Pubdate: Wed, 28 Jul 2004
Source: Whitehorse Star (CN YK)
Copyright: 2004 Whitehorse Star
Author: Sarah Elizabeth Brown
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Whitehorse's drug trade hasn't grown over the last decade, though it's gone 
through highs and lows, according to a study due out this fall.

"It didn't appear to have grown," RCMP Cpl. Pete Greenlaw said about 
Whitehorse's illegal drug market. "It appears to be fairly stable. You have 
peaks and valleys, but there's no dramatic increase."

Greenlaw, the Yukon RCMP's drug awareness officer and a career drug cop, is 
part of the SASSY committee (Substance Abuse Strategy and Solutions for 
Yukon) conducting a study of the city's drug scene. It's set for completion 
by November.

Currently, a local researcher is reviewing information from police, the 
coroner, justice department, first nations, medical personnel and treatment 
providers. Fourteen similar studies will be done in other Canadian cities 
over the next two years.

The study comes as some downtown residents are tackling the topics of 
drugs, their dealers and the kaleidoscope of problems that come with both. 
A public meeting organized by downtown riding MLA Todd Hardy is set for 
7:00 this evening.

Libby Davies, the NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver's Downtown 
Eastside, which is riddled with drugs as one of the country's poorest 
postal codes, will speak about her experiences at the public forum. It will 
be held at the Whitehorse Public Library.

Community involvement is exactly what's needed if the drug situation is to 
get any better, indicated Greenlaw.

"We're just one cog in the wheel," the corporal said of the RCMP's role. 
"The community must get involved."

Part of the SASSY study's mandate is to provide participants and various 
levels of governments with options -- various tasks that can realistically 
be tackled.

A common public misconception is that the police always know what's going 
on, said Greenlaw. People often don't make reports of drug activity to the 
RCMP for that reason, he noted.

"Sometimes the police are the last to know," he said.

"But the public has been quite helpful in identifying who's doing what," 
said Greenlaw. "There have been investigations downtown, there've been 
arrests, there've been seizures, people have gone to court and have gone to 

Since mid-March, police have laid unrelated charges of cocaine trafficking 
or possession for the purpose of trafficking on at least seven individuals. 
Those cases are currently winding through the courts.

Last summer, the RCMP brought in a pair of Outside undercover drug cops in 
an effort to root cocaine dealers out of downtown bars. Seven individuals 
were arrested; all were convicted.

In the summer of 2002, police broke up what they called a high-level 
cocaine ring for the Yukon, arresting six people. The stiffest sentence in 
that case was a 4 1/2-year penitentiary stint for the ringleader.

Investigating drug crimes doesn't simply involve taking down witness 
statements, bagging the evidence and handing it to a prosecutor. A drug 
squad officer will take a tip about trafficking and try to corroborate that 
information through other sources, informants and surveillance, said Greenlaw.

Though he declined to give a number of suspected houses drugs are being 
sold out of -- "the less the bad guys know how much we know, the better" -- 
Greenlaw said drug investigations take time.

"I think you'll find the drug squad has been in those drug houses on 
numerous occasions and they have made numerous arrests and charges, and 
these people have gone to court several times already."

Where a drug investigation can take months of unseen effort, there's always 
another dealer willing to fill the void left when another supplier is put 
behind bars, far quicker than the justice process works.

"As long as there's demand, there'll be somebody step up to supply it," 
Greenlaw said. "It will likely happen in the next day or two (after an 

Drug cops learn they can only affect a small piece of the world at any one 
time, said Greenlaw, who spent years as a long-haired undercover officer in 
Toronto and southern Ontario's cities after becoming a Mountie in 1975.

"Basically, it comes down to substance abuse and drug trafficking is a 
community problem. It's just not a problem for the police."

Prevention is another aspect. So is changing the lifestyles of drug abusers 
through treatment, education and training, providing them with a safe place 
to stay until they're on their feet.

That's where it becomes far more than an enforcement issue, but a social, 
economic and cultural problem as well, he said.

And for the small group of people who will always be hooked on drugs 
regardless of efforts to get them unhooked, harm reduction is needed to 
minimize the risks of a hugely dangerous lifestyle.

Even for those who have a hope of escaping drugs, the process to health is 
long and messy.

"You're not going to put somebody in a treatment program for 10 days and 
wave a magic wand and they're going to be cured. Once you've got them dried 
out and their systems cleaned, you still have to provide them with 
education, support, housing, employment ... a lot of steps," said Greenlaw.

"And as expensive as that sounds, think of the cost of the police, the 
courts and health care."

It's cheaper to fix the problem than apply Band-aids, he said.

A downtown resident took her concern about new drug houses opening for 
business to her MLA, sparking the NDP leader's community forum this evening.

In an interview earlier this month, that resident said she was concerned 
largely about the constant traffic, noise and used drug needles that 
cropped up alongside the drug houses.

But, she said then, violence is a problem too, noting she's witnessed the 
brutality involved with peddling an illegal high.

Violence is inherent in drug trafficking, Greenlaw said.

"A drug trafficker is after one thing, and that's your money, and if they 
think they can rip you off, they will rip you off -- they will steal your 
money or sell you something that isn't drugs."

Violence spills over when dealers retaliate against those they think have 
wronged them, and when drug users run up debts.

"Then the trafficker has to collect the money, and they'll use violence and 

The most significant change between drug enforcement in the 1970s and now 
is the realization just how dangerous some of these drugs are, said Greenlaw.

"Fire departments find more labs than the police do," said Greenlaw.

The chemicals used to create synthetic drugs in illegal labs are highly 
explosive and flammable, and the people mixing up a batch of speed 
(methamphetamine) aren't rocket scientists, he added.

"Back in the '70s, we'd seize a speed lab ... and we never thought anything 
of wearing any protective gear ourselves. When we took the people out of 
the house, we never thought of their health either."

It's since been discovered that people who live and work in speed labs have 
extremely high concentrations of methamphetamine in their bodies, even if 
they're not drug users.

"High to the point where they should be in the hospital," said Greenlaw.

After being arrested, an escorted trip to the doctor is now routine, and 
police officers are garbed head to toe in protective suits.

Illegal labs for synthetic drugs haven't been an issue here yet, said 
Greenlaw, but it's only a matter of time.

After alcohol, the most used and abused intoxicants in Whitehorse are 
marijuana and cocaine, said Greenlaw. Heroin, though only used by a small 
group, has long been around, as has speed. There have been a handful of 
deaths attributed to speed over the years, he said.

Synthetic drugs like Ecstasy are making a bit of an increase, but that's 
part of a national trend. Whitehorse tends to be slightly behind on 
national trends, Greenlaw said.

Nationally, only 18 per cent of pills sold as Ecstasy are actually the 
synthetic stimulant. In the Yukon, Greenlaw said he'd be surprised if more 
than 10 per cent of pills sold as Ecstasy were the psychedelic amphetamine 

Speed, like cocaine and Ecstasy, is a stimulant, but speed is known as a 
"dark drug" even among users because it's so dangerous, said Greenlaw. 
Speed's effects are similar to those of cocaine, but far stronger.

"There's no such thing as an old speed freak."
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