Small First Nation mulls becoming latest community to banish drug dealers
Councillor says drug use has led to violence, prostitution and theft in Sipekne'katik First Nation
A Nova Scotia band councillor who says his Indigenous community is being hurt by drug abuse wants to create a law to banish drug dealers.
Alex MacDonald said cocaine, heroin and synthetic drugs are routinely abused on Sipekne'katik First Nation, about 70 kilometres north of Halifax. That's led to violence, prostitution and theft as people try to get money for more drugs, said MacDonald.
"It's only a small community, there's only 1,400 people living on the reserve," he said. "To have 26 [drug] dealers, it's ridiculous, it's terrible."
He's pushing the council to hold a community referendum to ask band members to vote on the idea of forcing people who are convicted or charged with dealing drugs to leave Sipekne'katik.
"We have to step up as a chief and council. We have to step up to put a stop to it, we can no longer be in government if we're not going to support and help the community get well."
The banishment wouldn't be forever, MacDonald said. The band would need to set some kind of time limit on how long a person would be banned from the community.
It could take 50 days or more to get the referendum going, but MacDonald wants to start the process as soon as possible.
Bottle of gas thrown at truck
MacDonald has been outspoken about the need to tackle what he describes as rampant drug abuse. He believes that is why his truck was set on fire earlier this year.
"It was a Pepsi bottle wrapped with a rag on it full of gas and then they threw it at my truck from the road," said MacDonald.
"I used the snow to start putting the fire out, by that time my wife came out with the fire extinguisher."
Other First Nations using banishment
An Atikamekw First Nation in Quebec has already adopted the practice of banishment. In a 2016 referendum, residents of Obedjiwan approved a proposal to ban drug dealers from the community for five years. Obedjiwan has already expelled a suspected cocaine dealer.
It used provisions under the Indian Act that allows a First Nation to decided who who can live on its territory.
Three other people in the community could be forced to leave if they're found guilty of drug-related offences in provincial court.
And they aren't the first. Norway House First Nation in Manitoba adopted a similar bylaw in 2009, and the issue has also made headlines in Saskatchewan where several First Nations have made a push to banish drug dealers.
Room under the law, expert says
There's room under the law for banishment, according to Dalhousie University assistant law professor Naiomi Metallic, an expert in Indigenous and constitutional law.
"Other governments are allowed to infringe on other people's rights as long as it's done in sort of a balanced way, they have a reasonable objective and they're not doing it in a way that's completely trampling on someone's rights," she said.
Metallic said many provinces have legislation that aims to target problem residences. In Nova Scotia, it's called the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act and it allows people to file complaints about properties where drugs are being sold or prostitution is taking place.
Under the act, "property owners are held accountable for threatening or disturbing activities that regularly take place on their property," says a posting on the Nova Scotia Justice Department's website. While it's possible the occupant of a property can be ordered to leave the property, it doesn't appear to have the power to force the person to move out of the community.
"Often, provincial law does not apply ... on reserve, so there's a gap in law there," said Metallic.
That coupled with the fact many Indigenous communities don't have a police department on the reserve means community members are looking to their leadership to come up with a solution.
Metallic said no one wants to toss someone out of the community, but there are legitimate safety concerns that need to be dealt with and banishment could be one way to do that.
Banishment could also infringe on charter rights and procedural fairness, Metallic said, but she believes those problems can be addressed.
"There are ways to ensure that they are not acting on rumours and that there will be a way to ensure that a person has due process," she said.
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