the north face mcmurdo parka ‘Drug Central’ of North America
As Vancouver prepares to host the Winter Olympics, the city continues to struggle with a vicious drugs war. Dozens have been killed in escalating turf battles that have spread far beyond the city limits. But it is a war that has its roots even further away, in Mexico.
It rains a lot in Vancouver, but this city’s ambition will not be dampened. Olympic organisers have spent nearly $2bn (US$1.87bn; to showcase a confident, modern metropolis to the world.
The Downtown Eastside is a clump of rundown hotels and liquor stores. It is teeming with pushers, pimps and prostitutes, and home to one of the worst drug problems in North America.
“Heroin, crack, pot every type of drug you want, you can get it here,” a man tells me.
“Do you have any pills?” a young woman asks, her red hair starting to drip in the rain. She is looking to buy a $1 valium tablet, because she does not have $10 ( for heroin.
“Pretty much everything is $10,” I am told. “This is Drug Central.”
In a dingy alleyway, I met Shirley, smoking crack behind a dumpster.
She told me she was 40 and had been doing drugs since she was 14. She used to sell her body. Now she “shuffles” ferries around small amounts of drugs for dealers in exchange for money.
She starts to prepare something called a speedball, heroin mixed with cocaine. They are the lowest rung of a vicious food chain.
Dozens have been killed in Vancouver’s drug wars. Police say more than 100 gangs carve up a lucrative trade. And it is a problem that extends far beyond the city limits.
An hour to the east, in the lush Fraser Valley, lies Abbotsford, a town that once offered quiet, middle class suburbia.
Seventeen year old Mathea Sturm walks me past her school gates. Five of her schoolmates died in as many months last year, and the town saw a spate of drug related killings.
“It’s still pretty hard to deal with the fact that we’ve lost a lot of people,” she says. “It was a peaceful town, you could walk around at 11 at night Then, all of a sudden, all this it was sort of a big pandemic.”
Abbotsford’s comfortable homes and neat lawns have spawned a peculiarly middle class breed of gangster.
The police know who and where they are, they just wait for evidence and the right opportunity.
As I drive along with Pc Marcus Senft, he points out a sizeable house in an upscale cul de sac, the home of a notorious crime family.
There are bars on the front door and he tells me the SUV in the driveway sports bullet proof windows.
“Yeah, there’s definitely some fear in this neighbourhood,” he says.
On the outskirts of town, we drive to Zero Avenue, the US border.
“There’s no fence,” Pc Senft says, “just a big field.”
Canada and the US share one of the longest land borders in the world. Here, it consists of a ditch, a few feet separating two countries. It looks easy to jump across.
Within minutes of our arrival, a US border guard drives up.
Mostly it is hidden in lorries, but it also comes across the fields around Abbotsford and other border towns. This porous frontier has become a frontline.