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NWT government and RCMP attempt to address border drug concerns

Last modified: May 27, 2020 at 6:18pm


After allegations that drug dealers are finding ways to evade border checkstops, NWT leaders insist border staff are conducting appropriate screening of incoming traffic.

Scrutiny of measures at the border follows Cabin Radio’s reporting of remarks made by Fort Smith’s RCMP detachment commander, Sergeant Geoffrey Peters, who told councillors drug traffickers were still coming into the community from northern Alberta.

“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 last week.

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Ivan Russell, director of public safety for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said residents entering the NWT must provide identification to public health officers. He reiterated they must complete a self-isolation plan.

In the legislature, Premier Caroline Cochrane expanded: “If you’re not [a resident], you are asked to provide a letter from an employer to prove you are an essential worker. Then we will allow you through.”

How public health officers verify forms of identification – including a person’s stated home address – remains unclear.

Russell said approximately 40 vehicles a day, including both essential workers and residents coming back from the south, currently pass through the two highway checkpoints on their way into the NWT. Another 30 people pass through airports to enter the territory each day, on average.

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Russell said information provided at border checkstops is collected under a public health order, which means privacy laws dictate it cannot be shared with RCMP.

“Any activity that is beyond the mandate of the public health officers is clearly an RCMP mandate, and we don’t have any ability to go beyond what we have the authority to enforce,” Russell explained.

Despite this, Russell said, public health officers have “some relationship” with RCMP. Police, in his view, understand who is coming and going across the border.

‘Things we’re looking at’

RCMP in the NWT, in a separate news release on Wednesday, said they had worked together with public health officers “on topics of mutual concern.”

For example, RCMP said, officers in Inuvik recently investigated and charged a person who had falsified documents to enter the territory.

On May 1, RCMP continued, public health officers at the Highway 1 checkpoint – then based outside Enterprise – called police after three men from Edmonton attempted to cross the border and were turned away because they didn’t meet the criteria to enter under Covid-19 restrictions.

Territorial government staff were “suspicious of the men’s intentions,” said RCMP at the time. Police caught up to the men and, after an investigation, laid multiple drug-trafficking charges.

Premier Cochrane said she understands drug dealers may be attempting entry into the NWT not only via road and air but also water.

“Those are things we’re looking at as well. The good thing is we are having more checks at the borders and so we are more conscious of illegal trades that are happening at our borders,” she said.

At last week’s Fort Smith council meeting, Keith Morrison – the Town of Fort Smith’s senior administrative officer – raised concerns about the movement of people between Fort Smith and Fort Fitzgerald, Alberta, and beyond.

The communities share an unmanned border and local residents are allowed to cross freely to access services. Morrison says that means people could head south into Alberta without anyone knowing – and possibly bring Covid-19 to the two towns.

“I think a lot of the concerns are going to be around the people that head south and don’t come back for two or three days. What were you up to?” he said.

“Were you going hunting? Did you go to [Fort Chipewyan]? Did you go hang out with friends at Carlson’s Landing or Peace Point?”

Carlson’s Landing and Peace Point can be reached by NWT and Alberta residents through a combination of roads and waterways.

Emily Blake and Ollie Williams contributed reporting.

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