Williams: To quickly clarify then, when we’re talking about a strategy, is that one physical document or is it a slightly different concept?
There is some element of a specific strategy that will be documented and is actually drafted. It’s actually pretty close to done. It is for our internal use to make sure that everybody knows what they’re doing and the direction they have to head in, and how they’re going to get that help and support.
What I can tell you, too, is if I have more police officers I can do more, right? If I get a team of 20 cops that can run out, then obviously I could do more, but that’s not the realities that we live in. So I have to work with what we have and find ways creatively to be able to address the issues. And that’s what we’re trying to do. There are so many other pressures, in all the regions that we’re in, where we would like to have more, and we’re working on that – to be able to get support for additional resources, just for our detachments that have had increased challenges.
You think of things like you build a road into a community. That community now has a lot of access all year round that it didn’t have before for all kinds of things to happen, whether it’s crimes in the community, the population increase adding additional pressures on your traffic safety, there are challenges to be able to address what needs to be addressed, as you can imagine. Crashes, collisions happen at all times of the year. As we build roads, whether it’s Wekweètì or into Tuk, all-season roads, they create more pressures for us.
We have to adjust, but also there are other detachments that also have more pressure in increasing call volumes, and that requires an adjustment as we go. That’s our primary focus. We go in to the territorial government and we bring our concerns forward, and then we try to work with them collectively to strategize on the best ways forward with what we can afford to do. If I had more members that I could redeploy from other other areas. I’d love to do that too, but I just don’t have that.
Ethan Montague, True North FM: I have a question about homelessness in Yellowknife. We’re seeing folks from communities ending up here at the sobering centre and on the streets. Do you have a cohesive plan to address that or is this the end situation?
I don’t have a strategic plan to deal with that, specifically, from a divisional perspective, from the Northwest Territories RCMP. I’ll defer that specific question to the local detachment commander.
Obviously, a lot of the issues related to that are not a policing-specific issue, right? Homelessness is not a policing matter. However, we’re often asked – just like this, under these circumstances – “what are you going to do about it?” We are part of a solution in terms of working with our territorial partners, municipal partners, and we will continue to do that. I’ll let you ask them those specific questions, but we’re always at the table when it comes to answering those questions. I wish I could tell you I didn’t have experience with this particular issue but I unfortunately have too much experience with it. They are not simple issues to resolve. If they were, we would have done it already – again, funding, resourcing and all the things that come with that, from ourselves and our partner agencies.
But also, some of this isn’t new, right? We’ve had people coming here from western Nunavut as well as throughout our Territories, whether they come here originally for health needs or otherwise, but they come and they stay. Sometimes they’re just in town from outside of the Territories and we’ve got a couple of those I’m aware of right now. Homelessness is not a crime, and nor should it be. But what is troubling for us is when there are people who are taking advantage of our homeless, taking advantage of our marginalized and most vulnerable people, and that ties back in to the opioid crisis, other drug issues, alcohol, bootlegging – you name it, they’re all related.
That’s where police can be a factor and that’s why we need to be able to be more responsive when it comes to the illicit drug challenges. Our justice minister and our justice department are very focused on that in terms of: what can we do to help support our communities? They’ve been supporting us and asking what they can do to help in that regard. But like I said, a lot of it is not a policing matter per se. We will continue to work with all the agencies that we can to find that solution.
Emily Blake. Canadian Press: How many Indigenous members do you have?
In the Northwest Territories? Sadly not that many, and I can probably count them on one hand. I believe it’s about five, five to six. And of those, four, probably are from the Northwest Territories. And don’t quote me because I can only think off-hand… there’s more than that, five, five to six maybe. And a couple from the Northwest Territories. And most of those who are here have been here for a long time.
There’s no question that that is the biggest challenge in my mind. One of our reconciliation strategies and one of the things that we do is to try and engage to get a better understanding of what’s going on throughout the Territories from the Indigenous perspective. Obviously, we consult locally, but I also have my own commanding officer’s Indigenous consultative committee, made up of people from all around the Northwest Territories that have been selected by their communities to represent their areas. They’re fantastic and amazing people. I’ve had a recent meeting with our committee. I’ve challenged them all, by the way, to go back to their communities and regions and try and help us with that recruiting effort, to be able to see if we can help improve that profile in the demographics within the RCMP here.
That would be my number one. If I could make one thing happen today, that would be it, because I do see – when I go to the communities and people say to me, “I want to see our people represented in the policing in our community, public safety in our communities” – I’d love to give that to them. And when I was part of a meeting with my Indigenous consultative committee, they made a point to tell me how happy they were to see me in that role. That’s the first opportunity they’ve had with a commanding officer, I believe, in that role and certainly with the consultative committee, and that was very meaningful for me and something that, you know, weighs heavily because that’s a big load to carry, right? To be able to represent and provide police and public safety needs to the division, to the Northwest Territories.
