Shifting the Paradigm on Addiction – Crime – Community and Justice

Breaking free
Breaking free

THUNDER BAY – OP-ED – Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario are facing a tsunami of crime and violence. Much of that violence is fueled by addiction. A long time ago, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy was sounding the alarm, sending out the cry for help as opioids addiction was crushing people in remote northern communities.

City Councillors have been trying to get on top of the situation for years. Our city and region is struggling with the impacts of the crime, the violence, and the trauma.

In Thunder Bay, the Thunder Bay Police Service is facing a whole new situation as gangs from southern Ontario have seen the major market for illegal addictive drugs and those drugs are flooding the region.

The number of traffic stops by the Ontario Provincial Police where drugs are seized are up.

Thunder Bay Police are arresting many southern Ontario drug dealers often with connections to gangs.

“For every ten we arrest they send twenty more to replace them” – TBPS Officer

Off-the-record, a Thunder Bay Police office told NetNewsLedger recently, the situation is very frustrating.

He says that “For every ten we arrest they send twenty more to replace them”.

Sadly, for drug dealers, Northern Ontario makes economic sense. They make greater profits here.

So, what is the solution? Is there a Solution – YES!

At the root of the problem is addiction. Governments can’t arrest their way out of addiction.

Treating addiction means helping people overcome the problems and trauma that led them to a destructive path.

Treating addiction takes away the market from drug dealers.

The solution is taking away the market from drug dealers

Healthier people can reach and achieve their goals and dreams and become a part of society.

It is not going to be easy, and for those who are not impacted directly – even though almost everyone in Thunder Bay is impacted – often a hard sell.

Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario should be working with senior levels of government to become the pilot project for expanded addiction treatment in Canada. Our city should be looking to the province and federal governments for funding for youth programs that youth will participate in.

We have programs running on different levels – Peter Panetta and his Underground Gym have a record of success, Youth Centres Thunder Bay was making a difference having programs in the downtown Fort William neighbourhood. The City of Thunder Bay likely needs to shift from wanting to run programs, to letting more grassroots programs develop, and help them in creating the environment for their successes.

It could be as simple as listening to all the people more and letting more localized and grassroots programming thrive. In the McKellar Ward, people and the city appear on different ends of the spectrum when it comes to Dease Pool for example – The city has apparently been offered a solution from First Nations, I digress…

Thunder Bay District Social Services
Out of the Office and into the neighbourhoods – It will take leadership with a heart to take the serious steps forward.

Social Services and Child Care agencies likely need to get out of their buildings and get directly engaged with the people who they are helping. This is an area of huge opportunity to effect systemic change, but under the current model it is unlikely to be seen or realized. More on this in a future piece.

This entire process requires a multi-jurisdictional and systemic change in our ways of dealing with crime and with addiction. It means shifting out of government run expensive programs to more grassroots programs.

It would mean the establishment of courts which provide addicts a way back. It means shifting our justice system. Consider this, our justice system and to an extent our social services systems do not really provide any prevention or treatment like they could.

What if justices of the peace, judges, crown prosecutors’, and defense lawyers could get an accused out of the justice system and into a court supervised addiction treatment system.

Looking at media releases from the Thunder Bay Police Service, the number of times a person has breached conditions of release and been arrested again with more charges that are related to addiction is huge.

The entire system could save money if people were NOT becoming repeat offenders.

Thunder Bay taxpayers would see savings as police would likely with a better means of dealing with the social issues, they face have less overtime. Ontario taxpayers could see less costs for court time and time in jail.

Are there models that could be followed?

In Alberta, the government under Jason Kenney just announced funding to expand just such a program in Lethbridge after the program was first started in Edmonton and Calgary. The expansion of “Drug Treatment Courts” is working – and could be working in Ontario too.

Trying the same approach over and over, and expecting different results is a clear and present path for failure.

Taking a very strong and dedicated path forward to remove customers from the drug dealers will pay off in the long run.

It would be the most amazing legacy project any politician should be fighting too be remembered as implementing.

James Murray