First Nation calls for check stops, more police in Mayo, Yukon, to deal with opioid emergency

The First Nation of  Na-Cho Nyäk Dun's chief and council passed a resolution on Tuesday, declaring a state of emergency related to opioids in the community. It says the opioid emergency is 'terrorizing' the public with 'violence, crime, overdose and death.'  (Leonard Linklater/CBC - image credit)
The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun's chief and council passed a resolution on Tuesday, declaring a state of emergency related to opioids in the community. It says the opioid emergency is 'terrorizing' the public with 'violence, crime, overdose and death.' (Leonard Linklater/CBC - image credit)

An emergency declaration by the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun in the wake of last weekend's double homicide in Mayo, Yukon, is calling for a number of strict measures to try to quell the local drug trade — including highway check stops, evictions, and tight controls on who can be on settlement lands.

But some of things may not be enforceable by police, according to the RCMP.

The First Nation's chief and council passed a resolution Tuesday, declaring a state of emergency related to opioids in the community. It says the opioid emergency is "terrorizing" the public with "violence, crime, overdose and death," and demands immediate action.

"The Council must act now and work with the Yukon government, RCMP and Village of Mayo to address this opioid emergency, in a coordinated manner, before other [Na-Cho Nyäk Dun] citizens are lost to this emergency," the resolution states.

It proposes an action plan that may include measures such as an increased police presence in the First Nation's territory, and requirements for visitors to register before entering settlement land and for non-citizens to vacate the community between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. It also proposes to evict tenants from First Nation housing units if they're involved in illegal activity.

The action plan could also involve check-stops on all roads into Mayo "to disrupt, interrupt and stop opioid distribution."

The action plan would be developed with the Yukon government, RCMP and the Village of Mayo, the resolution states.

RCMP Supt. Lindsay Ellis said Thursday police are "committed to continuing to discuss how this state of emergency may involve the RCMP," but did not endorse any of the specific measures proposed.

"I think it's important to note that on the resolution it says that these measures 'may include,'" Ellis said.

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

She said police can only act in ways that are compliant with Charter rights.

"I will say that, you know, there's a lot of case law around check stops," she said.

"If they were implemented in the manner that they are worded, [they] would likely be in breach of the Charter, and we would likely not be participating in that."

Homicide investigation ongoing 

Police have not explicitly tied the weekend homicides in Mayo to the drug trade, though an RCMP news release on Monday about the investigation states police "are aware of the impact of the substance use emergency on the community of Mayo, as with other Yukon communities."

It also states police believed there was no immediate danger to the public related to the homicides.

Nobody has been arrested in connection with the deaths. Ellis told CBC News on Thursday morning that an investigative team is still in Mayo and things are progressing "really well."

She said police are still encouraging anyone with information about the two deceased men — Ben Symington, 35, and Michael Bennett, 22, of Whitehorse — or the shootings on Saturday to contact them.

"We understand that it's difficult in a small community, but we're also really heartened because we've had a lot of co-operation from the citizens of Mayo, the citizens of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, and we're really hopeful that that we'll be able to resolve this," Ellis said.

"My heart and our thoughts still go out to the families that are impacted by this and also the community."

Premier suggests 'more aggressive approach' to substance use emergency

The First Nation's emergency declaration and calls for an action plan also had MLAs talking in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.

Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee called the action plan "critical"

"It is critical that all partners come to the table. The Yukon government will be one of those partners," McPhee said.

Asked whether she supports all the proposed measures in the First Nation's resolution, McPhee told reporters "that's not for me to say."

"This is a statement by, a declaration by, the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun. They absolutely need to say what it is that they think should be in the action plan. We will work together with them to support that however we can," she said.

Premier Ranj Pillai also spoke in the legislature Wednesday, saying he's spoken with Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Chief Simon Mervyn and Mayo Mayor Trevor Ellis. A meeting is scheduled with Yukon government officials, RCMP and local leaders on Monday morning, the premier said.

Spencer Colby/CP
Spencer Colby/CP

"We commend Na-Cho Nyäk Dun for taking the approach they're taking, the leadership that they're showing in their community," Pillai said.

He also pointed to his government's plan to increase funding for the RCMP, included in this year's territorial budget.

"I think we do have to take a very significant approach, maybe a more aggressive approach in all our communities. But Yukoners have to come together. This is not just one government that's going to solve it," Pillai said.

Still, Opposition MLA Brad Cathers of the Yukon Party accused the government of showing a "real lack of action on prevention, treatment and enforcement," despite declaration of a Yukon-wide substance use emergency more than a year ago.

Cathers is pushing for more addictions treatment services in Mayo, as well as more RCMP resources.

"We believe that simply declaring a substance use health emergency is not a substitute for action," he said.