Abe Snidanko, the relentless narcotics officer who was the scourge of Vancouver's hippies and lampooned by the stoner comedy duo of Cheech and Chong, has died. He was 79.
Constable Snidanko's name became a byword for the conflict between the establishment, including mayor Tom Campbell, and a burgeoning counterculture scene in the West Coast city.
Musician and marijuana aficionado Tommy Chong became familiar with the officer's reputation in Vancouver in the late 1960s. With comedic partner Richard (Cheech) Marin, he created the character Sgt. Stadanko (sometimes written Stedenko), a caricatured foil to good-natured hippies who were seeking only to get high. The character was portrayed to outrageous effect by a flat-topped Stacy Keach in the smash 1978 comedy Up in Smoke.
As early as 1964, the real-life police officer's name made local newspapers for his role leading to the arrest of a man selling marijuana. Constable Snidanko, who was working undercover for the RCMP at the time, gave $10 to a man in a laneway for five marijuana cigarettes, which the Vancouver Sun helpfully told readers were known as "reefers." Bail was set at $10,000. (The outcome of the case is unknown.)
As a hippie culture became established along West Fourth Avenue in the city's Kitsilano neighbourhood, the drug squad turned its attention away from heroin along the seedy waterfront district. Marijuana was becoming as common as black-light posters in Kitsilano, but the merciless attentions of Constable Snidanko put otherwise peaceful hippies on their guard.
Among those arrested for drug possession by the officer was Jerry Kruz, who operated a popular concert hall in the neighbourhood. He detailed Constable Snidanko's campaign against him and other marijuana smokers in his 2014 memoir The Afterthought.
The Georgia Straight newspaper frequently reported on arrests and alleged harassment by members of the drug squad in a weekly column titled Heads Busted. In one of those, the newspaper published Constable Snidanko's home address.
The officer later spent 13 years overseas, serving in Jamaica, Hong Kong and Austria, where he was Canadian attaché to a United Nations organization seeking to control narcotics trafficking. He was awarded a Knight's Cross, 2nd Class, by the Austrian government in 1990.
In popular culture, the parodic Sgt. Stadanko has overshadowed the real-life Constable Snidanko. The character was unveiled on the opening track of Cheech and Chong's second album, Los Cochinos.
At one point in Up in Smoke, Mr. Chong's character carelessly tosses a joint into a station wagon carrying six nuns at the Mexican border. An unsympathetic Sgt. Stadanko promptly arrests the nuns and a television reporter asks him what he is looking for.
"Dope, drugs, weed, grass, toot, smack, quackers, uppers, downers, all-arounders," he says. "You name it, we want it."
These days, the comedy duo sell a bong trademarked the Cheech & Chong Glass Sergeant Stadanko Beaker Tube Water Pipe, for $122.99 (U.S.).
Adrian John Snidanko was born on Oct. 4, 1937, in Smoky Lake, Alta. He died at home in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond on Aug. 2. He leaves his wife of 51 years, the former Noreen Moran. He also leaves two sons and five grandchildren.
Over the years, Constable Snidanko was sought out by historians and journalists for his reflections on the drug wars of the late 1960s. He demurred.
"I've been asked for interviews many times and I've refused every one," he told Neal Hall of the Vancouver Sun in 2007. "And I'd like to keep it that way."
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