Politicians spend a lot of time talking about getting
to the root causes of drug crimes. But they aren't putting money where
their mouths are.
Why is it so hard to help
Federal and provincial ministers have rejected a
modest $250,000 grant application by the Hamilton Coalition to Reduce
Substance Abuse Related Crime designed to deal with those causes. The
money would allow the implementation of 23 recommendations designed to
address drug addiction among criminals.
The most notable recommendation is for an addiction
counsellor to work at police headquarters to help people under arrest
and go out on drug raids with officers. Moments of crisis -- such as a
scrape with the law -- can become the catalyst for real change in a life
that has hit rock bottom.
The intervention would look like this: police would
provide an office for a full-time counsellor. Officers arrest and
bring-in an addict -- perhaps a sex trade worker on crack or a bank
robber who needs money for his next fix, or someone caught driving while
high. That person can have immediate access to a professional who can
listen to their story, offer advice and hook them up with the right
resources, whether it's a treatment facility, a self-help program or
That same counsellor would be at the courthouse on
days when drug court is in session, again offering help to those who
want it, but also acting as a resource to lawyers, judges and officers
involved with drug cases. The counsellor could be teamed up with police
officers when they go out on drug raids, much the same way the highly
successful COAST program pairs cops with mental health experts to go on
"The idea here is that we're not just going to give
you a piece of paper with a phone number on it," says coalition member
Regan Anderson, executive director of Wayside House, a residential
treatment centre for men. "We want to strike while the iron's hot during
the moment when these drug users have the greatest opportunity to make a
Ultimately, by getting criminals with drug addictions
"on a path to recovery" police will reduce the number of drug-related
crimes in the city, says Chief Brian Mullan, also a coalition member.
It is a simple but innovative concept. One developed
by the community's top experts who came together in 2004 to form the
coalition: Hamilton Police Service, Wayside House, the Hamilton Criminal
Lawyers' Association, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and
Alternatives for Youth. They joined forces and shared ideas and
recognized that jailing drug addicts wasn't going to break the cycle of
crime or addiction.
So the coalition got a $50,000 federal seed grant from
the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) to study substance abuse
related crime in Hamilton, with a focus on crack cocaine. Last April,
that study bore fruit in the form of a 200-page report that gave law
enforcement, the judicial system and addiction experts a unique snapshot
of the relationship between drugs and crime in our city. As well, the
report was rife with recommendations, some of which can be implemented
virtually cost-free, others for minimal sums.
"We've got the information, we've got the people,
we've got the buy-in locally," says Anderson. "But we can't seem to get
The NCPS turned down the coalition's grant for
$250,000 to cover the annual cost of an addiction counsellor, a
co-ordinator and a portion of the salaries of police officers who would
work with those two newcomers. After that, Chief Mullan appealed
directly to federal Justice Minister Vic Toews. Then to Ontario Attorney
General Michael Bryant. And Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter. And
Health Minister George Smitherman.
The answer was No, No, No and . . . No.
The rejection letters suggest the problem is that this
approach targets drug users who are already involved with the criminal
justice system. The politicians would rather pay for initiatives that
reach out to addicts BEFORE they become criminals. The difference lies
in the interpretation of the word "preventative." Do we work toward
preventing someone on the cusp of trouble from going over the edge for
the first time or do we find ways to prevent a drug addict with a
history of breaking the law from continuing to commit crimes?
24 January 2007