Prohibition benefits Vancouver gangs
A retired judge has doubts about whether Premier Gordon Campbell’s response to the recent upsurge in gang-related shootings in the Lower Mainland will quell organized-crime-related violence in the long term.
Jerry Paradis, who was a provincial court judge for 28 years until he retired in 2003, said that putting more police officers on the ground won’t lessen the danger to ordinary citizens, who are at risk of getting caught in the crossfire.
“The police will be unaware of when the next explosion will happen,” Paradis told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from his North Vancouver residence. “They don’t know about them [shootings] until they happen.”
Paradis is a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a Massachusetts-based group composed of current and former members of the police and justice communities who are critical of current drug policies around the world.
“I’m satisfied in my own mind that although organized crime is involved in other things at the moment, while this particular or several gang wars may be due to other things that I’m not aware of, I have no doubt in my mind that it’s [an] attempt to either get status or maintain status in the drug market and protect turf,” he said.
In Canada, drug laws are a federal matter. Judging by pronouncements from Campbell and Attorney General Wally Oppal, it seems the province will be seeking federal help with this problem, but only in terms of expanding legal provisions for wiretapping, and toughening laws for bail and criminal sentencing.
The experience of the United States with outlawing alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s is instructive, according to Paradis. Criminal organizations proliferated and made huge amounts of money from the illegal-alcohol market. With this came gang rivalries and violence. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Paradis stressed, the widespread gang violence disappeared almost overnight.
According to Paradis, “The same thing happens here, and until we legalize and regulate drugs—all drugs, but at least we can start with marijuana; that’s the one that’s got the most demand and therefore needs the most supply, and therefore is the most lucrative to get involved with—until we do that, it’s just not going to get better, no matter how many cops we put on the street or how much money we throw at the problem.”
Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, which is chaired by RCMP Commissioner William Elliott, has noted that B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Southern Ontario, and the Greater Montreal region are the country’s organized-crime centres.
“The illicit drug market remains the largest criminal market in terms of extent, scope, and the degree of involvement by the majority of organized crime groups,” CISC stated in its 2008 annual report on organized crime.
The report also noted that marijuana “remains one of the most trafficked illicit drugs in Canada, with extensive organized crime involvement at all levels of production, distribution and exportation”.
A 2006 drug situation report by the RCMP estimated annual cannabis production in Canada at 1,399 to 3,498 tonnes and said it “continues to be predominant in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec”.
In 2002, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs released a report noting that the criminalization of marijuana has seen the “power and wealth of organized crime enhanced as criminals benefit from prohibition; and governments see their ability to prevent at-risk use diminished”.
Paradis said that the value of drugs on the street is grossly out
of proportion to the real cost of production. He noted that a single shot of cocaine should cost about $3.50, with a “reasonable” return to the producer. He said that, in fact, it’s sold on the black market for about 10 times that price.
“As soon as you decriminalize, it becomes something like alcohol, which the provinces are in charge of,” Paradis said. “I see no reason why it shouldn’t be exactly the same as the liquor stores. The only difference would be—and I think it should be this way with liquor as well—there would be no marketing, no advertising, no promotion, zero.
“We managed to price alcohol in such a way, in a variety of alcohols, that people who are addicted to alcohol but have little funds don’t steal to get what they want,” he added.