HOBBEMA — A crime-troubled First Nation south of Edmonton has voted to give community leaders the power to evict suspected gang members.
When ballots were counted Wednesday night, the result was 479 in favour and 369 against the proposed bylaw, which must still be ratified by the Department of Indian Affairs.
If that is done, it would mean any 25 residents of the 7,000-member Samson Cree band in Hobbema could apply to have someone legally removed from the reserve.
The plan to hold the vote was approved after the chief’s five-year-old grandson was killed by a gunshot in July while sleeping in his bedroom during a drive-by shooting, but it also reflects concern about ongoing gang violence.
Samson resident Roy Louis said people are fed up with crime, but there are also concerns that such evictions would mean gang members would simply move to one of the other three reserves in the Hobbema area.
“It is fine and dandy to have a bylaw to banish some of the gang members, but it has to be in sync with the other three nations,” Louis said.
About a dozen gangs have been fighting over the drug trade in Hobbema’s four First Nations, where more than half of the 14,000 residents are under 18 years old.
Drive-by shootings have been a problem since 2008, when a 23-month-old toddler was shot as she sat at the kitchen table eating supper. Asia Saddleback survived, but the bullet is permanently lodged between her liver and spine.
Since then there have been numerous other shootings.
In some cases, people have been killed or wounded. In others cases, gang members have riddled homes with bullets.
More than 42 RCMP are posted in the Hobbema area, one of the highest officer-to-population ratios in Canada, and Mounties say the crime rate is slowly improving.
Over the years, police and the community have tried different measures to reduce crime and gang activity, including a community task force, a gun amnesty and a cadet corps for young people.
Staff Sgt. Robin Alexander, second in command at the detachment, said the idea of banishing gang members has some support on the Samson reserve, but won’t in itself solve the problem.
He said improving community safety is a gradual process that includes parenting classes, addictions counselling, better street lighting and shutting derelict houses.
A similar bylaw was passed in 2009 by the Enoch First Nation just west of Edmonton.