The drug dealers were here, but they’re gone now, said Capital Hotel co-owner Maurice Byblow, while sitting in its bar on Monday afternoon.
The only problem is, when the dealers left in August, they took more than half of Byblow’s business with them.
“My business has been severely hurt by their absence, but I’m not concerned because I prefer the different crowd and the different image.”
Byblow has co-owned the Main Street bar for nine years. His partners in the venture include Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang, Deborah Fulmer and Ken Eby. All four sit as directors of the Whitehorse Cattle Co. Ltd., a holding company that owns the Capital Hotel.
Byblow has fond memories of the Capital at its best, which he says was about five years ago.
“The place was full and the music was loud and people were dancing and everybody was having a good time,” he said.
“I’m sure there were still drugs present, but you didn’t see them; they were discreet.”
Then sometime in the last two or three years, an outside group infiltrated the Whitehorse drug trade and took over.
“They were organized; they put resident dealers in bars,” said Byblow.
“There was one person here virtually on a shift rotation doing his thing, but you could never nail it.”
Last Wednesday, The News reported on the Capital’s history of drug use and drug trafficking.
The information was uncovered through a probe of the territory’s liquor laws and how those laws are enforced at local bars.
The News found that in 2003 undercover RCMP officers purchased 8-balls of cocaine at the bar during a sting operation, which nabbed three dealers operating out of the Capital.
“The Capital Hotel was clearly one of the places rightly targeted during that operation,” reads a ruling by deputy territorial court judge Cunliffe Barnett.
Then, RCMP officers on a walkthrough found an individual “selling cocaine in (the) back area of bar” on June 23, 2004, according to documents obtained by The News through ATIPP.
On September 14, 2003, liquor inspectors found “a problem with a patron doing drugs at a table by the south end of the bar.”
And on December 21 there were “two males standing on the back step smoking marijuana,” according to those same documents.
Then in July 2006, a group of 50 concerned citizens gathered outside the Capital Hotel and forced a known drug dealer to leave the premises.
After that vigilante action, Byblow posted red signs in his bar proclaiming it a DFZ: a drug-free zone.
But the Capital’s documented history of drug trafficking was going on for at least three years before that.
Why did it take Byblow so long to start cleaning things up?
“I think everybody was saying everything they could, but it was falling on deaf ears.
“You could ask a drug dealer to leave, but then a new one would fly in from Toronto and be walking your floor the next day.”
So what’s changed today?
“I said they couldn’t come in.”
About 18 months ago, Byblow spent $10,000 installing surveillance cameras in the bar’s front rooms, walk-in cooler and back hallways.
The 16 cameras are hooked up to a closed-circuit TV in the building’s basement, where every move made in the bar can be watched, said Byblow.
There are cameras everywhere, except inside the bathrooms.
So that’s where the dealers went.
“People come in, they buy a drink, saunter off into the bathroom – no cameras in the bathroom, what have you got for evidence?” he explained.
So Byblow spent the time studying patterns and identifying dealers, he said.
If there’s any suspicious activity, he ousts them from the bar.
And, so far, he hasn’t had any problems.
“I’ve been fortunate in that respect, for the people I’ve been able to identify and deal with, I think they respected my position. I think they accepted that I was serious and they had no desire to argue with me.”
The Capital’s staff has also changed 100 per cent in the past year, said Byblow.
“Now I’m back hands-on.”
And although he says the bar has cured its drug problem, the Yukon’s addiction continues.
“I think we have a very serious problem and the problem is an excess and abundance of drug dealing, trafficking and using in this town that’s not been adequately addressed.
“The unfortunate thing is that it’s not improving, in my view,” said Byblow.
“I’ve improved things here because I’ve asked them to leave.”