N.W.T. MLAs calling for more RCMP resources in Hay River, some residents aren't sold

Regular members of the N.W.T. Legislature are urging the government to increase RCMP resources in Hay River in response to a rise in crime. But some residents say politicians should be taking a more preventative approach.

In Friday's sessions of the Legislative Assembly, all regular MLAs voted in favour of a motion to reinstate an RCMP canine unit in Hay River — a resource the town had but lost in 2018 — and that called on the government and police to respond to the rise in crime in Hay River.

As the "hub of the North," Hay River connects the territory to southern highways and transportation routes moving goods further north by road and by barge when water levels allow. It's also become a distribution route for drugs to the N.W.T., according to the motion.

Richard Edjericon, MLA for Tu-Nedhe Wiilideh, brought forward the motion. He cited police data that show an average of 1.5 calls related to mischief every day in Hay River and an average of 7.5 assault-related calls in a month.

"This is out of control," he said.

Edjericon said the rise in crime in Hay River is creating ripples across the territory and that nearby communities like Fort Resolution are seeing the same trend.

All present regular members voted in favour of the motion while all cabinet ministers abstained.

Problem won't be solved by RCMP, Dene elder says

Despite the support from MLAs, some living in Hay River feel the resources put into policing could be better spent on social support.

Roy Fabian, a Dene elder from Kátł'odeeche Fırst Natıon near Hay River, said adding police resources is a band-aid solution.

"You're trying to deal with the problem at the end of the problem, you need to deal with it at the beginning," he said.

Fabian said that if MLAs are serious about reducing drug-related issues, they should look into supporting a treatment centre. Without that intervention, Fabian said crime is only going to get worse.

"Crime is a big issue, I'm not saying it's not an issue, but people dying is a bigger issue," he said.

Roy Fabian a Dene elder from the Kátł'odeeche Fırst Natıon in N.W.T.
Roy Fabian is a Dene elder from the Kátł'odeeche Fırst Natıon in N.W.T. He says increasing policing resources doesn't deal with the root cause of the increase in crime the community has been seeing. (Natalie Pressman/CBC)

Fabian said that residents need a sense of belonging and a sense of hope and that won't be solved with more police resources.

Monica Piros, director of child, family and community wellness with the town's health and social services authority, said she hopes any increase in police presence is focused on community policing.

That means officers mingling with people, asking questions and getting residents to see police as allies.

"If you hate the police or fear the police, you may not be likely to ask for the help when it's needed," she said.

Monica Pirous is director of child, family and community wellness with the health and social services authority in Hay River, N.W.T.
Monica Piros is director of child, family and community wellness with the health and social services authority in Hay River, N.W.T. (Natalie Pressman/CBC)

The RCMP could improve its relationship with communities through programs that allow officers to work directly with youth, for example, and gang diversion programs like the one in Calgary, she said.

Resources should also be poured into programs that broker connection and combat loneliness which ramps up as drug and crime become more present in a community.

There are programs in town that give youth in particular a safe place to hang out in if there are addiction issues or criminal activities in their homes, said Piros, while other activities like the Hay River track and field meet breathed life into the community by helping residents feel connected. However, lack of staff means Piros' team can only offer basic services when there's a need for more support, she said.

R.J. Simpson — the justice minister, premier, and MLA for Hay River North — said in the Legislature Friday he's aware of the issues and the government would respond to the motion in its allotted 120 days.

The proposed budget, currently being discussed in the assembly, proposes an increase of public money to support RCMP across the territory. It suggests a $1.3 million territorial crime reduction unit for "specialized resources" to support investigations.