HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug Free Zones A Failed Experiment?
Pubdate: Fri, 24 Nov 2006
Source: Daily Courier, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 The Okanagan Valley Group of Newspapers
Author: Chuck Poulsen


Judges may hand out longer sentences to people who traffic drugs
around schools, but the Drug Free Zone program is hardly worth the
signs it is written on.

The zones were established about seven years ago in a joint effort
between the police and school board. The announced goal was harsher
sentences for people trafficking within the zones around schools,
although that appears to have been more wishful thinking than legal

"The intent of the zones is certainly a good one, and they have been
effective to some degree," said School District 23 Supt. Mike Roberts,
"but they haven't had the impact that was hoped for at the beginning.

"The hope was that in co-operation with the courts, RCMP and the
school district, we would be able to deter dealing of drugs in and
around our schools, in particular the middle and high schools. The
downside is the court's ability to provide harsher penalties to
individuals who happen to be in the zones has been limited, if it's
existed at all."

Judges are not compelled to give any weight to whether a trafficker
was operating within a Drug Free Zone.

"Just because it's a Drug Free Zone, that doesn't necessarily attract
a greater penalty," said Kelowna lawyer Marty Johnson. "Neither the
school board, police or city have jurisdiction over imposing greater

"Only Parliament can legislate that."

However, Kelowna lawyer Grant Gray said judges often do give
consideration to drugs being sold around a school, but that's not the
result of the program.

"Most judges will consider aggravating circumstances, such as selling
across from a school, but I could take you back 20 years and that's
the way it was then," said Gray. "There is nothing new about that."

Gray said he believes that judges often hand out harsher circumstances
for trafficking around schools, but that's just one of the aggravating
circumstances that are considered.

He said there are too many variables to generalize, such as the
aggravating and mitigating circumstances that go with each individual
case as well as each judge's view of the seriousness of the particular

The Drug Free Zone signs have also been put up around some city

Roberts said the RCMP supply two school liaison officers to the
district. That emphasis, he says, has been productive in sending a
message that drugs are not something that is going to be tolerated
around schools.

"But I think there is combination of two problems," he

"There is the legal ability of the courts to provide a harsher penalty
(in Drug Free Zones) and the RCMP's general ability to respond to what
might be considered somewhat minor drug possession issues. It's a
simple manpower issue for them."

Marijuana is the drug of choice around schools.

Roberts said the schools are committed to harsher penalties when drugs
involve students, although that has done little to deal with older

"The emphasis to the zones was a way to deal with community members,
say 22- or 25-years-olds, who hang out around schools because that's
where the target clientele is located.

"We have a pretty effective way of dealing with our students, but we
have little or no control over individuals from the community. We have
no legal authority to send them on their way."

Susannah Brown, principal of Kelowna Secondary School, said the drug
issue is probably a bit worse than it was seven years ago when the
zones started.

"Initially, the zones had an impact, but then they became old hat,"
she said. "I'd say there has been some increase in the drug problem
(around schools) in seven years, but then there has been an increase
in the entire city.

"The majority of our students are awesome, but there is still a
clientele for drugs."

Al Lalonde, principal of Central School, said the zones are still a
good idea.

"The good thing about Drug Free Zones is that we have good support
from RCMP if drugs are being sold near schools," said Al Lalonde, "but
there has to be the follow up through with the courts."
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