A Special Report By Greg Iverson
To some in the AOD sector, the name of a Mr. Gary Christian may be well known. To those of us that contribute to the ADCA list-server called ‘Drugtalk’, this name is instantly recognisable (and is normally followed in the thought process with a mental groan).
Drugtalk is a subscribed e-mail list. It was set up so that workers in the AOD sector had a space to share information and debate topics of varying importance to the sector.
Gary, and his fellow cohorts at Drug Free Australia (DFA – a right wing Christian-based think tank and pot-stirrers that aims to influence government policy on AOD issues in Australia), are fond of making a variety of accusations on this subscriber list against a range of people in the sector, mainly because their methodologies disagree with the Zero Tolerance approach that Gary and his ilk firmly (and blindly) believe in.
I have contributed to the debates on this server for many years now and have been a keen observer of the behaviour of Mr Christian and the DFA and, like others on the email list, I am often aghast at the statements that are placed there by this group … especially this individual.
His behaviour includes;
- An attempt at linking Dr Alex Wodak (one of the most pre-eminent and respected AOD professionals in the country) with illegal activities in Afghanistan (when in actuality, Alex was there advising on HIV and Harm Minimisation issues)
- Constant accusations that the AOD sector is staffed and led by “so-called experts” who are only interested in keeping people addicted, so that they have a livelihood (despite the fact that – as has been pointed out to him several times – it would be more profitable for the workers in the field to actually BECOME drug pushers and dealers. Far more profit on that side of the fence than ours and with the vagaries of government funding being what it is, a whole lot more secure!)
- Accuses anyone who contemplates any alternative to the Zero Tolerance approach as being a ‘drug pusher’ or dealer which accounts for at least 90% of the sector
- Regularly twisting words around in a debate, placing statements never uttered by an opponent into their posts
- Flatly refusing to read any research that runs counter to his pre-determined ideology – and then comments on that research as being a load of ‘junk-science’ (while openly admitting that he has not actually read the paper. Pretty neat trick that one)
- Using the ‘reliable’ sources of right wing media commentators such as Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine for the source of his arguments.
There are more items that I could write about here in relation to Gary, but that list would continue for many, many more pages.
Suffice to say, it seems that this man has simply no idea of any real life experience when it comes to dealing with substance abuse issues. If he has, then he has ignored any lessons from this engagement.
His approach to the sector is informed by one thing only, and that is his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs. Don’t get me wrong; I have a lot of respect for certain church affiliated groups in the AOD sector. Without them, a lot more people would be suffering a lot more harm if their work and engagement in the sector were to suddenly cease. But when the dictates of your faith blinds you to the reality of a situation, then unfortunately, the harms can only increase to both the individual and society. Fundamentalism is dangerous – in religion or in any other field. This was displayed as far back as the Crusades in the Holy Land and even today, the issue is still with us.
But recently, there has been a couple of debates on the list that I feel have finally shown Gary in a very real – and ultimately, truly hypocritical light.
One of these debates centred on a Mr Julian Critchley – who held the post of the Director of the UK Anti-Drug Co-ordination Unit in the Cabinet Office. When he first gained this position, Mr. Critchley states he was:
“more or less agnostic on drugs policy, being personally opposed to drug use, but open-minded about the best way to deal with the problem. I was certainly not inclined to decriminalise.”
During his time in this position, after looking at all the data and research that his work exposed him to, he realised the futility of the prohibitionist approach and became a supporter of the legalisation side of the debate. The full text of his post can be seen here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markeaston/2008/07/the_war_on_drugs.html - his post is No. 73.
He then resigned from his position, realising that his change of stance meant that he could no longer support official Government policy and therefore, his position was untenable.
Gary’s strange response to this was to post the following item:
The UK media are treating the Julian Critchley opinion on legalisation as if an anti-drugs analyst has rolled over and come to see the light of an opposite point of view. This is hardly likely given the history of drug control in Britain.
