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MLAs consider anti-crack house law

Jason Unrau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 01/06) - Crack houses might be a thing of the past if the territorial government proceeds with legislation that could allow residents to help remove drug dens from their neighbourhoods.

"I want this to be the bug spray for those cockroaches," said Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins, who has pushed the government to look at similar legislation enacted in other provinces and territories.

Known as the Safe Communities and Neighbourhoods Act and already in effect in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Yukon, the law is designed to target and shut down residential and commercial buildings that are used to commit crimes.

Still in the early stages, the legislation would allow citizens to make complaints about suspected drug dens. If, after an investigation, they are deemed valid, a "community safety order" could be issued and evictions and potential lock-downs of properties could follow.

Hawkins said the act would "dovetail" with the criminal code and Justice Minister Brendan Bell does not foresee any insurmountable conflicts with personal rights. "We don't think this will come into conflict with the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms)," said Bell.

"I'm not saying nobody is complaining that their rights are being infringed but so far it hasn't been ruled un-constitutional.I will say that infringing the rights of known drug dealers peddling drugs to our children is not going to hurt my feelings."

Though police in the North are conducting investigations on suspected crack houses and drug dealers, it often takes months to mount a case. With safe communities legislation, dealers may not be charged criminally but their activities in a particular area could be brought to a halt.

"If the legislation comes to pass, the government would create a separate unit within the justice department which would respond to complaints," said Rick Roy, RCMP Criminal Operations Officer for the NWT.

"Our role would be to support this broader initiative. We would have a memorandum of understanding established for the sharing of information back and forth." Roy said that the legislation has been a positive tool in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The information gathered for the purpose of shutting down drug dens and evicting those operating them can be used in parallel criminal investigations. "If we can have such an agency deal with people dealing at street level who are often more visible, we can deploy our resource to investigate the higher level suppliers," said Roy. Bell said two rounds of public consultation on the concept and model for an NWT version of the act is set to get underway and then the crafting of the legislation could follow.