UVic professor pens illustrated history of Canadian drug policies

A new book looks at the history of Canadian drug prohibition, tracing how policies made decades ago relate to today’s issues.

‘It’s a roulette wheel and death is the outcome,’ says author

Police and customs officers pose with drugs recovered after a boat was intercepted in the 1920s. Customs Preventive Service was Canada’s version of a border patrol and at the height of service included horseback teams, aircraft and even a gunboat. (Vancouver Police Museum)

With the ongoing opioid crisis and the imminent legalization of cannabis, a timely new book looks at the history of Canadian drug prohibition and traces how policies made decades ago relate to today's issues.

In Busted: An Illustrated History of Drug Prohibition in Canada, Susan Boyd shows how the country's drug policies evolved with reproduced drawings, paintings, photographs, film stills and official documents dating back to the 1700s.

"I wanted to create a visually compelling book that would be accessible but grounded in history,"  Boyd told CBC host of The Early Edition Stephen Quinn.

Boyd, who is also a professor in the faculty of human and social development at the University of Victoria, has written several books about drugs in the past.

This book, she said, takes a different approach.

"We've criminalized [certain substances] and it's had devastating consequences leading us to this drug overdose crisis across Canada," she said.  

In her illustrated book Susan Boyd includes reproduced drawings, paintings, photographs, film stills and official documents dating back centuries. (Iain Mitchell-Boyd)

'Roulette wheel'

Bustedtells the history of prohibition but also the stories of resistance against prohibition.

"Putting people in prison doesn't do anything to help them with problematic drug use or dependency," Boyd said.

Protesters march in Vancouver at the National Day of Action, February 21, 2017. (Canadian Drug Policy Coalition)

"Right now, really it's a roulette wheel and death is the outcome for many people who are using criminalized substances," she added.

More than 1,900 people have died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. since the province declared a public health emergency nearly two years ago.

Boyd said it's critical that Canadians understand the history of drug policies to better deal with the issues being faced now.

"History informs everything that we do in contemporary society," she said. "I wanted readers to understand our history in order to make the choices that we need to take right now."

The book launches on Tuesday evening at SFU Woodward's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

A new book looks at the history of Canadian drug prohibition, tracing how policies made decades ago relate to today’s issues. 6:39

With files from The Early Edition