Nobody would say that Mike Trace, as deputy to drug tsar David Hellawell, was ever really against illicit drug use, especially when he was exposed by the Daily Mail as communicating with George Soros drug legalisation Generals Nadelmann and Neier asking their feedback on his plan to create a unified web of organisations which would influence politicians against the United Nations Conventions. In his own words:
‘The basic objectives remain the same - to assemble a combination of research, policy analysis, lobbying and media management that is sufficiently sophisticated to influence governments and international agencies as they review global drug policies in the coming years. The key decision points remain the reviews of the European Union Drug Strategy in 2003 (and again in 2004), and the political summit of the UN Drug Programme in Vienna in April 2003.’
This is the guy who said that he, when accepted as head of the UN Drug Demand Reduction section, said he was going to act as a fifth columnist to undermine te UN. Just as well Sweden's Torgny Peterson outed him and the Daily Mail got him sacked.
So why would we not assume that Julian was not another Mike Trace, posing as someone working against illicit drug use, while laying the groundwork for its legalisation?
Until this point, no one had mentioned Mike Trace, nor was there any links placed between Mr Trace and Mr Critchley – and yet, Gary’s comments seem to indicate that because person X (Trace) believes fact Y, then Person Z (Critchley) must think and behave in exactly the same way as person X. Huh?
As you can imagine, some of us were baffled by his sudden linking of these two individuals and queried Gary on this matter. Many posts were placed to and fro on the list where there were accusations of fifth columnists everywhere and conspiracy theories in every corner, spouting from Mr Christian’s keyboard. From one email alone, there was this:
My statement about Critchley is simply that if Trace was working as a fifth columnist, secretly undermining British and UN drug policy while appearing to be in support of it (what else does a fifth columnist mean?), there is no reason to think that Critchley's stance on legalisation has not always been the same….
So Paul, my statement that we should not merely assume that Critchley changed from being against drug use in society to a supporter of drug use in society is premised on something very real and very historical.
It still didn’t make sense to any of us on this list. How can someone be accused of being a fifth columnist if they acknowledge their change of stance and then instantly resign from their post when they realise that this change means that they cannot work towards the goal for which they had originally been employed. It sounds like an honourable action to me, rather than anything under-handed.
But then, this confusion was not unusual in a debate with Gary – as we all knew on the list. He is well known to change boats midstream and attempt to take debates off into areas that only his imagination could dream up. As I stated above, this would include subtle word substitutions in quoting others, which changed the intent of their original statement (I should correct that and say ‘sometimes subtle’ – at other times, the change was so dramatic, that it was laughable).
The second separate discussion on the list that started me thinking about Mr. Christian’s leaps of logic was when Gary was called to task over his attempts at sabotaging the UN Beyond 2008 Vienna NGO consultations. For those that are unaware, Mr Christian embarrassed himself (and his fellow Australian and New Zealand delegates) at this forum in a very amateur attempt to destroy the proceedings in a last minute accusation of unfair processes. To this day, he still claims that his points were valid, despite being dismissed by the UN representatives, the Forum’s organisers, all of the other Australian and New Zealand delegates and (from what I have come to understand) around 90% of all the other delegates that attended. Complaints on his behaviour were received from all over the world – literally. Read the story here
It was then that the penny dropped.
I finally realised why Gary felt justified in his ‘leaps of logic’. This linking of Julian Critchley’s thought processes to Mike Trace’s actions and his constant accusations of conspiratorial activity and Fifth columnist individuals started to make sense. The revelation involved the realisation that his reactions were all based on his and the DFA’s own actions and approach to AOD work and the sector.
I would point out just two examples (out of many more that I could discuss in this article) that has led me to this conclusion:
The DFA (where Gary is one of the lead individuals in the organisation) claims to be an AOD peak body, yet no AOD organisation that I know of openly acknowledges them as their lead organisation or recognises them as their peak body. The members of the email list had asked for the evidence of this support many times, and the only response that we received from Mr. Christian was a demand on the politicians in our Federal Parliament who support drug law reform to ‘come out’. Then, and it seemed only then, would the DFA release this information to the general public (at least, according to Gary’s posts to the list).
It is my contention that there is a world of difference between the public acknowledgement of sector support for a ‘peak’ NGO and a politician’s public stance on a controversial subject.
