Illegal drugs, ‘other activities,’ fly north as regional flights unscreened at YZF

Mackenzie Delta MLA George Nerysoo calls for better security measures

Mackenzie Delta MLA George Nerysoo expressed concerns about bringing drugs on flights through Yellowknife to Inuvik and Norman Wells. (Image courtesy of Assembly Livestream.)

“We have a large number of drugs and other activities heading north through Yellowknife. Is there any measure the airport can take to improve security?”

Mackenzie Delta MLA George Nerysoo raised this question to the airport committee in a public briefing on Thursday, held by the NWT Legislative Assembly.

“At this point, those flights aren’t getting screened and even if those flights are screened, there’s limited detection for drugs,” Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Steve Loutitt responded.

Loutitt said he would bring it forward to the Deputy Minister of Justice, but screenings are governed by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and the RCMP.

The topic quickly became overshadowed by the infamous polar bear display in the airport.

For more than a decade, Yellowknives Dene First Nation has been requesting a display that can better represent the Chief Drygeese territory, where the airport is located.

MLA Kieron Testart for Range Lake asked for an update on the progress of replacing the bear.

“We’re well aware of the polar bear, I’ve been told anecdotally that it is the most photographed thing in the Northwest Territories,” said Loutitt.

“We don’t want to give that up. There are polar bears in certain parts of the Northwest Territories and being a territorial airport, we recognize that.”

“But we do want to work to find something that is more culturally representative of this area as well,” Loutitt added.

YZF Regional Airport Manager Randy Straker said that a preliminary sketch and suggestion were made, and they are looking at funding and a timeline for the replacement.

Testart said the Mayor of Yellowknife Rebecca Atly suggested keeping the bear but moving it to a less prominent area of the airport.

“It’s the perspective shared by the city and the First Nation, and that should be enough evidence to move forward quickly,” Testart said, “It’s been a stubborn conversation, but I’m pleased to hear this going forward.”

(Image courtesy of Assembly Livestream.)

Testart proposed another question regarding how the airport can provide economic opportunities for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

“The issue of Yellowknives Dene First Nation, particularly their opportunities are front and centred,” Chair of YZF Economic Advisory Committee Peter Vician responded. He adds that a case study is dedicated to understanding the needs of YKDFN from the airport and supporting their future economically.

The committee is also planning to improve the check-in area, pre-boarding screening and the overall accessibility of the airport.

Further updates will be presented at the Economic Advisory Committee later this month.

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Josie Jiaxuan Wu
Josie Jiaxuan Wu is a multimedia journalist with a focus on cultural diversity, social justice and human interest stories. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Master of Journalism degree. Through her storytelling, she strives to improve the representation of marginalized communities. For story ideas, Josie welcomes inquiries via emails at