Pubdate: Sat, 22 Sep 2007
Source: Packet & Times (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Teviah Moro


Carl Garland Calls For Mayor's Task Force

Orillia is drowning in a "sea of crack" and should explore 
alternatives to combating the problem, says a local criminal lawyer, 
noting law enforcement and the justice system just aren't working.

"My observations are that we are not having an effect on the problem 
of crack use in our community," Carl Garland told The Packet & Times on Friday.

"Drug counselling and prevention would be a better way to spend our 
limited dollars."

Likening crack to a "disease" in the community, Garland said the 
city, police, hospital, health unit and other outreach agencies 
should partner up to find a better way of dealing with the malaise.

That could happen in the form of a "mayor's task force," the former 
city councillor suggested.

Just five years ago, crack wasn't really an issue in Orillia, he 
said, noting an apparent steady increase in offenders at court.

"We've gone from not having a problem to having a major problem in a 
very short order of time."

Garland said he sees the same faces walking into the courtroom.

"Once people are hooked on crack, they seem to be in a revolving door 
in the criminal justice system."

Jeff LePage, a registered nurse with the Assertive Community 
Treatment Team (ACT), a program of the Canadian Mental Health 
Association, also painted a dire picture of Orillia's crack problem.

"Crack cocaine is basically running rampant in this city," LePage said.

There's no question it's escalating, said Karen Jokinen, agent for 
the director of public prosecutions in this area.

"Oftentimes, familiar names keep reoccurring," Jokinen said. "That's 
primarily due to the highly addictive nature of crack cocaine."

* * *

Ronnie knows all about vicious cycles.

The 38-year-old Orillian, who declined to use his last name for fear 
of attracting attention from police, said he started smoking crack in 1998.

He was looking for a high different from the drugs he was using at the time.

Snorting rails of cocaine led to free-basing, or smoking crack cocaine.

What started out as a weekend habit turned into a daily vice for 
Ronnie, who said he sold crack to keep his own personal stash going.

"The more you buy, the cheaper it gets."

Eventually, he wound up homeless in London, Ont.

Ronnie said he'd blow his $900 disability cheque to support his 
habit, not bothering to pay his rent.

Addiction also drove him to violence.

"The worst thing I did for crack, I beat a guy senseless for a 100 
piece ($100 worth of crack cocaine)," Ronnie said, noting that was 
done with a baseball bat.

The dealer gave him the "100 piece" as payment for taking revenge on 
the man who ratted him out in court.

"I think I might have broken his nose," Ronnie said during a recent 
interview in downtown Orillia.

A slim man dressed in a worn sweatshirt and jeans, Ronnie, who 
describes himself as a paranoid schizophrenic, said he dropped to 140 
pounds from 180 in about a week and a half while on the "Jenny crack diet."

"You've got no appetite. You'd rather have that rock."

Getting crack is just a phone call away from dealers, said Ronnie, 
who lives in the heart of town.

"Within six blocks, there's nine dealers," he said seated on a bench 
in the Colborne Street municipal parking lot. "Let's just say that 
nine of them have 10 people each. That's 90 people who smoke crack here."

A couple of blocks away on Matchedash Street, a resident of a rooming 
house said he wants nothing to do with crack.

But that's been tough.

"It's as easy as going to the convenience store and buying a pack of 
smokes," said the man, who wished to remain anonymous.

A 17-year-old female roommate who had been on crack for about a year 
ended up having convulsions from smoking a bundle by herself, he recalled.

"A 20 chunk by herself," he said. "We took her to the hospital."

An old, red-brick home across the street used to be a crack house, 
but has since been cleaned up, he noted.

A father of two young children living on Elgin Street said it's not 
hard to spot crackheads wandering around in the area.

"By the way they look, the way they talk to you," he said. "I don't 
like that around my kids."

* * *

Law enforcement is doing its best to stamp out crack in Orillia, said 
Mayor Ron Stevens.

"I'm just not sure if we can do anything to stimulate what the police 
are already doing," he said.

But he said he's open to sitting down with Garland to discuss the 
idea of a mayor's task force: "I'd be glad to."

Such a group can be an effective tool, Stevens said, referring to the 
success of the task force struck to help bring Thunder Bay-based 
Lakehead University to Orillia.

Orillia OPP has cited the city's growing crack-cocaine problem as a 
basis for more police officers during city budget and contract talks.

Police statistics show cocaine-related charges over a five-year 
period skyrocketed to 56 from just two in 2001.

