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A new act for public safety?

Erika Sherk
Northern News Services

Erika Sherk (Dec 04/06) - Hay Riverites had the chance to make their thoughts known on a piece of community legislation geared to shutting down operations like bootleggers, crack houses, and hookers last week.

Residents and local RCMP attending a consultation on the proposed Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act (SCAN), were generally supportive of the act but brought up several concerns and questions.

If passed, SCAN would be an amped up version of Neighbourhood Watch. Citizens could complain to a SCAN investigator if they thought there was something fishy going on at a particular property - illegal behaviour such as the ones listed above. All complaints would be confidential.

The investigator would begin surveillance of the property, in-person or using surveillance cameras. If there was evidence that illegal activity was ongoing at the property, then the investigator would work with the landlord to have the tenant evicted. If the house was owned by the person carrying on illegal activities, it could eventually be taken away.

"The goal is to stop the activities," said Jeff Mackey, senior policy advisor with the NWT Department of justice.

Police investigations focus on individuals, he said, but SCAN targets properties instead to shut down operations that might involve several people.

The legislation is already in place in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Nova Scotia will become operational in the next month, and Yukon passed the legislation just a few days ago.

One question brought up in Hay River was the number of investigators the NWT would need. Manitoba has had three since the program began there. Guenther Laube, NWT resource development impacts advisor, suggested the NWT might have four - two in Yellowknife, one in Hay River, and one in Inuvik.

"They will be flexible to move around," he said. "They'll go into other communities as needed."

Constable Art Loupret of the Hay River RCMP said four would not be nearly enough.

"We'd need at least eight" investigators, he said.

The work load the investigators will face all comes down to the people who live in the NWT, said Laube.

"It's up to the community," he said. "If we never get a complaint no action will be taken."

Hay River resident Michele Stephens was concerned that having the SCAN investigators operating in partnership with the police would make more work for RCMP officers.

"I'd hate to see any more put on these guys' plates," she said.

In SCAN provinces, RCMP have reported having less work as a result of the new legislation, said Mackey, as it cuts down on the number of calls they have to deal with.

Mackey said that the program would address a common small town problem.

"Everybody in town knows he's selling booze out his back window," he said of a fictional bootlegger, "so why the hell can't we stop it?"

"The idea seems really sound, I agree with it 100 per cent," said Hay River's Wayne Pringle, though he did have one concern. It sounds a bit like "Big Brother is watching. How far can it go to interfere with Joe Citizen?"

It wouldn't be much different than people watching each other now, said Laube.

"Only they'd be able to do something about it."

Pringle said in a later interview that the best part of the program would be the informality of it. It would be effective, he said, because it bypasses the courts, saving time and administration.

Kevin Wallington, Hay River town councillor and youth centre coordinator, spoke in favour of the legislation. It is a solution to a problem we've been facing. I think it's a fantastic idea.," he said