HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html How Did We Let the Criminals Take Over?
Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jan 2004
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 Times Colonist
Author: Jack Knox, Times Colonist
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


'It is not an exaggeration to say that organized crime is a cancer eating 
away at the social and moral fabric of British Columbia."

That was RCMP Sgt. John Ward, just after this week's police raid at the 
legislature. Normally, that kind of quote would get a lot of reaction, but 
this story has been like turning over a rock and seeing a dozen snakes 
slither off in a dozen directions.

It's hard to know which one to chase first -- the drug conspiracy angle, 
the commercial crime probe, the cabinet ministers' aides, the suspended 
cop, the power ploys behind Paul Martin's leadership campaign, the sale of 
B.C. Rail, or the incestuous relationship between elected officials, 
lobbyists, political appointees and backroom boys. All we need now is for 
Gordon Campbell to punch out Michael Jackson at a luau, and Tony Parsons 
might short out and keel over on air.

But back to Ward, and his comments on the cancerous spread of organized 
crime in B.C. over the last two years: "Today, the value of the illegal 
marijuana trade alone is estimated to be worth in excess of $6 billion. We 
are seeing major increases in organized-crime related murders, beatings, 
extortion, money laundering and other activity which touches many innocent 

Super. How did we let that happen?

Ward won't say, but I bet it started with the notion that marijuana isn't a 
terribly harmful drug, so growing it isn't a terribly harmful crime and 
certainly not deserving of terribly severe penalties -- maybe a $400 fine 
and 50 lines on the blackboard, something like that. And hey, anytime we 
can sell the Americans $6 billion worth of anything and not have them slap 
a 27 per cent duty on it, we should be happy. There's so much money to be 
made, and so little risk in making it, that you almost feel like a fool for 
not jumping on the gravy train.

But it's not that simple, is it? Even if marijuana is relatively benign -- 
you can make up your own mind about that -- B.C.'s dope-growing industry 
can't be divorced from all the criminal activity that comes with it, 
whether that be tax evasion and money laundering, or the guns and cocaine 
that come north as the B.C. Bud goes south. It's no coincidence that after 
years of decline, the crime rate is rising -- it jumped eight per cent on 
Vancouver Island in the third quarter of 2003, compared to the same period 
last year.

The economic impact skews our values. A couple of years ago, I met a woman 
who moved to Vancouver Island from the Kootenays because she feared her 
kids were getting the wrong message back there. With the mills and mines 
doing poorly and the government cutting jobs, the only people getting ahead 
in life -- driving new SUVs and building big houses -- were the dope 
growers, she said. Sorry, but the message is the same provincewide: Crime pays.

Officialdom does little to dispel the impression of tacit approval. The 
courts appear lenient -- of the 6,000 adult British Columbians charged with 
drug dealing in the year 2000, only 63 individuals were locked up for two 
years or more. As for the provincial government, it talks tough about drug 
enforcement, but cuts the prison budget and sends the message that it wants 
fewer people behind bars.

Ward thinks British Columbians have little idea how pervasive it all has 
become. "Organized crime is not just outlaw motorcycle gangs and it's not 
just the organized crime groups we used to have, like the Mafia."

It can be your neighbour and a few buddies getting together to build a 
basement grow show, or to run one financed by someone who would rather not 
be found around the product. ("Organized crime guys are not stupid.")

Put all the labs together -- police think there are up to 15,000 in the 
Lower Mainland alone -- and you get that $6 billion, whether it come in the 
form of the American cocaine that is traded pound-for-pound for B.C. Bud, 
or the money that gets laundered through legitimate businesses. (Targets 
can include real estate, currency exchange outfits, bars, strip clubs -- 
"the types of places that get large sums of money and can move large sums 
of money," says Ward.) The crooked get rich, the rest pay taxes.

Organized crime has taken off in B.C. because we have allowed it to take 
off. The number of grow ops busted in B.C. tripled between 1993 and 2002, 
not because police have cracked down, but because they can't keep up. With 
so much money and so little risk, a culture of criminality has taken root.
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