Tsiigehtchic faces a real problem in bootlegging – the illegal sale of alcohol in a dry community – and the RCMP are not there to deal with it, the community's senior administrator claims.
Earlier this week, Tsiigehtchic's council issued a public notice asking residents to "out" known bootleggers to police. Senior administrative officer Grant Scott said the notice followed a "healthy discussion" at a council meeting about alcohol in the community.
"There are many bootleggers in our community and everybody knows who they are ... including the RCMP," the notice read. Versions were posted around the charter community and also shared online.
"It's time to 'out' the bootleggers to the RCMP and put [a] stop to the damage being done to our citizens," the notice continued. "The same goes for drug dealers."
Councillors believe there are seven bootleggers in the community of 172 people, which sits along the Mackenzie River. Tsiigehtchic is an hour and a half's drive, plus a ferry ride, from the regional centre of Inuvik.
Chief Phillip Blake said the public notice followed a similar notice the neighbouring hamlet of Fort McPherson published several years ago.
Scott said the signs of alcohol coming into the community, from intoxicated individuals to groups "staggering through the community," were obvious – and devastating for local families.
"Kids are left on their own too much and money is spent on alcohol and drugs as opposed to food for the family," Scott said.
Blake agreed. "It leads to domestic violence, children taken away out of their homes."
This public notice was shared on a Tsiigehtchic community Facebook page.
Frederick Blake Jr, the Mackenzie Delta MLA – who lives in Tsiigehtchic – believes this week's public notice is an important step.
"I'm glad the charter council stepped up and they're making a stand. That's what people want, especially the Elders," he said, adding Elders don't feel safe as public intoxication levels go up.
Compounding this issue is what Scott describes as a near-complete lack of any police presence in the community.
Scott, who has been the community's senior administrator for three months, said he understood police did not receive a single call for service from Tsiigehtchic in September.
"I believe it, but the reason for it is the people just don't bother any more," he said.
RCMP were approached for comment earlier this week and asked to clarify the number of calls to police from Tsiigehtchic residents, alongside the amount of time officers spend there. No response could be provided by the time of publication.
After-hours calls are routed to the Yellowknife communications centre, Scott said. He believes the number of questions asked over the phone, and the knowledge that police face a lengthy drive and ferry ride from McPherson to attend, discourages callers.
"A lot of people don't bother calling because the response time is slow and the actual response isn't there at all," Scott said.
No police based in Tsiigehtchic
Blake Jr, the MLA, agreed the number of questions callers must answer when they get transferred to Yellowknife is a concern Delta residents have brought to him. While he understands questions are asked to guarantee officers' safety, residents who are in an emergency require a faster response, he said.
"In our last government, we brought forward that we need a much better system than what's in place. With 9-1-1 we're hoping to get there and have better response times," Blake Jr said. The introduction of 9-1-1, this coming Monday, will provide a new, centralized dispatch service but will not on its own mean any additional resources for communities, like extra police.
There are currently no police at all based in Tsiigehtchic, although a residence exists for them.
RCMP members come from neighbouring Fort McPherson which has, a six-member detachment. However, Scott believes that detachment now has a sergeant away on leave, another member in the process of being transferred out, and another member temporarily away while training to become a supervisor.
Blake Jr said he knows RCMP are short-staffed at the moment. He hopes to raise that with the territory's new justice minister once they are appointed in the coming days. A question to RCMP about the number of officers currently available was not answered by the time of publication.
"Don't wait for a call for service, just come," said Scott, recalling the contents of an email he recently sent to RCMP, urging them to do more. "Be known in the community," he said, "visit the school, and have coffee at the municipal office and the band office. Get to know people."
RCMP do take part in monthly council meetings, Blake, the chief, said. Julie Plourde, an RCMP spokesperson, stated there had been no complaints related to drug trafficking in Tsiigehtchic over the past year, but police had worked on eight files related to local complaints or investigations stemming from apparent breaches of the Liquor Act. Two of those involved illegal alcohol sales; neither resulted in any charges.
Scott doesn't think issuing a public notice will solve the problem, but he feels the message may prompt people to bring what they know about bootleggers to the RCMP.
Information from the public is important, Plourde stated, and can help with "evidence to support convictions."
"Our members can suspect illegal activities, but they need evidence to lay charges," she wrote.
There was also a suggestion from a bylaw officer to have an undercover police officer in Tsiigehtchic, catching bootleggers. That is "not likely to happen," Scott said. Instead, he'll be writing to Frederick Blake Jr, new NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane, and local MLAs.
Tsiigehtchic has had a community wellness worker in the past. However, the position has proved hard to fill. Blake Jr expects the role to be filled soon. During crises in the community, counsellors have been brought in.
"Small communities really suffer because you need population to get the programs in," Blake, the chief, said. With a new territorial government in place, Blake told Cabin Radio addressing this situation on "base needs rather than population" would be a start.
"They've got to take another look at the scenario of how they do their formula funding," he said.
"We'd like to address the situation by having proper resources for people to get help, rather than just target one part of the equation."
Blake Jr, the MLA, said he would invite fellow politicians to his community, including the justice minister, to hear their concerns.
An NWT-based treatment centre may be examined as a possibility during the 19th Assembly. However, he admits the real challenge would be "bringing in the professionals and keeping them here."
Anyone with information about bootlegging or drug trafficking in Tsiigehtchic is being asked to report it to the Fort McPherson RCMP at 867-952-1111.