A high-profile raid in Waswanipi gets locals talking about drugs and crime.
Some people said that the police had their guns drawn. Others even said that shots were fired. As the rumours circulated, however, it became clear that few in Waswanipi were certain of whether the police raid that took place on June 6 was even a drug bust or whether it was something else entirely.
Only a week-and-a-half later, on June 17, did the Waswanipi Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF) go public with its information about the raid, which took place at the Poplar Street residence of a suspect identified by the EEPF as Brandon Cooper Iserhoff Trapper.
EEPF Lieutenant Harry Charles stressed that though they expected there might be drugs involved, the raid on Trapper’s house was mainly about weapons.
“We seized a few firearms, a rifle, a shotgun and a .22,” said Lieutenant Charles. “He had a few ninja swords and some extendable batons – which are illegal, only police have them. Also, he had a lot of different kind of knives that he purchased down south.”
Having rifles and shotguns at home in a Cree community wouldn’t normally be cause for alarm. But Charles said the EEPF had already considered this suspect as a person of interest. And he emphasized that the EEPF had been warned that the guns were not necessarily kept for hunting purposes.
Charles said a member of the community alleged that Trapper was known for selling drugs. The informant told the EEPF that Trapper was keeping the guns to use against other people, and that this was especially a problem because he was in a house where there were children and Elders.
“The weapons inside the house were ready and meant for the police, if ever they came to the house,” Charles said he was told. “He kept them near his bed [and told others] that, one of these days if the police ever showed up, he’ll be ready for that. That is when we got the warrant for his arrest and to search the house.”
For that reason, the EEPF enlisted the support of the Surété de Québec in the raid. According to Waswanipi Youth Chief Freddy Dixon, their preparations were obvious.
Gathered near Trapper’s house, “There were many SQs and many police from Waswanipi,” Dixon said. “A half-hour later, that’s when the bust happened, and right behind my place, that’s where they caught him.”
Charles said the suspect did not try to fight the police.
“Once we arrived, he fled the scene,” Charles said. “We pursued him on foot and apprehended the suspect right beside the new arena complex. There was no sign of violence. I know that some people heard stories that the EEPF and SQ drew their pistols. That is not true, the officers never took out their pistols.”
Following his arrest, Trapper was taken to the police station, before being transferred that evening to the detention centre in Amos. The following week, he was released.
“The file was not complete,” said Charles. “We had to wait for [the Crown’s] file to be submitted for our file to be completed. Once the crown attorney verifies the file, that’s when they’re going to authorize us to issue another warrant for his arrest.”
At the moment, Trapper is free, though he has been given a series of conditions to abide by: he reports once a week to the police station, maintains an 11 pm-to-7 am curfew, and is not allowed to have any weapons in his home.
Asked to comment on what would happen if the EEPF were able to issue another warrant for Trapper’s arrest, Charles said he could not comment. However, Charles added that he did not expect a second raid to find any proof of drugs or other crime, saying he believed that if the subject was involved in any crime, he would be smart enough to hide it.
“That’s the feedback we got [from the informant], that he never keeps his stuff inside the house,” Charles said. “Maybe he gives it to his friends, to keep it someplace else. The subject had over $900 in his pocket when he was arrested, but we didn’t find any drugs in the house.”
A high-profile bust is enough to get people talking, but for many in Waswanipi, drug use and abuse is too commonplace to qualify as news.
“Each year the number of users goes up, especially the young ones,” said Youth Chief Dixon. He noted that drug use can begin in children as young as 10 years old, and that it becomes more common in those as young as 12.
“But it’s not just young people, it’s everybody,” Dixon stressed. “Almost everybody uses cocaine. You cannot force people to quit. It’s part of their shame, coming from Indian residential schools. People are trying to deal with their problems, but they’re trying to have fun at the same time. They want to numb their pain. It goes from generation to generation.”
Speaking for the opposite end of the generation spectrum, Irene Otter of the Waswanipi Elders’ Council said, “When we do Waswanipi clean-up day, you see little signs of drugs and alcohol here and there. We’re picking them up, and trying to tell people, ‘clean up your own yards.’ We see what’s going on.”
But Otter bristles at the idea that this is a problem specific to Waswanipi.
“We’re always looked at as the bad community because we’re on the road and easily accessible,” she said. “I’m not keen on that. You can’t throw everybody in the same boat. I know drugs are prevalent in all Cree communities.”
Because Otter has worked in drug-and-alcohol-abuse awareness as well as in suicide prevention, she said she has long been aware of the depth of the problems caused by drugs in Cree society. When she heard the news of the raid, Otter said, she was pleased.
“It’s about time they do something about it in this community. It’s not good to hide the things that are going on. Sweeping them under the carpet doesn’t help. I’m glad the police are trying to do their job. It’s the community’s responsibility too – you have to help out, if you want to better community.”
Part of the problem, said Dixon, is that people are insecure about seeking help.
“Even though we have a Cree Health Board, (people) are too shy, and they don’t have enough self-esteem to go there. They don’t believe that they can change.”
Because addiction is so hard to treat for precisely these reasons, it requires easily accessible services that can provide help to addicts as soon as they’re willing to seek it. However, such programs are limited in Waswanipi as in a lot of other communities, and Otter pointed at the absence of proper resources for dealing with addiction as exacerbating the problem.
“There’s one Alcoholics Anonymous meeting [per week] – we used to have Narcotics Anonymous, but funding was stopped, so it’s not ongoing. Sometimes the funding is a problem.”
When it comes to chasing drug crime, Lt. Charles agreed that Waswanipi is a harder community to police because of its proximity to Highway 113. “It’s an easy access. There are a lot of people coming in and out. It’s very difficult to check who’s coming in.”
At the same time, many in the community are unwilling to report crimes to the local police because they fear retribution, so Charles was happy to report the introduction of the new anonymous Crime Stoppers program, which will soon be operating across all the communities of Eeyou Istchee.
“If there’s anything suspicious, or if they know of drug dealers,” Charles said, “people can call a 1-800 number to make their complaints.” Working in partnership with Crime Stoppers, the EEPF will make its investigation and if the call results in charges being laid, the caller will be receive a reward.