FEBRUARY 28, 2018 – QUESTION 187-18(3):

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, at the recent NWT Association of Communities meeting with Hay River, the Minister of Housing was questioned by one of Hay River’s representatives about the issue of drug dealers and bootleggers living in Housing units. Her response actually prompted an editorial which appeared in today’s Hub newspaper. The editorial echoed the opinions of others who brought this to my attention.

People have concerns about this. One of the concerns is about fairness. People don’t like coming home from their second job, which they need so they can afford to pay their mortgage or their rent, and seeing another brand new Ski-Doo parked in front of a housing unit when they know that the person who owns that Ski-Doo and lives in that house declares no income and pays next to nothing for rent despite having a steady income from the sales of drugs.

The other obvious concern is about community safety. People don’t like the government providing safe spaces for illicit activities which harm the community. I have been told by some that they see this as the government is complicit. For my first question, I just want some clarification: what is the Housing Corporation’s policy regarding bootlegging and drug dealing in housing units by tenants? By trafficking, I mean all aspects of trafficking –  storage, packaging, etc. – not just the physical exchange of money for drugs. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation.

HON. CAROLINE COCHRANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Our current policy on bootlegging or selling drugs, trafficking, is that we do follow the Residential Tenancies Act, which says that no one shall commit an illegal act or permit another person to do so. That is in our lease that people sign, that they are not allowed to do that. If that someone is reported to the local housing organization that they suspect their neighbour is selling drugs or bootlegging and is causing a disturbance, the local housing organization will go over and ask the person who the complaint is against to make sure they don’t disturb their neighbours. That is what we do.

If the person is convicted, then we can file a remove tenancy order to the rental officer to look for eviction. That is our current policy, although I must state that we are in the middle of revising all policies. That is one that I am looking at seriously. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SIMPSON: It is good to hear they are looking at it seriously. Just to be clear: does the Minister consider it a problem that the residents of the NWT and the Housing Corporation pay to house active drug dealers and bootleggers?

HON. CAROLINE COCHRANE: Absolutely. I consider it a problem that we have people who are maybe selling drugs or maybe bootlegging in our housing units. We have children in those units. We have family members. It is a concern. However, I am bound by the law, and as so, we have to respect the law. The law does specify what exactly we can do when we look at evictions. Although I would love to be able to go and kick out drug dealers, suspected, or every bootlegger, I have to abide the law, which says that I have to have proof.

MR. SIMPSON: I understand that. I should have said say people who are assumed to be drug dealers – I know that there is a policy when they are convicted. The Minister admitted it is a problem. Because it is a problem, does the Housing Corporation, as a landlord and a publicly funded entity, have a responsibility to ensure that it is not a providing a safe space for these illicit activities to occur?

HON. CAROLINE COCHRANE: We do look at it. We do take responsibility. We recognize that we need to make our housing units as safe as possible for all residents of the Northwest Territories. We can’t act on speculation, though. We need to recognize that people have human rights. We get a lot of people who complain about their neighbours. We can’t just jump on every complaint. We need proof. I do hear the community, and I do hear that it is an issue. I am encouraging people to actually step forward and actually bring it to our attention, but also call the RCMP.

We are bound by the law. Like I said, one of the factors that we had within the law, within the Residential Tenancy Act, says that we just can’t walk into someone’s unit if we hear that they are selling drugs or bootlegging. We need to give them 24 hours’ notice, and that notice has to be in writing and it has to specify the purpose of our entry. My suspicion, I may be wrong, if I give a bootlegger or drug dealer 24 hours’ written notice that I am coming in to see if they are bootlegging or selling drugs, there will be no drugs or no alcohol there in the 24 hours. We take responsibility, but we also need to abide by the law.

MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I understand that there are legal constraints the corporation is bound by. I know this isn’t an easy issue, and I know there are issues related to children in these houses, too. If there is a mother and father looking after children and they are dealing drugs, what do you do? Do you just kick them all out? The children are victims in that situation, as well. I know this isn’t an easy issue, and I know the Minister has said they are looking at all the policies. Can she give us some insight into what they are looking at as solutions to this issue? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. CAROLINE COCHRANE: When I talked to the first question and was answering about what our policies are, we do have a policy that says that if someone is convicted of a criminal offence, the local housing organization can — and specify “can,” not “shall” — can terminate that one person and ask for the other family members to be able to stay. “Can” is not good enough for me in our policy renewal.

We are looking at it within a gender-based analysis, which means: how does that affect people? When I look at the gender-based analysis within the Residential Tenancies Act, currently, it only states that we can ask one party to leave if there is an emergency protection order in place, a peace bond, or a protection order. Often, those things aren’t in place for people who are in those kinds of situations.

I will share a story. I had a phone call, actually, from a woman in a small community who had concerns that an elder, one of her relatives, their grandchild was living with the elder. The grandchild was selling drugs. The person phoned me and they wanted me to kick out the grandchild, but they didn’t want the grandmother kicked out. They didn’t want their elder kicked out. I didn’t want the elder kicked. I can understand, being a grandparent and the things that sometimes we might put up with with our children. I am not saying it is okay. It is not okay. Sometimes we make bad choices to protect our children because the consequences to them would be dear.

We are looking at it within a gender-based analysis. We are looking at: can we change our current policy so that, if someone is convicted, it will not be a “can” but it will be a “shall”,† that if the other person is not convicted, that person and their children will be allowed to reside in the unit. Only those convicted will be evicted. That is one thing I am doing.

I really encourage people: please step up. I can’t do this alone. Please report. If you see drug dealers or bootleggers, call the RCMP. They do have the means to be able to investigate. We want them off the streets. We want them out of your communities, but I need your help in doing this. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

† NOTE: edited based on conversation with the Minister