Northern News Services
Police have caught four or five bootleggers over the past year, but that's only "the tip of the iceberg," according to Cpl. Craig Seafoot. Therefore, the RCMP have circulated notices in the community asking for residents to step forward with information.
"Our message to them was basically, 'Look, we're tired of the problems too, (but) we can't do it without your help,' " he explained.
Asked why community members may be reluctant to divulge information, Seafoot didn't hesitate in responding: "Retaliation."
"The next thing you know there's property damage or (the informant) is beat up during the night ... just like anything else, there are people calling them squealers," he said.
Joanne Deneron, an Acho Dene Koe councillor, hamlet councillor and former mayor, said it may very well take a drastic incident or a death before residents are up in arms.
"We've tried to deal with bootlegging problems for years and years ... it's just a sad situation," Deneron said, adding that the hamlet years ago offered a reward of around $250 for information, but it was only claimed once.
"What can we do other than try to encourage people to make a statement?"
Anonymous tips to the RCMP can sometimes lead to a vehicle being stopped for importation of alcohol. Excessive volumes of liquor are primarily transported from Fort Nelson, B.C., Seafoot said.
However, the penalty isn't usually as damaging as bootlegging, which requires a resident who witnessed the second-hand selling of booze to testify in court.
There is another hitch to catching a would-be bootlegger with importation of alcohol -- some of them stash it in the bush before crossing the border, frustrating the RCMP's attempts to charge them.
"Every time they need more booze, they just go down to the border, which is only an hour return trip, and then they bring back a couple bottles and sell it," said Seafoot.
The notice the RCMP circulated refers to alcohol-related problems such as drunken individuals yelling and swearing in the streets at night, empty and broken bottles in the streets and in people's yards, vandalism, and selling alcohol and drugs to children.
The few bootleggers who have been caught have drawn fines of $1,500 in justice of the peace court for a first offence. Second offences, heard before a territorial court judge, have resulted in fines as high as $6,000.
"It is a serious problem," Seafoot said.