Pubdate: Tue, 7 Dec 1999
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Section: Life and Entertainment
Copyright: 1999, The Toronto Star
Author: Sharlene Azam, Life Writer


VANCOUVER - In a dark classroom, in front of a group of teenagers,
Constable Al Arsenault conducts a slide show.

He pauses when he reaches the photo of a teenage girl. Turning to his
audience he asks: "Does she look like a drug addict?"

The teens say "no" because "she looks healthy." She looks like one of them.

The next slide is of the same girl six months later. The shock in the
students' voices at the change in her appearance is audible.

That scene is from Through A Blue Lens, the 52-minute film made by a group
of police officers who patrol Vancouver's Downtown East Side, where more
than 80 per cent of Greater Vancouver's drug arrests take place.

Showing young people photos or slides about the ill-effects of narcotics is
not uncommon. Officers often visit schools to talk to kids about drugs.
Through A Blue Lens, however, brings skid row home by having the junkies
tell their stories directly to the camera.

The film, made by cops and giving "throwaway" people a chance to tell kids
about their lives and what led them to become slaves to an addiction, is
the first of it's kind in Canada.

"What we see is not the glamorous side of drugs," Constable Jim Mitchell says.

"We're giving kids the side that's rarely seen. The dark side," Constable
Mark Steinkampf adds. "Once they know, they can make up their own minds."

The decision to show kids the "dark side" began a year ago when seven cops
each contributed $400 to purchase a video camera and began filming.

Within a few months their work came to the attention of Vancouver filmmaker
Veronica Mannix, who helped them create a 20-minute trailer to secure
financing from the National Film Board.

With financial backing, and a director to guide them, the officers embarked
on making the film.

The cops use the camera as they would handcuffs, but not to restrain or
prevent, but simply to nab. It is there when the junkies shoot up, when
kids are found in the alleys "chasing the dragon" (inhaling the smoke from
burning heroin). It is there when one of the young women freaks out after
being injected in the neck with cocaine. It is there moments after a guy
shoots himself in the head in front of his girlfriend during a dispute over
drugs. And it is there when the addicts explain that their lives "are hell
and suffering."

One of the featured addicts is Nicola, now 40, who first shot up when she
was 15.

"My horse trainer injected cocaine in my arm," she tells the officers. She
says her mother tried to help by taking her away to England, but Nicola
convinced her after a few months of being abroad that she would be fine.

"Three days after coming back I was gone again," she adds.

The officers say Nicola is not unusual. "Sure, a lot of the people down
here come from broken homes, but a lot of them come from solid, even
wealthy families," Mitchell says.

"For years, we would see Nicola's mom in her $80,000 Mercedes driving
through here looking for her," Steinkampf adds.

He and Mitchell suggest one solution to the crisis might be a needle
exchange program.

"Once we have reached the goal of habit elimination, adequate housing (is
next). Just because you have no money doesn't mean you should have to live
in squalor," Mitchell says. "Or without hope."

Hope coupled with the methadone program has helped a few of the addicts
featured in the film get "clean" since shooting began.

Randy, a one-time NHL hopeful who started using drugs when he was 15, has
been living on the streets for 10 years.

In the film, we witness Randy's reunion with his brother.

"He's been clean now since August. He even has a girlfriend," Steinkampf says.

"Some people's families will wash their hands of addicts," Mitchell says.
"But, I've met a lot of the families who want to help and they suffer as
much, if not more, than the addicts."

Through A Blue Lens shows kids "the abyss drugs lead to and the tragic
wasted lives," an officer in the film remarks. It also lets the officers
talk to kids about dealing with pain.

"A lot of the kids down here are aboriginal," Steinkampf says. "Many of the
services for aboriginal people are in this area, but I think we're seeing
the effect residential schools have had on their lives and families.

"We tell kids to deal with the pain in their lives, whether it's emotional
or physical. Otherwise that pain will deal with you," he says.

The film might not just be an educational tool for young people either. "I
never thought a drug addict could change my perspective," Steinkampf notes.

"When I first started I was pretty hard-nosed about enforcing the law. As
you get to know the people who live here and their stories you become more

Through A Blue Lens will be shown tomorrow on The National on CBC at 10:25
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