'No individual organization can deal with it.'
Substance abuse out of control: KRPF chief
KUUJJUAQ – Alcohol and drug abuse is "out of control" in Nunavik, Kativik Regional Police Force's acting chief Jobie Epoo told last week's meeting of regional councillors in Kuujjuaq.
Dealing with alcohol and drug abuse takes up 95 per cent of the police force's energy, draining resources and reducing effectiveness, Epoo said.
"It's such a big problem that no individual organization can deal with it," said Epoo at the KRG meeting, which was broadcast live on the Taqramiut Nipingat Inc. radio network.
Alcohol and drug abuse are linked to everything from domestic violence to child neglect, vandalism and increases in medevacs, Epoo said.
"It's affecting us in every single aspect of our lives," he said.
Epoo said the KRPF works with police in Montreal on drug and alcohol investigations.
But Epoo said the KRPF is no longer counting on help from UMECO, the aboriginal combined forces special enforcement unit that includes the RCMP, the Sûrété du Québec and native police forces.
Three years ago UMECO dismantled a criminal organization that distributed cannabis to 12 communities in Nunavik and Nunavut.
Epoo said UMECO no longer has "time to deal with us," although Lt. Lino Maurizio of UMECO, who was in Kuujjuaq this weekend, said the drug-fighting unit is still interested in working closely with the KRPF.
Epoo urged Nunavimmiut to inform the KRPF directly about dealing and bootlegging in their communities.
Overall, there has been a "significant increase" in crime throughout Nunavik, Epoo told the KRG councillors, with Salluit, Puvirnituq and Kuujjuaq racking up the greatest number of crimes in Nunavik in 2008.
During the first seven months of 2008, there have been 4,218 criminal files opened in Nunavik, compared to 7,584 for all of 2007 and 6,228 for all of 2006.
Epoo said rising crime levels are partly due to the money that flowed to Nunavimmiut from the Raglan Trust – up to $15,000 per adult in Salluit through a profit-sharing deal with the Xstrata Raglan nickel mine.
Crime statistics, tabled at the KRG meeting, show nearly twice as many criminal files and bylaw offences in Salluit by the end of July, 2008 than during the same period in 2007.
"With the money that was given to the communities by the Raglan Trust in Salluit, it was easy to see that it caused the police a lot more difficulties than in 2007," he said.
The number of firearms offenses recorded this year has already topped 2007 totals in some communities, with three police charters sent in to provide back-up.
"In three of our communities, our officers were shot at, and in one instance the airplane carrying more officers to assist was also shot at," Epoo noted.
Impaired driving offenses are also up, he said. To date this year there have been about two times as many drunk driving cases in Puvirnituq than during the entire year of 2007.
Speaking at the meeting, Joseph Annahatak, member of the KRG executive and mayor of Kangirsuk, singled out drug dealers and bootleggers as the main cause of crime in Nunavik.
He said they don't care about the social impact of their actions "as long as they make money."
But at the same time, some councillors said police don't do their jobs and are widely hated in their communities.
Other councillors said police often use excessive force and asked for video cameras in vehicles and police stations to record police behaviour.
The conduct of police in Kuujjuaq is under scrutiny following allegations of brutality against a woman who says a constable beat her with a nightstick and another man who maintains the same constable roughed him up.
At one point during his meeting with the councillors, a strained Epoo shut his eyes and rubbed his face with his hand as he listened to the discussion.
Epoo promised to send a letter to the Nunavik Police Association union reminding them not to use excessive force.
Epoo discussed various measures to improve relations with the communities, such as a new polar bear police mascot that will visit schools and special events.
Epoo said a pilot project to establish security committees in Puvirnituq and Kuujjuaq should also improve communication between these communities and police.
The committees could also be a place to evaluate complaints against police officers, Epoo suggested.
But KRG executive member Johnny Oovaut, a former police officer who is now the mayor of Quaqtaq, reminded Epoo that police forces should not investigate themselves.
Oovaut noted Quebec has a formal place to make complaints about police, the police ethics commission, whose web site can be consulted at http://www.deontologie-policiere.gouv.qc.ca/ index.php?id=12&L=1).
The Police Ethics Commissioner can receive and examine complaints against police officers and special constables who may have violated the Code of ethics of Quebec police officers.
The KRPF, intended to be an aboriginal police force, has 43 fully-trained officers and 20 still needing training. Only 17 are beneficiaries.