Source: Vancouver Province (Canada)
Pubdate: Sun 19 Jul 1998
Section: News A1 / Front
Author: Adrienne Tanner, Staff Reporter


Up to 100 Honduran children have been lured to Canada to work as
narcotics-dealing slaves: `It's like something Charles Dickens wrote'

A professional drug ring is luring underage children from Honduras to
Vancouver, where they are being turned into indentured street-corner
crack dealers.

As many as 100 Honduran children have been smuggled overland into
Canada from the impoverished Central American country, said Vancouver
police Staff-Sgt. Doug MacKay-Dunn.

The Honduran smugglers pay their transportation costs and help them
across the Canadian border, which even MacKay-Dunn admits is ``like a

Once in Vancouver, the ring leaders set the children up in apartments,
help them file refugee claims and sign up for welfare.

In return, they are turned out on to the street to deal drugs. Some
work the Cambie Street strip between Water Street and East Hastings,

others sell along the SkyTrain routes in Burnaby and New Westminster,
said John Turvey, director of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities

``It's like something Charles Dickens wrote,'' Turvey

The children feel indebted to their benefactors and see no other way
to survive.

Alcohol and drug outreach worker Ingrid Mendez said: ``Some of them
are as young as 11 or 13 . . . and they have this huge debt.''

Most come from dust-poor families, are illiterate and

cagily street-smart.

They vanish at the sight of police and are reluctant to talk to the
community youth workers.

Police, immigration officials and provincial child-welfare workers
have been looking for months for ways to get the children off the
streets. But unless the kids are caught dealing drugs, there is little
anyone can do.

Children who make refugee claims are entitled to the same treatment as
adults, said Immigration Canada spokesman Dale Akerstrom.

They are given a date for an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing and
are not detained unless they are determined to be a danger to the
public or unlikely to show up.

The provincial ministry of children and families will provide housing,
food and clothing to children who seek help, said Elaine Murray, ``but
to my knowledge, we haven't had one come forward.''

Murray said the ministry is aware of the Honduran street kids and is
working with police and immigration officials to find some way to
repatriate the children.

Police are attacking the problem on many local fronts and also turning
to their U.S. counterparts for advice.

About 100 police officers and community workers met in Burnaby this
week with Portland police officers who dealt with an identical problem
in 1996-97.

``In our downtown area we had a very large group of folks selling
Mexican-tar heroin and powdered cocaine,'' said Cmdr. Bob Kauffman of
the Portland police bureau.

Most were Honduran and Mexican nationals who enticed children to the
United States to deal drugs, he said.

``They think that if kids get arrested, not much will happen to
them,'' Kauffman said.

Police cracked the ring by staging 3,400 ``hand-to-hand'' buys, and
for a time arrested as many as 35 people a day.

The city now has a reputation for taking a hard line on foreign
drug-dealers, a victory Vancouver police suspect contributed to the
northern migration.

RCMP Staff-Sgt. Rocky Rockwell said his officers do what they can to
stop the Honduran children from walking, hitching, swimming and
hopping trains into Canada. But with only four officers covering the

entire B.C.-Washington border, it's almost impossible to stop the flow.

Burnaby RCMP, fire, health and immigration officials recently
co-ordinated a sweep of apartments along the 6600-block Dow Avenue in
Burnaby, where some of the suspected ring leaders were living, said
RCMP Staff-Sgt. Elton Deans.

``We were finding up to 30 people living in one apartment,'' he

Some of the ring leaders were evicted, which helped ease the concerns
of residents worried about the growing drug problem in their

But it's not the whole solution. Vancouver cops say they're not going
after the kids.

``They are young people being victimized. . . . We're focusing on the
predators,'' said MacKay-Dunn.

Meanwhile, youth workers like Mendez continue their efforts to reach
out to the children. The key is to let them know there are other
options, and they don't have to deal drugs, she says.

It's a tough sell.

``Once they get here and start seeing the money, they don't want to
get out of it,'' she said. 

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Checked-by: "Rich O'Grady"