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Posted: February 21, 2018

Who’s responsible for fentanyl crisis solution?

The RCMP and the communities of the Columbia Valley – Part Two

By Carol Gordon

The 1,156 illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl detected in 2017 in British Columbia was a 73% increase over the 670 that occurred in 2016. (See Fentanyl-Detected Illicit Drug Overdose Deaths January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2017, BC Coroners Service Report).

Two of those overdose deaths took place in the Columbia Valley.

The following excerpts were taken from an interview with Columbia Valley RCMP Detachment commander Sgt. Bob Vatamaniuck, January 17.

Fentanyl is a social crisis that’s migrating east (and) has had a significant impact on the province itself, and the Columbia Valley is not immune from its effects.

Sgt. Bob Vatamaniuck

“People want to know why we’re not doing more; people want to know what the RCMP is doing. We’re doing what we can,” Sgt. Vatamaniuck said.

“We are consistently asking for enhanced resourcing (provide a person or organization with materials, money, staff, and other assets necessary for effective operation) to combat the issue, but again, I’m battling with Kelowna, Kamloops, Coquitlam, Surrey, for the same resources because they’re finite.


“Another facet is information gathering and people providing information explicit to the activity itself. Because although we may know whose involved, we’re not getting enough corroborative information (confirm or give support to a statement, theory, or finding) to have any enforcement impact.

“So we constantly go to those people who are embedded in the culture, hoping to acquire information, but there’s a certain amount of information that’s not being shared for many different reasons: one is (that) they’re addicted, so they don’t want to cut off their supply. Another is they are fearful of any retribution because they may be the only one with certain information and so once that’s exposed they’ll put themselves and their family at risk.

“Back before the Charter of Human Rights in 1984, we could just go based on rumours. The Charter’s a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong, it is one of the most unique things about Canada. It’s also one the best reasons why this is the best country to live in. But it does provide a few obstacles for any kind of law enforcement agency,” Sgt. Vatamaniuck related.

The RCMP wants to work collaboratively with the community, he continued.

“We can’t acquire all the information and intelligence (the collection of information) single-handedly without the help of the community. When I refer back to the fentanyl issue, people who are mired in the environment have information about that distribution and about that subculture that the police don’t know and without some kind of partnership with those people in that subculture, it is practically impossible for a uniformed policeman to somehow find a chink in that armour and subvert (undermine the power and authority of an established system or institution) that opinion.”

So without a collaborative effort (see e-KNOW article: Community Engagement and Collaboration) with the community members, the RCMP cannot single-handedly deal with such a social quagmire as a fentanyl issue.


What can we do as individuals? Well, we can help those we love who have those addiction issues to overcome those in any shape or form that you can afford, whether it be sending them to rehab or moving them to somewhere (where) they don’t know anyone, to start a new lifestyle or what have you, Vatamaniuck said.

“If your son or daughter is affected or if you have intimate family members affected by this, my best advice is to do what you can to change their lifestyle, change the lifestyle of the consumer. I know it’s significant. I know it’s a lot easier said than done. I understand that. I’ve worked with people and seen the horrific effects of addictions throughout my career. You have to work with your family members because if there’s no market, then there’s not going to be any supply. It’s that whole supply-demand matrix.

“If it’s your son or daughter bringing those drugs home or your husband or wife, brother or sister bringing those drugs home, work with the police, call us (250-342-9292; during an emergency dial 911). We can come and speak with that person with addiction issues. If you find those dangerous drugs in your home, call us, and we’ll come and work with whoever brought it home, and chances are we won’t take any enforcement action but will work with them on a rehabilitation strategy.

“But it’s got to come from those people who have the addiction issues. As much as I want to shake my finger and shake the person who is addicted, that has a very little impact. It has to come from those who are addicted. A lot of times they don’t want the police involved in that. But we’ll do whatever we can as a social agency to facilitate.


The community can have an impact on the fentanyl environment by not patronizing the industry, by helping those with addiction issues get off addiction issues, so they don’t buy anymore, Sgt. Vatamaniuck advises.

“Because what happens is; I am going to take enforcement action on the fentanyl dealer in Invermere, (I am) going to put them in jail. Calgary is three hours away; someone else is going to take over. As long as there’s a market, as long as there’s someone who wants that product, there’s going to be a supplier. As long as there’s someone willing to pay for it, it’s always going to be here.

“(The community can) support those in need. Support those who have addiction issues. Support those who provide support networks for those that are affected the most and try to understand where they are coming from,” he said.

“There are a number of awesome social agencies in the valley (Ministry of Family Services, Family Dynamix) that are very compassionate and work with those with addiction issues and we work with those the best we can.

“It’s unrealistic to expect that the RCMP can throw someone in jail to “dry out” overnight because I can’t take anybody’s civil liberty away for a weekend just because they have addiction issues. I can’t just start locking people up because they have a family member who is concerned because they have addiction issues. It has got to come from the family. That’s got to come from their conversations, their engagement within their intimate relationships, and work with that family member to realize the impact that it is having on the family and that’s got to come from those people that that person loves the most.

“Me going and arresting someone and throwing them in a cinder block cage for a weekend is going to have not only a negative impact but that person is going to harbour a lot of animosity towards that person and the police so when we have to work in the future it’s virtually impossible and needless to say it’s illegal for me to do that,” he noted.

If anyone wants a loved one to get on the right track, the RCMP can’t do that for the family; the family’s got to work with that person, and it is not easy.

“It’s fighting, and it’s animosity, but I’ve seen it on the other end, and that person recovers and that family is some of the strongest that you’ll ever meet. Those bonds are very, very strong,” Sgt. Vatamaniuck stated.

“But just to call the RCMP to come fix it is unrealistic. It’s unrealistic to think that the RCMP can solve this fentanyl issue single-handedly. It’s got to come from the community. It’s got to come from those with addiction issues. It’s got to come from those affected daily by this industry that has a lifestyle choice and makes that choice not to be affected by fentanyl on a daily basis,” he concluded.


Emergency contacts

If you or someone you know needs help, call one of these numbers:

Medical Emergencies: 9-1-1

1 800 SUICIDE (1-800-784-­2433)

Mental Health Support: 310-­6789

Missing Persons: 9-1-1

Find more important contacts.


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