Fort Smith’s RCMP detachment commander says despite border closures, suspected drug traffickers are still reaching the community from High Level, Alberta.
Providing an update to town councillors on May 19, Sergeant Geoffrey Peters said RCMP are beginning to see “an element not from in town that we haven’t seen before that is tied to organized drug trafficking through Hay River and High Level.”
Cracking down on drug trafficking is the Fort Smith detachment’s number-one community priority in the coming year, Peters said.
“I determined [drug trafficking] should be a priority based off recent intelligence that we’re getting and just seeing the extent of the hard drug problem in the community,” he said.
“Specifically, we’re talking about crack cocaine and prescription pills.
“We’ve got a good handle on who these [drug traffickers] are and who they are tied to, it’s just a matter of getting some information through intelligence – through people in the community or through good, old-fashioned police work – and trying to charge them and get them out of our community.”
Peters noted that on April 21, police responded to an incident where tires were slashed at a business. RCMP understood the crime to be related to drug trafficking and found a suspect vehicle with six people in it, all from Hay River and Alberta.
Two men were arrested and charged with possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose – a collapsible baton – and another man was arrested and charged with possessing both a controlled substance and a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
“These are some of the same individuals we are actively targeting for drug initiatives,” Peters said.
During a traffic stop on May 15, Peters said RCMP again stopped the same people and found a loaded handgun under the front seat of their vehicle.
“They are not from here. We are doing our best to get them on conditions to stay out of the community. They have no business being here but we have to work through the legal process for that,” the sergeant said.
‘Not what’s happening in real life’
Town councillors asked how drugs were still making it into the NWT after the territorial government closed the southern border to non-residents, with the exception of essential workers. They also wondered why, if certain traffickers are known to the police, those people are not stopped at the NWT-Alberta border.
Peters admitted he did not know how High Level residents were making their way into the South Slave region to traffic drugs. Staff at the border are ordinarily public health officers supplied by the NWT government and not members of the RCMP.
“I don’t understand how they are getting here or what information they are feeding the people at the border, but it’s not consistent with what should be going on,” Peters said.
“I have concerns that the story [suspected drug traffickers] are telling the people at the border is not actually what’s happening in real life. We’ve had cases where individuals have obviously been in the territory for less than 14 days, moving around, involved in criminal activity, and they’re obviously not self-isolating anywhere.”
Peters also noted that, prior to the NWT’s Highway 1 checkpoint being moved from Enterprise to the actual border, they had received intelligence that drug trafficking was taking place south of the checkstop but still in the NWT.
That suggests NWT residents could freely come and go through the checkpoint to pick up drugs while remaining in the territory.
With the checkpoint now at the actual border, Peters is hopeful some drug trafficking might be prevented.
Why some impaired drivers aren’t caught
“I hope that the border connection is managed wisely,” said Kevin Smith, Fort Smith’s deputy mayor, in the same meeting.
“If drug traffickers are still going through a controlled border, it seems the GNWT has a little bit of work to do around its border enforcement.
“I recognize … there are different legal requirements, but I’d like to see a stronger response from the GNWT.”
Cabin Radio has approached the territorial government for more information about how claims of residency are verified when people reach the NWT.
Peters said most of Fort Smith’s crime is alcohol-related or about domestic violence, but calls about violence associated with drug trafficking are “really concerning.”
“People say, well, it’s drug dealers going after drug dealers, but as we all know that kind of violence – somebody driving around with a loaded handgun – in our town is a huge concern,” he said.
In his presentation to council, Peters listed four other community priorities for councillors to discuss. They are impaired driving, building and maintaining positive relations with partners, enhancing the safety and health of Indigenous communities – with a focus on reconciliation and youth – and preventing and reducing the impact of prolific offenders who commit property crimes.
Peters said RCMP know who is driving impaired, but the problem is catching them.
“We have a fair number of impaired driving calls but our clearance rates aren’t that great on them,” he said.
“The reason for that is, a lot of times, we get people calling [saying] person A is going from point A to point B … and by the time we get the call, they are already at home inside with the door shut.”
RCMP in Fort Smith are trying to be more proactive, using checkstops and targeting vehicles leaving licensed establishments and the liquor store.
“In my experience, those tend to pay off in terms of catching impaired drivers,” he said.
RCMP also know who the prolific property crime offenders are in town, Peter said. They will be monitored to ensure they are following court-ordered conditions.