Alcohol abuse is a rampant problem in Chisasibi, but the answer is more education and healing programs, not more action by police, says Samuel House, Chisasibi’s chief of police.

“Ninety-five per cent of our calls are alcohol-related,” said House. “I would suggest to have programs on the abuse of alcohol integrated into school, especially in the younger grades… Healing, too. Chisasibi is just beginning to have healing programs. The women’s centre is important, too.”

What the community shouldn’t do is ask police officers to apprehend Chisasibi residents when they haven’t committed a crime, House said in an interview. He was responding to comments made in the last issue of The Nation by Chief Charles Bobbish.

Bobbish said police don’t have enough power to stop alcohol abuse. “In our culture, when someone calls you to assist them you go without hesitation. But it’s not the case here. We have a hard time telling the police to do something because they say the law tells us we can’t do this,” said Bobbish.

“When I first became chief, the first thing I asked the police was: ‘Who is your boss?’… When they graduated, they were told, ‘Your boss is the law.”

But House said that at that first meeting, the chief also had another question: “What can we do to have total control over you?”

House said this question worried him. He said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms prevents police officers from arresting individuals simply because they are drunk, unless a crime has been committed. Before the Charter of Rights was adopted, police used to arrest drunk people in a procedure known as “preventive detention.” But House said this isn’t a good way to deal with alcohol abuse because it doesn’t deal with the roots of the problem. Besides, it’s now unconstitutional.

“These people can turn around and sue us for false arrest,” said House. “We’re not supposed to put anyone in jail unless they are charged with something or unless they are under investigation.”

Asked if the chief had ever requested that police intervene in a case, House said, “Yes, he asked us to intervene in cases which weren’t a police problem, more like a social problem.”

On the provincial and municipal levels, it is considered improper for politicians to intervene in police cases.
House said one thing the band can do to help police is adopt a highway code that makes it easier to go after drunk drivers. But even then, he said, constables can’t stop cars without reason to believe an offense has been committed.

Also, they can’t be stationed at the community’s roadblock to search cars for alcohol because the gate is outside Category IA land, which means it’s outside the jurisdiction of Chisasibi police. Police can stop drivers suspected of being drunk, but even in such cases their alcohol can’t lawfully be seized.