U.S. Drug War Damages Both Canada, Mexico

Mexico and Canada have a lot more in common than their shared $25-billion annual trade and awkward relationship with the elephant in the middle.

They also serve as the economic and physical battle grounds for the demonstrably failing U.S. war on drugs. And while the carnage in Mexico gets more press, the violence also exists in places such as Abbottsford, B.C., Montreal and even Winnipeg, where it has taken the form of shooting children.

To his credit, Mexican President Felipe Calderon acknowledged this week the challenges he faces because of the war. In the 21/2 years since he called in the army to deal with drug lords, crooked cops and corrupt officials, between 14,000 and 17,000 Mexicans have met violent — often gruesome — deaths.

And although the casualty list on the Canadian side is much shorter, it includes minority groups from the Lower Mainland in B.C., aboriginal groups on the Prairies, Caribbean immigrants in Toronto and traditional Mafia organizations in Montreal, as well as bike gangs across the country.

For the past half decade, Canada’s response has been to tighten controls, lengthen sentences, impose minimum levels of incarceration and pump up funding to law enforcement agencies.

While these measures sound like Canada is taking the war seriously, there is very little evidence such measures will have positive returns over the long run.

In fact, in the United States where consecutive governments have got increasingly tough on drug crime, throwing record numbers of citizens in the slammer in the process, tens of billions have been spent, yet the consumption of illicit drugs is at record levels.

That years of costly, violent and extreme measures have only resulted in increased use should have been enough to convince any logical society that the policy has failed. But the damage of this drug policy runs much deeper.

The illicit drug trade is disproportionately responsible for the Americans having the highest incarceration rate in the free world and has been identified as a major factor in the targeting of minority groups by law enforcement agencies.

For example, while studies indicate illicit drug use is about the same in both Black and Caucasian populations, one in eight African-Americans is likely to be locked up primarily for drug-related offences, compared with fewer than one in 20 whites.

But the damage of America’s drug policy is best appreciated abroad — in the Canadian fields where increasingly large amounts of drugs are being produced by violent gangs, and on the streets of Mexican cities such as Culiacan and Ciudad Juarez, where beheaded bodies and burned buildings mark the front line in a losing battle.

It can also be seen in places such as Kingston, Jamaica, where police are involved in street battles to capture a drug boss with close ties to gangs in Canada, and in Afghanistan where Taliban and war lords plan their offences around the opium harvest so as not to disrupt their money supplies.

The damage from the war can also be seen in Colombia, a country with which Canada wants a free-trade agreement. Colombia never recovered from the days it was the front line in the U.S. global drug war.

Now it seems to be Mexico’s turn. The level of violence in Mexico since Mr. Calderon called in the army is almost as great as the upheaval that country went through a century ago during its civil war.

Mexico is Canada’s third-largest trading partner, responsible for a $22-billion, two-way exchange of goods and services each year. In comparison, drugs represent a $25-billion industry that directly employs more than 450,000 — and possibly millions indirectly — has taken over a significant part of the administration of 17 of the country’s 31 states and has so corrupted the police, judiciary, and even the army that the population has nowhere to turn.

Mr. Harper and Mr. Calderon have expressed their united desire to work together to enhance the relationships between their countries, but nowhere would the effort pay off greater than in a co-operative mission to end the failed U.S. drug strategy.

Increasingly, the security of North America depends on adopting an evidence-based approach to narcotics, rather than continuing on an ideological roadmap to failure.

– Article from The StarPhoenix.