March 8, 2005
Source: Canadian Press
Focus on grow-ops misplaced in RCMP killings
From the first word of the fatal shootings of four RCMP officers in rural Alberta last week, the spotlight was turned on marijuana grow-ops -- the dangers they posed, the tougher laws needed to combat them.
Within hours, politicians, police, pot activists and even the father of killer James Roszko pointed both to marijuana itself and the illegal trade in the drug as major players in the deadly chain of events.
RCMP officials said from the outset that their men were killed in a grow-op raid. William Roszko said his son was never the same after he started smoking "that crazy dope" as a teenager. The Marijuana Party said the shootings underscored the need to legalize pot and wipe out the black market. Police and some politicians argued just the opposite, saying the tragedy proved that any move to legalize weed was madness.
It now appears the focus on grow-ops was misplaced. In fact, RCMP Commissoner Guiliano Zaccardelli said in an interview with the National Post on Monday that he was too quick to make the link to marijuana and had acted on incomplete information.
Alan Young, a lawyer and longtime proponent of legalizing marijuana, said it was an inappropriate knee-jerk reaction.
"It was shameful and disrespectful both on the side of the state and on the side of the activists, who felt they had to respond to the state," said Young.
"Four police officers were dead and it was alarming to see it turn into a propaganda play right off the bat. There is really nothing about this case that should cause someone to develop public policy one way or the other. This case is about how to deal with psychopathic people who have long histories with the law."
Young isn't alone in his distaste. Letters to newspapers and callers to TV and radio shows buzzed Monday along similar lines.
In a letter to the Edmonton Journal, a reader scoffed at Premier Ralph Klein's appeal to the federal government to drop any plans to decriminalize marijuana in the wake of the incident.
"This idiot would have killed over a littering ticket," Allan Wood wrote, referring to Roszko. "For Klein to push his agenda on pot this way is ridiculous."
A caller to CBC Newsworld echoed that sentiment: "The issue is about a crazy guy with a gun," he said.
Indeed, it now appears growing marijuana was only one of the problems that tormented Roszko.
Police have downplayed the fact that the 46-year-old convicted pedophile with a long history of violence and a high-powered assault weapon had a substantial grow-op on his property.
The initial search warrant mentioned about 20 mature marijuana plants growing in pots. But a subsequent bulletin said 280 plants were found, along with and $8,000 worth of growing equipment and a stolen generator valued at $30,000.
RCMP also say they say they found "several brand-new trucks in pieces" in a metal shed on the property -- evidence of a suspected chop-shop operation dealing in stolen vehicles and parts.
Whatever his criminal activities, by all accounts Roszko was a ticking time bomb with a hatred of police and a history of mental illness that went unchecked despite the entire town of Mayerthorpe, Alta., living in terror of him.
That didn't stop the New York Times from weighing in on Sunday and painting the shootings as almost entirely grow-op-related.
The Times quoted Leigh H. Winchell, special agent in charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle, as saying the killings in Alberta last week were stark evidence of "how much money is involved and the lengths to which these criminals are willing to go to protect it."
He added: "It's a very dark day for all of us."
Bonnie Burstow, a senior lecturer at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education who specializes in drug policy, calls that kind of reaction from police ironic.
"It was anti-drug hysteria at play in the hours and days after
the shootings, or what I should say is
anti-drug-not-sanctioned-by-the-state hysteria," said Burstow.
"Because let's face it: there's no bigger pusher than the state. There are far more dangerous and mind-altering drugs than marijuana being pushed on us every day by huge pharmaceutical companies, with the blessings of our doctors and the government. And no one's raiding the drug companies."
Ottawa lawyer Eugene Oscapella, one of the founders of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, fears some dangerous repercussions as a result of the swift finger-pointing at marijuana grow-ops last week.
"You are going to see more violent raids now as police point to what happened in Alberta as proof that the people operating grow-ops are armed and dangerous and possibly crazy," he said.
"That may lead to the militarization of the illegal drug trade -- police have bigger weapons and use more violent tactics, so growers may then arm themselves. And all the state really has to do to end this insanity is get rid of the lucrative black market that encourages large grow-ops. The economies of prohibition are pretty plain -- you don't have to be a brilliant economist to get this."
|March 8, 2005
Source: National Post
RCMP chief backs off attack on grow-ops
Too quick to link pot to murders, Zaccardelli says
OTTAWA - Canada's top police officer said yesterday he was too quick to condemn a marijuana grow operation as the root cause in the deaths of four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers last week.
RCMP Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli said in an interview that his condemnation of grow-ops just hours after the shootings may have been inappropriate because police and politicians did not have full details of the particular case and the background of cop-killer James Roszko.
Comm. Zaccardelli and Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, his political boss as the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, spoke of the scourge of marijuana grow operations within hours of the killings and the need for tougher penalties for those who operate them.
"I gave what I believed was the best information I had knowing full well that at that time I didn't have all the information," a contrite Comm. Zaccardelli said. "Clearly, there's a lot of things in there that, in hindsight, we will have to look at in a different perspective."
Police in Mayerthorpe, Alta., first attended Roszko's home last Wednesday with a court order to seize stolen auto parts. While there, they discovered what a search warrant said were 20 "mature" marijuana plants, "several pots containing dirt with stems coming out of them numbering close to 100," and a smell "consistent of a marijuana grow operation."
Police returned the next day -- the day of the killings -- with a warrant to search for the drug outfit and seized 280 plants, $8,000 worth of growing equipment and a generator worth $30,000, the Edmonton Journal reported.
But in the days since the murders, it appears they were the work of a deranged man with a long criminal history, but hardly that of a gangster protecting his cash crop.
"None of these are simple issues. This requires some reflection and discussion," Comm. Zaccardelli said. "Let's honour the memory of these four fallen police officers and help their families get through it, and then we need to carry on the debate after this."
Comm. Zaccardelli's comments followed statements in the House of Commons by all four political parties commemorating the deaths of constables Peter Schiemann, 25, Anthony Gordon, 28, Brock Myrol, 29, and Leo Johnston, 32.
Opposition parties declined out of respect for the four dead officers to use yesterday's Question Period to probe the initial reactions of Comm. Zaccardelli and Ms. McLellan.
Last Thursday night, Ms. McLellan said the officers "were killed in an operation involving, as far as we know at this point, an illegal grow operation."
She went on to speak of the great danger grow-ops pose to police officers, their frequent links to organized crime, and the need for stronger penalties for those who run them. All are positions she has held consistently for a long time.
Ms. McLellan would not discuss Comm. Zaccardelli's comments yesterday.
"The first thing that happened was that everybody acted based on a lack of information," said Randy White, a tough-on-crime Conservative MP from British Columbia. "Yeah, they did react, but based on information they didn't have."
Prime Minister Paul Martin, Ms. McLellan and Comm. Zaccardelli will travel to Edmonton on Thursday for a national memorial service. Following that, Comm. Zaccardelli said, he will be making a "more extensive" public statement on the killings.
All four political parties spoke yesterday in the House of Commons in honour of the four dead officers.
Ms. McLellan, an MP from Edmonton Centre, southeast of where the killings took place, said she was personally shaken by the incident because it occurred in her home province.
"These four officers served their community," she said, "but they were also part of their community."
There were hints Ms. McLellan and the RCMP could come under heavy scrutiny in coming days.
"All Canadians are asking, why? Those answers will have to wait for another day," said Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party.
"The time is coming to understand the implications of their deaths and the public policy involved," said Conservative leader Stephen Harper.
Politically, it appears the federal gun registry could bear the brunt of the fallout in the days to come. Roszko had a long criminal record and should not have had access to weapons.