On May 1, 2000, Nga Trinh proudly gave birth to her third child in Vancouver, British Columbia. On May 2, the BC Ministry of Children and Families came into the hospital and took Nga Trinh’s one-day-old baby from her arms and told her that the child would be raised in a foster home.
Trinh had been arrested three years earlier on marijuana charges, and the judge had stayed the proceedings on May 12, 1998, meaning that she was never convicted. The court registry confirms that Trinh has had no convictions since that time, not even a misdemeanor. Still, the Ministry came for her newborn child.
Three years ago, Trinh was living in Vancouver, with the father of her two children, one 4 years and the other 6 months old. On August 8, 1997, police raided her home on a tip that there was a grow operation on the premises. The government took her children and has kept them for over three years.
Trinh’s case is only a small part a widespread tragedy of families destroyed by the Vancouver police’s vendetta against the Vietnamese community. Between January and March 2000, 42 children have been seized during marijuana grow raids, and all but four are Vietnamese. According to the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, about 80% of the total effort spent by Vancouver police on investigating indoor marijuana operations focuses on Vietnamese growers.
“We have seen more and more evidence of almost complete domination of the cultivation business by Vietnamese,” Vancouver Police Spokes-person Anne Drennan told the Vancouver Sun last March. In the same article, Drennan went on to speculate that perhaps the Vietnamese were being controlled by motorcycle gangs. This is a transparent attempt to scare white, middle-class, Vancouverites out of their world-famous marijuana-tolerant attitudes. Drennan is trying to tap into an anti-asian sentiment that has run in Vancouver’s veins since the birth of the city.
When I spoke to Nga Trinh it was with the aid of an interpreter, Stella Davis, a notary public who volunteers with the Vietnamese Women’s Society (VWS). During our initial phone conversation, Stella sounded alternately shaken, saddened, and outraged ? speaking with the bashfulness of someone who has kept a dirty secret far too long.
“I was a translator at a seminar that the VMS organized a month ago, on child apprehension procedures. A lot of families came out,” recalled Davis. “There were people from the Ministry [of Children and Families]that came to talk to us. There were parents that were upset at the ministry there, too. The ministry has to do an investigation. They have to talk to different people. But instead they just walk in and take the children when there are allegations.
“When the children are taken away and put in a foster home, then it is up to a court to decide whether to return the children or keep them longer. But the usual procedure with Vietnamese families is to delay the case ? and they postpone it for 3 months, 6 months, a year. The whole family is destroyed. And when they are returned as teenagers, they have lived in a group home for years, where they don’t have to obey any rules, and they don’t fit in to the family anymore, and then they often move out.”
Davis told me that many Vietnamese families are now having problems renting homes from landlords who suspect them of being marijuana growers, that the Vietnamese community is angry about the media’s portrayal of them as illegal immigrants using grow operations to finance their stay in Canada, and that even Vietnamese marijuana growers deny gang involvement.
She mentioned Nga Trinh’s case as a poignant example of the drug war used for racial oppression in Vancouver, and agreed to translate an interview from the Vancouver Women’s Hospital, during which Trinh related the debasements she has suffered since her children were snatched by the government.
Trinh’s Vietnamese chatted in the background while Stella Davis translated to me over the phone.
“She sees them twice a week,” said Davis. “They live in a foster home. At first her eldest daughter asked to come home, but over the years she noticed that the child is no longer carefree, no longer an innocent child, always frightened and not comfortable with herself. The people who look after her threaten her if she asks to go home. There is always an interpreter, from the Ministry of Children and Families, there to interpret every single thing that happens between the mother and daughter. She is forbidden to ask any questions pertaining to the daily activities of the child, if she is happy or if she needs anything. There is no freedom of communication between the two.”
Davis also told me that the family that houses Trinh’s children are white Canadians, and that Trinh’s younger daughter, snatched at six months, can’t even speak Vietnamese. Trinh couldn’t talk to her without an interpreter!
The interview ended as Davis followed Trinh into the nursery where Trinh breast-fed her child under the watchful eyes of a nurse. Trinh isn’t allowed to be alone with her baby.
