The Downtown Residents Association is applauding a group of young people that confronted drug dealers in Whitehorse last week.
And the group is hoping the resulting publicity will ratchet up pressure on the Yukon government to enforce the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act.
“We’re really supporting the youth demonstration,” said association president John Pattimore at a news conference Monday.
“We called this to show support for the youth,” added association board member, and local reporter, Roxanne Livingstone.
“They gathered to send a message that drug dealers are not welcome, and that’s a message we endorse,” said Livingstone at the conference, held near a well-known drug house on Wheeler Street.
“We don’t necessarily endorse the baseball bats that were part of it, but we do endorse community members taking action to make a statement.”
Last Wednesday and Thursday, about 50 people, most of them young, walked into the Capital Hotel in Whitehorse, identified an alleged cocaine dealer and asked for him to leave.
One activist confirmed some were armed with knives in an interview last week.
More than 10 extra police officers were placed on duty to patrol downtown streets during the protest, but no arrests were made.
The protest followed the Dustball dance on July 15th, where three people were taken to hospital following brutal fights.
One charge has been laid stemming from one of the incidents, said Whitehorse RCMP Sgt. Guy Rook on Tuesday.
Eight investigators are working on the file to sort through a lot of evidence and information, and that will dictate further charges, he said.
Some concerned residents say violent outbursts like the Dustball dance fights are the result of a turf war between local and Outside drug dealers.
And many are wondering aloud if the RCMP is doing, or can do, enough.
“Over the past number of months, and perhaps even up to the past year, there seems to have been an infiltration of people in the drug industry from Outside,” said Capital Hotel owner Maurice Byblow, in an interview last week.
The dealers have “infiltrated the local market,” he said.
“The unfortunate part of that is there has been growing violence.”
A doctrine of fear now rules downtown Whitehorse streets.
One man, who attended the dance, now fears for his life.
He asked to remain anonymous.
“I can’t stay at my house anymore,” he said, at Monday’s news conference. “I haven’t stayed there since the dance.”
At the event, an unconscious man was repeatedly kicked by a group of attackers, and another person received CPR, he said.
Rook would not confirm whether police performed CPR at the scene.
“It’s too early to provide information as to what happened,” he said.
“We need witness evidence.”
The quickest way to crack down on drugs and drug violence is to enforce the safer communities act, which passed legislative approval in May, said Pattimore.
That means opening an office, hiring two investigators and a registrar.
The Yukon Justice department told the residents association it would finish the hires by September 1st, said Livingstone.
But the group is now being told the office will open in October, she said.
“There are always excuses why things have to be delayed in government,” said Livingstone.
“No excuses. Get this thing going to prevent violence in Whitehorse. We want the Justice minister to put the pressure on his bureaucrats.”
Drug houses, brothels, drinking refuges and other problematic properties that meet certain criteria can be closed down once a safer communities office is opened, said Lesley Carberry, director of crime prevention and policing with Yukon’s Justice department.
But until two full-time investigators and a registrar are hired, no complaints or information on drug houses are being processed, she said.
“We’re certainly feeling the public pressure and would very much like to be responding,” said Carberry.
“But, we know that if we don’t set this up properly from the beginning, that’s very problematic.”
Advertisements for the investigators’ and registrar’s positions are planned for the newspapers this week, she said.
And interviews will likely take place by early September although it is not yet known when they will be hired, she said.
“We know the minute we open the doors we’re going to be flooded with complaints,” she said.
“We’ve worked (this through) quite quickly, in government terms.”
In Manitoba, similar legislation adopted in 2002 has seen 143 properties or operations closed down.
Saskatchewan passed a comparable law recently and has seen 69 property evictions.
Calls for the office to open are growing amid frustrations with police and their handling of drugs and related violence.
Some Whitehorse residents say the Mounties are doing too little to curb drugs and violence.
Others feel their hands are tied.
“Maybe they aren’t doing quite enough, and maybe the justice system hasn’t been working quite the way it should without the safer communities legislation,” said Pattimore.
The RCMP need more help, he added.
Others say the RCMP has been limited by too many rules protecting alleged drug dealers.
“We can’t put the onus for this problem on the RCMP,” said Downtown Residents Association board member Mike Laforett.
“They’re burdened by a belt full of tools and a book full of rules, and they have to look after the rights of the individual.”
The unidentified man who lives in fear feels it’s “obvious police aren’t doing something.”
Well-known drug dealers hang out at the 202 Motor Inn and Blue Moon Saloon and are not arrested, he said.
Officials from the 202 denied there are drug dealers in the bar.
“Last year we cleaned everybody out,” said manager Eddy Ng.
“All the people we know (are) doing the drug, we bar them from here.”
Once the safer communities investigators hit the streets, the residents association plans to provide tools to people to help them gather information, said Pattimore.
That could include a booklet to take down information, and a tip sheet on what to look for, he said.
“The information (citizens) get needs to be ramped up quite a bit,” said Pattimore.
“We citizens need to start keeping a log book of what we see: licence plates, activity levels, digital photos.”
The residents association is urging citizens and local businesses to attend a peace rally opposing drug violence Saturday, in the early afternoon, at Rotary Peace Park.
“The law belongs in the hands of the people,” said Livingstone.
“Bravo to the community members who want to make a statement, and if it involves 50 people showing up in front of a bar to make a statement, bravo to that.
“Yes to action,” said Livingstone.