Monday, March 07, 2005

Canadian Homicides and the Future of Canada's Drug Policy

The recent murder of four Mounties by a gun-toting, marijuana-growing psychopath is tragic. The Canadian Press' Dean Bennett has more information on the attack.

[Canadian Royal Mounted Police Regional Superintendent] Cheliak labelled the attack an "ambush" but wouldn't elaborate, except to say: "The investigation has shown that that's exactly what took place. That's why we're releasing that at this time."

He said Roszko managed to slip back into the Quonset hut while police were watching it in the hours prior to the Thursday-morning shooting, but investigators weren't sure how he did so.

Cheliak did not make it clear if one of the four officers shot Roszko or whether it was two additional officers who arrived minutes after the shooting and exchanged gunfire with Roszko.

Roszko, 46, was a convicted child molester, a community menace and a known cop-hater.

It was common knowledge that he had weapons on his farm. An application to search the property for stolen goods and a marijuana operation indicated Mounties were well aware they were dealing with a volatile individual. The application by Cpl. James Martin expressed concern about officer safety. |Link|

The Guardian's Anne McIlroy's article points out that these murders have sparked even more debate about proposed changes to Canada's drug laws.

Amid the shock and grief over the deaths of the four young Mounties have come calls for Ottawa to back away from a bill now being considered by the House of Commons that would punish pot smokers with fines similar to those handed out for speeding tickets while cracking down on large-scale growers.

"They are going to increase demand, but they are going to choke off supply," Bradley Trost, a Conservative MP, told the Globe and Mail newspaper. "It is going to make the suppliers even more dangerous, even more willing to take risks, because the profit margins will be even higher."

That bill, introduced in November and now before a Commons committee, was designed so that people caught with small amounts of cannabis - enough for 15 to 30 joints - would not be penalised for the rest of their lives. They would not go to jail or even get a criminal record - which can make it hard to get jobs or travel to the US. |Link|

It seems from the facts outlined in that the murderer was mentally unbalanced and hated police. The fact that he was growing drugs in addition to several other suspected crimes seems incidental.

But this incident is likely to inflame the passions of the police to crack down on drug growers with potentially explosive consequences.

Ottawa lawyer Eugene Oscapella, one of the founders of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, fears some dangerous repercussions as a result of the swift finger-pointing at marijuana grow-ops last week.

"You are going to see more violent raids now as police point to what happened in Alberta as proof that the people operating grow-ops are armed and dangerous and possibly crazy," he said.

"That may lead to the militarization of the illegal drug trade - police have bigger weapons and use more violent tactics, so growers may then arm themselves. And all the state really has to do to end this insanity is get rid of the lucrative black market that encourages large grow-ops. The economies of prohibition are pretty plain - you don't have to be a brilliant economist to get this." |Link| has an overview of the arguments for and against marijuana decriminalization in Canada here.

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