If The War On Drugs Isn’t Working, Why Are We Still Fighting It?

When leaders from the Organization of American States gathered in Cartagena last April, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a rare concession on the topic of drug policy.

In response to the chorus of dissent coming from countries like Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia, Harper stated:

“I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”

But as the Canadian Press reported yesterday, it would seem that the Harper government is steadfast in its commitment to dysfunctional anti-drug strategies:

“Spillover from Mexico’s violent drug war is prompting the Harper government and the Canadian military to become more involved in helping defend the tiny, Central American country of Belize.

A series of internal reports, obtained by The Canadian Press under the access to information law, show the government has quietly increased co-operation with the Commonwealth nation, formerly known as British Honduras.”

While details are scarce, the Canadian military has been actively participating in a variety of counter-narcotic operations in the region. For example, in December, a Canadian Forces press release indicated that the Canadian Navy was involved in a “large drug bust”.

From the release:

“Working alongside our American and multinational allies, HMCS Ottawa’s successful operation demonstrates our Government’s commitment to address the illegal trafficking of drugs in the Caribbean basin”, said the Honourable Peter MacKay.   “I’m proud our sailors act as excellent ambassadors for our nation, for making Canadian streets safer by patrolling the seas to our south and for working with like-minded nations to better protect citizens of our continent.”

This particular dimension of the war on drugs – military interdiction ­– has been especially damaging to those Central and South American states that have hosted broad counter-narcotic conflicts. And tragically, the mistakes that have been made time and time again seem to be materializing in Belize.

The rationale for the Canadian military’s involvement in Central America and the Caribbean is built on a series of faulty premises. Firstly – that military might and securitization can defeat drug cartels. One need only look to Mexico, which saw an explosion in violence after President Calderón declared war on the drug cartels, to see how woefully dangerous an idea this is.

Secondly, regardless of the Canadian military’s interdiction efforts, the supply of illegal drugs to Canadian consumers has remained the same. As with all attempts over the last forty-plus years to control the flow of narcotics into Canada, as long as a demand exists, the supply will continue. No counter-narcotic activity, no matter how costly or logistically sophisticated, has ever managed to halt the flow of drugs across Canadian borders. All it does is shift violence from one theatre to the next, destroying communities and causing unneeded deaths as conflict spills from state to state.

And so the question is – if war on drugs isn’t working, as PM Harper has stated, then why are we still fighting it?

Thankfully there is a silver lining to the Belize report – if one scrolls below the fold and scans the comment section, you’ll find an outpouring of common sense from readers.

As one commenter put it:

“The single biggest thing we can do is end the drug war at home.”

Douglas Haddow

About Douglas Haddow

Douglas Haddow is Communications Coordinator at the CDPC. He has a B.A. in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and has worked as a journalist since graduation. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Adbusters, Slate, Colors, Vancouver Magazine and many other publications.

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