Gangs and Prohibition

Like other metro Vancouver communities, East Vancouver has been recently caught in the horrific and terrifying gun violence, resulting from gangs involved in organized crime and drugs. I have heard from a number of constituents who are horrified at what’s taking place and have a sense of dread at the level of violence, randomness, and the impact on innocent people. I share that horror too. No one should have to live in fear in their home and community.

Even the Provincial Attorney General and Solicitor General have noted that “of the over 200 incidents of reported shots fired in the Vancouver region in 2008, the vast majority are a direct result of organized crime’s drug trade”.

Federal New Democrats in Ottawa have called for:

* an overall coordinated strategy focused on gangs and organized crime;
* an improved witness protection program;
* more resources for prosecution and enforcement;
* toughened proceeds of crime legislation;
* more officers on the street as promised by the Conservatives but not yet delivered; and
* better and more prevention programs to divert youth-at-risk.

I am also very mindful that while we need immediate action to prevent gun violence and shootings on our streets, we cannot ignore the big question of our drug laws and prohibition and the impact it has on all of us.

It’s time to have an honest debate about prohibition and recognize that things have gotten worse not better. The so-called war on drugs has cost billions of dollars and has incarcerated millions of people both in Canada and the US, and has fuelled organized crime.

Since being elected in 1997, I have been a strong advocate for changing Canada’s drug laws. I have seen all too often the impacts of an enforcement regime that targets drug users, instead of recognizing the need for a public health approach. I have always supported INSITE and other harm reduction measures, as well as accessible treatment, as a more intelligent approach to drug use.

It’s time to look at new polices and a system based on regulation and control, not outright prohibition, which is no deterrence at all.
We need to recognize that drug use, both what is deemed legal and illegal, has always existed, and that the best policy is to provide realistic and honest education about substances that can be harmful, and provide help where needed for addictions.
It’s time to embark on a common sense approach and accept the overwhelming evidence that the war on drugs has caused more death, pain, harm and crime than we can bear, and that it’s time to stop it.
I know that’s not going to happen overnight – but let’s at least have the courage to see what’s failed and what alternatives there are.

We can begin with Marijuana and ensure there is real information and education, especially for young people – and ensure there are clear rules that spell out what is allowed for adult use.
Or we can continue on this tragic course of playing on people’s fear and trying to convince people that tougher and tougher laws will make it all go away.

It’s not an easy debate, but I believe we have to have it and recognize what is happening here.

Any feedback or comments are welcome!