I’d love to get more and anything we can do to encourage more people – generally, but absolutely our Indigenous communities – to be a part of it. You go over and look in our museum here and look at the Special Constable exhibit to see the importance and the history that Indigenous peoples have contributed to policing in the Northwest Territories and in Canada. For me, that was a very moving experience. I’ve been there three times to review that exhibit, and the legacies of some of those people are here working today. Their family, extended family members. We just had one retire that’s related to one of those people mentioned in that exhibit. These are really important for us, meaningful, and I’d like to give that to the public here, that support with Indigenous people representing their communities.
Robert Holden, CBC North: Is there a plan for the RCMP to be more available to the media?
I think you can see from what we’re doing today is that that’s a gap that certainly I noticed not long after my arrival here. My prior experience has been far more involved with media presence, getting our message out, responding to questions, addressing the issues from all communities. That’s why I do believe in the value of an open, free press.
My expectation is that we’re going to be a little more forward-looking and available, responsive, because what really is lacking here – and not to pick on the media, but I am – media are very good at bringing forward issues of concern. What we see politically? We get picked on quite a bit, cops. And what you don’t hear is all the great, fantastic work that we’re doing. What I’m expecting is not only are we going to be addressing the concerns, but we’re going to be letting you know some of the great things that we’re doing as well, and I expect that you’re going to help share that message. Balanced reporting is important. And balanced messaging from our perspective is important as well.
All throughout the territories, every community I’ve gotten to, I’ve been told by community leaders of the great work that we’re doing. You’re going to hear more from us, and we’re going to be getting our message out. But it is also important to know that the work that our people are doing is fantastic. The feedback generally has been really good. Yeah, you do hear of the odd thing that we could have done differently, better, and we will take steps to address it.
But the culturally relevant things that we do – participation in community events, culturally relevant events, you know – I had plans to go up, I committed to the people in Sachs Harbour or Paulatuk that I’d be coming back this summer, when they were doing some of their harvesting. I don’t know if I’m going to make it because of my plane challenges – air services are a little bit challenged right now – but that’s one of my goals. I’d like to get up on the Mackenzie into the Beaufort Delta. There’s a lot of work we do in support of the cultural aspects of the communities we serve. That message needs to get out. People, by and large, are very happy with the police services, from what I’ve seen.
I want to mention Frank Gruben as a missing person. I can tell you all day what we do about missing persons investigations – and we do have a very strict, strong policy and strong oversight on how we do those investigations – but that specific investigation, there’s some misinformation out there. In fact, someone sent me a link to a petition with my name on it: “Stop holding up the missing persons legislation.” As you would know, I have nothing to do with the creation of legislation. I work with what lawful authorities are provided to us and I will work with it.
But as far as that goes, Mr Frank Gruben is somebody’s son, brother, friend, family member, and I don’t want that lost in the discussion of just missing persons. He’s a person, and he’s loved, and people would like to see him come home, and we’d love to be able to give that to them. So we’re going to continue our efforts working to continue the investigation, which has been exhaustive, and has had a lot of support internal and external to the division. We’ve had no hiccups in terms of getting information.
This is an appeal, essentially, to the public, that if there’s information – someone knows anything – regarding Mr Gruben’s situation and why he’s missing, we would love to hear from you. You can call any detachment in the RCMP, wherever you are, but obviously, the local detachment in Fort Smith is actively investigating. That was the last phone call I made before coming here, was just to see if there’s anything new that I could share. There isn’t, but they are actively working and they are in touch with family to keep them updated as to what’s going on, the best they can. But as you can imagine, if you haven’t found them, you haven’t done enough. And I hate to tell you this, but it’s not the first time I’ve been put in a situation where I can’t give the family the answers they wish in the time that they would like to have them. That’s one of the darker parts to the job that I have to do and the things that haunt me when I’m after-hours.
So I just want the public to know and the family to know: if there’s something we can do, we’re going to do it. But we need your help. And these are challenging investigations. We will continue to do the best we can. I just want the family to know that we’re there and we’re thinking of them.
Ollie Williams: Regarding Frank’s disappearance, some people said they did not know what RCMP had done or were doing. Is there any more you want to share with people to help them understand what RCMP have done so far and what might be left to do?
One of the biggest challenges we have with this investigation is we don’t have an actual last point. The last spot that we know where he was, was in town. And we’ve done neighborhood canvassing, reviewed video. There’s a lot of things that have been done. Also social media. He didn’t have a phone, so phone records weren’t the issue. There’s a lot of things that have been done that would be expected of any investigation. Every lead that has been brought forward has been exhausted.
There’s rumours out there and I’m not going to go into the rumour mill, but we have heard them all and they’ve been brought forward and we’re addressing them. If there is new information, or information you hadn’t previously shared, we want to hear from you. As with most investigations, we don’t give a lot of detail because that can compromise the integrity of the investigation.
