Short-lived relief
Iqaluit happy with drug bust, but new dealers are already in place

by James Hrynyshyn
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 27/98) - Not everyone in Iqaluit locks their doors when they pop out on an errand, but few would think of leaving the keys in their snowmachine while they run into the convenience store for a minute.

"It's not like in Kimmirut," said one of the snowmobile enthusiasts gathered to watch the annual Toonik Tyme race between the two communities last weekend. "You can't leave the machine running -- it'll be stolen."

Last month's massive drug bust in Iqaluit did little to change the level of trust in the town. Some people still leave their doors unlocked, but you won't find many snowmachines running unattended either.

The climax of what had been a two-year investigation involving police in several provinces and the Northwest Territories was welcomed broadly by the town.

The town council formally thanked Iqaluit's RCMP officers. MLA Ed Picco publicly voiced his constituents relief, and individual officers, even those who had little to do with the operation, were considered minor heroes.

"Some people came into the office and thanked us the counter," said Const. Lisa Ford, who, although she had only a minor role in the bust, is now on the receiving end of an improved relationship between Iqaluit's residents and its police force. "I noted a positive change."

The RCMP's public image isn't the only beneficiary of the bust. After police arrested 30 suspected drug dealers -- three-quarters of them Iqaluit or Pangnirtung residents, along with a handful of southerners -- residents in the southwest corner of town reported a marked decline in late-night traffic.

Jeff Hopkins, who works at the Grind and Brew coffee shop, said the neighborhood did get noticeably quiet immediately after the arrests. Gone is the constant sound of snowmachines and taxis carrying potential customers to the suspects, most of whom are still in jail awaiting trial.

But the relief didn't last long, said Hopkins. Within a couple of weeks, the tell-tale traffic began to pick up again, although at different addresses.

A resident of the neighborhood who asked that her name not be used "because I don't want my tires slashed," confirmed that the drug bust did put an end to the all-night comings and goings in her part of town.

She, too, however, has heard reports that new dealers are in place to meet the demand for drugs. And Hopkins was skeptical about the whole operation, suggesting the police have accomplished little when it comes to the real drug problem in Iqaluit.

"It was only marijuana and hash, and one guy who had coke," he said. "It didn't hurt anyone."

RCMP Staff Sgt. Glenn Wolfenden agreed that the arrests won't have a long-term effect on drug abuse in the region. And alcohol consumption, a more serious concern for those worried about family violence, may have even increased in the days following the bust.

"It was going to dry up the business for a while but someone else will step in ... it's the way things are," he said. But Wolfenden pointed out that it wasn't just the dictates of the Criminal Code and his superior officers that demand his detachment do something about a well-known drug ring. The community as a whole was insisting they act, he said.

Ford said she remembers when she was transferred to Iqaluit last August, she was greeted with demands to crack down on the dealers. "People said, 'The drug problem is so bad, why don't you do something about it?'"

Wolfenden also warned against putting too much emphasis on the drugs themselves. Police seized only 20 grams of cocaine and half a kilograms of marijuana -- a sizable quantity for a Northern town, but nowhere near a major haul in the national picture.

Instead, he pointed to the more than $2 million worth of property seized under the proceeds-of-crime laws from the man police believe to be at the centre of the drug ring, Claude Caza. That sends a message of it's own, Wolfenden said.

The proceeds-of-crime law "is probably one of the best pieces of legislation passed in years," he said. "It hits them where it hurts."

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