Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

March 12, 2005 - The Toronto Star (CN ON)

Media Duped On Dope Story

By Ben Rayner

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

As Canada nears the end of its media-imposed mourning for the four unfortunate RCMP officers killed in Alberta last week, it might finally be time to call the nation's police officials out for their duplicitous appropriation of the shootings as ammunition in the war on drugs.

In no way should this be taken as disrespectful to the young men who lost their lives in the line of duty on March 3. No one should have to die for their job, particularly when that job involves something as mundane as repossessing a pickup truck - which, now that some of the smoke surrounding the sad events on that Mayerthorpe farm has cleared, appears to be what those officers were called in to do.

The fact that the RCMP was so quick to muddy the circumstances of the deaths of four of its own men by insinuating that they were gunned down while marching into a heavily fortified marijuana-growing operation, however, is in entirely bad taste.

Their killer, James Roszko, had about 20 marijuana plants on the property. Twenty pot plants don't make for a terribly lucrative operation, if they even qualify it as an "operation" at all. That number is, in fact, downright mom-and-pop when one considers that a much-publicized raid on a covert plantation in Barrie's old Molson brewery last year yielded 30,000 plants. That, my friends, is a grow-op. And not a single gunshot was fired during its police siege.

Were the RCMP and the chorus of Canadian police chiefs - blowing hot air about the "plague" of grow-ops afflicting our nation - hoping to drum up a little anti-marijuana fervour at the Liberal policy convention in Ottawa last weekend?

Or was the RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli's claim (later retracted) that the men were killed fighting for "a drug-free Canada" merely an attempt to make their deaths come off a bit more heroically in the media?

Whatever the motivation, it looked like shameless opportunism on the RCMP's part, another case of the police manipulating the media and fomenting middle-class panic to get what they want - which is, inevitably, more money and more men to make us safer from the very perils they're fond of exaggerating.

We've had experience with that in Toronto under outgoing police Chief Julian Fantino.

Remember all those knives and guns "seized" by police at raves a few years back? One hears echoes of the same fear-mongering in the recent police chatter about grow-ops: In the immediate aftermath of the Alberta shootings, it was impossible to get through an article about the affair without hearing some police official linking marijuana cultivation to organized crime, guns, child neglect and booby traps, booby traps, booby traps. I've never heard the term "booby trap" invoked so much in a concentrated period of time.

A lot of this is grasping at straws. An OPP official testifying in court over the Barrie affair is on record saying that the force has encountered violence in only two of more than 800 grow-op raids in Ontario. And Sgt. Birnie Smith, an Alberta drug-enforcement officer quoted in a CP story on grow-ops last week, could come up with no more pressing public threat from the operations than neighbours being mistakenly targeted by criminals showing up to rip off the wrong address.

"They go in, they're armed, and there can be serious consequences," he warned. "It's a danger if you're living next door to it."

Still, the police got what they wanted. Given the circumstances in which these exaggerations and half-truths were bandied about, the media - no doubt delighted to have a little bullet-riddled, American-style War on Drugs violence in its own backyard - reprinted them unquestioningly. The grow-op angle only receded in recent days, as it became more and more obvious that marijuana had very little to do with the killings and everything to do with what happens when you allow a deranged, antisocial loner to amass a large private arsenal out in Hell's Half Acre, Alta.

Pledging stiffer sentences for anyone caught growing pot is now an easy and obvious public-relations mark for politicians, and lingering fallout from the RCMP's grow-op disinformation will no doubt make it even tougher for the Liberals to get their half-assed decriminalization bill through Parliament.

This, of course, is missing the point. Decriminalization won't do anything to remove the criminal, potentially violent aspects of the marijuana trade, since it still leaves cultivation illegal. Legalizing pot completely is the only way to eliminate that side of the game, and the U.S. is likely to invade us if the Liberals allow that to happen.

The entire legal debate is useless, anyway, as no one's about to stop growing or smoking marijuana in this country. Supply equals demand, and the demand is ravenous. As Ron Allen of the RCMP's anti-drug unit in Toronto told Reuters last week: "If we focused all the forces in the GTA solely on marijuana, we still wouldn't get a handle on it. It's that large."

Much as it might ruffle conservative feathers, marijuana has become part of Canada's national mythology abroad. We're renowned as the source of killer B.C. weed. We paint affectionate portraits of small-time growers on Trailer Park Boys. A recent Simpsons mistakenly assumed pot was legal up here - as many Americans do - and had Ned Flanders being offered "a reeferino" on the streets of Winnipeg.

While perusing grow-op stories on the Star's own website last week, I was delighted to see the band of Google-generated advertisements down the side of the screen, consisting entirely of hydroponics ads promising advanced nutrient products, "huge yields" and "massive harvests."

Marijuana is not going away. And, in the grand scheme of things, it's not doing nearly as much harm in this country as, say, guns. Oppose it if you will - you have as much right to your opinion as you should have to smoke or ingest whatever you choose - but don't stoop to using dead men as pawns to support your position. They deserve to be remembered as men, not symbols.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact