Pubdate: Wed, 08 May 2002
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 Vancouver Courier
Author: Allen Garr


The agenda item Friday morning at the drug conference in the Vancouver 
Convention and Exhibition Centre was: "The media: Friend or foe?"

The event was sponsored by IDEAS, the International Drug Education and 
Awareness Society, a group of fundamentalist crusaders in the War on Drugs.

IDEAS is run by the deep pockets of Bob and Lynda Bentall, along with two 
Vancouver cops, Al Arsenault and Toby Hinton, members of the film-making 
Odd Squad.

Odd squad cops on the VPD payroll were to provide the conference with 
"staff support and logistics." According to a technical agenda CBC radio 
picked up, Odd Squad cop Chris Graham would chauffeur conference guests in 
a "nice unmarked police car."

On Thursday, Vancouver cop Gerry Wickstead regaled the conference with a 
whole wall of confidential criminal records he copied off CPIC, the 
Canadian Police Information Computer, with the names blacked out.

The Bentalls and what seems to be this rogue group of Vancouver cops are 
being aided and abetted by the Drug Free America Foundation, one of the 
most shrill supporters of the disastrous War On Drugs.

The conference is an unapologetic attack on the current policy to stop the 
war on drugs and reduce the harm of addiction, advanced by Mayor Philip 
Owen, all three levels of government and the Vancouver police.

Lynda Bentall said: "This is not a conference that intends to explore all 
sides of the question." Attendance was by invitation only. Media, as it 
turns out, was carefully screened.

When I arrived, there were two security guards at the door checking 
convention credentials. I had none, so they sent for conference staffer 
Carolyn Rogers, a slight blond woman with her left arm in a sling.

She looked at my business card and recalled that we spoke earlier. I told 
her I asked Bob Bentall for credentials a couple of days ago. She fumbled 
through a small box of material and announced that nothing was there.

I couldn't get in, she said, without Bob Bentall's approval. I asked to 
speak to Bob. She hustled off through the stainless steel doors of the 
conference hall-to fetch him, I thought.

She returned to say: "Mr. Bentall said he can't let you in. Sorry, the room 
is full."

I had already noticed, each time the doors opened, that there was enough 
empty space in the joint to have a full-size conga line move through. 
"Never mind," I said. I stayed in the public corridor and listened through 
the crack in a second set of doors a few feet away. As I began to take 
notes, the speaker was talking about how to get your message out to the media.

That's when Bob Bentall turned up at my side, 70-something, stooped, grey 
haired and wearing a black suit. I knew it was him from the credentials tag 
hanging from his neck. He knew it was me even without credentials.

"Come on Allen," he said, addressing me in a familiar fashion but clearly 
telling me to buzz off. I asked about his unusual media policy, taking 
notes. He stumbled a bit and explained that it was a "private affair" and 
he could decide which media he allowed in.

"Well," I pointed out, as a group of tourists wandered by, "I'm not in, I'm 
out in the hallway."

Then he said: "Do you want me to get you removed?" I paused in my 
notetaking to say: "Sure go ahead." But he didn't, so I stayed. He posted a 
person on the other side of the door to block the crack.

Meanwhile, news of the use of confidential CPIC documents and "nice 
unmarked police cars" has had police board members firing e-mails to each 
other for days. Owen is not amused. Neither is police chief Terry Blythe. 
Questions are being asked about cops working with the private sector to 
undermine public policy.

I suspect when answers are finally given, I'll be allowed in the room.
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