Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Just say no

Temperance women in bar.The local CBC is running a multi-part series on “street drugs” and if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect it was being sponsored by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, because the stance it takes on drugs — they’re bad and people who do them die — seems out of step with the times in 2021, particularly when the drug under discussion is cocaine.

People do cocaine without dying. People do cocaine and end up president of the United States. You think I’m talking about George W. Bush but I’m actually talking about Barack Obama, as Rolling Stone has noted:

While more famous for his youthful marijuana exploits as a member of the “Choom Gang,” the president in his memoir Dreams from My Father obliquely admitted that he had a taste for coke too. The president writes about his drug use in the context of self-medicating to deal with the pain of an absent father: “Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it.”

And it’s not like Obama wrote that after his political career was over and he no longer had to worry about public opinion — he wrote it in 1995, when he was starting his political campaign for the Illinois Senate. He wrote it guessing — correctly — that he could admit to drug use and voters wouldn’t care. (The book was re-issued in 2004, the year he won that Senate campaign.)

So over 25 years later — after pot has been legalized, after the Trailer Park Boys have helped us see the humor in a driveway paved in hash — it’s just weird to think of people getting the vapors over coke.

I mean, even the cop trying to ratchet up the fear — Const. John Campbell — can’t do any better than assert there are “shocking” amounts of cocaine on the go in CBRM (so shocking, he can’t quantify them) before painting this portrait of the average CBRM coke user:

“They’re at home and they’re having drinks and then, you know, they’re having a hard time staying awake,” he said. “So they do a bump of cocaine like it’s nothing, like they’re having a coffee.”

A) Const. Campbell is easily shocked.

B) This is the kind of discussion we used to have about pot — that “gateway drug” — before it was legalized and overnight became less dangerous.


Legalize it

I hope it is not necessary to state that I realize drugs do harm, but just in case, let me state: I realize drugs do harm.

But how do they do harm? Well, as the CBC series has documented, one problem is that when people buy drugs off the street, they don’t know what they’re getting (cocaine cut with fentanyl, powerful synthetic opioids). But that, as organizations like the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition argue, is precisely because street drugs are illegal and there are no rules governing their production or distribution, no systems of quality control.

The series also referenced “organized crime” and “biker gang” involvement in the drug trade, but surely that’s a lesson we learned during the original Prohibition, when the aforementioned Women’s Christian Temperance Union prevailed, the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned and yet, somehow, its purchase and consumption continued pretty much unabated? When the only effect was to put the “organized” in organized crime?

The real problem with drugs is addiction, but addiction is substance agnostic — alcohol, that most socially acceptable of drugs, can be highly addictive and harmful, and yet, Const. Campbell didn’t bat an eye at the Cape Bretoner in his anecdote “having drinks.”

As a society, we seem to have two approaches to addiction — if the substance is legal, we accept the risks associated with its use, which often amounts to ignoring them. We do not do enough to help people with addictions, even addictions to legal substances. There are gaping holes in our addictions services system in Cape Breton, which I know because our local CBC, to its credit, has done lots of reporting on it.

If the substance in question is illegal, though, it’s even worse. We criminalize addiction as part of the pointless, fruitless, endless war we’ve been waging on drugs for decades now — the war we’re basically being asked to endorse when cops like Const. Campbell are given the mic and allowed to claim (without evidence) that people in CBRM are funding their coke habits with CERB or that everyone on the Newfoundland ferry is a potential smuggler. The war that has led to over-policing of marginalized communities. The war that hasn’t worked.

I think this would have been a better series if it had tackled the question of legalization head on. It tiptoes up to it — it has a cop-turned-senator arguing for clean opioid supplies for those with addictions and a criminologist who says:

The best investment we can make to address street drugs is to reduce demand by increasing our health-care resources and our mental health care and substance abuse resources.

He’s almost there, the next obvious step is to say “and we could fund those resources by ending the war on drugs.”

So close, but no cigar (speaking of addictive substances).



I was doing some reading about great Cape Breton Regional Police Services drug busts and I came across some quotes in a 2008 CBC story that really haven’t aged well.

Drugs and money seized by CBRPS

Drugs and money seized by Cape Breton Regional Police in June 2021.

The bust, which netted $250,000 in cocaine and cannabis, was made under the aegis of Nova Scotia’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act (SCAN), a piece of legislation that gives police the right to evict people from their homes if it can be shown they use those homes regularly for illegal activity. And here’s the really fun part: police do not have to prove their cases in court.

The act, which encourages citizens to “take back their neighbourhoods” by reporting suspicious activity to the cops, was passed in 2006, the same year the federal government, under Stephen Harper, began getting “tough on crime.” Similar acts were passed in a number of Canadian provinces and territories.

In 2008, also in the spirit of getting “tough on crime,” Rodney MacDonald’s Tory government introduced the “Boots on the Street” program to beef up policing across Nova Scotia. Here in CBRM, that meant funding an additional 19 officers. (Fun fact: that funding was frozen at 2008 levels and the CBRM has had to make up the shortfall ever since — in 2018, it totaled $30,000 per officer)

Which brings us back to that 2008 Cape Breton drug bust. The CBC story quotes then-Chief Inspector Myles Burke as saying:

We’re kicking down doors, we’re entering doors, we’re evicting people. So the extra resources, the extra attention is really paying terrific dividends for us.

As exhilarating as this seems to have been for the cops, who told the CBC they “conduct a fairly thorough investigation” before kicking down a door or evicting someone, some observers had concerns.