And I know it’s not often comforting when I tell you that there’s been an exhaustive effort. There’s been experts and investigative subject-matter experts engaged from national headquarters through to British Columbia. The reach has been far and there’s a lot of technical aspects to that as well. So there has been much done.
One of the criticisms, I think, was: what have you done with search and rescue? Well, we still don’t have a last point known to search, and that has been one of the concerns from the start – where are you going to begin searching? There have been localized efforts. In fact, we have had specific targeted search areas that police have been engaged in. If we knew someone went camping, hiking in a specific region, then you can start your efforts in that specific area. We don’t have that at this point in time. And that information which has been shared has been exhausted investigatively, so there are pressures.
My understanding is that much of this, what I’m sharing with you, has been communicated, I would imagine, to the family. The public at large doesn’t always get that reporting and I don’t know that necessarily that’s required. But there are things that we can do better and certainly having a police presence sooner, to be able to answer those questions, can fill the gaps and misinformation, such as that the missing person legislation has had a detrimental effect on that. In this particular case, it hasn’t. But there’s always a best practice. Having the legislation in place gives police the best tools to do the job, and that’s essentially what we need. But we’ll get there. As far as this particular investigation, we haven’t had anything that we haven’t been able to overcome in terms of legal challenges. Where our pressures are is information right now.
Again, Frank Gruben is someone who is loved by his family, his friends. He’s a real person. And that means if anybody has any information, I would encourage them to bring it forward so that we can advance this the best we can and get Frank home to his family.
Ollie Williams: The federal government recently put a lot of effort into legislation regarding firearms and their use in Canada. You mentioned you’d written to the public safety minister on the issue in the past. What are your feelings on the way that legislation has gone and what that legislation achieves?
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, of which I’m a part, wrote to the minister. It wasn’t specific to firearms, it was specific to bail reform in terms of how the people who’ve been killing cops are oftentimes people who have been on bail. The need for bail and bail reform obviously has been heard and the public safety minister, although I did hear recently that that legislation is likely not to pass this year, given just the timing with Parliament and so on. It’s a big concern for us.
I do have bigger concerns. To be honest with you, I think we could have done a bit more, in my opinion. I would have liked to have seen more to address some of the other issues, because violent crime is obviously the biggest concern – the safety of our police officers and really the public, generally, needed reform, and they’re working on it. I guess I shouldn’t be getting too much into the weeds until I see what the final result is.
When you’re tasked with public safety, when you’re the guy responsible for the public safety of the individuals in the communities we serve – and now, in this case, throughout the entire Northwest Territories – that’s a big weight. So give me the tools to be able to do my job and we’re going to do the best we can with those tools. What’s happened in my opinion, over time, is a lot of our tools have been taken away or have been lessened. The effectiveness of tools has been reduced. So it makes it more challenging to be a cop. And then on top of that, you get a lot more scrutiny. And it’s not for me to say whether that scrutiny is not justified or otherwise. I can just tell you that when you have less tools, it’s less effective for you to do the job. So give us the tools to do the job and then you can better evaluate the outcomes.
Ollie Williams: And does the firearms legislation give you the tools to do the job?
I’m not going to get into specifics until it’s a done deal. Really, it’s not my place to comment on that. Parliament makes the decisions. I’m going to work with whatever tools are provided to us. My role isn’t to set the law. When it’s in place and if it’s not working and not meeting our needs, they will certainly hear about it. And my role is to keep our justice minister locally informed of what is affecting us in the territory. I have a voice with the CACP to reflect that at the national level. I have a commanding officers’ caucus that I can work with through the national level with the RCMP, and we will bring our concerns collectively should they emerge at that point in time, but individually it’s not for me to really take a position at this stage. I’ve got to work with what we have.
What I can obviously say is there are certain guns that, if they’re not in the streets, we’re safer, right? And I’m not talking about hunting. I’m a big supporter. I’m not a very good hunter, but I’m a big supporter of it. That’s sometimes forgotten when we create legislation, the impact to our local people. You don’t have to step far outside our city limits and you realize that hunting is a way of life. It is, and ought to be. It is a safer food source and more affordable, in many cases, for many of our people. Sometimes we forget that when we’re drafting legislation – but there are some guns you don’t need to hunt. And what role handguns have in that is a whole other issue. 3D-printed guns? That has no place, and many of the like-minded guns, you know, don’t really have a whole lot of use for me. Again, I’ll wait to see the legislation and what happens, and we’ll reflect on it and share our concerns nationally as needed.
Just in closing, I just want to remember the great work our people, our members and staff are doing out there. I just want to recognize them as their commanding officer, and a special shoutout for our detachment services clerks and assistants that work in our detachments and all of our communities around the Northwest Territories. They are unsung heroes in the work that we do. They live and work and remain in those communities long after we come and go, many of our uniformed members, and I just want them to know they have my absolute support, my gratitude and my thank-you, and if ever they are in need of anything, to reach out and we will be there to support them.