Enterprise mayor calls for more resources at Alberta border COVID-19 checkpoint to stop drugs

The mayor of Enterprise, N.W.T., said he would like to see more resources put into the N.W.T. and Alberta border COVID-19 checkpoint to limit the spread of illicit drugs into the territory. 

RCMP say drug searches at checkpoint could invite legal issues

An N.W.T. transportation officer stops vehicles coming in and out of Enterprise, N.W.T, to let them know of a travel ban for non-residents into the territory. The mayor of Enterprise says he would like to see more support at the border to limit the flow of illicit drugs into the territory. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

The mayor of Enterprise, N.W.T., said he would like to see more resources put into monitoring the N.W.T. and Alberta border COVID-19 checkpoint to limit the spread of illicit drugs into the territory.

Enterprise is the first community north of Alberta on Highway 1.

Mayor Craig McMaster first heard about the drug traffickers through media reports that said they would bring their products from High Level, Alta., to popular day-use areas in the N.W.T. like at Alexandra Falls, which is just 10 kilometres away from Enterprise. 

"It [the border checkpoint] is our weakest link," McMaster told CBC. "I would endorse putting more staff down there to support that effort." 

McMaster's comments come after Sgt. Geoffrey Peters of the Fort Smith RCMP, told town council at a May 19 meeting that three men were arrested in April and charged with possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose. One of the men was also charged with possessing a controlled substance, which RCMP say was related to drug trafficking. 

I don't understand how they're [traffickers] getting here.- Sergeant Geoffrey Peters, Fort Smith RCMP 

These men were from Hay River, N.W.T., and Alberta, Peters said, and they are being "actively targeted for drug initiatives" by police. 

"I don't understand how they're getting here," Peters told the Fort Smith council. "I don't know the information that they're feeding people at the border, but it's not consistent with what could be going on."  

People from Fort Smith also play a role, Peters said. They would meet with traffickers in Hay River, exchange products, and drive back to Fort Smith where the drugs would be sold. 

"We've got a good handle on who these [drug traffickers] are and who they are tied to, it's just a matter of getting some information through intelligence — through people in the community or through good, old-fashioned police work — and trying to charge them and get them out of our community." 

Ross Potter, Hay River's chief of protective services, referred comment on the drug trafficking issue to the RCMP.  

Dennis Delaronde, detachment commander for the High Level RCMP, said he did not hear about this specific case in the Northwest Territories. Their local detachment, he continued, conducts patrols in order to try and identify drug trafficking activity before it reaches the territories.

The High Level RCMP are also in regular contact with larger divisions in Calgary and Edmonton, Delaronde continued, who will inform them of any drug traffickers they have identified. 

An officer conducts a roadside check just outside of Enterprise on Highway 1. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

"There are individuals that their primary purpose is to get illegal drugs into the territory, but we work with detachments in the territories to do what we can to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the territory," he told CBC.

Delaronde said he does not believe the pandemic has had any effect on how drug traffickers are moving to and from the territory. 

"Remember, it's illegal and the pandemic isn't going to influence their decision-making," he said. 

In a news release Wednesday, N.W.T. RCMP addressed border security and alleged drug trafficking. In the release, RCMP Superintendent Jeff Christie said N.W.T. RCMP work closely with with other agencies on border concerns.

"On the topic of cross-border alleged drug trafficking activity, N.W.T. RCMP continues to investigate all criminal activity reported and conduct drug investigations, whether for a short or long term," Christie stated. 

"Recently for example, RCMP conducted an investigation in Inuvik that led to charges for a person, who had used falsified documents in entering the N.W.T.... That cooperation was also recently reflected in the drug charges announced May 1, of three men from Edmonton, attempting to cross the N.W.T. border."

Checkpoint made little difference to trafficking during pandemic  

The territorial government has shut down most of its major highways into the territory during the coronavirus pandemic except for Highway 1, which connects the territory to Alberta. 

The government has put in place a checkstop that was recently moved from outside Enterprise to the Alberta border to better enforce the territory's public health order and isolation requirements. 

I think [the checkpoint] made it more difficult for them, but I don't see there being a huge change in what's going on. - Sgt. Geoffrey Peters, Fort Smith RCMP

Peters said the checkpoint made little difference to how drugs were brought into the territory. 

"I think it [the checkpoint] made it more difficult for them, but I don't see there being a huge change in what's going on," Peters said. 

McMaster said RCMP might have "better control" over how drug traffickers move into the territory now that the border checkpoint has been moved from outside of Enterprise to the N.W.T.-Alberta border. 

Drug trafficking top priority for Fort Smith RCMP

Fort Smith town councillor Chris Westwell said it was "disappointing" to see the return of organized crime and he wanted to know if the RCMP had plans to stop individuals known to police at the border. 

"If it reached the point to be readily identified by the RCMP, it means it has gotten worse," he said.

Sgt. Geoffrey Peters with the RCMP says calls related to violence from drug trafficking are some of the most concerning for his detachment. He is vowing to make drug trafficking one of the detachment's top priorities. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Peters said there could be legal issues with increased vehicle inspections to deter the drug trade, with, for example, RCMP drug dog inspections. 

Violent incidents related to drug trafficking are some of the most worrisome calls Fort Smith RCMP receives, Peters said. 

"People say, well, it's drug dealers going after drug dealers, but as we all know, that kind of violence — somebody driving around with a loaded handgun — in our town is a huge concern," he said.

He said Fort Smith RCMP will continue to make drug trafficking one of their top priorities throughout the year.