A grieving mother demands action on drug dealers

By Ken Kellar

It was a call no parent ever wants to get, and now Cora Gagne is fighting to make sure no other parent has to feel her pain.

On January 18, 2021 Gagne was in her office in Manitoba, where she lives, when she received a phone call. Her 17 year old son, Treydon Gagne-Thompson, had died of an overdose in Fort Frances.

On Friday, August 6, Gagne and dozens of supporters marched through Fort Frances to the courthouse to protest what she described as a lack of justice and accountability in the region as the opioid epidemic causes devastation, and drug dealers apprehended by police are let go with what she called, “a slap on the wrist.”

“There have been different press releases by the police through media of people who have been arrested, charged for trafficking fentanyl, opioids, meth, heroin on our streets,” Gagne said.

“They’ve stood before a judge, and they’re back out on the street two or three days later. The same person has been charged again in many cases, charged with trafficking different things that are killing our young people, stand before a judge and are back out on the street two or three days later. It’s murder. It’s fentanyl homicide, and it’s killing a generation of people. My son happened to be one of them and I pray to God that the phone calls stop coming for parents.”

Following her son’s death, Gagne said she couldn’t sit and be silent about what has happened, choosing instead to use her voice and pain to try and affect change, hoping to prevent other parents from having to go through the same pain she has.

“My son was awesome, and I don’t just say that because he was my son,” Gagne said as she fought through tears.

“Treydon was a very, very active young man. His heart was in Fort Frances even though we had moved to Manitoba, because he loved Rainy Lake, anything outdoorsy; canoeing, fishing, hunting, camping, you name it, he was obsessed with it. Treydon loved to cook. He had goals, he was supposed to go work at the mine once he turned 18. He had a very good paying job secured for him. Devastating is not even the word.”

The protest, the first of many actions Gagne says she plans to take to get the justice system to hold drug dealers more accountable, featured handmade posters with Treydon’s face. As the participants reached the courthouse they walked laps of the roundabout in the front yard, with chants of “protect our young people, stop letting drug dealers go.” Gagne said she’s also fighting a common misconception or stereotype that only drug addicts are affected by the opioid epidemic, which she labelled as untrue.

“A thirteen year old boy at a sleepover got a medication because he wasn’t feeling well, he had anxiety,” she said.

“He never woke up, his mother got a phone call. He had never done drugs in his life. This is a scary, scary, scary epidemic, and the people that are selling it are playing Russian Roulette. They just don’t know which one is going to die out of the batch.”

Gagne shared that she’s interacted with police officers since her son’s death, and feels from her interactions with them that officers are also frustrated with the way drug dealers are processed in the justice system. She stressed this is only what she feels, not what any officer has said to her.

“They are investing hours and sweat into these investigations, they’re getting certain evidence that they need, they’re bringing it to a court, but we have judges and justices of the peace that are slapping [drug dealers] on the hand, allowing them to be bailed back out on the street, charged again, back in front of the judges again,” Gagne said.

“It’s an ongoing issue.”

Gagne says the “evil” of the opioid epidemic is something she wants exposed so that parents in town, the district and beyond are made aware that these drugs are out there and more dangerous and prevalent than they might think.

“Know whose home your children are going into,” she cautioned parents.

“Know who your children are talking to on social media. Hold them accountable for their social media accounts. Be very, very aware because it is going on in homes, even where you least expect it, and it takes one time at the wrong place and there’s not a second chance. My son had no clue what he was taking, no idea.”

Treydon had spent a lot of time in Fort Frances, as evidenced both by his mother’s testimony and the many young people who attended the march with signs bearing his face. Among those participating in the walk was Fort Frances Mayor June Caul, who explained that she knew Treydon from her time spent as a teacher.

“I had Treydon in JK and SK,” Caul said.

“He was a loving, very smart, very respectful young man. He had everything going for him in life. He was truly one of my favourites because you always have those ones who you know are going to be able to do great things in life. This is important for me to be part of today because I loved Treydon very much. I’m heartbroken that he had to succumb to this awful, illegal drug problem going on in our world right now.”

Gagne and Caul both said the issue extends well beyond the scope of the municipality, but that it too has a role to play in combating the drug issue. Gagne said she feels that the information surrounding overdoses, like the number that take place, should be made more transparent to the public so they can better understand the scope of the problem.

“I feel it is something that has been shoved under the carpet, very hush-hush,” Gagne said.

“Especially with COVID, the focus is so on COVID that you have all these people suffering with addictions, mental health, all these other things, and there’s no help for them.”

Caul said the justice system itself needs to re-evaluate how charges pertaining to drug dealing and trafficking are handled, pointing out that it can’t only be the police who are tackling the issue.

“It has to start from the top of the justice system, where they start to say ‘you know what, we have to do more than we’re doing because our children are dying,'” she said.

“People are dying across the country every day. We’ve lost many people in our own district in the last year, and the justice system has to change. [Drug dealers] shouldn’t be let out on the street… What we need to do as a council is talk about it, for sure. Maybe set up some kind of resolution of some kind, that would be one way for us to do it as council, send it to the municipalities, send it to NOMA, send it to the RRDMA, move it to AMO. We need to start speaking out. It hits every walk of life; every family. Children are susceptible to something like this happening to them without them even realizing it.”

In the future, Gagne said she’s planning on bringing a petition to the justice system to try and force them to re-evaluate and change the way they deal with dealers and traffickers, hopefully to prevent them from being able to so readily return to the streets and their trade. Of the walk itself, though, Gagne said she was just thankful that so many people turned out to support the cause and honour Treydon’s memory.

“I know my son wouldn’t have wanted to die in vain,” she said. “I know he wanted to bring hope. He wanted good for this community.”