Indeed, this is one of the reasons for the very existence of the NGO sector. One of the purposes of NGOs is to provide professional advice to the body politic, so that politicians can base their law-making decisions on un-biased conclusions drawn from valid research data – no matter how unpopular those decisions may be in the wider public sphere or the political arena. This separates the ‘politics’ of a situation from some hard and unpopular choices that sometimes have to be made.
We had often seen on the email list how invalid the research that the DFA and Gary himself would quote could be; we had been forced to comment on this fact on many occasions.
They used this rather shonky material to influence government decisions – and for some time, this had worked under the Howard government; it can only be hoped that this will now change. The current Prime Minister has already indicated that it will, which was a relief to all in our sector to at least hear those words – we wait to see whether the actions do follow through on the spoken commitment from Mr. Rudd to make their decisions on valid research data and the advice of ‘experts in the field’.
The DFA itself seems to be no more than an organisation that has been set up, not to undertake any research itself or support the government sanctioned and approved Australian Drug Strategy, but to secretly work against that strategy in an attempt to undermine it. This is a fifth column approach to an accepted strategy if ever I have seen it.
Remember that the DFA is a body that was granted seed funding from the Federal Government for it’s very establishment, and so as such, they have an obligation, as do all in the NGO sector, to be accountable to government policy and to assist in maintaining that policy.
The other point is Gary’s behaviour at the recent United Nations Vienna Beyond 2008 NGO Forum. He – in an attempt to negate the deliberations of the meeting – made a speech on the final day, just before the closing ceremonies were due to commence.
From what I can surmise of the situation, Gary, the International Taskforce on Strategic Drug Policy (in whose name he made his rather foolish statement) and the DFA, who he was there representing in the discussions, seemed to have all been engaged in the process of consultation from the beginning – with no expressed qualms about the processes involved – at either the regional discussions or during the 3 day Forum itself.
Then, after the period of regional consultations had been conducted, the Vienna meeting held and the discussions at the Forum concluded - to the extent that a consensus had been reached by all the delegates at the Forum - Gary, on this very last day, after as I said, discussions had concluded, proceeded with an attempt to undermine and negate the whole process by publicly declaring it invalid from the very start – to the jeers of most of the delegates assembled.
If Gary, the DFA, or the International Taskforce, felt this way, then why was no commentary on the process given until after the Forum was basically over? There would have been ample opportunity to make this commentary during the process.
But no, Gary – and by extension the Taskforce and the DFA - waited to see what the outcome was and then decided to dismiss the meeting as a complete waste of time and an irrelevancy.
This was purely because the result of the meeting was not their desired one. The recommendations coming from this meeting would largely have the support of most of those in the AOD sector – particularly in Australia. In other words, Harm Minimisation was finally gaining some acceptance in United Nations’ considerations. This was despite Gary and his cohorts’ best attempts at the meeting to push their minority view onto the other delegates, with US Government officials supporting them in the background.
This was an attempt at sabotage by Gary and the Taskforce, purely because the outcome did not suite their agenda and pre-conceived notions.
I ask, is this not the actions of a fifth columnist? Certainly seems that way to me.
So, these two points got my ‘light-bulb’ blinking. Is it any wonder, when an individual, who has a shown and a proven modus operandi and can see no other approach, to then believe that because he operates in this manner, all others involved in the sector also follow this methodology? Makes sense to me and does explain Mr Christian’s extremely odd behaviour and strange ‘leaps of logic’ rather well, don’t you think?
Not to mention his fear of any reputable research that may question his beliefs. Don’t start me on his beliefs around ‘creation science vs. evolutionary science’ – that will have to wait for another time…
About the Author: Greg Iverson:
Greg worked in the HIV sector for around 15 years. He needed a break, so decided to move cities and start a new career path. Somehow, he ended up in the Youth AOD sector in Melbourne and has never looked back. After 5 years of working in AOD, Greg has come to realise that the Harm Minimisation principles that he learnt during his time in the HIV sector gave him an excellent grounding for tackling the challenging work in Youth and AOD issues. He remains open to all forms of approach to AOD work, firmly believes the work should continually evolve and develop, and that there is more than one answer to the complexities of the sector.