Friday, Sep 01, 2017 10:58 am
By: Remy Greer
Left to right, Okotoks Oilers Kylor Wall, Carter Huber, Tanner Laderoute and Kyle Gordon in an alley in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Aug. 31 during a tour of the area organized by the Odd Squad Junior Hockey Mentorship Program
Hockey: Four team members visit Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for drug awareness program
VANCOUVER – “Welcome to the worst district you will ever see in Western Canada. Why would you come here?”
On a balmy Thursday night in one of the most infamous drug addiction communities in the country, the reason for coming doesn’t really require the question from the resident of the derelict Regent Hotel.
The answer? Education. The subjects? Four veteran members of the Okotoks Oilers taking in a typical week night in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – a condensed sliver of blocks close to high-priced penthouse condos housing 9,000 to 9,500 individuals who by and large have fallen into the trappings of hardcore drug addiction.
Before hitting the streets with Vancouver’s Odd Squad – a collection of plain-clothes police officers, some still members of the Vancouver Police Department and some who’ve retired from the full-time beat – and two members of the Okotoks RCMP, the Oilers got a crash course in drugs, gangs and a culture they’ve never come across with Project Keep Straight. A high-speed boat tour with the Vancouver Police Department’s marine unit would be the second-rockiest ride of the day for the squad.
The evening walk through the East Hastings corridor quickly hit all the senses.
Row upon row of stolen goods – the returns from the property crime addicts use to fuel their several-hundred-dollar per day addiction – littered the streets with everything from watches, jewelry, high-end fashion to electronics.
Nervous jaunts down dark alleyways brought forward several users more than willing to share their stories with the young hockey players and engaged listeners. The Oilers will be presenting what they learned about drug use and drug addiction to junior high students in Okotoks in the coming months.
Everyone has a backstory and the common thread – choices.
Rock cocaine was smoked in plain sight by in front of the players and officers before they moved up the block and arrived on a 30-year-old former hockey player.
The man from nearby Coquitlam spoke of how he dabbled in cocaine at the age of 14 after seeing serious addiction issues with his father. He sells dope to support his habit and has lost friends and a recent girlfriend to the fentanyl epidemic.
“I started hanging out with the wrong guys, one thing led to another and I was down here,” he said. “It’s just a f*cked-up lifestyle. I’ve been trying to get out of it for years. It’s a grind, it’s a struggle every day.
“Stick with your hockey. I wish I could go back and start my life over.”
A few blocks over another meeting hit home.
The group walked up on a dope-sick 26-year-old woman in the process of injecting a heroin needle in her arm. After some coaxing from one of the police officers on scene, she shared she had at least one thing in common with the Oilers.
The young lady said she too was from Okotoks and was a straight-A student in school.
She’s a relative newcomer to the scene, having been a resident of the Downtown Eastside for just one year. Within four days of arriving in the community she had to save the life of a friend who was overdosing.
Nothing mattered to her, but getting high. She spoke of her willingness to sell her own grandmother to get the fix she needed.
It was a lot for the Oilers to take in.
“All of the sights and sounds, smells and everything,” said Oilers forward Carter Huber. “That girl from Okotoks, seeing how bad she needed the drugs. She literally couldn’t talk to us until she shot up right in front of us.”
The players met a plumber who had a $1,400 per month apartment in Burnaby and was a functioning addict – until he wasn’t anymore. They were introduced to Donny, a former professional soccer player who, after several car accidents found himself disabled, had 400 stiches from violent incidents in the Middle East and was now dependent.
“I’ve been here before. That wasn’t the first time I’ve got to see all of that,” said Const. Jeff Girard with the Okotoks RCMP Crime Reduction Unit. “It doesn’t have any less of an impact on me at all. The people you see, that’s still the worst in their life. The sounds when we were in that apartment and people were fighting down the halls, those are the things that stick with you.”
The effects of trauma were reinforced all evening.