Tlicho, Akaitcho look to airport scanners to thwart black market bootlegging

Tlicho, Akaitcho look to airport scanners  to thwart black market bootlegging
Air Tindi loads up passengers on the runway in Whati. Tlicho chiefs along with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation are looking to have the company install a scanner to prevent bootleggers from bringing in alcohol illegally.Photo: Meagan Wohlberg.

Fly-in communities in the Tlicho and Akaitcho could be working together to put a damper on bootlegging through an airport scanner for Air Tindi flights, starting this fall with Lutsel K’e.

“I don’t think Lutsel K’e is any different in how it’s affected than any other small communities,” said Lutsel K’e RCMP Cpl. Jesse Gilbert, currently working with Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) on the project.

“That said, they do have a unique opportunity being that it’s a fly-in community without road access.”

Though the airport scanner wouldn’t cover all avenues to the dry community, as Great Slave Lake makes it accessible by boat during the summer and snowmobile during winter, Gilbert said freeze-up and break-up limit the community to air travel, presenting an opportunity to stem the tide of bootlegging.

That’s why they’re trying to beat break-up and get the scanner in place by Oct. 1.

The LKDFN senior administrative officer working with Gilbert on the project said the scanner will hopefully address an ongoing issue in the community.

“I’ve been in Lutsel K’e now for just under a year,” Graeme Drew said. “I’ve been to over 40 public meetings and at almost every – if not every – public meeting, the issue of alcohol and its abuse in the community comes up.”

That rings true for former resident Elizabeth Boucher, currently a contract employee at the LKDFN band office, who flies to the community for work from her home in Kelowna, BC.

“I’ve moved away from Lutsel K’e. I made that choice to move away from the community because I wanted a better life for myself,“ Boucher said. “And in the past six years, coming and going out of Lutsel K’e, I’ve noticed a big difference with alcoholism. I can see it’s gotten worse.”

Other Northern fly-in communities would be able to make use of the scanners, as well, said Drew, who recently petitioned a room full of Tlicho chiefs and councillors to share the costs.

“We’re thinking it’s about $200,000 for a one-year pilot,” he told The Journal. “That’s a combination of about $60,000 for the scanner itself, including shipping and installation and setup, and then the balance is to retain the security company and to support the cost of ground staff at Air Tindi.”

The proposal is to split that cost four ways among Lutsel K’e, Whati, Gameti and Wekweeti.

“I want to support this, because last year in this community there was an accident,” said Wekweeti Chief Johnny Arrowmaker, referring to an alcohol death involving a woman in her twenties.

“Right from the start, I was there, because before I became the chief in the community I was employed also as a volunteer fire chief. So when the accident happened, I was there all the way, even supporting the RCMP. You see something like that (happen) to a community member, it affects the whole community.”

It’s difficult to say how much liquor the black market brings, but Gilbert said they might be able to gauge their success by measuring other crime statistics.

“The hope is that you could reduce the other crimes that are committed like domestic violence,” he said.

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