MLAs are clashing over spending on police resources following an annual RCMP report that shows crime increasing in some areas of the Yukon.
The Yukon RCMP year-in-review document compares the prevalence of reported crimes across a variety of categories in the 2020/21 fiscal year to five years earlier in 2016/17.
The comparison shows the sharpest increase reported is drug trafficking offences. Reports of trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking rose 90 per cent, with 124 more reports in 2020/21 than five years previously.
The cocaine trade made up the vast majority of trafficking offences at 78 per cent of the reported offences. It was much more common than the next most prevalent drug category, opioids other than heroin, making up eight per cent of the total.
Along with the drug trafficking numbers, police tracked an increase in all categories of reported “crimes against persons” in a five-year comparison.
The five-year comparison between 2016/17 and 2020/21 shows 55 more sexual assaults reported for a 31 per cent increase.
There were 173 more “robbery offences” reported to police than five years ago. Criminal harassment, harassing communications and uttering threats are also tracked as “robbery offences.” The report states this category saw a 25 per cent increase when compared to 2016/17.
“Offences related to death,”also saw an increase. That term encompasses murders, attempted murders, arsons that show a disregard for human life and mischief that endangers life and child abandonment. Although the increase compared to five years ago totals 55 per cent, this represents five more of the listed offences in 2020/21 compared to 2016/17.
2017/18 saw more offences related to death than any other year of the past five with 21; the 2020/21 total was 14, the next highest of the past five years.
There were 15 more reported kidnappings, hostage takings, abductions or human trafficking offences last year than five years ago, representing a 65 per cent increase.
Reports of assault and related offences were up seven per cent compared to five years ago but down from 2019/20.
The interaction of police funding and the territory’s drug trade were discussed in the legislature. On April 19, Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers stated that the government’s focus since the declaration of the substance use emergency in January has been on harm reduction while he thinks it should shift to prevention, treatment and enforcement.
“Why hasn’t the government provided additional resources to the RCMP to ensure that those profiting from the sale and proliferation of these illegal drugs are held accountable?” Cathers asked.
Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee offered a reply detailing both the government’s expenditures on harm reduction as well as $1.8 million to support additional mental health and social services spending and almost $300,000 to bolster the RCMP’s response to the drug problem.
Yukon RCMP detachment commander Scott Sheppard said the territory’s increasing population and the pressure that creates is one of the factors behind the rise in some of the crime statistics.
“What we have definitely seen over the last five or so years has been a marked increase in drug trafficking. And with drug trafficking comes with its own culture of violence and intimidation, property crimes, and other related concerns, certainly the opioid crisis,” Sheppard added.
He said the Yukon RCMP has come up with a response to the opioid crisis internally as best as they can and were not given additional resources to do so. Sheppard added that he recognized the planning and budgeting that goes into providing more resources as well as the other priorities such as healthcare.
Sheppard said his discussion with First Nations and other communities has suggested that along with the deaths caused by opioids, drug trafficking has widespread negative impacts on quality of life. He said the RCMP is supportive of harm reduction but police must also be able to target traffickers and deter the drug trade.
A government briefing note provided to the News suggests the government plans an RCMP budget increase of $297,000 that would fund two additional officers for the Yukon RCMP’s Crime Reduction Unit (CRU).
The CRU was created in 2019 and tasked with addressing drug trafficking, property theft and organized crime. A separate document explains that officers for the CRU have been drawn from other parts of the Yukon RCMP, making them unavailable for other tasks. It also states that the Justice minister approved the funding for two additional RCMP officers in February, pending budget appropriations.
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