"This indicates a greater presence of cocaine in the city and greater 
focus on these violations," stated a police services board budget report.

As of May of this year, there were 63 drug offences, up from 55 at 
the same time last year.

Garland said most facing charges are small-time peddlers who sell the 
highly addictive substance to fuel their own addictions, as was the 
case with Ronnie.

"We're not talking about big, huge busts of crack dealers. We're 
basically talking about street-level dealers."

A first-time possession conviction will land 30 days behind bars, a 
second offence 45 days, and a third offence 60 days. A "good chunk of 
crack" for the purpose of trafficking could warrant a sentence of six 
months to start, Garland noted.

Despite the high-profile police sting operations, the lawyer said he 
hasn't seen "any discernible change in the consumption of crack in 
our community."

Around 50 people have been charged in relation to the Long Time 
Coming (LTC) operation, which started in October 2005 and wrapped up 
in January 2007.

One sting in 2006 resulted in the largest crack seizure in OPP 
history. It netted 1,421 grams with an estimated street value of $163,592.

Charges included simple possession, possession for the purpose of 
trafficking and conspiracy to traffic. Amounts of powder cocaine and 
crack cocaine range from one gram to 12 ounces.

LTC cases are still before the court.

The OPP project temporarily impacted the way traffickers do business, 
said Det. Sgt. Jamie Ciotka, unit commander of the Huronia combined 
forces drug unit.

"The supply of crack cocaine continues to impact Orillia," he said. 
"In my opinion, there will always be people there to take their place."

Orillia's proximity to the Greater Toronto Area makes it easy for the 
bigger players to drive up and drop off their product, Ciotka said.

"I've seen it done in shifts. It's that organized."

Ciotka said he believes crack has become a more serious problem in 
Orillia the past five years.

Dealers packing firearms for protection -- previously an uncommon 
practice in Simcoe County -- has become a common trend, he said.

Late last month, when police busted alleged dealers in a Nottawasaga 
Street rooming house during an early-morning raid, they found a 
loaded .357 handgun.

And though crack houses in town are no secret, making a bust isn't 
that simple, Ciotka said, noting the stash can be sold more quickly 
than the time it takes to obtain a warrant.

Ronnie said that, during the height of his addiction, a 10 piece 
would last him about 15 minutes, a 20 piece about a half hour, and a 
100 piece about two hours, so as not to do "the chicken," or overdose.

While Ciotka perhaps echoes Garland in saying more resources should 
be put into rehabilitation programs and public awareness, he said 
repeat offenders should face stiffer sentences.

Jail time is a short-term solution, Garland argued.

"I don't see how that effectively addresses the addiction problem."

For Ronnie, years spent behind bars for break and enters, which he 
connects to his drug habits, didn't set him straight.

"It was an education into improving your criminal activity," he said, 
adding drugs could even be scored from guards.

One marked improvement resulting from TLC, Ciotka said, was a drastic 
reduction in property crimes.

There were no armed robberies for about half a year in Orillia, he 
said: "For me, I think that would be a significant impact.

* * *

The Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit could play a larger role in 
combating crack addiction, Garland said.

"I don't see them playing an active role in tackling crack addiction 
in our community."

Health unit officials dispute that assertion, arguing they are 
already involved with several community-based programs aimed at 
educating youths about the perils of drug addiction.

"Certainly, our mandate is prevention, the prevention of disease," 
Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health, told The Packet.

If a mayor's task force's mandate involved prevention, the health 
unit "would be interested in bringing that to the table," Gardner said.

If not prevented, breaking the habit can be a lifelong task, said 
Jack Vandenberg, manager of addictions services at Barrie's Royal 
Victoria Hospital, the only non-medical withdrawal management centre 
serving the region.

Though less physically addicting than heroin, cravings for the drug 
are "incredible," he said.

It usually takes a crisis -- such as a family breakup, jeopardized 
employment or a criminal charge -- to bring people to the centre, 
Vandenberg said.

What did it for Ronnie was his son. His wife wouldn't let him visit 
while he was on crack.

He decided to spend time with a recovered alcoholic friend in 
Kilworthy, fishing, riding ATVs and working outside.

"Anything to keep from thinking, 'I need a piece, I need a piece.'"

Ronnie, who said he hasn't had crack for six weeks, is now on the 
"marijuana maintenance program," a much softer ride.

"You've got to know you need help. A lot of us don't."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart