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Kervin’s Corner: warning to on-reserve bootleggers, drug dealers is tough but fair

North Island reserve’s initiative could alleviate the ongoing problem.

It made local, provincial and even national headlines.

“There will be no tolerance for dealers and bootleggers. You will immediately be banned from our community,” a January 9, 2018 community notice the Port Hardy-area Gwa’sala – Nakwaxda’wx first nation stated.

Now, the same community chose to follow-up last Monday, June 4, 2018 on its hardline promise of banishing violators from Tsulquate reserve.

What was an issue initially handled by Chief and Council sprouted into a tri-council matter. They decided to invite the Elder’s and Youth Council to the decision-making process.

This recent development was an effort to curb drug and alcohol abuse among Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw youth. What’s more, many of the youth are in vigorous support of this decision to make their community healthier. In fact, youth are encouraged to report any drug dealers or bootleggers actively breaking the law – illegally selling to the community – while also having complete anonymity in police reports.

So far, according to reports two persons living on the reserve have received eviction notices which were in effect immediately upon serving the papers.

In a region that is second only to the downtown eastside in the city of Vancouver for its drug and alcohol use, the hope is of course that this kind of initiative will alleviate the ongoing problem.

It’s one thing to give a warning, but it’s another to actually send out eviction notices and follow through. Bravo. So while it may seem harsh that some people are out of a home, think of the impacts they’ve had on the community’s youth.

It’s not the first time for this kind of action to occur either. Many like-minded reserves wrote a section into their band government’s housing policy to ensure this sort of issue is addressed should it come up. For example, the Siksika First Nation banished an alleged drug dealer last year and signed off on what is known as a band council resolution. This is much like a municipal bylaw – legally binding and, more importantly, enforceable by police.

In some cases, a reviewed housing policy isn’t even needed. Some bands hold the right to banish a member for any reason – in this case, revoking band membership – so long as the chief councillor and councillors have quorum to do so. However, there still needs to be a justifiable reason, especially if it’s challenged in court or appealed through the band government or Indigenous Services Canada (formerly Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada).

What we’re waiting to see now is whether there were any issues actually enforcing the eviction notice.

Local RCMP were of course involved in the process – from spearheading the investigations to serving the papers alongside Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw leadership. Besides that, it seems that this harsh alternative measure has changed the tone in the community – a tone of healthier living without drugs. It’s also worth noting that it’s a progressive measure. Suspected drug dealers and bootleggers are given several warnings to stop. If they choose not to heed those warnings, they are then banished in accordance to the resolution.

In my opinion, this is one of many options in the community’s toolbox to address the drug and alcohol issue. If there were resources for a treatment centre (which there are – just waiting there to be tapped into, mind you), further education on addiction, and a higher involvement of First Nations in the justice system, we’d find it’d work wonders. It’s an issue that needs multiple approaches, so banishment is just one of those.

Even more, if the Port Hardy Mayor and Council chose to fund drug and alcohol initiatives, say like a local treatment centre, and split the costs with Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw, then it’s entirely in the realm of possibility that we’d have a healthier, drug-free community. But Mayor and Council chose to spend millions of dollars on other projects. I guess a drug-free community isn’t so much a top priority.

There is another issue to address – appealing the banishment. Banished persons could potentially find remediation through the Canadian courts, circumventing the appeal process that these band governments have in place. There could be huge repercussions to the band government if courts found that such a banishment violated human rights. In the end, however, it’s almost like ripping a bandaid off a wound – it needs to be done regardless, so one may as well do it quickly. That way, real healing can take place – not just for Tsulquate reserve, but for Port Hardy too.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

* The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Black Press or the North Island Gazette. If you have a different view, we encourage you to write to us to contribute to the discussion.

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