Cops like David Bratzer are a rare breed.
Think of the late Gil Puder. A distinguished Vancouver police officer, Puder called for an end to the war on drugs while he was in active service during the late 1990s and continued to do so despite threats of disciplinary action from his superiors.
Or the recently retired West Vancouver police chief Kash Heed. At one time, while he was still with the Vancouver police, Heed, according to Bratzer, also spoke about the legalization of drugs.
Bratzer has been with the Victoria police for only three years, and already the 31-year-old officer has stepped forward to question the basis of the country’s drug laws.
“As a police officer, you always want to help people, so it’s very frustrating to be a police officer and enforce laws that are not necessarily helpful,” Bratzer told the Georgia Straight by phone.
Last month, he addressed participants in a cannabis convention held at the University of Victoria, where he presented his proposals for a post-prohibition era.
Step one, he said, is to legalize all drugs. Step two is for the provincial government to regulate drugs in the same way it regulates alcohol. Step three, he continued, is to decide what to do with the “peace dividend” or the funds that government can save by stopping the war on drugs.
Bratzer also told participants at the convention, which was organized by the International Hempology 101 Society, that among the things guaranteed in a war-on-drugs regime is criminal activity. This comes from both drug users in need of money for a quick fix and organized-crime groups involved in the production and distribution of drugs, he said.
Coming out to speak about these things as a volunteer with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition—a Massachusetts-based group composed of current and former members of the police and justice communities—isn’t easy.
“It’s been mixed,” Bratzer said when asked about the reaction of his Victoria police colleagues. He stressed that his views are entirely his own and do not reflect the position of the police department.
He also has two older brothers who are with the Victoria police. “We have talked about it,” Bratzer said. “They understand that I have my own opinions and they respect that. They don’t necessarily agree with me but they respect my right to free speech.”
The Straight caught up with B.C. solicitor general John van Dongen earlier this month at a private screening of A Warrior’s Religion, a documentary dealing with gangs in the South Asian community. When asked about the prospects of legalization, van Dongen said: “That is a federal issue and certainly the Conservative government has made their position clear that they’re not going there.”
Where Canada’s war on drugs may lead to in the future worries Tony Smith, a retired 28-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department and also a LEAP member.
In Mexico, Smith noted, drug cartels have grown so powerful with profits from the drug trade that they can either buy off police, judges, and politicians or kill them at will.
“What’s really the difference here and there?” Smith asked in a phone interview with the Straight.
In the U.S., according to Smith, there’s much talk about drug corruption among law enforcers. That may not be the case in Canada, but he warned that once it starts happening here, “you won’t know which policemen are under the pay of the drug people and which policemen aren’t” and “it’s a very thin line once you approach that point.”
Referring to the ongoing turf war among gangs here in the Lower Mainland, Smith noted that drug lords now don’t seem to care about “what level of violence they’re using amongst themselves”.
What if, Smith asked, somebody comes “stepping out of the line and thinks, ”˜Well, you know, screw it. I’m in a bit of a problem here. I’ll just take out the policeman or the judge or whatever.’ And once that occurs, then we’ll have total anarchy.”
The war on drugs
> Share of enforcement-related activities in Canada’s drug strategy: 75 percent
> Share of drug-related criminal charges in Canadian courts in 2002: 23 percent
> Cost associated with drug cases before the courts in 2002: $330 million
> Policing costs for drug enforcement in 2002: $1.43 billion
> Correctional-service costs associated with drugs in 2002: $573 million
> Canadians reporting having used illicit drugs during their life in 1994: 28.5 percent
> Canadians reporting illicit-drug use during their life in 2004: 45 percent
Source: “Canada’s 2003 renewed drug strategy—an evidence-based review”, published in the HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review’s December 2006 edition