Concerned residents of Fort Chipewyan have formed a citizens patrol and are trying to impose a curfew to address several incidents of arson within the last two weeks that have people worried about public safety and criminal behaviour by youth in the community.
Wood Buffalo RCMP in Fort Chipewyan were called to investigate several fires this month that appeared to be suspicious in nature, including a house fire on June 6 that caused significant structural damage on Ladouceur Crescent.
According to RCMP, the investigation revealed several individuals had entered the abandoned property and lit a piece of furniture on fire, causing the flames to spread.
Edward Courtoreille, 19, has been arrested in relation to the incident and charged with arson. He is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 1.
Other related suspicious fire calls were received over a period of two days mid-last week. Police reported that small fires are being set by an unknown individual or individuals near structures in and around Fort Chip between midnight and 6:00 a.m.
No injuries have been reported as a result of the fires.
A community meeting was held last Friday in response. People from the Mikisew Cree First Nation packed Mamawi Hall along with teachers from the Athabasca Delta Community School, members of the Fort Chipewyan Fire Department, local business owners, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo councillors and employees, elders, the local RCMP and members from Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the local Métis.
Attendees reportedly gave a “resounding yes” to the creation of a citizens patrol beginning immediately last Friday night, along with the establishment of a curfew in the community and on both Doghead and Allison Bay reserves, according to a release from Mikisew.
Though no exact time has been mentioned for the curfew, complaints stem from youth roaming the community in the late hours of the morning.
“There is a high suspicion that the fires are being caused by children,” Mikisew Chief Steve Courtoreille said. “This is where our appeal is aiming, to parents of any suspected under-age children who may be out at all hours of the night leading to the cause of these unfortunate incidents.
“We are urging all parents to take some action and responsibility in ensuring that your child or children are home at a responsible hour and that you are aware of their whereabouts at all times,” he said on behalf of council.
The goal is to have parents enforce the curfew until it is made legal through a bylaw at the municipal level. Mikisew can establish a curfew for its reserves.
Other ideas presented at the community meeting included installing video surveillance cameras around town, hiring more bylaw officers and establishing parent support groups for dealing with problem youth, among others.
They also agreed to have more community meetings, more frequently, to address the challenges at hand.
RCMP taking ‘hard stance’ on trespassing
“From a police perspective, the RCMP encourages parents to ensure the whereabouts of their children after 6:00 p.m. and educate their children on what behaviours are appropriate, and if their kids are not home, to discuss with their children that kind of behaviour,” Sgt. Rodney Klenk of the Fort Chipewyan RCMP told The Journal.
He also said the RCMP would be strictly enforcing existing laws, including offenses of trespassing by night.
“RCMP will be looking at laying charges if people are found in people’s yards between 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.,” he said. “If we do get complaints, we will charge people for being in people’s yards without permission. We’ll take a hard stance on that.”
The RCMP continue to investigate the incidents and are asking people with information to report the crime to the Wood Buffalo RCMP at (780) 788-4000.