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Hub editorial: Is Hay River a safe community?

“Do I live in a safe community?”
The Town of Hay River could use more visibility from law enforcement as it puts together a social issues committee and contends with a seemingly growing drug problem in the community. NNSL file photo

“Do I live in a safe community?”

A simple question any citizen in any Canadian town should be able to answer introspectively for themselves by accessing raw and regularly reported statistics, and then connecting data points to reach a reasonable conclusion.

And yet in the Town of Hay River, the answer seems to be far less than obvious.

The RCMP and the municipality used to have monthly reports and presentations that were part of council meetings every month.

Those presentations offered statistics on the number of calls and types of crimes committed.

Being able to compare such figures from month to month or year to year is often helpful in determining if a community is safe from violence, theft or other harmful activities. It’s not as involved as citizen-driven Police Services Boards that municipalities commonly have in Southern Ontario, but it was at least something local residents could count on.

Yet at least since November, when fatal drug overdoses hit the community (not to mention other outrageous incidents like molotov cocktails repeatedly thrown at the same home or a shooting taking place in neighbouring Fort Smith) such statistics have been nowhere to be found in council’s monthly packages.

To get any information, reporters count on the blessings of the police to provide an advisory and/or residents affected by crime willing to speak on record.

To be sure, there is little doubt that the RCMP drops a line to the mayor, council and administration now and again and may even provide up-to-date statistics on paper.

The problem is that the public hasn’t seen those numbers in months and there’s next to no oversight from citizens.

What’s more, the RCMP detachment commander hasn’t visited/been invited (depending on who you ask) to a local government meeting since 2020, according to an email the Hub received from RCMP Insp. Barry Larocque earlier this month.

Instead, it’s been left to the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) in Yellowknife to issue a public advisory on Feb. 24 to point out that ‘Hey, unnamed South Slave community, you might have a drug problem on your hands.’

And even on that point we can’t get agreement.

Longtime residents, including those who watch the drug trade in broad daylight, and town councillors agree that it’s probably the worst situation they’ve ever seen. The police don’t use the term ‘drug crisis’ so therefore have no comment on the matter. The CPHO seems to take a middle ground where there could be a ‘drug crisis,’ but it all depends on one’s perspective.

This editorial space has complained about dwindling police presence at council before, pointing to the City of Yellowknife in the summer of 2020 when monthly reports suddenly stopped showing up in council packages and detachment inspectors were no longer talking to/being invited to council.

By all appearances the same thing appears to be happening here.

And yet having a regular public face from the RCMP to answer questions on the town’s drug trade is crucial now, especially as the town attempts to cobble together a social issues committee by summer to respond to the horrific impacts of drugs and those leaching off the vulnerable.

We remain hopeful that as the terms of reference are developed for the municipality’s new committee that it will lead to more visibility from law enforcement and better accountability to residents who want to see any and all illicit drug presence rooted out and extinguished.