A whiff of success at Porter Creek

‘Weed should have been decriminalized a billion years ago. The war on drugs is the biggest social policy failure of the past 100 years.

‘Weed should have been decriminalized a billion years ago. The war on drugs is the biggest social policy failure of the past 100 years.”

These aren’t public statements you’d expect from a retired RCMP officer. But Doug Green isn’t your typical cop.

Porter Creek Secondary School students will sit down in his office and talk freely about the previous night’s mischief.

If fact, three young guys are in his office Thursday afternoon.

 “These are tough kids,” says Green.

“At 2 p.m. on a school day, where are they? The drug co-ordinator’s office. And that’s the last place you’d think they’d be.”

They come in and talk about getting high last night or drinking or brawling.

That’s exactly what he wants to hear, says Green.

He wants kids talking about drug use.

Students shouldn’t be afraid to talk openly about the drugs that colour their lives.

The hook — the tool in his is toolbelt — that lures these kids in and puts them at ease is Ebony, a lazy, affable five-year-old black Labrador.

• • • • •

The after-school rush is done and only a few kids are wandering the hallway.

Green takes Ebony for a walk, visiting a few classrooms.

Her tail wags eagerly when she comes across a favourite teacher.

In the gym, five students play basketball and Ebony ambles by their backpacks without a glance.

Ebony won’t sniff a locker or a backpack without direction, says Green.

And he’s never directed her to search for drugs on a student at Porter Creek, he adds.

He’d be perfectly happy if he never has to use Ebony.

Ebony does not do random searches, and she doesn’t randomly walk the hallways sniffing students and lockers, says Green.

“That’s a needle in a haystack,” he says.

“There might be one gram of pot in the whole school at any given time.”

Ebony’s presence is like a stop sign at the front door, he explains.

Most students will respect that stop sign, but some ignore it.

Those kids are Green’s focus.

Porter Creek aims to be drug-free from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., says Green.

If one believes drug use is recreational, fine, but the school isn’t recreational — not when kids are threatened to pay drug debts.

“If you want to go home and smoke your brains out and listen to Pink Floyd, then fill your boots,” says Green.

But the school should be drug-free.

During the after-school jaunt through hallways, most passersby stop and talk to Green.

No one fails to mention, in disparaging tones, this newspaper’s coverage of Ebony and the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent ruling that random searches using drug dogs violates Charter rights.

Two young women have grabbed Ebony’s treats and are sitting on the floor rubbing her belly.

They understand the court’s decision, they say.

But Ebony isn’t doing random searches — something Green stresses throughout the afternoon.

The ruling doesn’t affect him because he’s not law enforcement, he says.

He’s an employee of the school and has been certified by the government to seize drugs, which are kept under lock and key and given to the RCMP.

• • • • •

Clean-shaven with a thick build, Green doesn’t look his age.

He’s wearing sporty Polo glasses and he’s gotten rid of the thick mustache he wears in one of the old police trading cards scattered on his desk.

When he stops telling a story and starts arguing a point, his voice rises.

“That’s bullshit. It’s wrong,” he says when it’s suggested Ebony randomly searches students.

When people poke their heads into his office while he’s explaining his position, he gets more bombastic.

The war on drugs is a huge failure, says Green.

“When I started policing in 1981 we had dope and some hash and the odd freak that did acid.”

He then runs down a long list of drugs on the streets of Whitehorse: weed, methamphetamine, cocaine, Oxycotin, Ritalin, and “15 types of things being sold as ecstasy.”

“We’re not winning this battle,” he says.

“We’re a pot-tolerant society. It used to be if you’re caught with just a pipe with resin in it you’d spend time in jail.”

But zero-tolerance policies don’t work.

They are a lost cause and a symptom of laziness, says Green.

That’s why he readily admits that even with Ebony walking the hallways, students will still be coming to class high and bringing drugs to the school.

“We can’t keep drugs out of jails and those doors are locked,” says Green.

“So we can’t keep the drugs out of (Porter Creek) with 30 doors.”

In about a year at Porter Creek, 40 to 50 kids have been caught — Green cringes at the word, he prefers ‘identified’ — high, many in possession of drugs, he said.

Those students were caught by Green or a teacher — not Ebony.

A recent survey of Porter Creek students found 37 per cent of them smoked weed regularly.

It’s an interesting statistic when correlated with the 70 per cent graduation rate identified in the Education department’s own survey, says Green.

• • • • •

Green spent 25 years with the Edmonton Police Service, where he worked in the dog unit.

Before he left the force, Green earned a diploma in addictions studies from Mount Royal College.

He retired and established the drug dog program at an Edmonton high school.

“I came up to Whitehorse because people had the fortitude to get a program in place,” says Green.

A group of parents lobbied the school council to establish the Canine for Safer Schools program, a three-year, $270,000 pilot project.

A student’s parent challenged the introduction of Ebony to the hallways of the school because their 15-year-old daughter is severely allergic to dogs.

But last fall, Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale dismissed a Yukon Human Rights Commission search for an injunction to prevent the dog from patrolling the school.

So Ebony is back drifting through the school.

Green bought Ebony in an Edmonton restaurant and trained her.

Creating a rapport with students is helped by Green’s own high school experience.

In Grade 12, he was kicked out of school because of drinking and constant rabble rousing.

He wandered from mediocre job to mediocre job, stuck in a life of fast food and grocery store jobs.

At the urging of a friend, he returned to high school and started his path to law enforcement.

It’s no wonder, then, that Green proudly flaunts the grad picture of a former Porter Creek student.

“We caught her 12 times, but we never gave up,” says Green, cradling the picture.

The inscription on the back thanks Green for doing exactly that.

• • • • •

The long-game approach taken by Porter Creek is more effective than some police officer or counsellor that blows in for a two-hour speech and doesn’t come back for a year, says Green.

“It’s the answer for kids who are impoverished,” he says.

“These kids can’t achieve things if they can’t get out of this school.”

Students feel comfortable enough to keep Green hip to what’s happening on the street.

He’s knows there’s a ton of ecstasy in Whitehorse.

“It’s the drug of choice for 15-year-old girls right now,” he says.

The survey also found the average age for first-time drug use was 13.

“People are going to try drugs — kids will experiment,” says Green.

“But is 13 the time to smoke pot? Is 15 the time to try ecstasy?”

When students are caught at Porter Creek, the authorities aren’t involved, says Green.

School administrators will issue punishments like in-school suspensions — sending them home only gives them more time to get high and puts them further behind school work, says Green.

The program focuses on kids possessing drugs — usually small amounts — and not trafficking.

“There’s a difference between a user, a person who’s making poor choices, and a predator, a person who’s profiting off someone making poor choices,” says Green.

He’s heard several times from students that drugs aren’t for sale at Porter Creek anymore.

“I don’t know if they’re blowing smoke, but if it’s true, that doesn’t mean we’ve gotten rid of drugs. That’s means we’ve changed the environment of the building.”

Or moved them to other schools.

“I can’t dispute that, but that’s how we deal with all problems in society. You take the rubbies off Main Street, you don’t get rid of the rubbies. You move them to Second Avenue.”

That’s why drug programming, like Porter Creek’s, needs sustainable funding and widespread community support, he adds.

“That’s why you have to be in it for the long-haul.”