Article by Rick Vanderlinde, Simcoe.com
If there was ever any question that Highway 400 acts as a pipeline for GTA drug dealers to ply their trade in Simcoe County, it was quickly quelled by Project Shoreham.
The joint-forces operation by the OPP and Barrie police targeted Toronto-area gangs that hoped to profit from lucrative markets a few hours north.
The 2019 investigation acted as a warning to GTA drug gangs, putting a “major dent” in a drug distribution network, with 239 charges and 29 arrests.
But, as top-ranking officers at a November 2019 media conference in Barrie readily admitted, police must remain vigilant, because other organized criminals are always waiting in the wings to set up shop in the void left by their competitors.
“We have been using policing strategies that have been around forever, and I would suggest that they are probably not working,” retired Barrie police Insp. Dave Hossack said in an interview earlier this year. “We seem to still have the same issues. With drugs it is consumer-driven, just like any commodity, and obviously the demand is still such that it’s driving the business. You’re probably not going to expect a solution by doing the same thing.”
Hossack draws a parallel between illegal drug consumption and impaired driving, saying decades of trying to deter drunk driving with police enforcement hasn’t worked either.
“I think there’s a balance to it and we need policing, but it’s always been looked at as a law-and-order issue – but is it? Maybe the solution should be looked at in the health system.”
Hossack, who retired four years ago, sees no immediate solution to keeping GTA gangs from shipping their dangerous drugs — cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and crystal meth — up Highway 400 to Simcoe County and Muskoka.
“It’s a good market, there’s lots going on around here,” he said. “Drug crime from the GTA has been coming up here for quite a number of years. A lot of it is geography, because we have the 400.”
Hossack is in favour of treating addicts as patients instead of criminals, but is much more cautious when it comes to decriminalizing hard drugs, as has been done in Portugal.
Portuguese authorities don’t arrest anyone found holding what’s considered less than a 10-day supply of illicit drugs, from cannabis to heroin. Instead, drug offenders appear before so-called “dissuasion panels” made up of a lawyer, doctor and social worker. Most cases are suspended. Addicts who repeatedly come before a panel may be prescribed treatment, ranging from motivational counselling to opiate substitution therapy.
“That would be a tougher leap for me to make because there is a trade-off. I don’t know because of the amount of damage those drugs do to people and society, because it’s highly addictive. There might be a bit of a stretch between harm reduction and total decriminalization.”
Bonnie North, a Green party member and past Barrie-Innisfil candidate, believes decriminalizing personal use will go a long way to tackling an age-old problem.
“It was once considered innovative that the Green party wanted to legalize marijuana use, but now it’s accepted as a norm,” the Barrie resident said. “The opioid crisis? We need a system where people want to have their addictions and mental health problems treated. We need to destigmatize them and make sure the services are there.”