As It Happens

Tommy Chong remembers Vancouver drug squad officer Abe Snidanko, the 'narc of the narcs'

Sgt. Abe Snidanko, a former RCMP drug squad officer in Vancouver who inspired a character in the Cheech & Chong films, has died.
Sgt. Abe Snidanko died on Aug. 2. He was 79. (Ryan Snidanko)

Story transcript

Actor Tommy Chong says he and the late Sgt. Abe Snidanko are two sides of the same coin.

The retired Mountie, whose career in Vancouver's drug squad inspired the character Sgt. Stadanko in the Cheech & Chong movies, died last week of heart failure. He was 79.

"Abe and I are the same age. For my entire life and Abe's entire life, pot has always been illegal. It's only the last few years that, you know, states have started to make it legal and recognize it as a medicine," Chong told As It Happens guest host Rosemary Barton.

"So Abe and I, we were like twins, you know? I was on the one side, he was on the other side. And I really respected him. I really respected Abe because, you know, he was true to his craft. No one was a better narc than Abe. Abe was the narc of the narcs."

Snidanko, originally from Smokey Lake, Alta., joined the RCMP at the age of 18 and served for 35 years.

He died "peacefully" at home on Aug. 2, his son Ryan told the Vancouver Sun.

"He didn't' want to go to the hospital," he said. "He was very stubborn that way."

Snidanko worked on Vancouver's drug squad, often undercover, during the '60s and early '70s, and was known as the "hippie nemesis."

He served there during the city's infamous Gastown riots, a violent police crackdown on a "smoke-in" pot protest.

"He was the cop who would bust you for a seed or a joint or anything, you know," Chong said. "Abe was one of those guys back in the day that thought marijuana was the evilist drug on the planet and he vowed to stamp it out any way he could."

Crackdown on dope users causes rifts among local politicians and citizens. 4:19

​Chong said people in the drug scene used to call Snidanko and his partner "Batman and Robin."

He recalled the time Snidanko busted down the door of a deli where Chong's "gangster" buddies Georgie and Eddie were snorting cocaine.

"Georgie managed to flush it down the toilet, but in retaliation Georgie told Snidanko, he told him: 'We're taking your nicknames away. You're no longer Batman and Robin.'"

Actor Tommy Chong based a character off of Sgt. Abe Snidanko. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Chong said he had his share of run-ins with Snidanko — though he was never personally busted by the officer.

"He came close, but never got me," Chong said with a laugh. "He came very close."

He remembers the time Snidanko arrested a kid for possesion in Chong's father's house.

"And my dad woke up, you know, 'What's going on?' And Abe grabbed my dad and threw him against the wall," he said. "My dad's 5-foot-5, and he wasn't elderly, but he wasn't young, and Abe bullied him, bullied everybody. He was just, he was on a mission." 

Sgt. Abe Snidanko worked with the RCMP for 38 years. (Ryan Snidanko)

Despite Chong's professed respect for Snidanko, he admits his famous parody of the officer was not done in the spirit of kindness.

"It was a f--k you more than a tribute," he said. "It was, 'I'm gonna make you famous, Abe.'"

And he did. The straight-laced and bumbling character Sgt. Stadanko made his debut on Chong's 1973 comedy album Los Cochinos, and was later portrayed by Stacey Keach in the Cheech & Chong stoner comedies Up In Smoke and Nice Dream.

After the films came out, Snidanko spent the latter part of his RCMP career as a drug liaison officer overseas, working in Hong Kong, Austria, and Jamaica.

"Because I made him so famous, he wasn't any good in the Vancouver scene any more, so they shipped him off," Chong said. "I don't think he was too pleased about that."

Snidanko son's Ryan told the Vancouver Sun his dad didn't care about his movie notoriety, but he did harbour a soft spot the actor who portrayed him.

His father, he said, was very by-the-book. He didn't say much about the changing attitudes toward marijuana in Canada, or its impending legalization.

"We'd be watching the news and they'd be talking about all the pot shops in Vancouver, and he'd be, 'Yeah, whatever,' " said Ryan.

"I think he was more like a rules guy — there was a federal statute and he was told to enforce it, so he did. And he did it very well too, so that kind of made him infamous, I guess. Or famous."

Snidanko is survived by Noreen, his wife of 52 years, and their sons Ryan and Stephen.

"It is with sadness that we say goodbye to Abe, who passed away peacefully in his home in Richmond, B.C., and will be missed by all who knew and loved him," his obituary reads.

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