Car theft, Oxy linked in a big way
By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor
Monday, April 30, 2012 2:56:57 EDT PM
It looks so easy in all the movies, TV shows and video games.
Gone in 60 Seconds, Grand Theft Auto and Need for Speed have indoctrinated kids, especially young men, with the impression that stealing, speeding and crashing cars is very cool.
And as a city that was dubbed the Stolen Car Capital of Canada in 2010, Brantford has a nasty reputation as the playground for these car thieves.
While improvements are being made notably with a joint policing effort called Team Shutdown, two area teens have died as a result of car chases in the past five years and there have been numerous injuries, not to mention millions of dollars in damages to cars and costs in insurance.
Some say it’s non-natives who are stealing cars from outside the county and dumping them on Six Nations for natives to take the blame.
Others believe that, at the heart of this, is a gang of outside influences who are directing native kids to steal cars. The kids are young and have a grid of back roads on the reserve where cars can be hidden and chopped, and where police can be evaded.
But a series of interviews by The Expositor indicates the recent problems didn’t start with Mafia connections or Asian gangs.
The problem has been a little pain pill called Oxycontin.
“I got in a bad car accident where I was ejected out of the vehicle and broke all my ribs. I broke my arm and my shoulder. I started taking Tylenol 3 and Percoset prescribed by the doctor but pretty soon it wasn’t working.”
That’s how one young man, “Robert” became a ‘chinger’ on Six Nations.
Chinging is the local slang for the act of stealing cars, derived from the word ‘cha-ching!’, meaning easy money.
Robert’s dependence on narcotics for his pain lead him to the well-known, but highly addictive “hillbilly heroin” — Oxycontin.
“It’s an expensive habit and stealing vehicles is easy money. People getting Oxy can turn around and sell it for $50, $60 or $100 on the reserve and that’s a good chunk of change.”
Eventually, Robert was spending $1,000 each day on his Oxy habit and there are no jobs that can support that kind of expenditure.
He quickly got involved in chinging, learning the ropes from older friends and, eventually, setting up his own system of buyers.
“There were times when I didn’t sleep for three or four days. I would be out stealing every day, all day. I’d take at least five vehicles in a night. Sometimes more.”
He was shot at and chased by police more times than he can count. When he looks back at his escapades now, it’s terrifying.
“It’s easy money but in the long run, you get caught, addicted to Oxy and not caring about your family. You end up sitting in jail and are told when you can go to bed and when to get up.”
Robert is on probation now, trying hard to stay clean and away from Six Nations.
“I’m trying to take care of me right now.”
Robert’s lawyer, Sarah Dover, has become somewhat of an expert on chingers.
Dover says she represents a “significant number” of Six Nations residents who have been arrested after dangerous car chases or repeatedly stealing cars.
“I’ve had maybe one or two clients who are not addicted to Oxycontin and all the others are.”
Dover knows a lot about Oxy.
She’s researched it and has daily anecdotal evidence of what it does to a user. Oftentimes, Dover is the first one to talk to a chinger about his Oxy habit and where it’s heading.
“There’s been greater access to Oxy on the reserve than alcohol and you become addicted in a very short time — within a week of your first use. The symptoms of withdrawal are excruciating. It’s like having barbed wire pulled through your veins.”
And here’s the problem: the No. 1 course of treatment for Oxy addiction is methadone. There’s no methadone program available on Six Nations and no detox there. To get their daily methadone dose Dover’s clients have to get to Brantford. But most are on probation for driving crimes and aren’t allowed to drive. Unless a supportive family member or friend volunteers to drive them to Brantford every single day, a lot of chingers are faced with a choice of stealing a car or dropping methadone and going back to Oxy.
And there’s another problem: if you’re already on a methadone program when you go to jail, they make sure that you continue treatment. But if you’re not on the program, you can’t get on it in jail. Instead you face about a week of acute withdrawal and then a chemically induced depression for 12 to 18 months.
“In jail, (prisoners) have no education around their addiction, no access to counselling and when they come out of jail they’re no further ahead in accessing services for addictions. It’s a huge set-up for them to fail.”
