The Yukon government plans to spend $340,000 to shut down drug houses, prostitution dens, booze cans and other illegal operations in the territory.
Under the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act, tabled in Yukon’s legislature this week, the territory can evict the lawbreakers and shut down the shops.
It also gives government power to investigate fortified buildings — like ‘biker bunkers’ with bars covering windows and doors — and order the fortifications removed.
Drugs and drug houses are old news in the Yukon, so why did it take so long to bring this legislation forward?
“Well, we weren’t in power before,” said Justice minister John Edzerza on Wednesday.
Currently RCMP can search locations and charge individuals, but not shut down properties, which allows operations to fester by simply replacing dealers or prostitutes.
This legislation is crafted to fill a gap in the system.
It’s triggered when a neighbour makes a confidential complaint to the Justice department.
First, the department does background checks on the property and shares information with RCMP.
Then investigators, armed with surveillance cameras, drop cars and other equipment stake out the property to see if the illegal activities are habitual and whether they are adversely affecting the community.
Because it’s a civil legislation, investigators only need to prove the illegal activity is probably happening.
It’s different than what’s needed with a criminal offence, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Next, the department approaches the landowner to try and resolve the problem informally. If that fails, the government can apply for a community safety order to shut down the property.
Yukon’s legislation mirrors similar acts that have cleaned up the streets in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Manitoba adopted the legislation in April 2002. The province received 919 complaints and shut down 143 illegal shops, according to stats from January.
Saskatchewan has enjoyed similar success with 305 complaints resulting in 69 evictions after the first year.
The plan is expected to pass because all parties supported it in the house when it was introduced last November.
The funding is part of the $2 million set aside in the 2006-07 Executive Council Office’s budget to implement the Yukon Substance Abuse Action Plan.
The $340,000 will go toward implementing the plan by hiring one full-time and one part-time investigator, said Edzerza.
“We’re probably looking to staff this position with a past police officer,” said deputy Justice minister Dennis Cooley.
“That person will have to know how to conduct an investigation, rules of evidence and procedure.”
It’s unknown how much the legislation will cost in the future.
While all parties agree the act is a good idea, New Democrats and Yukon Party officials are jostling for credit.
“It’s an NDP issue on many fronts,” said NDP leader Todd Hardy Wednesday. “Manitoba brought it in under an NDP government and Saskatchewan has followed suit, and I took it and made an issue of it up here.
“The Yukon Party didn’t like the fact that it was an NDP motion so they took it and rewrote it and, of course, I wasn’t going to block that; my goal was to see this in place to help communities.”
“All parties and all members of the legislature worked in collaboration with each other, and if (the NDP) want to take credit for it that’s fine,” Edzerza told reporters Wednesday.
But cabinet communications head Peter Carr noted, twice, the legislation was included in the Substance Abuse Action Plan long before the NDP brought it to the table.