David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

We Can Forge a New Drug Policy

Brandon Sun, April 4, 2009 - David McConkey

Deaths of our soldiers in Afghanistan remind us of the serious nature of Canada's mission there. We don't pay enough attention, however, to the fact our Afghan mission is entangled with the global "War on Drugs." 

Questioning the War on Drugs would put us at odds with our European and American allies. But a new book about the nature of Canada gives me hope that Canada could perhaps one day chart an independent course - even if it is a controversial one that shocks our allies.

Making drugs illegal does not stop their use. But it does make drugs very valuable. While society as a whole is stuck with the cost of law enforcement, drug dealers grow more wealthy.

And not only more wealthy, but also more violent. In Canada, we have seen violence among warring drug gangs, as well as the killing of police officers and innocent bystanders. In Mexico, in just the last couple of years, 9,000 people have been killed by drug-related fighting.

The War on Drugs also puts our soldiers in Afghanistan at greater risk. Perhaps one-third of Afghanistan's economy is based on poppy cultivation and the opium trade. The Taliban uses drug money to buy weapons and recruit fighters, becoming more of a threat to our troops.

"There is no question that there is direct linkage between the funding of terrorist activity and the poppy crop and the funds elicited from that poppy crop," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said recently.

MacKay was commenting on a new directive to Canadian soldiers to attack opium traffickers and drug facilities linked to the Taliban. (In a surprising twist, our soldiers could be then charged with war crimes, as international law forbids the use of military force against criminals such as drug dealers.)  

Legalizing all drugs could break this whole deadly cycle. We could reduce the costs of the criminal justice system and instead tax drug profits. In Afghanistan, poppy growing and the opium trade could be part of the regular economy, not part of terrorism.

But how do we raise questions about the War on Drugs when the Americans, including new President Barack Obama, are so committed to it?  

Obama's new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said recently that the U.S. will continue the same policies in dealing with drug violence in Mexico. Even though she admitted that "our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade."

How does Canada point out to the U.S. that if the demand for drugs is "insatiable," then the War on Drugs is futile? How do we tell the Emperor that he has no clothes?

I found some ideas for a possible answer when I read a new book  A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada. Author John Ralston Saul asserts that the interaction over four centuries among aboriginals, French and English has created a unique society in Canada. "We are a Metis civilization," he concludes. 

Saul observes that we have developed different policies than other countries and we have been willing to oppose our friends and allies.

Over a period of years, for example, especially under prime ministers Diefenbaker and Mulroney, Canada spoke out against apartheid in South Africa. Even though our approach annoyed Britain and France.

When Canadian Lester Pearson developed the notion of peacekeeping in the 1950s, it was also contrary to prevailing opinion.   

Saul believes that Canadians would benefit by fully embracing our heritage and boldly going forward. So what if we run counter to what others think? We could be simply ahead of our time, as we were with peacekeeping.

"The very fact that Britain, France, and the United States disliked the peacekeeping model," Saul says, "should have been enough to tell us that we were on to something interesting."

We can develop an alternative to the War on Drugs and speak out on the world stage. But this will not be easy. It would mean tapping, to use Saul's words, Canada's "deep historic roots of diversity, inclusion and complexity."

I'm afraid that this task is beyond the capacity of the current Conservative government.

But perhaps one day.

* * * *
See also:  

War and Remembrance

Drug, Alcohol Policies Reveal Our Hypocrisy

Canadian History Boring?  Not if You Know a Little

Canadians Must Maintain a Higher Standard in War

Community Memorials a Link to the Great War

Other Reviews

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