CBU Professor Brian Howe, “an expert in public policy and human rights,” told the broadcaster that ignoring the basic principal of Canadian law — that you are innocent until proven guilty — set a dangerous precedent:

“Just on the basis of police monitoring and citizen complaint — where perhaps there is some evidence, but perhaps it is dubious — it’s kind of suspicious from the point of view of human rights,” he said.

I need to look into how SCAN legislation has been used in this province since 2006, but for today, I just want to note that Yukon’s version of SCAN is currently being challenged in the territory’s Supreme Court. The challenge was filed in January by a woman with eight children who was evicted on five day’s notice after she and her husband were charged with possession of drugs, firearms and stolen property.

Yukon’s SCAN laws give the power to evict not to police but to government officials, but as the CBC explains:

Complaints about illegal activity under SCAN do not need to make their way through the criminal justice system before the SCAN unit can take action.

It’s a complicated case — the SCAN eviction was actually rescinded and replaced with a two-month’s notice eviction by her landlord, but the woman decided to go ahead with her challenge to the legislation anyway, on constitutional grounds. The Canadian Civil Liberties Union has applied for intervenor status and four Yukon advocacy organizations have “thrown their weight” behind the legal challenge, filing affidavits calling for the SCAN Act to be reviewed.

I will keep you posted.


Bittersweet victory

Beth MacLean

Beth MacLean (Photo by Robert Short/CBC)

Fast & Curious isn’t very cheerful this week (which is funny, because I’m actually feeling quite cheerful and looking forward to the long weekend even though I won’t actually be taking a long weekend because that would blow up my publication schedule). I’m not sure this item counts as “cheerful,” I’d say it’s more “hopeful.” But I’m going to let Tim Bousquet explain:

The Province of Nova Scotia has for many years systemically discriminated against people with disabilities, ruled the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal yesterday.

The court extended a previous Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission Board of Inquiry decision that gave $100,000 compensation to each of three people, awarding one applicant, Beth MacLean, $300,000 in damages, which is the largest human rights general damages award in Canadian history. Unfortunately, MacLean died two weeks before the ruling.

Additionally, the Appeal Court awarded Joey Delaney $200,000 in general damages.

The third person, Sheila Livingstone, died in 2016, before the Board of Inquiry hearing; the Court of Appeal did not enlarge the Board’s award to her estate.

But besides the awards to the three people, the Court of Appeal sent the issue of systemic discrimination back to the Board of Inquiry, which could potentially affect up to a thousand other people in provincial care. The Court of Appeal found that the province had systemically discriminated against people with mental disabilities, but the exact contours of that discrimination are up to the Board of Inquiry to decide.

In a Wednesday press release from The Disability Rights Coalition, lawyer Claire McNeil said:

The Court of Appeal has rendered an historic decision on systemic discrimination. No longer can our Province argue that people with disabilities facing unnecessary institutionalization and indefinite and years long waitlists are not protected by human rights. This decision recognizes that community inclusion for all is a human right.

A coalition of organizations granted permission to participate in the appeal (the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Inclusion Canada and People First Canada) also issued a press release, characterizing the decision as a “significant victory” for Nova Scotians with intellectual disabilities, but underlining how much work remains to be done:

Nova Scotia is facing a human rights emergency. Up to 1900 people with disabilities remain on waitlist for community placement, of which over 1000 remain in institutions and approximately 500 of which remain without services.

Nova Scotia lags well behind other Canadian provinces in providing community homes and supports for people with intellectual disabilities. Today’s ruling presents an opportunity to the new provincial government in Nova Scotia to acknowledge (1) that they have fundamentally wronged persons with disabilities for decades, (2) that systemic barriers to community inclusion for persons with disabilities are no longer tolerable in a free and democratic society, (3) that they stop fighting persons with disabilities in courts, and (4) that they will work with the community to address their human rights emergency.

On Thursday, the Examiner’s Zane Woodford reported that Premier Tim Houston said his government won’t fight the Court of Appeal decision:

“I just don’t think anyone should really have to take their government to court to make their government do the right thing. So, we received the message loud and clear, we will work with the community to make sure that the supports are in place,” he said.

But Houston admitted this was no easy task and would not be done “overnight”:

The overriding goal is we want to make sure that the supports are in place and that’s the directive the courts have given. It’s the right thing to do, it’s a human thing to do, and it’s what we’ll do.


Plein Air

Christopher Gorey, an artist from Ingonish, won “Best Watercolor” during the 5th annual Parrsboro International Plein Air Festival (PIPAF) last month.

I tried plein air painting once, on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, and found it challenging for all the reasons noted in this excerpt from the festival website:

With plein air painting (and the Nova Scotia weather), time is always of the essence. Scenes changed dramatically before their eyes, and the possibility of rain kept everyone on their toes throughout the weekend, but such is the thrill and challenge of painting en plein air!

You can view all the paintings produced by the 19 artists participating in this year’s festival on the website (as well as some great photos of them at work), but this is Gorey’s prize-winning watercolor, “Moonrise Over Parrsboro”:

"Moonrise Over Parrsboro" watercolor by Christopher Gorey

“Moonrise Over Parrsboro” watercolor by Christopher Gorey


Gorey, who was born in Massachusetts, emigrated to Canada in 1974 and became a Canadian citizen in 1984. Michael Timmons of the Cowboy Junkies and Anne Murray (as in “Snowbird”) have his work in their collections.

Here in CBRM, his paintings can be found at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney.

And that, I think, qualifies as “cheerful” news so I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Enjoy your long weekends!