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Proposed act finds local support

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Dec 08/06) - If people at a recent public meeting had their way, the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act (SCAN) would be passed.

Residents of the Deh Cho had a chance to voice their opinions about the proposed legislation at a meeting in Fort Simpson on Nov. 29.

"I think it's a good deal," said Marc Schmitz, the deputy mayor of Fort Liard.

Schmitz was one of the five people at the meeting including two representatives from Wrigley.

"I think anything is worth trying," said Robert Jacques, one of the residents from Wrigley.

The legislation has been introduced by the Justice Department as a way to deal with activities such as drug-dealing, bootlegging, prostitution and illegal gambling.

It would work by allowing community members to make confidential complaints to an investigator. The investigator would look into the complaints using video surveillance and interviews.

If evidence is gathered, residents of the building could be evicted either informally or formally using a Community Safety Order from the court, said Jeff Mackey, a senior policy advisor with the Department of Justice.

"It's really a community driven initiative," said MacKey.

The act was created because of increased public frustration in communities. Residents will be able to use the program to draw attention to long-standing problems, said Mackey.

"It's the people that everyone knows about in communities and people haven't been able to do much about to date," he said about whom the act targets. While working in partnership with other community organizations including the RCMP, SCAN would be run separately through the Department of Justice using two to four investigators.

It looks like a great idea, but Robert Jacques questioned how it will work in small communities.

Speaking as the chair of NWT Teacher's Association's committee for teachers in small communities, Jacques said teachers are often the only government representative in small communities. Unless there is a serious issue in a community, there is often no response from the RCMP, he said.

Response to a complaint under SCAN could come in a matter of days, said Mackey. Investigators would be flown into communities.

Jacques said he would like to see more focus on how the program could work with teachers and the community.

"I think it's a great idea, but I don't know how it will work in communities," Jacques said.

Whether or not the complaints would remain anonymous was the main concern in Fort Liard, said Marc Schmitz.

Being identified as the person who complained about someone is a real concern, said Const. Sigmund Janke.

People are often nervous to report crimes because they're afraid of having to be identified in court, he said.

People might be less apprehensive to make calls to SCAN, he said.

"I think it's an interesting initiative," said Janke.

The act still needs to be passed into legislation. If community consultations remain positive it could happen by the spring, said Mackey.