The owner of a downtown Whitehorse rooming house that was the subject of a police raid in late February says she wishes authorities had taken a more targeted approach to the search of the property and its occupants.
In an interview March 26, Marie-Pierre Leblanc Demers, who has owned and operated the house at 5051 Fifth Avenue since 2013, told the News that police went in without knowing how many rooms were in it or who lived there, information she could have easily provided.
The house was the subject of a police search on Feb. 28, an action that included officers from the Yukon RCMP crime reduction unit, the critical incident program and Safe Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) investigators.
According to an RCMP press release from March 2, police seized seized suspected cocaine, suspected crack cocaine, suspected fentanyl, drug paraphernalia and a “significant” amount of money from the home. Sixteen people were also arrested but ultimately released, and to date, no charges have been laid in relation to the incident.
Leblanc Demers said she was unaware there was drug activity going on at the property.
At the time, she said, there were seven tenants in the house who had rented rooms from her for anywhere between a year and a half to five years. However, she said she found out later that there had also been three people who were “squatting” at the property too, and whom she believes were the targets of the raid.
She claimed the squatters had threatened to harm the tenants not involved in the drug activity if they told anyone about what was going on, and although she had someone checking on the house once a week, that person was told the squatters were visitors.
Leblanc Demers also said that police only approached her after the fact to ask for a list of tenants and which rooms they were staying in.
She said she would have been willing to provide that information beforehand so that police could have targeted only the people relevant to the investigation and left the innocent tenants alone, some of whom are what she described as vulnerable people.
“That’s not fair for the other people because they’re not involved by that,” she said.
Leblanc Demers said she also could have provided investigators keys to the various rooms so they could enter and search without damaging the doors; instead, police kicked them all in, she claimed, and also punched holes in the walls and ruined furniture in order to search for drugs.
As well, police threw tear gas into the house during the raid to ensure no one remained inside before they entered, and broke several windows.
“After (the raid), the house was not livable because of course all the windows were broken, everything was torn apart, no door was able to close because they trashed all the doors,” she said. “We have keys, they would have been able to open all of the doors with keys.”
Leblanc Demers said she had to let go of all her tenants and, at the time of the interview, was in the process of refurbishing the property, which she described as having been in “good condition” before.
She estimated the total cost would be about $30,000.
While Leblanc Demers said she approves of cracking down on illicit drugs in the city, she said she would like to see better communication from authorities so that innocent people aren’t caught up in enforcement activities and properties aren’t damaged more than they need to be.
“They should be able to talk to the landlords and tell the landlords if something’s happening at their house,” she said.
A Yukon RCMP spokesperson declined to comment on the situation “as it may affect court proceedings.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org