Victoria, BC, Canada
“Unless these problems are dealt with, future generations may well be unable to contend with the consequences of our generation’s unwillingness to face reality.”
Vincent (Vince) Cain is a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) chief superintendent who served as British Columbia's chief coroner from 1988 to 1996. “I have witnessed the devastating human consequences of the so-called War on Drugs," Vince explains. "Instead of maintaining policies that lead to the needless arrest, incarceration, and sometimes death of so many of our fellow citizens, governments need to start treating substance abuse like the public health problem that it is."
Vince was among the first officials in Canada to state that drug addiction was a health problem and not an enforcement problem. When fatal overdoses in BC rose sharply during his term as chief coroner – from 39 in 1988 to 331 by 1993 – he convened a task force made up of officials from the health, social service, and law enforcement fields as well as Aboriginal representatives, street workers, and recovering addicts. After consulting with the task force and holding eight months of public sessions as well as confidential meetings with illicit narcotics users, he issued a Report of the Task Force into Illicit Narcotic Overdose Deaths in British Columbia in September 1994.
The report called for a public health approach to problematic substance use. Vince argued that the criminalization and marginalization of people who use illegal drugs increased health and social problems. Instead, addressing addiction through a public health approach would “ameliorate many negative personal, family, and social consequences arising from the punitive criminal model.” As with so many LEAP speakers, Vince’s opinion carried particular weight given his law enforcement background. That background allowed him to explain that drugs were readily available in jail and that the prison environment lent itself more to criminal mentality than to recovery.
“The answers are not easily found. Neither are the remedies cheap.” Vince said in his report. “The problems cover a wide range of issues, the solutions equally expansive and expensive, but unless these are dealt with head-on and now, future generations may well be unable to contend with the consequences of our generation’s unwillingness to face up to reality.”
Vince joined the Advisory Board of LEAP in 2010. He says that the time has come to wage a public and political “war” against the ignorance of the magnitude of this problem whose underlying causes and effects now extend into the peace, order, and governance of our society and thus the safety and security of our citizens.