On the night of Dec. 9, 2020, two masked suspects entered the Haliburton Highland Pharmacy on Highland Street. Brandishing a firearm, they demanded, and received, narcotics.

They then fled the scene. The OPP Tactics and Rescue Unit, Canine, Emergency Response Unit and Forensic Identification Services all swarmed the site.

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts happened to be driving by and saw the large police presence. She knew something was up.

Roberts said in her opinion, drug-related crime in Haliburton County “has most definitely gone up.” She also thinks thieves are becoming more brazen. She said people with drug problems are not new to the County, but what is disturbing is the organized crime element she is now witnessing.

“It’s disconcerting. I have not seen that type of thing in Haliburton County before,” she said.

Haliburton Highlands OPP detachment commander, Liane Spong, said when it comes to drug-related theft, “It’s about availability. It’s about quick cash. It’s about feeding that addiction. It’s all very interrelated. We try to tackle it with a multifaceted approach and hit it all.”

Downtown Haliburton businesses have seen their fair share of break-ins over the past few years. But thieves have been busy across the Highlands, police say.

While the Dec. 9 incident was clearly related to drugs, OPP statistics indicate that in nearly every major drug bust they made in Haliburton County in 2020, they also seized stolen items from businesses or residences.

On Nov. 1, 2019, they had their first big breakthrough after months of investigations, busting a major theft and drug ring.

“We were able to have our teams go out and execute a number of warrants and a number of arrests, seized drugs, recovered skid steers, trailers, boats, snowmobiles etcetera,” Spong said.

Looking at the seized property summary for Haliburton County for 2020, police recovered 251 items, valued at $76,000 as of Nov. 29, 2020. In 2019, by contrast, they seized 118 items worth $39,000.

Different perceptions about problem

Luke Schell is president of the Haliburton Business Improvement Association (BIA). He said with all of the break-ins over the past three years, it appears to him that only one – at the pharmacy before Christmas – was definitely drug-related.

“He went in with a gun and demanded drugs … that’s a pretty easy one,” Schell said. As for the others, “how do we know that they’re not using it (stolen items or cash) to buy food for their family? I don’t think we can just jump to the conclusion that it has to do with drugs.”

He added while an armed robbery in the downtown is naturally “concerning … I don’t think that it is something that is going to happen a whole bunch of times in Haliburton.”

A long-time resident, he doesn’t think the drug problem has gotten any worse over the years, with the possible exception of opioid use.

“And how the opioid crisis got started is debatable but appears to have been started by drug companies and doctors by mistake. And now they’re trying to shut that down but once that wheel gets rolling, it’s hard to stop. It’s pretty addictive stuff.”

Schell said the fact he doesn’t think the problem has gotten any worse does not mean that there isn’t a drug problem in Haliburton County. However, “I don’t think the drug problem we have in Haliburton County is any worse than many, many other towns such as ours. I’m not going to vilify Haliburton County as being the drug capital of Ontario. I quite honestly feel that most retail business people around here feel like we’re in one of the safest communities going. That’s how I feel about it. I’m not worried about the lady who just came in the store here pulling a gun on me.”

Minden Hills councillor, Jennifer Hughey, who witnessed a drug bust on the street she lives on in November 2020, said she can see a link between residential property crime and drugs. She said last summer, at the end of the driveway of a suspected drug house, there was a yard sale and “when you see seven bicycles lined up, you realize that the people who live in that house, there’s no need for all of those bicycles. Those bicycles have probably been stolen and were used to buy drugs, or the money made from selling them are probably going to be used to buy drugs.”

Alex Smith emailed The Highlander in January of 2020 saying his Dysart et al cottage has been broken into five times over the past several years. He said he filed police reports and had spoken to Roberts. He’s pretty sure it has to do with drugs.

“The community needs to come together to solve the problem,” he said.

Plan in the works

Warden Liz Danielsen told The Highlander that drug problems were not part of the purview of Haliburton County Council and that she had no internal knowledge about the depth of a problem that might exist within the county.

“Do we have a drug problem in Haliburton? I’d say there might be some issues but I don’t know the extent of that for sure,” she said. “And saying that there is a problem is rather subjective. Some might think there’s a huge problem while others might not, or that the police and agencies involved have things in hand. I’m sure they are all working very hard to keep problems at a minimum as best they can.”

Danielsen said policing is the mandate of the lower tier municipalities, and that the four mayors form the membership of the CPAC group. Having said that, she noted that the County has assumed responsibility, on behalf of its partner municipalities, to develop a Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan, as directed by the province.

She said that it isn’t likely that the County would play a role in any police board yet to be established adding however that, “once developed, the plan will provide a better opportunity for police to work with all of the agencies involved. When the [plan] is completed issues like drug problems in a rural community like ours will be better dealt with by a roundtable of the appropriate people.”

Downtown Haliburton business break-ins

• May 30, 2018 – The Source – Halco Electronics was the target of a break and enter. Culprits made off with cellphones and other high-value items worth $10,000.

• July 2-3, 2018 – The 4Cs Lily Ann Thrift Shop was broken into. Thieves took some jewelry and caused extensive damage.

• Oct. 22, 2019 – Parkside Laundry in Haliburton was broken into. Cash stolen and $15,000 in damages.

• Dec. 26, 2019 – Kozy Korner targeted with front door glass smashed and tip jar stolen. Thousands of dollars in damage.

• Dec. 29, 2019 – Parkside Laundry broken into again. Someone tried to steal from the change machine.

• Dec. 9, 2020 – Armed robbery for narcotics at Haliburton Highland Pharmacy.

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