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Alleged A$AP gang members arrested in northern Alberta

ALERT says officer arrested suspected members of the A$AP street gang in the Wabasca-Desmarais area in early March. Investigators say they seized a sawed off shotgun and quantities of cocaine and fentanyl. The A$AP street gang wears grey and white clothing, police say.  (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams - image credit)
ALERT says officer arrested suspected members of the A$AP street gang in the Wabasca-Desmarais area in early March. Investigators say they seized a sawed off shotgun and quantities of cocaine and fentanyl. The A$AP street gang wears grey and white clothing, police say. (Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams - image credit)

Several alleged gang members have been arrested in a northern Alberta community that remains under a state of local emergency that was declared in the face of rising violent crime and addictions issues.

During an operation in Wabasca-Desmarais earlier this month, Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team's (ALERT) integrated gang enforcement team arrested four men who are believed to be members of street gang A$AP.

ALERT Insp. Angela Kemp said Thursday that the team received a request to help with addressing gang violence concerns in the Wabasca-Desmarais area, and worked with local RCMP officers and the Mounties' criminal intelligence team on the investigation that led to the arrests.

The small community about 300 kilometres north of Edmonton is one of several in the Municipal District of Opportunity that local officials have reported as being in crisis due to an unchecked rise in violent crime, addictions and mental health challenges.

Bigstone Cree Nation, which encompasses much of the area, declared a local state of emergency for the area earlier this year.

Opportunity also declared a state of emergency for the hamlet of Calling Lake, which is about 120 kilometres south of Wabasca-Desmarais, last fall.

According to an ALERT news release, two alleged A$AP members were arrested and charged with gun and drug charges on March 5 after police stopped a vehicle and discovered a sawed-off shotgun, cocaine and fentanyl.

The next day, two other alleged members were arrested and charged with drug offences after another traffic stop that police say turned up 100 grams of cocaine.

A fifth man, not known to be affiliated with the gang, is also facing drug charges.

Investigators say A$AP — which stands for Always Strive and Prosper — has members across central and northern Alberta and also operates in jails and prisons. The group often wears grey and white clothing, and is known to engage in drug trafficking, home invasions, robberies and violence.

Kemp said that there are indications that Redd Alert and other street gangs are operating in the area, but A$AP is the predominant one.

"When we go there, we have specific, identified targets through intelligence," she said. "It's a focused response on the individuals that are causing the most harm in the community."

The arrests are a step in the right direction, Opportunity Reeve Marcel Auger said Thursday.

"We're pretty happy to hear that, so we'll continue to push on that because there's a there's a connection there within all our communities as well, it seems, with the drug trade and the way they move the drugs in the community," Auger said during an interview.

He said trouble comes in waves — he said RCMP officers have been doing good work with arrests, but that repeat offenders get released and return to their area and start offending again.

The persistence of the issue is why both the Calling Lake and Bigstone Cree Nation states of emergency have remained in effect, Auger said.

He said both the municipal district and Bigstone have been setting aside funding to put toward addressing safety issues.

While they are thankful for the recent increased efforts, Auger said they now hoping the province will step up and offer support for more long-term solutions to address a lack of social supports, addictions treatment and a local housing shortage.

Specifically, he said they hope to develop local transitional housing and treatment facilities that would allow people to stay closer to home and to integrate safely back into the community.

Auger said local officials have a meeting coming up with several provincial ministers in a few weeks, and that they plan to discuss the community's need for more local support services.