Did you hear about Project CRACKDOWN and the resulting police sweep of the Byward Market? The Ottawa Police’s Street Crimes Unit spent four months investigating open drug use in the Market and then conducted a sweep of low-level street dealers on Thursday in preparation for tourist season.
Think about it. That’s how we define our drug problem. Not as a problem for addicts, not as a problem for the people who care about them, not as a problem for the people who share their neighbourhoods, not as a public health problem, but as a problem for tourists. An aesthetic problem with economic consequences.
104 people were identified as suspects by Project Crackdown, and of these, 48 were arrested on Thursday night. I believe warrants have been issued for the remaining 56. They are all low-level street dealers – in other words, addicts.
Addicts have to make some tough choices, and one of the toughest is how to get the money they need to feed their addictions. Often this comes down to a choice between selling drugs, selling sex, panhandling or stealing. The ones targeted by Project Crackdown are the ones who choose to sell drugs to fellow addicts.
Most of the people arrested were charged with trafficking in crack cocaine. Others were charged with trafficking in marijuana or opiates, and some were charged with breach of bail conditions.
The total haul by police was “22 grams of powder cocaine, 190 grams of crack cocaine and 100 grams of marijuana, with an estimated total street value of about $46,000,” as well as two vehicles and $16,000 cash deemed to be “crime-related property.”
Never believe the street value figure, by the way. I don’t know how they calculate it, but it’s always inflated. Regardless, this seizure is clearly small potatoes. The four-month investigation cost way more than the drugs they got off the streets. (There are people making obscene amounts of money off drugs in this city, but none of them were of interest to Project Crackdown.)
Most of the people charged will be released with various conditions, including that they stay out of the Market area. After all, we’re coming up on tourist season and that means the street people have to be swept out of sight so the tourists don’t get the right impression.
This particular condition – staying out of the Market – provides police with an easy handle to control both the addicts and the Market’s image.
The strategy is one of displacement. The theory is that if you move the street level dealers out of the neighbourhood, the rest of the addicts will go wherever the dealers are.
My guess is that most of the low-level dealers and addicts will not stay out of the Market, at least not for long. It’s their community. It’s where their friends are. It’s where the services they use are, such as shelters, soup kitchens and drug programs. I think they’ll continue to go into the Market, but they’ll try to keep a low profile for awhile. If they don’t, and they are deemed to be an eyesore for the tourists, the police can just scoop them up and jail them for breach of conditions.
When their court dates come up, most of these street-level drug dealers/addicts can expect to spend several months in jail. It will be interesting to see if their jail terms coincide with tourist season.