Gangs and Prohibition

Like other metro Vancouver communities, East Vancouver has been recently caught in the horrific and terrifying gun violence, resulting from gangs involved in organized crime and drugs. I have heard from a number of constituents who are horrified at what's taking place and have a sense of dread at the level of violence, randomness, and the impact on innocent people. I share that horror too. No one should have to live in fear in their home and community.

Even the Provincial Attorney General and Solicitor General have noted that "of the over 200 incidents of reported shots fired in the Vancouver region in 2008, the vast majority are a direct result of organized crime's drug trade".

Federal New Democrats in Ottawa have called for:

* an overall coordinated strategy focused on gangs and organized crime;
* an improved witness protection program;
* more resources for prosecution and enforcement;
* toughened proceeds of crime legislation;
* more officers on the street as promised by the Conservatives but not yet delivered; and
* better and more prevention programs to divert youth-at-risk.

I am also very mindful that while we need immediate action to prevent gun violence and shootings on our streets, we cannot ignore the big question of our drug laws and prohibition and the impact it has on all of us.

It’s time to have an honest debate about prohibition and recognize that things have gotten worse not better. The so-called war on drugs has cost billions of dollars and has incarcerated millions of people both in Canada and the US, and has fuelled organized crime.

Since being elected in 1997, I have been a strong advocate for changing Canada's drug laws. I have seen all too often the impacts of an enforcement regime that targets drug users, instead of recognizing the need for a public health approach. I have always supported INSITE and other harm reduction measures, as well as accessible treatment, as a more intelligent approach to drug use.

It's time to look at new polices and a system based on regulation and control, not outright prohibition, which is no deterrence at all.
We need to recognize that drug use, both what is deemed legal and illegal, has always existed, and that the best policy is to provide realistic and honest education about substances that can be harmful, and provide help where needed for addictions.
It’s time to embark on a common sense approach and accept the overwhelming evidence that the war on drugs has caused more death, pain, harm and crime than we can bear, and that it’s time to stop it.
I know that's not going to happen overnight - but let's at least have the courage to see what's failed and what alternatives there are.

We can begin with Marijuana and ensure there is real information and education, especially for young people - and ensure there are clear rules that spell out what is allowed for adult use.
Or we can continue on this tragic course of playing on people's fear and trying to convince people that tougher and tougher laws will make it all go away.

It’s not an easy debate, but I believe we have to have it and recognize what is happening here.

Any feedback or comments are welcome!


This Blog Entry was posted on March 4, 2009
Libby Davies's picture



Thank you for bringing this up. I am a strong proponent for a revision of Canada's laws regarding marijuana and crime. You have a supporter in me.

what an amazing feeling to

what an amazing feeling to see well thought out solutions and problem solving attitudes. If only we had the your voices more publicly heard.

It is nice...

It is nice to see someone with an intelligent, balanced stance on the issue. If only everyone would take the time to actively consider what is really happening, they would come to the same inexorable conclusion that you have here: It is time to end prohibition.

Harm reduction

Thank you for continuing to advocate for effective harm reduction, especially in the DTE, instead of simply policing. After the last blast of fear-mongering propaganda in the form of junk-mail that we received from our local Conservative MP in Nanaimo, i am afraid we are going to see much of the same now that they have decided to 'get tough on crime' in the wake of the recent rash of shootings. Again, it seems we are witnessing another chapter of short-sighted government playing with public fear-mongering. Unfortunately, in the process they are referring to marginalized individuals as animals that "must be locked up", and soliciting fear from the public. How much longer will we have to put up with this crap from our federal government?

Harm Reduction

One of the biggest problem on the DTES is drugs. Substance abuse takes no prisoners - it destroys people, families and communities. It is impossible to help those whilst they are in the throes of their addiction, especially cocaine. This is a drug that will cause individuals to self destruct dispite the well intentioned forces of social service agencies, governments, etc.

What I see as a problem in the DTES is so many services (under the auspices of "harm reduction") that enable addiction to continue. Harm reductions started in Europe mainly to deal with the problems associated with heroin. Heroin isn't the major problem here in Vancouver - cocaine is - and some of the measures that may be successful with heroin, don't work when it comes to cocaine. Cocaine is a much different beast, and unless you understand the nature of cacaine, you are whistling in the dark. The best solution is Treatment!

Well intentioned services like INSITE don't deliver on what they promised they would. While proponents loudly proclaim studies that proclaim INSITE is delivering, if you actually read the entire studies (which I do) you will find so many limitations where causal factors are unknown. Yet, the proponents ignore this data, picking and choosing what to illustrate.

The recent spate of shootings in the Vancouver area are all related to cocaine; this is the big ticket item here, and lucretive enough for gangs to kill to protect their turf.

For reference purposes, I have worked in the field of substance abuse for 15 years. And, before that I spent 4 years in a chemical dependancy that landed me on the Downtown East side. So, I speak from both sides - I've been there, and have gotten out.

Only when a person is free of their addiction, will they make better choices - believe me, I know.



Harm reduction, or sobriety?

