Drug trafficking investigation raises concern for Kingston youth

‘If the folks in our community could do well, then why wouldn’t they’

Experts say substance use and homelessness are linked.

Though a small city like Kingston may seem shiny and scenic at first glance, residents and students are becoming aware of the growing seedy underbelly of substance use the City experiences daily.

On Aug. 31, an investigation into drug trafficking concluded by Kingston Police officers in the Special Services Division with five arrests, raised synchronized relief and concern for the future of substance abuse in the community.

On Bagot St. between Queen and Bay, 98.4 grams of fentanyl, 28.4 grams of cocaine, 60.1 grams of crystal methamphetamine, a large sum of Canadian currency, and a 2004 Porsche Cayenne SUV were seized at the scene.

A media release on the Kingston Police website said in the aftermath of the investigation, the Police’s Special Services Division said they’re working to target individuals who bring and sell illicit drugs in Kingston.

Kingston Police sent The Journal a statement noting they couldn’t provide any information in relation to the investigation beyond what was communicated in the initial media release. Though Kingston Police said community safety is their number one concern, they wouldn’t comment on the methods or techniques used in those investigations.

Since the investigation’s windup, KFL&A Public Health has kept an eye on the ongoing issue of illegal narcotics. The increasing quantity of hard drugs in the community—especially with the addition of Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College (SLC) students in the Kingston population for the new school year—expresses the need to address substance abuse and the associated stigma.

Research from the Canadian Postsecondary Education Alcohol and Drug Use Survey for the 2019-20 period shows approximately 15 per cent of participants using at least one illegal drug in the last 12 months with drug use higher among respondents in their third year of studies or higher.

The Kingston Police Services Board Quarterly Statistical Report shows 28 drug offences in the second quarter of 2023—a decrease from 33 offences in the same quarter in 2022.

Conducted in collaboration with the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) and Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey (CCWS), the 2022 Queen’s student health survey overview shows a steady increase of cocaine usage from 2013 to 2022.

The report demonstrates both Canada and Queen’s having similar trends, in drug usage, with each showing that three per cent of all survey participants have used cocaine within the last three months. The statistic raises to nine per cent for survey participants who have used cocaine in their lifetime, and 12 per cent for those who report using hallucinogens at least once in their lifetime. Three per cent reported using opioids, and seven per cent reported ever using stimulants.

With an increase in usage among these drugs over a 10-year period, instances like the recent drug trafficking investigation leads to questions about harmful drugs negatively impacting Kingston. Despite this, there are initiatives in place to educate Kingston youth on substance use.

According to the KFL&A Community Drug Strategy (CDS) public health promoter and coordinator Anoushka Moucessian, not everyone’s substance use habits are visible and no one’s immune to the impacts of substance use and stigma.

The KFL&A CDS consists of 40 members as a multisectoral table with representation from individuals with lived experience or postsecondary education of substance use. The table also includes social service agencies, enforcement agencies, parole/corrections, municipalities, primary care practitioners, allied health practitioners, health care agencies, public health, mental health and addictions agencies and funding bodies.

The focus of the committee, which has been meeting consistently since March 2017, is to connect components around substances use through situational awareness, shared decision making around local substance use related needs, and information sharing, Moucessian wrote in a statement to The Journal.

Moucessian emphasized two larger pieces of work the KFL&A CDS Advisory Committee is undergoing to address substance abuse: the Stigma and Education Subcommittee and better advocacy to decriminalize substances for personal possession.

The Stigma and Education Subcommittee, which was initiated by the KFL&A CDSAC in 2019 after it recognized stigma as a major barrier to wellbeing among people impacted by substance abuse.

Moucessian explained substance use stigma is often associated with the decreased use of health and social services, poor service quality, substance use concealment, and an increased risk of homelessness. The key drivers of substance use related stigma include the perspective that substance use is a personal choice, a weakness, or due to a lack of willpower.

The Stigma and Education Subcommittee works in collaboration with Support Not Stigma (SNS) to build a community that is kinder, better informed, and provides through a multimedia campaign. The campaign revolves around seven local individuals’ stories of being impacted by substance use.

According to Moucessian, the individuals’ stories each show substance use can be a way to cope with pain and trauma, substance use stigma impacts, the self through isolation, shame and believing you will not receive help when you asked for it, not feeling heard, seen, or cared about.

The stories demonstrate not everyone who’s impacted by substance use is visible and no one is immune to the impacts of substance use and stigma.

“Each storyteller is the expert of their own story and will tell you what kindness and compassion looks like for them,” Moucessian said.

The SNS campaign will run until March 2024 with one story being featured every week on SNS’s social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, with full stories available on their website.

