'War on drugs' backfiring badly: UBC report
By Suzanne Fournier, The Province
Canada's "war on drugs" has done nothing to stop the supply of street drugs and is actually increasing drug-related violence.
This is among the controversial findings of a University of B.C. report, to be released today in Ottawa, that has backing from "across a political spectrum . . . including high-profile conservatives."
UBC's Urban Health Research Initiative reviewed international research and found that "87 per cent of the studies linked strict drug-law enforcement to increasing levels of drug-market violence."
Says report co-author Dr. Evan Wood: "The gun violence that we've seen in B.C., as in Mexico and the U.S., appears to be directly attributable to drug prohibition."
Prohibition "drives up the value of drugs astronomically, thereby creating lucrative markets exploited by organized crime," Wood says.
Wood notes that a rash of gun slayings, such as Vancouver has had in the past year, appear to "stem from power vacuums created by the removal of key players from the illicit-drug market by law enforcement."
Wood points out Vancouver has had a huge "illicit drug market," with one of the highest drug-offence rates in Canada, for the past 30 years, yet drug-related gun violence used to be low, compared with other cities.
Then, in 2009, Vancouver had "a surge in gun violence that authorities attribute to disputes between gangs involved in the drug trade." Now Vancouver has the highest rate of gun crime per capita in Canada.
Wood notes the upsurge in Vancouver's gang violence occurred after Canada launched its own "war on drugs," in the form of the Conservative government's National Anti-Drug Strategy.
Police "photo-ops" with piles of confiscated illicit drugs look good, but only serve to drive down drug supply while the purity and price of street drugs continues to soar, says Wood.
B.C. had 140 homicides in 2008, more than in any other year, and the RCMP deemed 30 per cent of those deaths were "gang-related".
But the UBC report is dismissed by RCMP Staff Sgt. Dave Goddard, who posed last week in front of 1,001 kilograms of cocaine seized from a sailboat, leading to charges against a Canadian and a Mexican.
"These intellectuals who come up with these ideas are great at pointing out the problem, but what's their solution?" demands Goddard.
Goddard credits the efforts of the police violence-suppression team: "We started the violence-suppression team a year ago in March, and we have seen a decrease in homicides and, so far, this year has been nothing like [the gunslayings] last January to March -- 2009 was pretty scary."
The UBC report was peer-reviewed by the Fraser Institute and is backed by prominent Tory Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin, former chair of the Senate Special Committee on Illicit Drugs.
Wood emphasizes he is not pushing for "legalization" of drugs or nonenforcement of drug laws, but stresses: "We need to address drug issues from a public-health perspective.
"We don't have enough resources for addiction treatment," says Wood, who thinks spending money on health measures would achieve far more than costly law-enforcement efforts that do little to control drug abuse.
The full 26-page report, "Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review," is available online at http://uhri.cfenet.ubc.ca.
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