For the second time in as many nights, a leaderless group of citizens descended on Whitehorse’s Capital Hotel on Thursday to face off against violent drug dealers.
That followed a confrontation Wednesday night that saw the group, about 50-strong, arrive at the Capital, walk inside, crowd around a man they identified as a cocaine dealer, and ask him to leave.
“It all happened peacefully,” said Capital owner Maurice Byblow in an interview Friday. “They basically gave him a corridor to walk out, and he left.”
Thursday night saw the group return to the bar, hang outside to make ensure there was no drug presence, said Byblow.
The group has been assembled through word of mouth, following the senseless violence that erupted at Saturday’s Dustball dance, said one activist in an interview Friday.
The activist asked to remain anonymous, citing concerns for his safety.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said of the dance violence.
Three people were sent to hospital after the dance. Two BC men were arrested and charged with assault. Police are still investigating the other two assaults.
Last year, a throng of citizens in Inuvik banded together to run a group of drug dealers out of town.
That victory against drugs, violence and fear has inspired Whitehorse citizens to stand together and try to kick the city’s growing scourge of dealers out, said the activist.
“Innocent people who aren’t doing coke are getting busted up by the coke dealers,” he said.
“There’s been so much violence that a bunch of people said that it’s got to stop. Someone’s going to get killed.”
The group that assembled on Wednesday and Thursday “wasn’t like a violent mob,” said the activist.
“But there were people that were armed with knives, because these guys are dangerous.”
Most activists present at the Capital were young people, though the group included parents and people with families, he added.
Over the past year, a group of drug dealers from Outside has slowly crept into the downtown area and set up shop, said Byblow.
“The unfortunate part of that is that there has been growing violence,” he said.
Many, including the police, know who the dealers are.
People fear their presence on downtown streets and in bars, said the activist.
“It’s very obvious who they are,” he said. “They’re driving around in $40,000 trucks and they’re dressing like they’re in a rap video and they don’t work.”
Most of the dealers are in their 20s and early 30s and are from Outside, he said.
“They’re the kind of people who are out for blood all the time; they just feel they are above the law and can do anything they want,” the activist said.
“They’ll go out to the bar and bust somebody’s head for no reason.”
The biggest worry is that innocent people not involved in drugs are now being “pulled into the crossfire,” said Byblow.
The dealers seem to be selling a wide range of narcotics, he added.
“From what I can garner from people I talk to, we’re talking ecstasy, we’re talking crack, there is a hint there may be some crystal meth, which makes me very nervous.”
Though the Capital Hotel has been the scene of the showdown between citizens and dealers, Byblow is adamant the problem is “a downtown thing,” that has infected the streets and bars.
He has instituted a zero-tolerance drug policy at the bar as well as installing 16 security cameras.
Still, Whitehorse’s streets and bars are increasingly governed by fear, said the activist.
“I know friends who won’t go out to bars anymore; they won’t go to dances, because they know these guys are going to be there,” he said.
After an anonymous tip that the group intended to face off with drug dealers downtown, more than 10 extra RCMP officers were called between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Wednesday, to assist police already on duty, said Cpl. Leanne Lind.
All of the officers were put on patrol in downtown Whitehorse, she said.
No one was arrested.
The group of activists hopes to grow in strength.
But doing so may prove difficult, said the activist, as no one wants to be seen as the group’s leader.
“You put your neck out there but how far do you put it out?” he said.
“These guys are organized and they’re connected to even bigger people down South.
“If someone really sticks their neck out as the leader, then you’ve got a bunch of people flying up from down South knocking on your door and you’re dead.”
A peaceful rally is planned at Rotary Peace Park in Whitehorse for July 29th to bring people together in a show of resistance to violence, said the activist.
“Whitehorse is not that big of a town,” he said.
“I think we could do what they did in Inuvik. It’s just getting enough people.
“When we’re together as a group, we’re not afraid of the drug dealers.”