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Ex-con brought North by RCMP

Serge LeClerc speaks about his experiences to Sahtu communities

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Norman Wells (Nov 26/01) - After RCMP Const. Harvey Pierrot heard a speaker at a police function in Regina he knew he had to get that guy to talk in the North.

NNSL Photo

Serge LeClerc speaks to community members in Norman Wells. - Dawn Ostrem/NNSL photo

Pierrot, originally from Fort Good Hope and now working at the Norman Wells detachment, easily talked Cpl. Wayne Norris into organizing it. Norris and Pierrot are two of nearly 30 aboriginal RCMP officers out of about 160 in the NWT. They grew up here.

Norris said he had initial reservations because the guy was a southerner, even though he is part Cree.

Those reservations were washed away by the applause that rained down on Serge LeClerc in community after community when he toured the territory for National Addictions Awareness Week.

"You don't need to be a nuclear scientist to figure out we got a problem here," he said, referring to the affects of alcoholism. "We have 10-year-old kids hanging themselves in clothes closets instead of enjoying what is supposed to be the best times of their lives.

"Now, if you are aboriginal, times that by 10."

LeClerc spat out alarming statistics on suicide, rape, drugs and drinking, money spent on beer advertisements and the amount of violence kids see on TV alone -- not to mention in the living rooms of houses in communities such as Fort Good Hope, Tulita and Deline.

He mixed that with what he called his "credentials."

"I'm a product of rape," he said. "My mother was 14-years-old when she gave birth to me in an abandoned building."

LeClerc said he had a happy childhood in a poor community in Toronto until he was eight. That is when he was taken away from his mother and put in a residential training school.

"They took me away from her and in the charge of the state and by the time I was nine I had my jaw broke for the first time ... with a sawed off goalie stick," he bellowed from the front of a packed legion hall in Norman Wells.

He was locked in broom closets, ran away and ate from garbage cans. He then got involved in organized crime and sold booze and drugs by the time he was 15.

"I stabbed my first man by the time I was 10."

By the time LeClerc was 30 he had spent 21 years in jail. He was granted a federal pardon in February 2000.

"He was good, I like that he was real," said a teenage girl in Norman Wells after LeClerc spoke and community members milled around he and the RCMP officers that organized the event. Many said they wanted him to come back after each session.

"I loved it and I hope it hits the young people," said one woman. "Sometimes it has to hurt to help."

Some of LeClerc's words were controversial. He expressed his opinion without holding back behind the lines of political correctness.

He blamed the free-spirited 1960s for dangerous attitudes on drugs and sex that filtered down to the current youth generation.

He cited as a fact that aboriginal people have an immune system not able to handle alcohol like people with European ancestries. He likened it to other diseases such as small pox and the flu, which wiped out many native communities.

"An alcoholic will produce a child with a genetic disposition to alcoholism," he said. "We might as well, in every aboriginal community, take a cup of strychnine and a cup of alcohol ... and say drink them both because they are equally as bad."

But, he admitted he is always hard on aboriginal communities and band chiefs do not like him.

"I'm sick and tired of hearing people say, 'yeah but I live in the great white North, kids can Ski Doo, hunt, fish ... kids don't want to do that," he said loudly and to the point. "They wanna hang out with other kids, talk and flirt.

"Shut the damn TVs off and have some family time ... Let's get our schools open, not only in the day, but at night and on the weekends," he added. "It is not just a police, parenting, kid, aboriginal problem -- it is a community problem.

"If you don't stick your money into your kids you are going to lose them."

LeClerc also travelled to Yellowknife, Hay River, Inuvik, Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk, Fort Resolution and Rae Edzo.

The new division commander of the RCMP in the NWT, Supt. Everett Summerfield, attended the Sahtu leg of LeClerc's trip.

"It was a common sense revolution to address these problems," he said on the plane trip back to Yellowknife with LeClerc, Norris and addictions counsellor Harold Cook, who would like LeClerc, who is now a full-time counsellor, to come back North and help train counsellors here.

"We (the RCMP) need to continue to be proactive to find solutions, long-term solutions. He is just telling it like it is and sometimes that is all people need to be told," Summerfield added.

The RCMP received sponsorship for most of LeClerc's travel costs and spent between $7,000 to $10,000, mainly to offset his lost wages as a head of counselling services at military-type academy in Ontario for troubled youth.

Norris and Pierrot said if LeClerc can touch at least one kid with his words, it was all worth it.