Canucks and Beyond

The Odd Squad & the WHL

09/26/2011 at 5:51pm EDT

imageVancouver’s Downtown Eastside is notoriously well-known across Canada—and since extensive international coverage during the Olympics, probably far beyond our borders too. The area has long been deeply affected by crime and drug dependency, and as such, frequently makes for compelling video footage on the evening news.

One program that was established by the Vancouver Police Department’s “Odd Squad,” in association with the Western Hockey League, is unique in that it seeks to make a difference that goes far beyond the borders of the neighbourhood.

For more than a decade, this program has brought WHL players to the area for a personal tour, introduces them to the reality of the area without pulling any punches, then asks those players to take their observations, photos and stories back to other young people in their home WHL communities. [photo credit at bottom]

The Odd Squad was originally founded by members of the Vancouver Police Department, and one of their most successful endeavors is the “Junior Hockey Drug Education and Awareness Program.” As described on their site:

This involves working together with several Western Hockey League teams and the respective police drug education programs that serve their communities, to share valuable information on the perils of drug and substance abuse. This program has the endorsement of the Vancouver City Police Department, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Western Hockey League.

VPD constable Steve Addison, who regularly patrols the Eastside, tagged along with the Kamloops Blazers and the Odd Squad recently, and made these observation in his blog, Eastside Stories last week:

So, each time a WHL team rolls through Vancouver, they spend a day with the Odd Squad, learning about the Downtown Eastside and talking to people who have made the wrong choices in life. Accompanied by RCMP members from their respective communities, the players are sent home with all of the Odd Squad’s presentation material. Their job is then to go into the schools of the towns they play hockey in, and spread the message.

Last year, after receiving a similar presentation from the Odd Squad, players from the Blazers went back to Kamloops and gave more than 20 presentations throughout their community, reaching approximately 4,000 youngsters.

CBC documented the young hockey players visiting East Van this past winter, in the video below. Also participating in the program are NHLers Evander Kane and Dion Phaneuf.

That so many young hockey players give so much of their time to this program, then share their experiences with children in their own communities, likely has an invaluable impact on their young fans. It’s an impressive program.

I have a personal connection to East Vancouver, having a family member who lived there for decades, and I’ve seen the area’s problems in a very up-close way. It’s a complicated place, to say the least. So I find it particularly heartening to see people trying to make a difference, whether they be local residents, volunteers, police, or hockey players.

*Photo credit belongs to Steve Addison of the VPD. For anyone interested in the issues, and observations of daily life of East Van, Constable Steve Addison’s blog is an excellent read.

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