Source: Vancouver Province (Canada) Pubdate: Sun 19 Jul 1998 Section: News A1 / Front Contact: http://www.vancouverprovince.com/ Author: Adrienne Tanner, Staff Reporter DRUG RING SMUGGLES KIDS TO VANCOUVER 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 sieve.'' 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 Association. ``It's like something Charles Dickens wrote,'' Turvey said. 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 said. Some of the ring leaders were evicted, which helped ease the concerns of residents worried about the growing drug problem in their neighborhood. 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. - --- Checked-by: "Rich O'Grady"