Whati youth get first-hand look at Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside

Whati youth tour Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (Photo courtesy of Whati RCMP)

A group of young people from Whati recently got as first hand look at the ravages of drugs, alcohol and homelessness as they took a trip to Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside.

They were participating in a two-day training session in Vancouver sponsored by Whati RCMP.

According to Mounties, the field trip held at the end of November, was also coordinated by Odd Squad Production, a not-for-profit charity organization founded by former Vancouver City police officers.

Police state that Odd Squad Production, through their High School Peer-to-Peer Program, want to assist youth at choosing a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.

Youth are receiving presentations on drugs and addictions, then are escorted onto the streets of downtown Vancouver, to link what they were taught in the classroom with real life.

For the five students from Whati, the experience was profound and meaningful, but difficult at times.

“I learned that people can stay a long time on the street if they use drugs, its a sad place”, explains 14-year-old Marvin Romie.

Police say that the message sent throughout the training hit the right spot.

For 15-year-old Kushalini Smith, there is too much to lose if someone decides to use drugs.

“The most important thing I learned was think before you do it”, she says.

Cpl. Bradley Barbour, Whati RCMP Detachment Commander, who traveled with the group, says he didn’t know what the youth would retain from the training, but believed it would open their eyes.

“I watched them hold back tears as they spoke with an elderly lady that had a crack cocaine addiction.  She then talked about how her addiction has affected her relationship with her family,” Barbour said. “I tried to prepare the youth by watching documentaries and news videos about the area known as downtown east side in Vancouver, but nothing could prepare them for the things they would see, hear and experience.”

As part of the training, all youth have signed a “contract” to come back to the community, attend group meetings to prepare at least four presentations to the community, the council and the school.

Marvin Romie hopes these presentations will have an impact.

“I hope people who listen to our presentations choose to not use drugs and stay in school.”

This training was planned and coordinated by Whati RCMP, with the support of many partners.

photo courtesy of RCMP

Whati RCMP want to thank the GNWT Community Justice and Policing Division, Tlicho Government, Whati Community Government, Diavik Diamond Mine Inc, Air Tindi, Nuna Logistic, Lake Awry, and the Odd Squad Production Society, for making this training possible.

About the Author

John McFadden
John has been in the broadcast journalism industry since the 1980s. He has been a reporter in Yellowknife since 2012 and joined CKLB in January of 2018. John covers the crime and court beat as well as reporting on other areas including politics, business, entertainment and sports. He won seven national community newspaper awards while he was a journalist with Northern News Services Limited (NNSL). John worked in Ontario before coming North including stints as a TV sportscaster in Peterborough and senior news writer for CBC and CTV in downtown Toronto.