Beleaguered residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay are hoping an upcoming visit by Justice Minister John Hogan will serve as a wake-up call for what they’re calling a public safety crisis in the town.
His office wouldn’t confirm it Thursday, Oct. 27, but sources told The Telegram that Hogan will visit the town on or around Nov. 4.
He’s expected to bring RCMP brass along with him.
The Telegram has also learned the municipal enforcement officer who has been responding to most of the transient-related calls has been taken off that beat while the town looks into issues surrounding legal authority and liability.
Mayor George Andrews said Thursday questions were brought to the council’s attention recently.
“As soon as the information came to us, we took immediate action,” he told The Telegram.
“Until we get clarification on that particular issue, we’re erring on the side of caution.”
In the meantime, Andrews has been assured that an extra RCMP patrol added to the local detachment this summer won’t end in November as planned.
“Today we’ve been informed that they will be continuing, as human resources permitting, for the foreseeable future.”
However, Andrews admitted police response to calls from residents have been sporadic at times.
He confirmed that two calls for assistance were not responded to as recently as Wednesday night, adding that sometimes patrols don’t happen when personnel are being transferred in and out, or when the detachment is especially busy.
Transients who camp out along trails in the woods have been a concern for years, but a number of residents and community leaders have told The Telegram this past summer has been especially bad for crime and lewd, drunken behaviour.
Residents, including children, are being accosted along trails and in the town.
A daycare owner says they’ve had to forego walks with the children because of transients in the area, including one who urinated in the proximity.
“For anyone with young children, or who have had young children, how can this be OK?” business owner Sacha Fraser wrote in an email to provincial ministers and Premier Andrew Furey this week. “How can the government allow this? Downplay it? Excuse it? Provide no support?”
Fraser, whose family owns a convenience store in the town, has been personally lobbying the provincial government for emergency action.
She and others say a recently formed acute response team consisting of the mayor and provincial ministers has not sufficiently addressed the immediate problems in the town.
Stephanie Normore, who owns the two largest gas stations in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, echoed those concerns.
“Our concern is 100 per cent about lawlessness and committing crimes. People are committing crimes and going unpunished," she said in a phone interview.
It’s always been a complicated issue, she said, and now it’s made worse by the increasing chaos.
Most of the transients are Indigenous people with addictions issues who refuse to return to their own communities. The ultimate problem, Normore says, can’t be solved with law enforcement alone.
“We’d all have to be very naïve if we didn’t realize that. There are addictions issues that are deeply rooted in intergenerational trauma. While I don’t understand that because I haven’t experienced that, I can appreciate that,” she said.
“This has never been a racial issue for us. Never, ever. It’s completely about public safety. That’s the only issue.”
Lela Evans, NDP MHA for Torngat Mountains, doesn’t represent Happy Valley but says she hears from Happy Valley residents frequently, either through phone calls or in person when she’s in town.
Two years ago, Evans was mortified by a video that showed the town’s enforcement officer throwing a handcuffed Inuit man to the ground. At the time, she raised concerns about what legal authority the officer possessed.
She agrees everyone’s safety is at risk.
“The residents also deserve to have their concerns addressed,” she said.
“There was a lot of stuff going on in public that really was alarming, that children and people shouldn’t have been exposed to.”
The lack of action is creating an unhealthy environment, she added.
“What was happening was you were creating racism where racism didn’t exist, because it was the Indigenous population that was being blamed for all this stuff that was happening.”
Normore says she can’t understand why the province’s priorities are not with the people, citing the example of boosted security for the construction of the hydroelectric dam at Muskrat Falls.
“When (Nalcor) was moving transformers from Cartwright to Muskrat Falls, they brought in 80 to 120 additional RCMP (officers) to make sure that nobody got out of hand,” she said. “So, how is it you can do it for that, because there was a risk of public safety, but however here we are in 2022 and we’re all living like hostages in our houses?”
Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram