'It's disturbing for a community of 800, especially the crack cocaine.'

New flights boon to Sanikiluaq drug smugglers

By JANE GEORGE

Drugs such as crack cocaine, along with illegal alcohol, have been pouring into Sanikiluaq since April 1, when Kivalliq Air started a new scheduled air service from Winnipeg.

Before April 1, the Government of Nunavut chartered Kivalliq Air's planes to carry patients in and out of Sanikiluaq for medical treatment. Then, all bags were searched regularly in Winnipeg.

But when Kivalliq Air launched a scheduled air service April 1, on a 16-seater, twin-engine Beech aircraft, security checks on passenger luggage came to a halt.

That's when the quantity of drugs and alcohol now flooding into Sanikiluaq began to increase, police say.

Alerted by a tip from the public, police got lucky July 29, when they seized 509 grams of marijuana wrapped in plastic, 1.4 grams of crack cocaine in aluminum foil and two mickeys of rum from a woman returning to Sanikiluaq from Winnipeg on a Kivalliq Air flight.

"It's disturbing for a community of 800, especially the crack cocaine," said Cpl. Paul Robinson of the Sanikiluaq RCMP detachment.

The drugs and booze were found in carry-on luggage. A search of the woman's home later turned up more illegal alcohol.

The street value of the seizure is estimated at about $30,000, making it the largest haul to date in Sanikiluaq, where pot sells for $60 a gram. It was the first time police in Sanikiluaq have seized crack cocaine, known for its highly addictive qualities.

The drugs and alcohol enter Sankiluaq mainly via Winnipeg flights, because passengers who fly to the community via Montreal's Trudeau airport must go through a stiff security check.

But in Winnipeg, Kivalliq Air flights leave from a separate terminal where there is no airport security system.

And now that Kivalliq Air provides scheduled, rather than chartered, service to the community, medical travel clients are subject to fewer controls. This means the airline can't search passengers' bags or bring in drug-sniffing dogs, as they did in the past.

Penny Triggs, vice-president of Kivalliq Air, said airline staff may only search passengers if they are suspected of carrying dangerous items, such as weapons.

Drug searches aren't legal unless a search warrant has been obtained beforehand.

This also applies to other security procedures regularly carried out at other Canadian airports, where security officers are only allowed to search for items that may not be carried on aircraft, such as guns, liquids and knives.

Trigg said Kivalliq Air regularly sends the RCMP lists of passengers on its flights and calls with information if they see anything suspicious.

"We would like to help. But about the only way we can help is to alert the RCMP," said Triggs, calling the explosion of drug and alcohol trafficking "difficult" and an "unfortunate problem that all the communities are facing."

Triggs suggested that the solution to improve security could be for the Government of Nunavut to pay for on-site security officers. These security officers might discourage drugs and alcohol from being carried on flights.

However, providing pre-flight security checks isn't part of the Kivalliq Air's contract with the GN, Triggs said.

Drugs and alcohol also arrive in Sanikiluaq by mail from Montreal and by air cargo.

"It's going to come in somehow, but we need help," Cst. Robinson said.

Sanikiluaq is coping with increasing amount of drugs and booze and growing numbers of addicted residents, he said.

"It's sad, really, the amount of people who are dependent on drugs like marijuana in this community. It's expensive and there are a lot of people here who are living below the poverty line, and unfortunately a lot of money that could be going to the food and clothing for children is going for drugs," Robinson said.

Alcohol gets smuggled into Sanikiluaq regularly, and its abuse leaves to the "darker side" of life in the community.

"That's the problem that we face every day," Robinson said.

As it stands now, the only way police can carry out searches for drugs and alcohol is after receiving tips from the public, which can be used to support search warrant requests.

"We can't just do it randomly," Robinson said.

Sarassie Sala, 36, will appear in court in Sanikiluaq on September 29 to face charges of possession and possession for the purposes of trafficking laid in connection with the July 29 seizure.

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