A case rarely goes by in Yorkton Provincial Court—and probably every court in the country—in which drugs are not a factor in some way or another.
On Mondays, which are docket days, there are invariably a handful of simple marijuana possession cases and one or two trafficking cases. Every other week or so, a cocaine charge pops up. Less frequently, it’s prescription drugs or methamphetamine, ecstasy or something else.
But those are just the direct drug charges. Virtually every assault and theft, which make up the bulk of cases, excluding traffic tickets, is in some way drug-related.
It is not those previously mentioned drugs, however, that are the underlying factor in so many crimes; it is the one substance out of all of them that is legal and endlessly abundant: alcohol.
In fact, alcohol-related crime is so ubiquitous lawyers often make a point to tell the judge “alcohol was not a factor in this crime.”
This is not just my personal anecdotal experience, either. It is backed up by statistics. A study by the Forum on Corrections Research (FCR) surveyed federal inmates incarcerated for assault, murder, sexual assault, break and enter, theft, robbery, fraud, drug offences and driving under the influence and found 51 per cent had used alcohol, drugs or both on the day they committed their crimes.
That percentage, I suspect, would go way up when you factor in all the breaches of conditions charges, which far and away dominate the dockets most Mondays and the one breach that outnumbers all others is failure to abstain from alcohol and/or drugs.
“Intoxication can hamper cognitive functions, and thus facilitate criminal activity and even exacerbate an individual’s aggressive behaviour,” the FCR study concludes. “In this regard, the use of alcohol, more so than the use of drugs, is associated with crime, and in many cases with violent behaviour.”
This is not an argument for prohibition. Nearly 80 per cent of Canadian adults imbibe to some degree. Experience with past experiments in prohibition (including the current prohibition on marijuana) proves it simply does not work adding an element of organized crime to the equation that exacerbates the problem.
This is such a complicated issue, there can be no silver bullet, but certain things have been fairly well-established through study after study in numerous countries including the links between poverty and substance abuse and substance abuse and crime.
If we ever hope to address alcohol-related crime, we must get serious about reducing poverty.
Despite our opinion of ourselves, Canada ranks very poorly in terms poverty, particularly child poverty, 15 out of 17 of the world’s wealthiest industrialized nations.
In the end, the social and economic harm will cost us all a heck of a lot more than taking care of the least of our brothers.