I'm not a therapist, I'm just a mom who didn't pop a pill or drink today. I didn't end up in the DTES, but I've talked to some women living on the street in Vancouver, and it seems to me, that in order to get sober, you have to still be alive. The point of needle exchange and safe injection sites is to prevent Hep and HIV, and overdoses, and, most of all, is the relationship and trust that's built with staff. They're a link to health and community services, with detox and treatment in the InSite building. How else are you going to find someone to ask about treatment? Seems like a good idea to me, and I would agree with you, abstinence from alcohol and drugs is the goal; and it takes a remarkable amount of time for all the fog to clear.

On Regulation

As a harm reduction strategy the regulation of marijuana (in a manner) similar to alcohol would establish safeguards that recognize contemporary realities. A system of regulation entailing commercial & other licensing, the underwriting thereof for insurance purposes, secure designated grow areas and retail outlets would serve to restrict accessibility to adults and eliminate clandestine grow operations and oil processing facilities in the process while providing a resource base that could go, in part, to addressing gang violence and, the criminal drug trade (until an appropriate strategy is devised).

This, of course, would entail the need for a limited legalisation of marijuana. The aim being to make unknown to law the limited possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use. Legalization, in and of itself, doesn't have to entail the removal of marijuana, or for that matter, opium ( heroin ), cocaine, synthetics and hallucinogens of the synthetic or organic variety from the CDSA schedule; clauses amending certain aspects (of the CDSA), in effect, would actually serve to target non-compliance, specifically, where marijuana and ecstasy are earmarked for exportation.


re: "gang violence" & "people are at risk everyday"

Lately the media & politicians are loudly calling for action, specifically in relation to the recent shootings, by "gangsters" .
While I have every sympathy for the families of victims, and agree that police and the legal system should act to stop the use of guns, against people, I do not think we need any new laws, just active , and "proactive", use of the existing laws.
I also wish to put these recent "gang violence" incidents in perspective:
It would seem, to me, that police and the legal system must set priorities, on the use of their resources, not unlike the way the medical system uses triage; that is, by dealing first with situations that threaten life
( before threats to property).
Obviously, the careless use of guns is a threat to life ( homicide). Statistics show that about 0.8% of accidental deaths are the result of homicide - of which only a portion would be the result of gunshots. Accidental deaths due to motor vehicle accidents are about 23% of all accidental deaths. Police and ICBC studies show that at least 50% of all MVAs are at least partly due to aggressive driving ( speeding, tailgating, cutting in too close, failing to signal, etc). This isn't even considering the comparable numbers of people dying as a result of workplace accidents , injuries and/or exposures.
Clearly, far, far more innocent people (bwt 11.5% & 23%) are at daily risk of death, or injury, due to aggressive drivers, than due to shooting/ "gang violence" ( at most 0.5%). The math is not in the realm of rocket science!
The most ironic thing about this is that aggressive driving is "socially acceptable", and almost always excused (ex.: "SENSE" [which is nonsense], or as "frustration", etc).
It is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive, but speeding, tailgating, and aggressive driving, in general, is seen as "everybody does it"(patently not true!). Repeat offenders, those who lose their "safe driving discount, are "career criminals" ( since driving without due care and attention is a criminal offense), but we don't hear politicians calling for any 'crack-down', on aggressive drivers, for the simple reason they are more concerned with getting votes than saving lives, or doing the right/moral thing.
Ordinary working people need to put a little effort into "connecting the dots", and think about why this particular concern is being used to justify more police and fewer protections for average citizens ( removal of "disclosure" requirements, as proposed by our present BC governing party).
Having personally witnessed the federal government try to imposed, in the name of "Security", laws that would have allowed secret tribunals to label any worker, as a "security threat", with no requirement for proof, or ability to appeal, and thereby make those workers unemployed, I am reminded of the lesson of Orwell's "Animal Farm": "All animals are equal, but pigs are more equal!".
As a country, and a society , we must remember that the price of democracy is eternal vigilance, and not allow extreme right-wing political parties to take us farther down the road to Fascism.
One is just as dead, whether from a bullet or an aggressive driver. Cars and trucks are also deadly weapons, in the hands of aggressive drivers. One can only hope that logic will one day prevail, and priorities will be set by rational thought, rather than knee-jerk reactions ( or, as the result of manipulations by people or parties with hidden agendas). The numbers clearly show that far more people are injured, crippled and killed in motor vehicle accidents, than by any group of "criminal gangs"/"career criminals"; it therefore, makes simple sense that our priority, as a society, is to stop the needless slaughter on our roads. More than 22 times as many people are affected by MVAs and aggressive driving. If the Squamish highway was claiming as many lives, and injuring and crippling as many people, there would be no question that fixing the problem would be the #1 priority. Let's put aside our self-interest/selfishness, and admit that that we need to stop accepting aggressive driving as 'normal', and treat it as the criminal act it is.

Prohibition and gangs

Gang problems are a byproduct of prohibition. The greatest example of this is America. Americans consume 350 metric tons of cocaine, 20 metric tons of heroin and witness 30,000 gun deaths each year. The drug and crime rate in America surpasses all other counrties. It could be said that they are "the most lawless nation in the world." They consume more drugs than any other country in The World. How does all that cocaine get past the 'world police'? This government, administrators and it's policies are not the sort Canada should foster! They should clean up their own back yard of gangs, crime and drugs. They should "save America" before they 'save the world'.
Candians need to move foreward into the 21st century and refuse the "American culture of gangs, guns and drugs".
Canada first and foremost.

Sovereign Vanguard

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