Tuesday March 14, 2017

Indigenous communities across Canada move to banish drug dealers

Bobby Cameron says banishment can be used as one of several approaches to addressing drug abuse on reserves.

Bobby Cameron says banishment can be used as one of several approaches to addressing drug abuse on reserves. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

Listen 23:17

Read story transcript

The controversial tactic of banishment is catching on in Indigenous communities across Canada.

Fighting rampant drug use, advocates say the tool should be used against drug dealers.

Bobby Cameron, the regional chief for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, is among many prominent figures publicly endorsing the strategy.

He estimates in Saskatchewan alone, 10 First Nations communities have implemented a banishment policy for individuals suspected of dealing drugs.

"And there are many more who have begun the discussion."

Obedjiwan

The Atikamekw community of Obedjiwan, located about 600 kilometres north of Montreal, uses banishment. (Yoann Dénécé/Radio-Canada)

Trina Roache, the Atlantic correspondent for APTN National News, says it's difficult to tackle criminal behaviour in small communities because going to the authorities is risky. 

"People don't want to go forward because they're going to be labelled as a rat," Roache tells Anna Maria Tremonti.

"When [dealers] are charged, they come back, and sometimes the case can fall apart because there's that intimidation factor."

And Cameron says drug dealers and gangs on reserves are targeting children as young 10.

He goes on to explain that the terms of banishment vary between communities. But typically banishment would apply to individuals charged with drug dealing, and those who are banished may return to the community after a few years if they demonstrate rehabilitation.  

'Banishment is not new ... For hundreds of years, long before any government set foot on these ancestral lands — there was banishment.'  - Bobby Cameron

But Cameron stresses banishment is one tool among many that should be used in fighting drug abuse on reserves. 

He says resources for treatment, education about the impacts of addiction, and ownership of the Indigenous justice system are also crucial.

And communities that want to use banishment may meet legal hurdles. There are concerns the policy could be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But Hadley Friedland, a professor of law at the University of Alberta, says this may be an opportunity to refine the relationship between the Canadian legal system and Indigenous law.

"We'll start seeing successes, and it will be a great springboard for conversations about implementing Indigenous laws and making Indigenous communities safe."

"We need to look the other way as well, and say 'what have we created that makes drug dealers find First Nations such an enclave to go to?' We don't want First Nations carrying that load for of all Canadian society."

This segment was producer by The Current's Willow Smith and Sam Colbert. 

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.