Crown draw drug line:
Federal prosecutors to
process charges in new crackdown on public substance abuse
Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun
February 22, 2006
VANCOUVER - No other city in North America would tolerate
the sort of open drug use seen daily on Vancouver's
streets, parks and school grounds, Vancouver police said
Tuesday. And they vowed they're going to put a stop to it.
Insp. Bob Rolls, who is in charge of District 2, the
northeast section of the city that includes the Downtown
Eastside, announced a new enforcement program against
public drug use.
He said a crucial agreement has been reached with federal
prosecutors to process charges against those who use drugs
Rolls said that over the years, officers have felt
helpless to stop open-air drug use in the Downtown
Eastside because they had no "tools" to deal with it.
There was no support from the courts, as charges were
either not processed or sentences upon conviction offered
no deterrence, he said.
"In the past 10 years, charges have been tapering off as
there's been recognition that drug abuse was a medical
problem and so we have concentrated enforcement on the
dealers," he said.
This has led to a sense of "entitlement or empowerment by
drug users to openly shoot up or smoke drugs wherever they
like," said Rolls.
"There's no other city in North America that would put up
with this," he said.
"We don't allow this for consuming alcohol, yet we allow
it for cocaine and heroin. This doesn't make sense."
There will be zero tolerance for crack cocaine smoking or
intravenous drug injections in public, he said, noting
officers have arrested five people since the crackdown
began at the end of last week.
Dianne Tobin, president of the Vancouver Area Network of
Drug Users (VANDU), said such enforcement would only drive
the activity out of the Downtown Eastside into other
"I feel sorry for the people of Strathcona because the
police will drive the problem there. I think it's a waste
of money and a waste of time," she said.
"We want to see it [on-street drug use] stopped too and we
are trying to do something about it. But if you're
homeless and living in an alley, where else are you going
to shoot up?
"We're concerned that the police are turning the clock
back 10 years and are going to start throwing homeless and
marginalized people in jail," she said.
VANDU has already placed signs in various Downtown
Eastside locations asking drug users to be discreet and
not inject themselves in public, she said.
The organization is also working with health authorities
to persuade addicts to bring their used needles to
disposal points in alleys or use needle-exchange
Tobin said lawyers will be made available for any person
charged under the crackdown. One of the five already
arrested has been given legal counsel, she said.
Rolls said open drug use is affecting the whole community
and leading to street disorder.
He said one business in the Downtown Eastside reported a
20-per-cent drop in customers recently and blamed
on-street drug users and dealers for frightening people
"If you are a drug user and are using drugs in a way that
interferes with others in the lawful use or enjoyment of
property or are contributing to street disorder you will
"If you are a drug user or dealer and my officers catch
you in a park or school ground, either carrying or using
drugs, you will be charged," he said.
Rolls said there is an elementary school, which he did not
name, in his district where the janitor begins each day by
sweeping the school grounds for used syringes, crack
pipes, broken bottles, beer cans, used condoms and human
excrement before children arrive.
At Strathcona elementary school, he said, 300 used needles
were picked up around the school in a one-month period.
This is unacceptable and must be stopped, he said.
Rolls said that last summer, a woman was with her child in
the grounds of an East Hastings community centre when the
child picked up a used needle and put it in its mouth.
"The mother stopped breathing and rushed the child to
hospital and thankfully the child was okay. The mother
said when she takes her children to play in that community
centre she always checks the sand at the foot of the slide
to see if there's any needles," he said.
Meanwhile, two parents pushing their children on swings in
the small park at Commercial and Charles Street Tuesday
afternoon said they are all in favour of the police plan.
"Where I used to live, I was always calling the police
about people shooting up and this was a contributing
factor in why I moved to this part of Commercial," said
"I support the police although I have a mixed reaction
because jail is not going to help these people, they need
programs and treatment. It's unfortunate it has to be an
enforcement issue but perhaps this is a good way to
pressure the government to provide proper services," he
Adrienne Chin has seen people shooting up in the Broadway
and Commercial area and said she "supports the police
"It's definitely a good thing. When my child's running
around the neighbourhood I want it to be safe. I don't
want it picking up needles. The thought of it really
creeps me out," she said.
"I've had people sitting on the benches here smoking dope
in front of kids here and that upsets me, so anything the
police can do to stop it I'll support," she said.