Alberta Sheriffs shut down yet another Lethbridge drug house. Again.

Here’s the thing though: shutting down drug houses doesn’t make communities safer.

Last week, the Alberta government announced that Alberta Sheriffs shut down a drug house in Lethbridge.

The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) unit of the Alberta Sheriffs obtained a court order that took effect at noon on 5 November. The order allowed them to board up the Northside home, change the lock, and fence off the property for the next 3 months.

This closure followed a year-long SCAN investigation, which began last October, after the community complained about the property.

Local cops executed a search warrant in March and found drugs and related paraphernalia. During the first half of 2020, cops also conducted multiple traffic stops on individuals leaving the property, some of which results in their finding drugs and “other illegal substances”.

In July, a 60-day community safety order secured by SCAN on the property owner restricted visitors to the site. After drug activity continued, they obtained a second community safety order last month, this time for 90 days.

All of this culminating, of course, with last week’s closure.

In the government’s announcement, Kaycee Madu, Albert’s justice minister, said the following:

Drug houses are a threat to the safety and well-being of our communities. I want to thank the excellent work of Alberta’s law enforcement agencies for shutting down this drug house. The province’s SCAN unit, in partnership with local police, continues to make neighbourhoods in Lethbridge and across Alberta better, safer places to live.

Here’s the thing though: shutting down drug houses doesn’t make communities safer.

This is the 6th announcement like this since October 2018. The most recent one was just two months ago, in September.

Organized crime doesn’t operate just one drug house in a city the size of Lethbridge. So shutting down one drug house doesn’t stop drug trafficking; it just shifts it to other already existing drug houses or encourages new drug houses to start up.

It’s the same thing with incarcerating drug dealers: throwing them in jail doesn’t stop the flow of drugs into a community, because there will always be someone ready to fill the void left when a dealer goes to prison.

The so-called “war on drugs” is a failure. For decades, cops have been shutting down drug houses, performing drug busts, and throwing drug dealers in jail. But drugs are still here. Not only that, but we’re in the middle of a drug crisis.

In the 2018 operating budget, Lethbridge saw $3.15 million in expenses for the Family & Community Support Services department. In comparison, the Lethbridge Police Services had $37.47 million. It costs 11.9 times more to run the police department in Lethbridge than it does to provide funding through FCSS to support organizations in implementing social, housing, and homelessness policies.

The city hasn’t published last year’s actual financials yet, but what they had budget widened that gap even more: $40.1 million for LPS and still only $3.15 million for FCSS. That’s 12.7 times more.

For 2020, FCSS expenses were budgeted to remain the same, while LPS were to increase yet again, to $40.3 million, 12.8 times as much as FCSS.

And despite the LPS getting year-after-year increases, we keep seeing reports of yet another drug house being shut down, another drug bust happening. Over and over. Without seeming to make a dent.

Because shutting down drug houses doesn’t address addiction, the main cause of people buying drugs. And throwing drug dealers in jail doesn’t address poverty, the main reason people commit crime to afford drugs.

Until we start addressing the underlying issues driving the drug trade—both in Lethbridge and beyond—it’ll never matter how many drug houses are shut down.

Closing a drug house to stop drug crime is like using a bandaid to stop a bullet wound.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

5 replies on “Alberta Sheriffs shut down yet another Lethbridge drug house. Again.”

There is ample evidence to prove your premise that fighting the drug war the way we are doing it is useless. After years and years of throwing money at police departments to hopefully solve a health care problem, it is clear we need a new approach. I don’t understand the reluctance to try something new. All municipal and provincial governments can see the police methods do nothing except feed the judicial system. These elected officials need to develop a backbone and do the right thing for the public.

Note that FCSS money comes 80% from the province and 20% from the city (or very close to that ratio as Lethbridge decided to chip in a bit more than it has to) and is dedicated to universal and preventive services. That’s things like volunteering, support for children, youth, and seniors. Addressing homelessness and supporting housing is funded differently. Funding is typically federal – I believe. I agree with you that prevention is an important pillar of any comprehensive drug response.

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