Breaking the Cycle of Despair – Fights Crime


THUNDER BAY – If you look around Thunder Bay, there has been some massive dollars injected into our economy in recent years. Marina Park, the provincial court-house, the new District Social Services Building, a major upgrade to City Hall, just to name a few. However one area that for the past several years has seemingly not received enough support is money and resources for treating people for addiction to drugs and other substances.

Heck across Thunder Bay are people who cheer each new building as proof that Thunder Bay is doing great. We are doing better, but we have a long ways to go before we can claim greatness in my view.

While some in our community are obviously doing very well, others are reaching for drugs, alcohol and getting involved in criminal activity. Talking to some of the people they will tell you they are feeling numb, or they are feeling down. That taking drugs, or alcohol isn’t a solution is something they can not or will not understand.

What is lacking? Maybe it is as simple as ‘Hope’. People who are positive, engaged and moving forward in their lives don’t need to abuse drugs. They don’t need to abuse alcohol, and they don’t do crime. They are busy building their lives and making a positive contribution to our city.

When those who have issues with addiction, be that drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances, are left without hope, without a hand up, it is far easier for them to continue on a path downward spiralling increasingly downward.

A simple approach would be putting those people in jail if caught either intoxicated, or with small quantities of drugs. That of course won’t likely solve the problem. All it does is extend it. In fact likely by the time you consider the costs of policing, the courts, and then jail, we are likely spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in reactive solutions, and not in preventive measure.

Going after the dealers, and the bigger fish who are supplying drugs makes sense. But again that may have the impact of causing drug prices to increase, and driving addicts into potentially more criminal activity to find the money for their addiction.

That is not to suggest for a moment that police should step back and do nothing.

But what it means is we, as a community if we want to live in a safer community must start doing things differently than we have been doing them. As they say, a definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Offering hope means, at the start having the facilities present to allow those who have become addicted to drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances to have a way out, a way of breaking the cycle.

It likely means that all three levels of government have to come together and make some tough choices.

Likely spending millions of dollars on facilities to deal with addiction issues isn’t something most political leaders are willing to do. It isn’t as exciting as new parks, or other facilities. However for Thunder Bay to move forward in a progressive and safe manner, it is time for our civic, provincial and federal leaders to step up and make the needed moves to put treatment beds atop the list of needs in our city.

Police Services Board Chair Joe Virdiramo stated, in the 2010 Annual Police Report, “Today we are all affected by negative impact of substance abuse. Much of the crime that occurs in Thunder Bay has drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances as the common thread. Organized crime profits from the misery and despair that afflicts so many. Desperate people turn to crimes such as robbery or break and entering to get through a day at a time. While enforcement is important, there can not be any real progress made until we break the cycle of crime and addiction”.

The reality is simple. Police could arrest every person found with marijuana, or other drugs, they could put them all in jail, and it won’t solve the problem. The police could arrest and jail every person found on our streets in a state of intoxication, and it won’t solve the real issue.

Perhaps too, even the issues with the Drug Unit, working as hard as possible isn’t making the needed difference.

The 2010 Thunder Bay Police Services Annual Report states, “In 2010 the Drug Unit made several significant arrests resulting in numerous Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and Criminal Code charges being laid. The Drug Unit also made significant seizures of assets from involved individuals laying charges under Proceeds of Crime legislation. Approximately 140 lbs of Marijuana, 1 lb of Cocaine, 600 Oxycodone tablets, 1,000 Percocet tablets, with a street value of $1.31 million dollars and $230,000.00 in currency was seized”.

Sadly, it is likely those seizures only scratched the surface of the problem. Talking to front-line police officers, you uncover that the drug problem is one so massive that even if everyone were to be arrested, there isn’t anywhere to put them.

What the Thunder Bay Police need, and what crime-weary Thunder Bay residents need is more attention paid to prevention issues.

Perhaps that is what will happen as a result of the efforts that retired Chief Robert Herman mentions in the 2010 Report of engaging with communities across Northwestern Ontario. Part of the solution for problems in Thunder Bay, and in Northern communities with regard to drug, alcohol and substance abuse is dealing with the problems at their root level.

It is an area where Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs has also focused efforts. The Mayor has been making a serious effort to reach out to NAN, Fort William First Nations and to northern communities. It is an area where First Nation leaders are going to have to ramp up too.

The real focus should be that in a region where our best days are ahead of us, we need to build for tomorrow, and the best way to do that is by instilling hope in all the people across the North and by that combatting a lot of the problems related to addiction.

Call me an optimist, but I think it can be done. It simply takes the effort, the political will, and the realization by a few of the people in positions of power that they have tried it their way for a long time, and nothing has really changed.

Onward and upward to a brighter future should be what we are all working toward.

James Murray

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