Another Look at the Robert Pickton Case: Enabling and Tough Love Revisited

10/11/2011 18:07 GMT | Updated 09/01/2012 10:12 GMT

A Canadian inquiry into the Robert Pickton case, involving the capture and murder of drug addicted sex trade workers in the lower east side of Vancouver, has recently learned what should not be surprising: many of these women suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and rely upon illicit drugs to self-medicate.

I have defended the enabling of drug addicts, and have had more than a few harsh words for "tough love". Some (surprise, surprise) don't like my views. Of all the negative reactions I get, one type does stand out as deserving of respect: parents and other caregivers complain about the ramifications of allowing (or even helping) youths in their care to destroy themselves with booze and dope. Is that love, or should a hard line be taken?

My view on such matters hasn't changed much over the years: if allowing someone (child, partner, friend) in your life, and spending your resources on that person, is destroying your life, then maybe you should cut someone off - whether that's a complete cut-off, or only partial, would be your decision. Best, though, not to presume about what effect you will have on the person in question.

While you might think that such persons should not be enabled at all, here is an emerging reality: wet homes, and similar initiatives where addicts can sleep as well as drink and use drugs, would certainly amount to enabling. The reason these initiatives are increasing in number is simple: all available evidence confirms that such homes do much more good than harm. Despite some cases of rises in drug and alcohol use, in other cases the behaviours decline. For the record: while getting drunk and smoking crack may be bad for you, doing it outside in the cold while hungry is not a healthier option. And if there is danger present, substance abuse is often the solution of choice for many who would otherwise be scared out of their wits. Oh, and the cold and hunger are easier to take the more wasted you are. So, often, people get very wasted.

Above all, safe and healthy homes have proven themselves to be better motivators for long-term recovery than life on the street and all the degradation associated with it. Think of the women murdered in Vancouver, and ask yourself if a little "enabling" might have been in order.

There you have it: if an addict or alcoholic (possibly a youngster) who can't or won't stop is abandoned by family and friends, I'm all for providing a safe home where getting high in one's room is treated as a private matter.

Further to this: a government check that might largely be spent on booze or dope is not unlike the kind of parenting many deride as enabling. I wholeheartedly support such programmes as well. Again, it's better than having to rely on someone who might rape and kill you.

I don't deny the reality of the scenarios my critics point to: some might use that money in destructive ways. But consider the larger reality. If we were to hand out $20,000 checks to 1,000 winos, crackheads and junkies, few at most (and probably none) would die in their addiction as a direct result of our efforts. Either way, the numbers we save would dwarf any tragedies we cause. In most cases, our efforts would have little effect beyond giving someone a break. When crackheads I know come into a wad of cash due either to an inheritance or a settlement, they might get high more, though rarely by an overwhelming margin (the use-until-you-burnout pattern is typical with or without the extra funds). Until the money runs out, they might sell themselves less, get raped and beaten less, and boost less. That's all. However, many use that money to ditch their haunt, and start fresh. Or, they make other moves. If I had the funds, I'd be very tempted to hand out $20,000 checks. I know that I'd help more people than I hurt, and that in most cases I'd simply waste my money innocuously.

On the side: if you are offended by money down the drain, why not advocate for drug legalization? The money we save that way will be enough to take care of these addicts, many "deserving" poor as well, and millions of orphans and puppies across the land.

Here are two questions I often ask:

Tough love: If love has many facets -- affection, respect, support, loyalty, generosity, kindness, and even the occasional hard nose (the tough part) -- why is it that one dimension, the tough dimension, has long been singled out for extra billing?

Enabling: If engaging in behaviours that support people (yes, even in their addition) can have a range of effects - good, bad, and innocuous - why is it that the (statistically minor) bad effects have long been singled out for attention all over the media? Why, above all, is one obvious connection rarely made: many so-called enabling behaviors, often initiated by the state, save lives.

My answer to both questions is consistent the emerging evidence: the 20th century approach to dealing with addiction was wrong. The sooner we leave it in the dust, the better.