The Cedar Project: Impacts of policing among young Aboriginal people who use injection and non-injection drugs in British Columbia, Canada

Stephen W. Pan, Chief Wayne M. Christian, Margo E. Pearce, Alden H. Blair, Kate Jongbloed, Hongbin Zhang, Mary Teegee, Vicky Thomas, Martin T. Schechter, Patricia M. Spittal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Policing has profound health implications for people who use illicit drugs. Among Aboriginal communities, distrust of police is common, due partly to legacies of colonial policing. In response to the paucity of research among Aboriginal people who use drugs, this paper aims to: (1) Describe the policing experiences of young Aboriginal people who use drugs; (2) Identify policing activities associated with unsafe injection practices; and (3) Elucidate barriers to positive police relations. Methods: The Cedar Project is a cohort study involving young Aboriginal people in Vancouver and Prince George, British Columbia, who use illicit drugs. This mixed-methods study ( N=. 372) used period prevalence from 2007 to 2010 to describe policing experiences, mixed effects regression models to identify correlates of policing activities, and thematic qualitative analysis to assess attitudes to police relations. Results: Many participants were stopped by police (73%), experienced physical force by police (28%), had drug equipment confiscated (31%), and changed location of drug use because of police (43%). Participants who reported dealing drugs (40%) were significantly more likely to experience police engagement. Among participants in Prince George, 4% reported to have had non-consensual sex with members of the criminal justice system. Policing activity was significantly associated with syringe sharing, rushed injection, and reused syringe.Due to personal experience, practical concerns, and intergenerational legacies of unfair policing practices, most participants did not want a positive relationship with police (57%). Desire for a positive relationship with police was directly associated with being helped by police, and inversely associated with being stopped by police and experiencing physical force by police. Conclusion: Policing activities may be impacting the well-being of Aboriginal people who use drugs. Due to focused prosecution of street-level drug dealing, some police may favor enforcement over harm reduction. Positive police engagement and less aggressive policing may enhance perceptions of police among young Aboriginal people who use drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-459
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was supported by a grant from the Institute for Aboriginal Peoples Health, of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) , which has no role in the preparation of data or manuscripts. SWP is supported by a four-year doctoral fellowship from the University of British Columbia. WMC is the spokesperson for the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council. MEP is supported by a CIHR doctoral research award. MTS is the Chief Scientific Officer for the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. PMS is the recipient of the CIHR New Investigator Career Award.


  • Aboriginal people
  • Canada
  • Drug use
  • Longitudinal
  • Mixed-methods
  • Policing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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