Episode 23: Cop Free Future

Market Alley (Photo: Alexander B. Kim)

A full transcript of this episode will be available for free soon.

After 113 years, things might be changing in Vancouver. Mayor Kennedy Stewart has written to the federal government, asking for an exemption from Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. If he gets it, the city could decriminalize the simple possession of drugs.

In light of this announcement, Crackdown is taking a look at the birth of the drug war in Canada. When and why did it start? And what is it going to take to finally end it?

Tonye Aganaba pictured above. 

Alex Kim and Lani Russwurm visit the site of Canada’s first drug arrest. 


Further Reading

Works Cited

Albert Zugsmith (Director). (1962). Confessions of an Opium Eater. Photoplay Productions.

Beletsky, L., & Davis, C. S. (2017). Today’s fentanyl crisis: Prohibition’s Iron Law, revisited. International Journal of Drug Policy, 46, 156–159.

Brought Girls to Opium Den: White Degenerate Fled in Night Clothes From Hotel When Police Were About to Arrest Him. (1908, September 30). The Daily World.

Doezema, J. (1999). Loose women or lost women? The re-emergence of the myth of white slavery in contemporary discourses of trafficking in women. Gender Issues, 18(1), 23–50.

Eli Gorn and Todd Serotiuk (Director). (n.d.). Scared Straight. In The Beat . Galafilm Productions.

First Prosecution Under Opium Act: Mephistopheles Chau Committed for Trial for Selling Opium by Retail – White Women Were Witnesses. (1908, October 1). The Daily Province.

For Selling Opium: First Conviction in Vancouver – Chan Shan Gets Twelve Months in Jail. (1908, October 20). The British Colonist.

Hayle, S., Wortley, S., & Tanner, J. (2016). Race, Street Life, and Policing: Implications for Racial Profiling. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 58(3), 322–353.

Khenti, A. (2014). The Canadian war on drugs: Structural violence and unequal treatment of Black Canadians. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(2), 190–195.

Laite, J. (2017). Traffickers and Pimps in the Era of White Slavery. Past and Present , 237(1), 237–269.

MacKay, R. (2018). The Beginning of Drug Prohibition in Canada: What’s Past Is Prologue. Queen’s Quarterly, 125(4).

Mackenzie King, W. L. (1908). Report by W.L. Mackenzie King, C.M.G., deputy minister of labour, on the need for the suppression of the opium traffic in Canada. S.E. Dawson.

Marcoux, J., & Nicholson, K. (n.d.). Deadly Force: Fatal encounters with police in Canada: 2000-2017. CBC News.

Michael Scott and Marrin Canell (Director). (1975). Whistling Smith. https://www.nfb.ca/film/whistling_smith/

Murphy, E. (1922). The Black Candle. Thomas Allen.

Musto, D. F. (1991). Opium, Cocaine and Marijuana in American History. Sci Am, 265(1), 40–47.

Price, J. (2007). “Orienting” The Empire: Mackenzie King and the Aftermath of the 1907 Race Riots. BC Studies , 156/157, 53–81.

Secrets of a Chinese Den. (1908, August 27). The Daily World .

St. Denis, J. (2021, January 13). Downtown Eastside Grieves Man Shot Dead by Police. The Tyee.

van der Meulen, E., Chu, S. K. H., & Butler-McPhee, J. (2021). “That‘s why people don’t call 911”: Ending routine police attendance at drug overdoses. International Journal of Drug Policy, 88, 103039.

Vancouver police get sonic crowd control device. (2009, November 10). CBC News.

Vancouver Police Unveil New Armoured Vehicle, But DON’T Call it a Tank. (2010, September 7). The Vancouver Sun.

Wynne, R. E. (1966). American Labor Leaders and the Vancouver Anti-Oriental Riot. The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, 57(4), 172–179.

Year’s Hard Labor for Chinese Keeper. (1908, October 19). The Daily World.


Crackdown is produced on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

Thanks to everyone involved in People With Lived Experience of Drug Use National Working Group of the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse or CRISM. This includes Frank Critchlow, Michael Nurse, Jade Boyd, Alex Betsos and Karen Turner.

Thank you to Tonye Aganaba for allowing us to use their songs Make this House a Home and Crack Cocaine.

Our editorial board is: Samona Marsh, Shelda Kastor, Greg Fess, Jeff Louden, Dean Wilson, Al Fowler, Laura Shaver, Reija Jean. Rest in Peace Dave Murray and Chereece Keewatin.

This episode was conceptualized, written, and produced by Sam Fenn, Lisa Hale, Alex Kim, Ryan McNeil, and me, Garth Mullins.

Original score was written and performed by James Ash, Sam Fenn, Kai Paulson and Garth Mullins.

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