“On Track celebrates youth making healthy lifestyle choices, by empowering them with the information and experience necessary to further their positive leadership roles within their community.” – Odd Squad Productions
Last night I watched attended the exclusive screening of “Tears for April,” at SFU, documentary directed and produced by Odd Squad Productions Society. This film goes “Beyond the Blue Lens” and chronicles the short, tragic life of April Lynne Reoch as told by the beat cops team, retired Sgt.Al Aresanult, Sgt. Toby Hinton, and Sgt. Mark Steinkampf. A fresh faced 17 year old April warned about the life on the streets on the DTES. April, who had a child at a very young age and lost her mother when she was very young started experimenting with drugs early on. “I never thought it would lead to me being an addict,” April mentions in the film, and repeatedly speaks of how she wants to get clean for her young son, for her father and Danny (her significant other) and to see what is out there for her to learn, to be and to discover.
The hard facts are that drugs and addiction is a demonist cycle that many fall victim to. This film destroys the myth that drug abuse affects just the user as life and death unfolds in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. For April, we see first-hand her strengths and her vulnerabilities, and moreover, the devastation one endures walking the path of being hooked on drugs and turning to prostitution to secure that next fix. As we follow April’s life-and-death struggle: from those first days on the street, through her struggles to get clean, I fear it will no doubt end tragically – and it does. April’s body was found on Christmas Day near a garbage bin, neatly packed into a bag. It is a death of violence, but justice would later be served. The 10 year film project wraps up with an interview with April’s murderer who laments her death and is serving a 10 year sentence. April was 25 when she passed, but she has no doubt left a legacy that will continue to inspire youth to make better life choices.
In my books – This is an act of a hero. To put ones story out there, a hard story, a story most would criticise, judge and look down upon – I do not. I hold April on a pedestal of respect.
The story of April and the struggles she endured mimicked that of my own mother’s struggles and her battle against her inner demons, addiction, and the myriad of negative health affects that come along with prolonged exposure to alcohol and potent medications. What struck me the hardest was visually seeing April high and non lucid, as well as the moments of her going through the mental, psychological and physical breakdowns that withdrawal can cause.
Hitting Close to Home
The last memory I have with my mother was moving her from ICU emerg to a room in ICU at Lions Gate Hospital, after the RCMP had found her face down in a park with no ID. Obviously intoxicated and non responsive, she was rushed to the hospital and had to be hospitalized because she was so severely far gone physically, that going through withdrawal on her own – would literally kill her. Seeing her so emaciated, fragile, beaten up and even unable to go to the bathroom on her won – was heart wrenching and emotionally debilitating to say the least.
My mother and I would have one more lucid conversation on the phone and then after that, like a blink of the eye – she was gone, and like most tragic deaths the ripple affect only begins with the death of a loved one. What happens next, how we cope, how we endure – this is what measures the strength of the soul.
My coping mechanism has been to dive head first into understanding the complex and multi-faceted landscape of “addiction and mental health” and “addition and drug prevention.”
The rest of this post is not meant to be a political debate or “choosing a side,” but to merely showcase how incredible important law enforcement, those on the front lines have a unique opportunity to delivering key drug prevention strategies that aim to foster positive community interaction. My personal outlook is that there is no dichotomy of one or the other. Let me clarify – that this “war on drugs” is not just merely a “health issue” or a” criminal issue.” It is both equally, because we can learn and educate from both ends of the spectrum. When it comes to youth – seeing in real time, the raw reality of what can happen with experimentation – is critical to prevention, as well as early intervention.
For decades kids and youth have been given lessons in drug education in schools in the belief that education about drugs can shift their behaviour and deter them from experimenting with illegal drugs, designer drugs and alcohol. Traditionally this comes in two forms, education from the health professional and education from a police officer or law enforcement officer – both are beneficial.
Some educators, however, question the goals of behavior change and propose a more education-oriented approach to prevention in schools. What this boils down to – is increasing student knowledge and skills to encourage the development of defensible values.
The Millennium Development Goals
As we grow closer to 2015 and the MDG’s, we must acknowledge that to achieve success ,drug prevention and education must go hand in hand we will find Canada up for review by the UN (United Nations) on a myriad of levels; such as;
(1) UNODC Drug Reform and Canada’s role as one \ the leading open drug trade markets in the world. In the UNODC report 2011, Canada is right up there with Columbia and Afghanistan for illegal drug trafficking. In a press release dated March 1, 2012 Canada’s contribution will help to eliminate major obstacles and help strengthening counter-narcotics law enforcement and the judicial system.
(2) The Rights of the Child. In BC alone we have 137,000 children living in poverty and a high percentage are exposed to alcohol or drugs in the home. The United Nations is committed to working with youth and has recently established a youth platform, called the UNDOC Youth Initiative that brings together from all the member states to converse on how to engage youth at the local levels and works at the Commission on narcotic Drugs
(3) UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples : UN Canada was before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on Feb. 23 2012. Canada’s report focused on what they considered to be positive benchmarks and achievements towards the elimination of racial discrimination in Canada. There is still a long way to go here.
Why is Odd Squad Productions message so important?
Traditionally, the handling of illicit drugs issues has predominantly been a law enforcement prerogative, and The Vancouver Police have been instrumental in this area. The work done via the Beat Enforcement Team (BET) and associated Drug and gang units focus on achieving targets in terms of drug seizures, arrests and eradication programmes are yes, more of the “enforcement” model measures, but over the last decade it has been brought to the attention of the masses that we need to address the health and social consequences of drug use and reaching out to kids and youth is the number one way to deter, prevent, engage and foster better lifestyle choices. The BET and VPD Community Response Teams, do just this and more.
It is increasingly clear that drug control is not only a criminal justice issue but rather one that cuts across many areas of social, health and economic policy.
Whats different about OSP is that they have raised the bar and tapped into the very essence of youth and kids engage in – and that is innovation and peer to peer engagement. It’s not JUST about the documentaries or speaking to schools – it’s about mentorship and leadership.
OnTrack and OSP’s Peer to Peer mentorship programs bring youth together to learn and then send that message back with them. They put the power in the hands of peer to peer engagement.
The Simple answer – it’s not just about the drugs – it’s about the people. Tears for April showcases addicts as real people – people who are NOT disposable, people who were born into the world, much like you and me. The difference is in the choices and the education.
Tears for April is not a film about “getting drugs off the street,” it’s about “provide opportunities” to those who need it most and “getting people off the street” to lead healthier and happier lives.
I highly recommend taking a peek at the Odd Squad Productions documentaries, as they are very powerful pieces of modern day SuperHero Action!
UNDOC Youth Initiative – http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/prevention/youth-initiative.html
Odd Squad Productions Peer to Peer Programs and OnTrack- http://odd-squad-legacy.local/what-we-do/peer-to-peer-workshops/on-track/