The results are heavily tinged with irony: chingers sometimes steal cars to get to their methadone appointments or even take a car at the courthouse to get home after being released from jail; one of Dover’s addicted clients had her newborn taken from her at the hospital by Children’s Aid but walked out of the facility with an Oxy prescription in her hand; native boys are facing dozens of driving charges before they even get their licences.
And they all talk about the big bucks they generate from the chinging business. But Dover says it’s a sham.
“I ask them ‘Where’s the money?’ Where are the guys with the massive houses and gorgeous cars? They don’t exist because the money’s going into opiates.
“If people are really serious about ending car chases, do something about Oxy.”
That was Dover’s statement a few months ago when Oxy use was rampant on Six Nations.
Now, with the introduction of OxyNEO, a “tamper-proof” drug that can’t be crushed, ground or liquified for snorting or injecting she says the situation is in a muted chaos.
Prices for Oxy have gone up and new suppliers are being sought outside of Ontario; addictions are switching drugs, some have overdosed; the drug world is hard at work trying to tamper with the new tamper-proof drug; and yes, some hard cases are turning to methadone as they try to drop their old habit.
MPP Dave Levac is pushing to get a new residential rehab-detox centre in the city and others are suggesting the methadone clinic at St. Andrew’s Church be moved to wherever that new location is.
Wherever it is, it won’t be on the reserve — so the problem for addicts will remain.
“We need to help those getting treatment to succeed,” said Levac.
“We want to stop people from reoffending and remove the obstacles, so that may (lead to) a transportation service or taxi chits – something so we can tackle this in a whole community way.”
Levac is one of those who believes Six Nations has been unfairly targeted because of the car theft industry.
“The idea it’s all natives doing this is a long-standing mythology. If we actually broke down the number of first nations people involved we’d see it’s not just them. It’s just a favourite dumping ground.”
Six Nations Chief Coun. Bill Montour agrees, saying it’s “outside influences” controlling many of the young people on the reserve.
“We’re getting more blacks, Asians and motorcycle gangs operating here and we’ve had four incidents involving Jamaican enforcers.”
The chief said he’s been a victim himself: his own car was stolen by thieves who used it to go to Mississauga in order to steal there.
“My son is a cop and they’re all over this.”
But lawyer Dover says it’s not gangs controlling the kids – it’s drugs.
Dover’s typical client has a Grade 8 education, is 20-something years old and has severe addiction issues.
“They come from pain. When they’re released the only thing they’re good at is stealing cars.”
Dover speaks often and passionately in court about the Oxy-car theft problem.
She’s hugely frustrated by what she considers a broken system.
“Jail is not effective in deterring my clients. I’ve had clients shot by police before being jailed and when they’re released, because the underlying dynamic hasn’t been addressed, they return to the behaviour despite a desire to have a normal life.”
Some have suggested to Dover that if her clients truly wanted to get better they’d be willing to go far afield to find help.
“The folks from Six Nations are deeply connected to their community, land and way of life. To say if you want to be sober, go to another community, you might as well say ‘be shot into space’.”
Native Horizons is the drug rehab program on Six Nations. Dover says that every year the agency puts in a proposal for a more comprehensive addictions service and every year they are denied.
It takes one to three months to get into the current rehab program and you have to qualify by being out of jail and sober for 30 days.
“If some of my clients could stay out of jail and sober for 30 days they wouldn’t need rehab,” says Dover.
There are two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on the reserve, she adds, and people can go to counselling meetings at Native Horizons, but there are no regular Narcotic Anonymous meetings there.
“My clients are white-knuckling through withdrawal and they get out of jail and relapse.
Which, of course, leads to the theft of more cars, or worse, the rising suicide problem on this and other reserves.
What’s needed, says Dover, is a crisis approach to the Oxy problem that targets the underlying issues: too much Oxy availability; not enough rehab and methadone help; more counselling for family problems, including the residual angst of the residential schools issue.
“Robert” is glad to be done with his $1000-a-day Oxy habit.
“Looking back, I’m scared about what I was doing. I’ve been shot at and stuff. I was constantly looking over my shoulder for police and owners. Now a weight’s been lifted.”
Tags: acute withdrawal in jail, Add new tag, arrrested, car theft, chinging, gang influence, hillbilly heroin, injuries, methadone, muted chaos, opiates, oxycontin, Percocet, probation, Six Nations, thieves, treatment, Tylenol 3, withdrawal