An Alberta judge, who presided over a fatality inquiry concerning an imprisoned aboriginal man who ingested a toxic mix of morphine, ecstasy and marijuana, has provocatively concluded that the war on drugs has been lost.
Provincial Court Judge Les Grieve’s analysis of the “unenviable” life and “tragic” death of 40-year-old Kory Stewart Mountain at the federal Drumheller Institution comes as deadly drug and gang-related violence has erupted on an Alberta reserve. His conclusions also appear to take aim at the federal Conservative government’s tough-on-crime agenda as well as provincial cuts to restorative justice programs that bring offenders and victims face-to-face, which experts say can steer wayward people straight.
“The so-called ‘war on drugs’ is, in my humble view, a war which cannot be won,” Judge Grieve wrote.
In his six-page report issued Tuesday, Judge Grieve, whose career took him from police departments in Nova Scotia to the Crown prosecutor’s office in Calgary before being elevated to the bench almost four years ago, laments a culture that uses intoxicants so permissively.
“Society does not seem committed to this battle as can be seen by sports heroes and other celebrity role models who use drugs, even smuggle them, yet are still revered by the masses,” he wrote, “It may be that all we can hope for in this war is to keep the casualties to a minimum.”
Valerie Wiebe, Calgary’s executive director for addiction and mental health with Alberta Health Services, said the sentiments do a disservice to people in counselling for drug and alcohol abuse.
“Just because something is complex it doesn’t make it a lost cause. Cancer is complex,” she said.
Michael Huston, a psychologist and counsellor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, was similarly shocked and noted Alcoholics Anonymous is a success story. “Are we able to do anything about drug and alcohol problems? Absolutely.”
However, Judge Grieve’s indictment of a system that has failed aboriginal people, who are sent to jail in disproportionate numbers, also calls for funding for programs such as addiction treatment.
At least one wish may be granted as early as Wednesday. According to a source, Alberta’s Solicitor-General is poised to reverse its controversial decision to cut $351,000 in funding for restorative justice programs.
Sue Hopgood, who is the co-ordinator with Alberta Conflict Transformation Society and handles 35 to 50 cases a year, said she has witnessed the benefits of restorative justice and has trained workers on first nations reserves in the practise.
Meanwhile, an autopsy was under way Tuesday on the body of a 23-year-old woman who was shot at a known gang house in Hobbema, which is the hub of four native reserves south of Edmonton. Last month, the woman’s next-door neighbour, a 5-year-old boy, was killed as he slept when shots were fired outside his house.
As Hobbema copes with drugs, gangs and six unsolved homicides in recent years, Judge Grieve’s analysis strikes a chord with community leader Roy Louis.
“Probably for some people it is a lost cause, but for others there’s always hope. I’m a firm believer in hope,” he said.
Police have heard the negative comments before, but refuse to surrender.
“You can’t make a mistake on this,” said Alberta RCMP Sergeant Patrick Webb, “If all of a sudden you decide the war on drugs has failed and drugs are free to everybody, what kind of country are you going to live in?”