The mayor of a remote northern Saskatchewan community troubled by high crime rates is asking the province to hire more public safety investigators and give them greater powers to crack down on houses where drugs or sex are sold.

Bobby Woods said it's becoming harder to deal with the activities and effects of the drug and sex trades in Buffalo Narrows, which is 500 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

The province employs a number of investigators to enforce the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act (SCAN), but Woods said only a handful operate in northern communities and more are needed.

Under the law, passed in 2004, SCAN investigators have the power to seize properties and evict people proven to be involved with illegal activity.

However, the act is not criminal legislation. Rather, it's a streamlined process to apply provincial livability bylaws to address public safety problems.

Signs of illegal activity

The province of Saskatchewan said the following are common signs of illegal activity.

  • Frequent visitors at all times of the day and night.
  • Frequent late night activity.
  • Windows blackened or curtains always drawn.
  • Visitors with expensive vehicles.
  • Unfriendly people who appear to be secretive about their activities.
  • People watching cars suspiciously as they pass by.
  • Extensive investment in home security.
  • Strange odours coming from the house or garbage.
  • Garbage that contains numerous bottles and containers, particularly chemical containers.
  • Putting garbage out in another neighbour's collection area.

The province said that taken alone, "any of these activities or signs may not necessarily mean that drug dealing, drug producing, substance abuse, prostitution or any variety of other illegal activities are occurring on a property."

However, frequent signs of such activities  — or a combination of them — may indicate a problem.

Source: Government of Saskatchewan

The province said evictions are a "last resort" only pursued in cases where tenants are extremely unco-operative.

Woods said SCAN investigators have been easy for drug dealers in Buffalo Narrows to spot, prompting the dealers to simply move on from a property or otherwise alter their tactics to work around them.

The investigators do show up and track activity at problem homes, Woods said, but under the legislation they must ask permission to physically go onto a property to check it out.

Also, neighbours' fear of retribution by dealers and pimps causes them to stay silent, he said.

"A lot of times they're denied [permission] because people don't want to get involved because of the fear that's out there," Woods said. "The drug dealers continue to, I guess, thrive," he added.

"These people know that they're being watched, and they have their own surveillances, these drug dealers. They have cameras set up and everything else, but the SCAN, they have their hands tied," Woods said.

SCAN Director David Horn admits working in the North is challenging and told CBC News that it can be difficult to gain people's co-operation.

Horn said even though calls to SCAN's telephone tip line are kept strictly confidential, people are still hesitant to come forward.

He noted that two additional investigators are being hired to work in northern areas of the province.