TRYING TO kick bootleggers out of the Nass Valley is difficult work but governments, health care groups and police are working together on the problem with some success.
Lisims/Nass Valley RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Donovan Tait talked about this to Terrace Chamber of Commerce members at their monthly luncheon and said he wanted to share some of the challenges faced in the Nass Aug. 23.
“There is no place to buy liquor legally in the Nass,” he said, adding that there are no statistics about how much liquor gets there from Terrace but he would say most of it. “A lot of liquor flows down Hwy 113 to the Nass.”
With seven officers to police the Nass Valley, the RCMP’s effectiveness of what it can do is very limited so he has reached out to people.
He credited the village governments, matriarchs and residents with spearheading several events to combat the illegal liquor trade in the Nass.
In March, Kincolith village councillors and young people marched around the village with signs to “Take Back the Village” from the bootleggers and drug dealers. Elders and RCMP members marched with them in support.
In July, the New Aiyansh Village Government and police delivered “problem property notices” at homes of known bootleggers and drug dealers “in the spirit of healing and communication,” the police announced at that time.
Young people took part as well.
From his 17 years in the RCMP, which has involved being in the drug unit, plainclothes, and crime reduction, Tait applied his drug expertise to alcohol issues in the valley, he said.
Since he transferred to the Nass in November 2011, nine search warrants have been executed on known bootleggers, he said.
“The first one was shocking what was in there; firearms, drugs, all sorts of things,” he said.
“The residence did go into an area fashioned like a beer and wine store. You could walk in and buy just about anything for twice the price.”
As a result of the search warrants, he’s heard that alcohol is getting harder to come by in the Nass.
But enforcement can be ineffective as prosecutors are busy and even if police make a case and get a search warrant, lawyers can attack the validity of the search warrant, he said. At the end of the day, because it’s a Liquor Act offence, the culprit is looking at a fine – no one is going to jail, said Tait.
Those who sell liquor illegally know when their regular buyers will have money, such as when social assistance is given out each month, he said.
Illegal alcohol purchases are done with cash so there’s no record of it and police can’t track the transaction like they could with credit or debit, he said. Troubling things have happened in the Nisga’a nation because of alcohol coming from Terrace, he said.
People will get paid social assistance and then pay double or triple the price of alcohol here – a case of beer can cost $50 in Kincolith – and their kids will go without a proper meal or clothing, he added. There are no rules for how much a liquor outlet can sell to a person, said Tait.
“It is shocking, so we rely on the good judgement and morals of folks who sell the liquor,” he said, adding that the police do not want to interfere with business interests or tell business owners what they can and can’t do.
A pickup truck full of cases of liquor is something concerned citizens could call the police about, he added.
“That would be considered in my world suspicious,” said Tait, referring to a vehicle full of liquor. However, police might pull over a vehicle, but there’s nothing to say it’s illegal to carry a large amount of alcohol – because of the distance from the Nass to Terrace, people don’t come down here often for supplies so they will stock up on items, including liquor, when they are here.
Since alcohol is a physical addiction, those who have developed a dependency on it will have withdrawal symptoms if they quit and even if they make the choice to stop drinking, they can’t, he said.
Police have arrested people who know they need help and say so, but someone two doors down might be selling alcohol, said Tait.
“These folks have to want help and engage in getting help,” he said. There is no long-term treatment centre in the Nass.