The Odd Squad comes to town

Non-profit group started by the Vancouver police visits schools to talk drugs and gangs
by Katherine Hudson

Northern News Services

Students at Samuel Hearne Secondary School might not have thought there were any similarities between their small community of 3,400 and Vancouver’s Downtown East Side of 18,000 people, but after hearing from Odd Squad Productions members who visited their school last week, they figured the two places are a bit more alike than they realized.

The non-profit group was started in 1997 by seven officers of the Vancouver Police Department and its mandate is to educate the public about crime prevention and community policing. In Inuvik, it made the message clear to a gym full of youth that in the end, there are only two choices, right and wrong.

Const. Brian Hobbs said he went for a ride-along with the Inuvik RCMP detachment and saw some familiar sights.

“They have the same problems here. They showed me where the crack houses are, they showed me where the bootleggers are, talked to me about the drugs and the alcohol that’s smuggled in, talked about the violence that goes on. I saw the violence that goes on in domestic situations. You guys have the problems here,” said Hobbs.

“They’re not nearly as massive as they are there (in Vancouver). They’re at a level where if you guys work together and learn from these things, you guys can take these issues, you can beat them. Where we’re working, we’re kind of fighting a losing battle right now, so that’s why we’re coming out here trying to prevent it and talk to you guys.”

The Odd Squad showed videos of the Downtown East Side, spoke of how 70 per cent of Vancouver’s drug cases are in that 12-block area, how 20 police are stationed there at any given time. They explained some reasons people use drugs: because family members use, for emotional or physical pain, due to peer pressure, or due to boredom.

Det. Const. Doug Spencer said there is a false image of what drugs and gangs mean: cars, money, women.

“It’s a complete myth. It never happens. They usually end up addicted on their own drugs, or they go to jail or they get killed. You’re dealing with standing over the body of a kid from Inuvik and you’re going, ‘What is he doing down here?'” said Spencer of the small town kids who make their way west, make bad decisions and end up at the end of the road.”

“By us telling all these kids, ‘these are the ramifications if you’re ever going to take that step and that choice,’ and you hope in the back of their mind when they go to do it, it resonates,” said Spencer.

After the presentations, Grade 10 student Brandi Larocque said the message hit home for her.

“The effects of what happens, drugs and stuff and how it ruined their lives, really hit me. The movies they showed put faces to the problems. I thought it was just really interesting and I know I’m not going to try drugs now,” she said.

The Odd Squad showed a group of students some judo moves in the school foyer after the presentations and headed to Aurora College that night to speak to a public audience.

Chris Gilmour, vice-principal at SHSS, said the Odd Squad message is helpful in promoting positive decision-making.

“We have a lot of anti-drug work that we do in the school but we can only do so much. When we see groups like this coming up here, I really think it reinforces the message and I think it really clarifies a lot of the questions the kids have a lot about drug use,” he said. “They have a good, clear message, too: There’s right and there’s wrong.”