Attack prompts calls for greater police presence in Burwash Landing

Following a fight that involved an axe-wielding assailant earlier this month, calls are being renewed for an RCMP detachment in Burwash Landing.

Following a fight that involved an axe-wielding assailant earlier this month, calls are being renewed for an RCMP detachment in Burwash Landing.

But as things stand, there just isn’t enough need to justify a permanent police presence in the small Kluane community, according to a high-ranking Mountie.

On April 8, two men were having a dispute over a woman, when one man attacked the other and his vehicle with an axe, RCMP allege. The victim was able to escape with minor injuries and call the RCMP detachment in Haines Junction, which is 125 kilometres away.

Tosh Southwick, who grew up in the community, said it took the RCMP over two hours to respond to a call that day.

By the time the officers arrived on scene, the suspect had disappeared, she said.

As she tells it, the SWAT team couldn’t find him despite a search of the town.

He eventually turned himself in on Wednesday, she added.

“That was actually a really good response time because there have been incidents in the past where I’ve called on a Friday and they came on a Tuesday,” she said.

“We’ve been on our own with a violent offender, without RCMP support and they don’t take it seriously. The premier talks about the territory being the best place to live, work and play, but what he’s really talking about is Whitehorse. Burwash Landing isn’t included in that vision.”

The RCMP’s Insp. Ken Foster, who is responsible for the area, disputes some minor elements of Southwick’s account.

When the victim’s call came in to the Haines Junction detachment that day, he was put through to an off-duty officer, and the on-duty member was 20 minutes on the other side of the community at the time.

Between the time of the call and the officers arriving on scene, it only took one hour and 35 minutes, Foster said.

“During the discussion with the victim it was established that he was in a safe place and the immediate danger was diminished,” he said.

“Knowing that, we can’t just race down the highway with lights and sirens – that puts the public and our officers at risk. It’s a continuous risk assessment – one hour and 35 minutes may seem like a long time but that’s the reality we have.”

Southwick was also mistaken in identifying responding police as members of a SWAT team, said Foster.

The RCMP has no SWAT team, but has an Emergency Response Team.

It was not called that day, Foster said, but officers did show up with carbine rifles as a precautionary measure.

“They can look aggressive,” he said of the semi-automatic weapons.

Police were able to get in touch with the suspect later that day, and he surrendered.

He made a first appearance in territorial court on Monday, facing charges of assault with a weapon, uttering threats and mischief over $5,000.

Burwash Landing is also served by the detachment in Beaver Creek, Foster said.

Between the two posts, members make a habit of stopping in and patrolling the town whenever they can, he said.

“Quite often they’re there several times a week.”

Foster disputes the notion that having a detachment in the community would necessarily deter crime. “To say that incidents don’t happen if the police is there simply isn’t true,” he said.

“We have police every day of the year in Whitehorse, yet crimes still happen. It comes down the call volume and the cost of building a detachment, housing for three individuals, vehicles, and ongoing operations and maintenance.”

There are fewer than 50 calls per year to the town, Foster said.

A group of justice officials along with Peter Clark, the Yukon RCMP’s commanding officer, met with Kluane First Nation Chief Mathieya Alatini in January to discuss her concerns about having an established police presence in the community.

But there are no plans to build a detachment there in any time soon, Foster said.

“We police it as best we can with the resources we have available.”

Southwick said she doesn’t blame the RCMP but rather the government for wanting to spend money on things like a $7-million outdoor sports complex in Whitehorse, while there are communities struggling to stay safe.

“We’ve been told that it’s only about $6 million to build and then the issue is staffing,” she said of a RCMP detachment in Burwash. “So why not divert some of that $7 million to make a community feel safe?”

“They just seem to completely forget about the Kluane region, like it just stops after Haines Junction. We’re pretty much on our own.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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