The Economist Asks: British Columbia or Colombia?

The Economist magazine thinks BC’s struggle with violent drug gangs is starting to look like the bloody battles of the Republic of Colombia.

In an article titled “British Columbia or Colombia?“, the magazine lays out the province’s current drug-crime-related woes:

Vancouver has become a distribution hub in a global drugs trade stretching to Asia and Europe. Local gangs ship out cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy made in BC, importing cocaine, heroin and guns for the Canadian market. Around 135 gangs are thought to be fighting over a business worth an estimated C$7 billion ($6.2 billion) a year.

That they do so in broad daylight demonstrates the feckless response of the provincial government and police, despite reports dating back more than 30 years giving warning of the growth in organised crime. Rob Gordon, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, says attempts at creating an agency to curb the gangs have repeatedly failed. Two such agencies have been disbanded since 1998 because of conflicts among the various participating police forces. The current effort at collaboration, led by the Mounties, is also “riven with conflict”, he says.

Despite great public concern over crime, it got little attention in the election. Mr Campbell’s Liberals and the opposition New Democrats promised more police and prosecutors. But neither, says Mr Gordon, appeared to have a long-term strategy to control organised crime.

Despite some recent high-profile arrests of gangsters, Vancouver’s local police admit they are not winning the war. They complain of having fewer officers per head of population than other big Canadian cities. The provincial government is planning a C$20m cut in annual spending on police and the courts by 2012. The gangsters, by contrast, are well funded and have little trouble replacing those lost in shoot-outs.

Comments left by Economist readers, apparently some Colombian, complain about the poor taste of the title. I agree that the author’s generalized association may be a little insensitive to the people of Colombia, but I think there is a message here – unfortunately not addressed by the author in the article.

The message: British Columbia, if it continues to follow the disastrous drug policies forced on Colombia and other Latin American countries by the United States, will undoubtedly suffer a similar fate to these countries – years of violent clashes between militarized police and powerful gangs, and the bloodshed of countless innocent victims.

Sadly, this article doesn’t connect the dots like another Economist article published last March called “How To Stop The Drug Wars“, outlining the folly of the Drug War. Credit must go to editors of The Economist magazine, who argued against prohibition 20 years ago and continue to broach the subject today.

Jeremiah Vandermeer
Jeremiah Vandermeer

Jeremiah Vandermeer is Cannabis Culture Chief of Operations and Editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine & Pot TV.