Before she left for the nursery, Trinh explained that she and her boyfriend also faced charges of trafficking in heroin and cocaine the day of the marijuana raid, because police claimed to have found those substances on the premesis. Police allege that Trinh’s boyfriend was involved with Vietnemese gangs. Trinh says she didn’t know the drugs were there, and she hasn’t seen her boyfriend since the day of the raid, except in court.
Trinh has never once been drug tested, and her cocaine and heroin charges were dropped in 1998.
The court registry confirms that Trinh has had no convictions since that time, not even a misdemeanor. Still, the government will keep all of her children, and any more she may have.
Ross Dawson, the Director of Child Protection for the Ministry of Children and Families, let it slip that Vancouver police might be targeting Vietnamese growers and setting them up to lose their children.
In the Vancouver Sun, he’d commented on the large number of children ? mostly Vietnamese ? seized so far in 2000. “That’s very unusual for us,” he’d said. “That’s very high.”
I asked Dawson whether the ministry was regularly called in to deal with grow-op busts, and if there were a disproportionate number of Vietnamese families caught in these raids.
“I think that is probably true at the moment,” said Dawson, “I don’t know if they are disproportionately involved, or if those are just the ones that the police break up. But certainly, in the ones that we are called in on, there’s a high percentage of Vietnamese. What helps in these cases is if we get advance notice by the police, so that we can have interpreters available. Right now I would say it is about 50/50.”
Which means in at least half of the raids at which children were seized, there was no interpreter present to tell the families where their children were being taken.
According to Dawson, in the vast majority of cases there was also no evidence of abuse whatsoever. So why were the children removed from their parents?
“What we found mostly is that the care of children is very positive [in families with indoor marijuana grow operations],” said Dawson. “They aren’t neglected or abused, but there are some risks that we need to evaluate when we find children in these homes, and one of these risks is health and safety.”
Among potential problems for child safety, Dawson listed electrical wiring, pesticides, carbon dioxide, violence against families with grow-ops that are targeted by thieves, and involvement in the drug business. But he also admitted that there had been no actual reported cases of children being harmed in any of these ways. “The kids are kept out of it,” admitted Dawson, “We found that the adults run the operation.”
I asked him about Nga Trinh’s case.
“All of the kids went home. so we are not holding on to kids on the basis of cultivation … We have had this year no permanent removal directly because of drug busts. We’ve had 42 kids removed, all in the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island. Not one of those 42 children are currently in care…”
“My guess would be there is more involved, because in these other cases we have been able to quickly return children.”
Dawson promised to look into Trinh’s case to see if she’d “fallen through the cracks.” I got the sense from Dawson that he was an empathetic human being doing a tough job made even tougher by the racist tactics of Vancouver police.
Vietnamese grow gangs?
Local Vancouver lawyers say that police spokeswoman Anne Drennan’s boisterous claim that the Vietnamese have “complete domination” of the Vancouver marijuana industry is chock full of donut holes. I asked John Conroy ? a prominent local lawyer specializing in marijuana defense ? if he was aware of a Vietnamese marijuana take-over in Vancouver.
“I don’t think the police know with any degree of certainty how many grow-ops there are,” explained Conroy. “If I were to go by the number of people contacting me to represent them with regards to marijuana charges, then it doesn’t reflect what the police are saying. Certainly some Vietnamese have begun growing marijuana. But police don’t go after white anglo-saxon families like that and take their children.”
Doug Jevnigg, another lawyer specializing in marijuana cases, agrees with Conroy. “I do tons and tons of marijuana cases,” said Jevnigg, “and almost none of them are Vietnamese.”
Racism and prohibition have a long and dirty history in Vancouver. Marijuana and opium laws were originally introduced in Canada during the 1920’s, in response to escalating anti-asian labour riots in Vancouver.
Politicians like Emily Murphy fueled the flames of racist prohibition. Murphy wrote The Black Candle, and much like Anne Drennan’s attacks on the Vietnemese, Murphy’s infamous book characterized Canada’s Asian community as drug pedlars plotting to overthrow our society. The following decades saw mass deportation of chinese under the pretext of opium prohibition.
Seizing children from their pot-growing parents is a shocking form of cultural genocide which should not be tolerated in a free society. When police take children, they attack the irreplaceable bond of family, for which many would fight and die.