HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug Free Zones Pitched For Schools
Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2005
Source: 100 Mile House Free Press (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 100 Mile House Free Press
Author: Lachlan Labere


Penalties for possession of illegal drugs in or around secondary schools may
double next year with the implementation of Drug Free Zones in 100 Mile.

To curtail illicit drug activity on or around the grounds of Peter Skene
Ogden Senior Secondary (PSO) and 100 Mile Junior Secondary, School District
No. 27 will be meeting with the RCMP and community service agencies to
discuss a Drug Free Zone (DFZ) around both schools.

Superintendent Wayne Leckie said that based on the model established last
year around Williams Lake's two secondary schools, the school district plans
to work in conjunction with the RCMP, Crown and the District of 100 Mile
House to have the two-block radius around the secondary schools recognized
as DFZs.

As in Williams Lake, anyone caught in possession of illegal drugs within a
DFZ would be charged as normal, however, the resulting penalty could be
doubled. And for anyone caught with drugs for the purpose of trafficking,
the penalty could be tripled.

District Principal Joe Pearce, who serves as the school district's social
responsibility co-ordinator, explained that DFZs are a means of helping
schools and communities address a growing concern.

"I am not as familiar with the overall culture in 100 Mile House as I am
with Williams Lake, but secondary schools to a degree, or at least areas
around them, tend to be focal points for buyers and sellers," Pearce said.
"That's where the activity occurs, and that's the whole impetus behind Drug
Free Zones. Having kids coming to school stoned is a huge issue, but the
fact that they may be able to purchase drugs in close proximity to a school
is also a concern. It creates obvious safety issues for the school
community, not just the students."

Pearce emphasized the importance of partnerships between schools and

"The actual process itself involves a number of meetings with a range of, I
guess, participants - some at the municipal level, civic politicians, others
involving the RCMP and Crown, and of course, the school district as well,"
Pearce explained about the zones in Williams Lake. "The RCMP canvassed the
residents in the DFZs to explain what they were and why they were being
implemented. At the school level the schools had kind of an intensive
education process for the students around what the DFZ meant, what students
could expect in terms of penalties if they remained involved in drugs and if
they were apprehended while in the DFZs around the schools."

100 Mile Mayor Donna Barnett said the District of 100 Mile House council
will likely offer support.

"I think anything we can do to make awareness, and to assist in this issue
that is a big issue throughout the province and the world I guess, I believe
council would be happy to assist in anyway we could," Barnett said.

The school district initiative also has the support of 100 Mile RCMP S/Sgt.
Warren Dosko. Dosko said establishing DFZs will send an important message.

"It's kind of a community initiative, or school initiative, that says we
want our schools and the surrounding areas to be drug free," Dosko said. "If
they're not, if people are caught in these areas, when it's time to go to
court and sentence these people, they're going to be sentenced on a harsher
basis, because they're aware that they were in an area that was designated
as a drug free zone by the community. A lot of it is recognizing schools are
a special place and there's no place for drugs in and around those areas."

A School District No. 27 document outlines that a Student Crime Stoppers
program would be set up in each school, and that "with the support of Police
Dog Services, Drug Sections, General Duty members and Crime Prevention
sections, locker checks will be carried out as well as noon-hour
surveillance and education."

Pearce said that while a police presence in DFZ schools does increase,
secondary students likely wouldn't see police dogs roaming the hallways.

PSO Principal Vic Brett said the senior secondary already shares a close
relationship with the RCMP.

"The RCMP, they're a really good partner in education," he said. "They're
already a very positive presence in our school."

The school district already has in place policies to deal with student drugs
or alcohol possession on school property. The first offence prompts a 10-day
suspension, and the second an indefinite suspension. In the case of
trafficking, the authorities are involved.

"Those are pretty prescriptive measures, and certainly students run a huge
risk," Pearce said. "We have started, as part of the protocols that cover
Drug Free Zones, an information to RCMP about possession, but prosecution
for simple possession in Canada is almost unheard of at this time. We
inform, but as far as actual prosecution in the courts go, its the decision
of Crown."

Brett added a DFZ would be a part of a proactive approach.

"In my view, if we were to look at a program like this, it would be a
proactive program so that you don't have the drug problems, rather than more
of a punitive program where you're dealing with the problem that's there,"
Brett said.

Pearce said residences already known by authorities for drug-related
activities will likely receive greater police attention if they are within
the zones.

Teresa Taylor, a social worker in the 100 Mile area who supports
community-based harm reduction strategies, is concerned DFZs could do more
damage than good for some.

"Studies have shown that while law does not act as a deterrent, convictions
result in social consequences," Taylor commented. "Those convicted for minor
possession report more negative social impacts than those who receive minor
infringement notices, with neither group being deterred from subsequent use.
Arrest and imprisonment, and the lasting consequences of a criminal record
can destroy otherwise productive lives."

In Dosko's eyes, however, 100 Mile is already a DFZ.

"If somebody was in the privacy of their house smoking marijuana and they're
in a drug free zone, obviously that's against the law," Dosko said. "We've
got apartment buildings and all that sort of stuff in that area, and all
those things have to be taken into account. But at the end of the day, drugs
are illegal."

Drug-related offences are governed by the Controlled Drugs and Substances
Act. The act already requires courts take into consideration whether the
offence occurred in or near a school, on school grounds or at a public place
frequented by persons under 18 years.

Lawyer Larry McCrea said no presiding judge would be bound to the
recommendations of the RCMP or Crown regarding offences in a DFZ.

"They can't tell a court what to do without legislation," McCrea said. "They
can make the agreement with the Crown and the RCMP so that the Crown would
go to court and ask for double it normally would, but that doesn't mean a
judge is going to follow it. The court has autonomous jurisdiction and is
the person that gets to sentence. It may well be that a judge at the end of
the day is going to say trafficking close to school is an aggravating factor
and I'm going to increase the sentence, but that's not the only sentencing
factor to consider. It's based on the accused's circumstances. It's based on
the offence. It's based on the age, the prospect of rehabilitation,
retribution, general specific deterrents."

The school district has no intention of changing federal legislation.

"My experience at the north end was, Crown counsel has an appetite to make
school communities and the communities at large safer, and their
co-operation is paramount to having success here," Pearce said. "We cannot
dictate to Crown what they can or must do, but we can certainly, I guess,
make our wishes known and our desire to have penalties in place that make
prohibitive using and selling drugs."

Pearce added that the establishment of DFZs in 100 Mile would be one part of
a larger web of social responsibility the school district is working to
build in tandem with other community groups.Leckie said the district's
integrated community plan, including DFZs, should in 100 Mile by 2006.

"If it works, we'll do it on a pilot basis with a couple of other schools.
It might be worthwhile looking at other schools in the district as well,"
Leckie said. 
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