Mayors welcome N.B. government's expanded role combatting drug crime

Three mayors in New Brunswick say they support an initiative by the provincial government to partner with local police forces and the RCMP to tackle drug crime across the province. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
Three mayors in New Brunswick say they support an initiative by the provincial government to partner with local police forces and the RCMP to tackle drug crime across the province. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick mayors and a Liberal opposition critic are expressing support for the province's latest move to crack down on drug crime.

But some say they also hope the move — expected to result in more seizures of illicit drugs — is coupled with enhanced supports for those struggling with addiction.

The mayors of Woodstock, Saint John and Miramichi all say drug use and addiction can be linked to a rise in petty crime in their communities, and they are pleased the province is doing more to help local police forces combat the issue.

"I think you don't necessarily see it visibly on the street, but … we are aware that there are increasing issues with drugs and it shows up in criminal statistics with break and enters, thefts and things like that," said Woodstock Mayor Arthur Slipp.

The Department of Justice and Public Safety has formed seven "integrated enforcement units" across the province, aimed at tackling "street and mid-level drug and drug-related crimes," according to department spokesperson Judy Désalliers.

Sarah Morin/CBC
Sarah Morin/CBC

The initiative involves partnerships between the department, the RCMP and municipal police forces.

Désalliers did not say where the units are being set up, or which municipal forces are involved, but said the units are being staffed by nine RCMP officers, 10 municipal police officers, eight provincial peace officers and two criminal analysts.

Slipp said his town has been "very, very concerned" about increasing drug and drug-related crime for years, and has in turn put more money into its police force to combat it.

"We've added a significant number of officers to our force and we also have engaged with this major crime initiative that the province is starting, and we're very, very pleased to be involved, and we have a dedicated officer in the unit," Slipp said.

Balancing with addiction support

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon said she hadn't heard about the new initiative by the province, noting the Saint John Police Force is administered by an arms-length commission, rather than by the city.

However, she said she supports the concept considering the city has seen an increase in drug overdoses, along with robberies and other petty crimes connected to drugs.

"Any support to the police or police forces in the province that would help solve some of that on-the-street, on-the-ground crime would be absolutely welcome," she said.

Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC
Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC

At the same time, she said she hopes efforts by police focus on cracking down on those trafficking and dealing drugs, rather than those who are simply users battling addiction.

"More arrests of the person who just has an addiction issue is not not the answer."

In April, Dorothy Shephard, New Brunswick's health minister at the time, announced her government would spend $174.9 million for addiction and mental health services, as part of the 2022-2023 budget.

This came as Finance Minister Ernie Steeves, in his budget speech in March, said his government was making a point of investing in both policing and addiction support to solve the problems around drug crime.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

Miramichi Mayor Adam Lordon said while he's pleased the province is beefing up police forces' capacity to fight drug crime, similarly tangible initiatives have yet to hit the ground for mental health and addiction support in his community.

"It's important that those increased [policing] efforts also be partnered or paired with increased efforts when it comes to preventing addictions and preventing people from getting into a cycle of drug use in the first place," Lordon said.

That sentiment was shared by Shediac-Beaubassin-Cap-Pelé MLA Jacques LeBlanc, who serves as the public safety critic.

In an email statement to CBC News, he said there is "definitely a big role for enforcement" when it comes to large traffickers, but it's important to give more supports for those struggling with addiction.

"This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed from both angles," LeBlanc said.