Moucessian referred to Queen’s as a key partner and contributor to the ongoing stigma and education work. Queen’s helps promote the message that no one is immune to substance use and substance use stigma has real implications for well-being.

This past May, KFL&A CDSAC explored the decriminalization of illicit substances for personal use by conducting local community consultation, targeting Queen’s students. Students can see the SNS campaign represented when walking through Mitchell Hall.

“We recognize youth are being impacted by substance use stigma and the hope is that by building greater awareness around the impacts of stigma we can build a bigger conversation around how to create a more compassionate community,” Moucessian said.

KFL&A CDS is following work around decriminalization of substances for personal possession. This initiative explains why people might abuse drugs, then discusses the negative effects of criminalizing drug possession.

Decriminalization of personal possession requires an exemption to Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The Canadian Federal Health Minister has power to exempt individuals or municipalities and provinces, from any or all of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Despite this, they can’t amend Parliament’s legislation, according to the website.

The website states the harms of drug prohibition are disproportionate to marginalized communities such as Indigenous, Black, and other racialized and low-income people—this increases the stigma surrounding marginalized groups which, in turn, increases arrests for drug possession in these communities.

Moucession emphasized KFL&A is taking the opportunity to support Kingston residents and students with a policy that’s focused on well-being and human rights, not harmful consequences.

Everything starts with the motivation of the individual, Executive Director of Youth Diversion Shawn Quigley said in an interview with The Journal.

Much like KFL&A Public Health, the Youth Diversion Program is promoting rehabilitation within the community.

With the goal of assisting youth in overcoming obstacles by offering preventative and educational services, Youth Diversion is a non-profit organization which has been providing services to Kingston’s youth since 1974.

“The one thing we’ve really been starting to notice in our community is the efforts to see substance use not as a criminal issue, but as a medical issue,” Quigley said.

“When it comes to trafficking there’s obviously a different approach because many of the individuals that are experiencing substance abuse, mental health or homelessness are very vulnerable, and they’re vulnerable to other individuals that are engaging in these crimes,” he added.

Quigley noted when talking about drug trafficking, especially at the level of the recent investigation, the individuals involved won’t see the opportunities to right their wrongs through an informal process such as rehabilitation. Instead, they’ll plainly be charged.

“These folks are going to be charged, go through the justice system, and when found guilty, are going to receive the proper dispositions to try to encourage them not to do this again,” Quigley said.

During that journey, there’s addiction and mental health services in the Kingston community for charged individuals to engage in who are looking to correct their wrong doings by participating in the distribution and trafficking of substances.

“Like I said, it comes down to their motivation, there’s a lot of money to be had and doing what they’re doing. It’s a tough one to try to crack—as soon as the police do an investigation and they lay their charges just as quickly as they’ve charged these folks, other people step in,” Quigley added.

He added if these individuals don’t have the right foundation to seek help and be committed to the community, they come in and exploit it through the sale of substances.

Speaking to the rehabilitation programs Youth Diversion conducts in the aftermath of an incident like drug trafficking, entities such as the Integrated Care HUB (ICH), the Kingston Community Health Centres, Youth Diversion, and the CDS roundtable demonstrate how substance use, mental health and homelessness are all linked, Quigley explained.

“These are people that were being preyed upon by the drug traffickers who were just arrested,” he said.

For example, the CDS roundtable collaborated with the ICH by launching the SNS campaign trying to bring awareness to people who are struggling with mental health, substance use and homelessness in our community.

“Where it all lies is how we treat people who were in their most vulnerable positions,” Quigley said. “If we treat them with kindness and compassion and from a medical perspective, as opposed to a criminal perspective, we’d probably be much better off in providing support to these folks.”

Speaking to the steps the city is taking to prevent increasing illicit drugs into Kingston, especially with the month starting with many more youth in the city, Quigley believes controlling the influx is both a city and community responsibility. Kingston currently has a community safety and well-being strategy in place which identifies the highest needs in our community by talking to the community through surveys and focus groups, Quigley said.

The most pressing issues spoken about include, but aren’t limited to homelessness, mental health, substance use, and crime.

The next steps involve identifying through the community safety well-being strategy what agencies are in the right position to start addressing these issues.

Quigley stated finding these agencies is one of the biggest initiatives the City of Kingston is putting their leadership into concocting viable strategies to combat these issues.

“Unfortunately, the segment of the population that struggles the most, has the highest amount of stigma attached to them,” Quigley said. “The loudest voices in the community don’t necessarily tend to be the supportive voices.”

“It’s about trying to balance with the city and helping them to appreciate that if the folks in our community could do well, then why wouldn’t they.”


drug use, Mental health, Youth

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Queen's Journal

© All rights reserved.

Back to Top
Skip to content