Pubdate: Thu, 09 Sep 2004
Source: Whitehorse Star (CN YK)
Copyright: 2004 Whitehorse Star
Author: Sarah Elizabeth Brown


This summer, a downtown resident watched as three teenage girls
cruised by her place on in-line skates, sporting backpacks -- to all
appearances enjoying their holiday away from the books.

Only these girls rolled right into a drug house.

"Beautiful girls, first nation girls, Caucasian girls," the resident
recounted last night at a public meeting about the downtown area's
drug problem.

Some time later, the young girls came back out, staggering.

The woman recalled watching one girl follow an older, white man to his
truck and climb in with him, to earn her drugs.

"It looked to me like prostitution -- drugs and prostitution," she
said, straining to get her story out over her tears.

"We shouldn't let this happen to these girls. It's inconceivable in a
civilized society to allow children to be destroyed."

What we need, the woman said, are simple, street-level treatment

The resident was one of several dozen who spoke up with questions and
proposed solutions, and one of about 75 people who attended the public
meeting at Grace Community Church itself within a stone's throw of
some of Whitehorse's more notorious drug addresses.

How to reach young people hooked on drugs and booze was one of the
major topics at the 2 1/2-hour meeting, attended largely by a white,
middle-aged audience. Other topics included seniors' addictions and
accessibility of programs available within Whitehorse.

The meeting, organized by Whitehorse Centre MLA Todd Hardy, was the
second held this summer about the drug trade.

After discussion and questions, the audience came up with a long list
of proposed solutions, everything from intergovernmental committees to
picking up garbage or mentoring a young person.

Other suggestions were re-establishing a street health clinic,
increasing funding to the Outreach Van, making an inventory of
resources available in Whitehorse, increasing drug education in
schools, drop boxes for used needles, peer mentoring addicts, public
education, a tracking system to prevent prescription drug abuse,
helping kids get into sports and even undercutting the dealers by
selling or providing drugs in a safe environment. That suggestion was
made by city councillor Dave Stockdale.

"It might take the dealer out of the situation," he said, noting
addicted people could have a safe place to get drugs so they don't
have to prostitute themselves.

A street nurse with the Outreach Van, which only has funding to
operate several hours two nights per week, noted there is one doctor
in Whitehorse licensed to prescribe methadone, but only in a limited

Several counsellors from Alcohol and Drug Services fielded numerous
questions about the extent and focus of their agency's programs,
including having a youth counsellor in area high schools.

Later in the evening, a man noted kids are in school for six hours out
of 24.

Parents can't simply lament how bad kids are and crack open a beer, he

"There's personal responsibility here," he said.

Another woman questioned the Yukon's culture around alcohol, and
expressed incredulity about the amount of drinking considered acceptable.

Hardy said since taking on this project, he's realized the drug
causing the most significant problems is legal -- alcohol. He noted
Yukoners drink more per capita than anyone in the country.

One young woman said becoming a mom got her out of the youth drug and
drinking scene.

She noted, "No young person I know is going to go in to social
services and say, `I need help.'" Instead, she suggested, those who
can give aid must go where youth are comfortable, such as the youth

Another woman, who worked at Covenant House in Vancouver, said part of
the problem is the youth, rather than the youth's addiction, is
ostracized or blamed.

"So they are considered an outsider," she said.

Most people aren't willing to take a risk and mentor a youth, and kids
who say they're bored don't have relationships with adults to guide

"These kids don't have the support networks some of us do," she

She was one of several people who mentioned the former Blue Feather
Youth Centre executive director's attempt to establish a residence for
youth with nowhere else to go in the now-empty Roadhouse Inn. That
failure was blamed on a lack of government support. Several others
argued youth who don't have safe homes need an alternative place to

"We need to adopt each others' kids ... and raise these kids
together," another woman said.

"Our kids are going to become other people's problems, and their kids
are going to become our problems."

