Alberta man says 'drug treatment court' pulled him out of life of addiction and crime

The aim of drug treatment courts is to provide an alternative to prison for nonviolent offenders. One Alberta man says the Lethbridge program helped pull him out of a life of crime.

Lawyers note positive results emerging in first year of Lethbridge’s drug court

Calgary resident David Dyck, left, was addicted to drugs and involved in a criminal lifestyle before entering a drug treatment court in Calgary. Meanwhile, Lethbridge’s drug treatment court was established in November 2020, and locations in Medicine Hat, Grande Prairie and Red Deer followed suit. (Submitted by David Dyck, Joel Dryden/CBC)

At 33 years old, Calgary resident Dave Dyck had built a successful business. 

Dyck and his wife were semi-retired and travelling the world with two kids, a boy and a girl.

"We were kind of that ordinary, perfect couple, in an upscale neighbourhood, and we were doing well," Dyck said. "And it would've been almost by happenstance that I ended up at a dinner party."

Dyck was never a drinker nor did he use drugs. But at that dinner party, with a number of executives present, he ended up encountering cocaine.

"It was out of place for a party like that, but somehow it seemed like, 'OK, well, here it is,'" he said. "And I was uniquely susceptible to becoming an addict, and quite quickly."

"So, for a period of more than 10 years, it was a struggle to operate within the context of running a business."

Addiction to alcohol and drugs would consistently tear down whatever Dyck was about to build as he found himself in and out of rehabilitation and detox centres. 

WATCH | Calgary resident David Dyck talks about his journey through drug treatment court:

David Dyck discusses his journey through drug treatment court

2 years ago
Duration 3:01
Calgary resident David Dyck had his life upended by addiction. He talks about how drug treatment court helped to bring him out of a life of crime.

In 2015, Dyck experienced a significant business failure and reached a point where he said he gave up. He "threw caution to the wind" and his addiction took over.

"You also enter into a life where there's financial constraints that require you to do something to facilitate the various addictions that you're part of," he said. "I started to associate with people who were of ill repute and engaged in things of ill repute."

Dyck found himself living in a home with others where drugs were being used and where crimes were committed to fuel that lifestyle.

The crimes that were being committed changed daily, from fraud to car theft.

"It wasn't like this conniving, intelligent criminal, planning out a heist or a specific con, like these movies show," Dyck said. "It was a lot more haphazard and random and spur of the moment, and ill-prepared. So, there's obviously evidence left in every instance."

He found himself in and out of remand centres and jail. He lost complete contact with his children for around five years.

It's then that drug treatment court came into play.

Drug treatment court

The stated aim of drug treatment courts is to provide an alternative to prison for nonviolent offenders. 

Candidates for the program must plead guilty, submit to drug testing and participate in judicially-supervised treatment throughout.

The courts have also been in operation in Edmonton since 2005 and in Calgary since 2007. In Calgary, a report released by the court stated that 76 per cent of graduates had no new substantive convictions at an average of 3.8 years post-graduation.

In addition, the report said the court saves society between $15 million and $20 million per year in the cost of stolen goods alone.

In March 2020, the province said it had set aside $20 million over four years to fund five additional courts across Alberta, including in Lethbridge.

"Drug court recognizes that the goal is to truly rehabilitate someone," Dyck said. "And it starts with recovery from drug and alcohol addiction."

LISTEN | The Sunday Magazine from 2018: The law court that helps addicts get clean

Dyck graduated from drug treatment court almost a year ago, and since then, he's been living a good life. Now 51, he's reconnected with his children, relationships he described now as being very close.

He's even in the midst of writing a science fiction novel and said he's already completed 150,000 words.

He said the foundational thing about drug court is that it has the potential to get people clean and sober, and away from a life of crime.

"Drug court recognizes the direct correlation between drug use and crime," Dyck said. "A person's first and foremost objective in the program is to get clean and sober.

"And that'll foundationally set someone up to have a life. Because, otherwise, there's no life to be had."

Part of the puzzle in Lethbridge

In Lethbridge, the crime severity index in the community was the highest in the country in 2020, according to Statistics Canada, and prior to its closure, the supervised consumption site in the city was the busiest in the nation.

Brett Carlson is a staff lawyer in Lethbridge with Legal Aid Alberta, an organization that provides staff duty counsel lawyers to represent individuals who go through drug court.

Carlson said drug treatment court seeks to break the cycle of addiction — that of drug users needing money to supply an addiction, which can lead to crime.

"If that's the cycle that's driving this person's criminality, if we can break that addiction, then we  break the criminality," he said. 

"And I say we break the addiction, but it's really the person breaking the addiction. We're just there to support that, and allow it to happen."

Brett Carlson is a staff lawyer with Legal Aid Alberta in Lethbridge. Legal Aid Alberta provides staff duty counsel lawyers to those going through the drug treatment court path, representing them in the court system. (Joel Dryden/CBC)

Lethbridge's drug treatment court was established in November 2020, admitting its first participants in February 2021. As the program has an average duration of 18 months, no participants have yet graduated.

In a statement, a spokesperson with the province said the court has performed well in Lethbridge in its first year.

"In focusing on the root causes of addiction-driven crime, the Lethbridge drug treatment court will have a direct impact on addiction levels and the crime associated to drug use in Lethbridge and its surrounding communities," said Katherine Thompson in an email.

Carlson said participants have received job offers upon completion of the program.

Another individual in his 20s was looking at a 33-month jail sentence and is now focused on getting a job, volunteering and becoming a voice for the drug treatment court, Carlson said.

"It's making the community better by dealing with the addiction, which takes care of the crime," he said.

According to the federal government, the first drug treatment court started in Toronto in December 1998, in response to a large number of drug-related offences being committed repeatedly by those with drug dependencies.

Ottawa provides federal funding to provinces that implement drug treatment courts, allocating $3.6 million annually to support the programs.

CBC Calgary has launched a Lethbridge bureau to help tell your stories from southern Alberta with reporter Joel Dryden. Story ideas and tips can be sent to