Striking new signs in Skidegate are sending out a strong message to drug dealers in that community – you are not welcome here.
The village’s “concerned citizens against drug use” group recently put up half a dozen signs in prominent spots along the roadside and on the community hall, as part of a new effort to crack down on drug dealing.
Constable Jay Wessel of the Queen Charlotte RCMP calls the drug problem in Skidegate “substantial”.
“Cocaine is the big one,” he said, “and marijuana is huge, like everywhere on the islands.”
The signs are the result of public pressure for action against the drug problem.
“Every time we had a public meeting, people would say ‘something needs to be done,'” said Barbara Stevens, part of the concerned citizens group. Local businesses donated the materials and freight, and volunteers provided the labour.
“It was a real team effort,” she said.
The messages on the signs are not subtle, and they are not meant to be: “WHO KILLED MY RELATIVE WITH DRUGS?” asks one of them, accusingly.
“Some signs are pretty harsh,” said Amanda Reid-Stevens, a spokesperson for the group, “but drug dealing is pretty harsh.”
The signs are just one step, part of a bigger plan to curtail drug use on island.
“It’s a big problem,” Ms Reid-Stevens said, “not just here but in every community on Haida Gwaii, and right across the country. It’s very serious, it leads to awful things.”
The RCMP is also involved, in a supporting role. “We’re proud of the community,” said Const. Wessel, “and we’ll assist wherever we can.”
Const. Wessel thinks that the signs will have a positive effect. They will catch people’s attention, he said, including off-islanders coming to the community to sell drugs.
“It gives out the message, ‘you’re not welcome here.'”
Even though it’s an isolated community, there is “ample opportunity” to bring in illicit items, he said. By ferry, fishboat, and plane, drugs keep on pouring in to the islands.
“We can’t check everybodyÂ… that’s why this kind of community effort is so important,” he said. The RCMP already works with the band council, requesting their permission to be on reserve land. But Const. Wessel was very clear that this particular initiative comes straight from the community.
“We want to make it clear that this community won’t stand for drug dealing,” said Ms Reid-Stevens. However, they are not targeting drug users – just the people who are providing them. It’s a very sensitive issue, she added.
And what happens if the warnings are ignored? The Skidegate Band Council recently voted “overwhelmingly” in support of a motion to create a banishment bylaw, said Ms Reid Stevens. Drug dealers would be given a warning by the band council, and if they didn’t stop, they could be banished from the community for up to one year. After a year was up, they would be given a hearing.
“We’re determined to keep at this,” said Ms Reid-Stevens. “We’re standing strong against this battle.”
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