An emergency room nurse said many youth are dropped off, intoxicated,
and end up spending the entire night in hospital because no one is
available to pick them up.

One man, a 10-year Big Brother volunteer, drew murmurs of dismay when
he said Whitehorse has fewer than eight Big Brothers.

He said he finds there's a lack of "get up and go" in Whitehorse,
especially among men. There's a lack of men willing to be meaningful
mentors to boys, he said.

During the July meeting Hardy held, Libby Davies, the NDP MP for
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, one of Canada's most drug-striken
neighbourhoods, spoke about the "Four Pillar" approach -- treatment,
prevention, enforcement and harm reduction -- taken in Vancouver. Last
night, Hardy said while that approach, taken from a Swiss method of
tackling drug problems, may not be appropriate for Whitehorse, it was
a good basis to start talking about the problem.

Answering questions on the enforcement quarter, Whitehorse RCMP's Sgt.
John Sutherland told audience members that of late, police officers
have been targeting drug houses in the downtown area.

Within the last week, the RCMP cleaned tenants out of a drug house at
the request of the landlord, the Star has learned.

Also, said Sutherland, they're looking at other things they can do,
such as change the current schedule rotation for officers if more or
fewer bodies in uniform at different times would be helpful.

Sutherland said though drug enforcement is always difficult, the RCMP
are "on track" with the resources they have.

Because Whitehorse doesn't see some of the drugs similar-sized cities
in southern Canada do, said Sutherland, this city is in some ways
ahead of others.

Hardy said he had some constituents who were too scared to come to the
public meeting on Wheeler Street "with the reputation it has." He said
he doesn't consider the current situation a success.

Some drug houses have been in place a long time, he said, and people
have to raise their children down the street.

"And it's year after year after year," said Hardy. "That isn't
success, it's a failure in our system."

The RCMP sergeant said there are times when police can't simply go
into a house because it's owned, not rented, or there's not enough
evidence yet.

"It's not something we as the police can do alone, definitely," said

He suggested residents call the RCMP when they see suspicious
activity, and though they may not see direct action right away, it
gets added to the intelligence on specific houses or dealers.

As well, he said, residents can keep notes about the conspicuous
traffic around drug houses, and they can provide that information
anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers or simply dropping it off at the
detachment's front desk.

More than one person questioned if sentences for trafficking that they
see as mere slaps on the wrist are part of the problem. One woman
suggested residents attend sentencings to let the judge know where
they stand.

In a roundabout way, some industries benefit from the drug trade,
though sometimes at their own risk, meeting participants heard.

"I'm Serena, I'm a taxi driver, and I'm part of your problem."

With a voice roughened by 49 years of smoking -- she's since quit -- a
cab driver who attended the meeting said "it would just floor you if
you knew who I drive to the crack house."

She said she gets many fares who ask for a drive to one of the drug
houses in town -- and questioned her fellow residents what an addicted
person would say if the cabbie refused.

The cabbie pointed out a cab driver had been robbed at knifepoint the
night before, likely in relation to drugs, and another driver was
killed when his throat was slit earlier this summer.

"Do I have your support?" she asked. "Does the taxi industry have your

Meeting chairman Ken Bolton, an NDP staffer, noted if one cab company
refuses to transport people to drug houses, it would lose business to
other taxi businesses.

Another woman suggested cabbies start collecting licence plate numbers
and descriptions of dealers and hand the information over to the RCMP
- -- arguing if it was known cab drivers were doing that, the cabs might
not be used by the drug industry.

Sutherland also suggested if all drivers refused to drive to drug
houses, people may stop asking to be taken to them.

"That would take organization through all the cab companies and all
the cab drivers," he said.

A further public meeting is expected for early November after a SASSY
(Substance Abuse Strategy and Solutions for Yukon) drug study about
Whitehorse's drug scene is released. As well, several downtown
residents looking to start a neighbourhood association are looking for
further members. Contact Hardy's office at 393-7050 for more
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin