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Mounting criticism for Fort Smith RCMP

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Jan 08/07) - Many people in Fort Smith have problems with and distrust of the RCMP.

It was standing room only as about 70 people jammed into council chambers for a Jan. 4 public meeting.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Francois Paulette makes a point during a Jan. 4 public meeting on policing in Fort Smith. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Concerns were raised about slow response times by the RCMP, lack of communication, and continuing problems with drug trafficking, bootlegging, vandalism and other criminal activity.

Taxi driver Cathy Lepine told of several instances in which mounties were extremely slow to respond to her calls in the early-morning hours, including when she witnessed a business being broken into.

Lepine said, when a constable did arrive, she was told he had to take a shower before responding. In another instance, she said she literally picked up a drunken man off the street. "I handled him myself, because I've given up on the constables."

Yves Leguerrier told of calling the RCMP about a woman being beaten on the street in front of his home. Leguerrier claimed he was told by the dispatch centre in Yellowknife, "Leave it for 10 minutes and see what happens."

Chief Supt. Pat McCloskey, the RCMP's commanding officer in the NWT, said such a response is unacceptable, noting employees at the dispatch centre have no authority to decide which calls warrant a response.

Ken Laviolette said it appears the RCMP only responds to certain calls by the "upper class" of society.

McCloskey said, if that is the case, it would be "deplorable."

Fred Daniels, a Fort Smith town councillor, also accused the RCMP of not stopping some senior "pillars of the community" when they are driving impaired.

Daniels said it appears turning 65 in Fort Smith means getting the right to drink and drive.

It was not all criticism for the police.

Sheila Sauteur-Chadwick, a social work supervisor, said the RCMP response time is very fast. "We get respectful service right away," she noted.

McCloskey, who was already planning to retire from the RCMP the day after the meeting, called for the community to offer more help to police.

"If the community is not ready to work with us, we can't accomplish a lot," he said.

McCloskey suggested Fort Smith consider forming a community advisory committee to help the police, noting such a group has been successful in Yellowknife.

Cpl. Grant Payne, the acting sergeant at the Fort Smith detachment, admitted more trust needs to be created. "Once that trust is there, we'll start to see results."

Francois Paulette, of Smith's Landing First Nation, suggested an elders' council might help offenders and their families.

The First Nations' way is not to punish, he said. "It's reconciliation. It's renewal."

Currently, the Fort Smith detachment is short a sergeant and a constable. At full staffing, it would have a sergeant, corporal and seven constables.

McCloskey said he is confident the vacancies will be filled by April or May.

The outgoing NWT commander said he will write a report and meet personally with his replacement about Fort Smith's concerns.