Reports to Inuvik RCMP of alleged drug trafficking shot up in 2019, more than quadrupling the number from the year before.
Police got 69 reports of possible drug trafficking last year compared to 15 in 2018, according to numbers from Inuvik RCMP released in January.
"In recent years, the Northwest Territories as a whole has seen a dramatic increase in the presence of drug trafficking, and Inuvik has been no exception to this," said Const. Chris Main with the RCMP in Inuvik.
He said the jump in Inuvik is a direct result of people choosing to alert police about suspected drug traffickers.
Reports from the public "work as a compass," he said. They help direct police toward certain locations or people.
Main said this year, Inuvik RCMP seized more than $125,000 worth of drugs and cash.
'Everybody knows everybody'
Lesa Semmler, MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, is glad to hear reporting to police has gone up.
She said in a town like Inuvik where "everybody knows everybody," residents may hesitate to go to the RCMP with information.
"People are afraid to say things … for retaliation and things like that," said Semmler.
She said constituents are telling her that more people in Inuvik are becoming addicted to crack cocaine, and that the traffickers are coming from out of town.
"If it's the people that are letting [RCMP] know, and complaining and they're finding the drugs in our community, it's great," she said. "But what I also hear is as much as we're catching, there's still more coming in."
Reports of drug trafficking do not necessarily result in charges or convictions. It's unclear how many people were charged with drug trafficking charges in Inuvik last year.
Main said "over 10" people were "involved" in drug trafficking related offences in 2019. RCMP did not provide specific statistics on charges before publication of this story.
Traffickers coming up from provinces
Main said "criminal organizations," often from the provinces, have set up operations in a number of N.W.T. communities.
"These groups rotate in and out of the communities, often with one drug trafficker replacing another," he said, adding they mostly deal in crack and powder cocaine.
A number of those charged in Inuvik last year were young. Among them: a 19-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., a 19-year-old from Ontario, and a 17-year-old who was caught with nearly half a kilogram of crack cocaine at the Inuvik airport.
"Particularly troubling" for police, said Main, is that traffickers regularly use people's homes as bases for their operations, exploiting residents who are already living with addictions and poverty.
Traffickers, he added, will seek out people who are isolated, and who won't speak out against them.
People are afraid to say things … for retaliation and things like that - Lesa Semmler, MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes
"It's very scary," said Semmler. "The drug dealers are coming into town, and they're taking advantage of our vulnerable population, and selling from their houses, and keeping them on drugs."
A slower economy in the North, and the absence of a residential addictions treatment centre in the N.W.T., aren't helping the situation, said Semmler.
"We have a lot of addictions, and we have a lot of trauma, and we have a lot of homelessness," she said. "It's a systemic problem."
While the new territorial government hasn't committed to building an addictions treatment centre, MLAs do want to increase the number of addictions programs in communities. Their mandate includes a commitment to set up a medical-detox and managed-alcohol program by the spring of 2023.