According to former VICE music editor Slava P: “I’m definitely the biggest music journalist to have ever come from Toronto and probably the top five in Canada.”
That is, until he was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in an international cocaine smuggling ring worth over $20 million dollars. A new Canadaland podcast called ‘Cool Mules’ explores how Yaroslav Pastukhov, better known as Slava P, used his position as a well-known journalist to enlist young, vulnerable workers as mules in the highly-profitable drug trade between Canada and Australia. But whether it was for the story or for the money depends on whose side you’re on.
This isn’t an investigative true-crime podcast. Slava admits he’s guilty right from the get-go. What makes this podcast so captivating is the angle of exploitation within the gig economy and the revelation of the lengths young journalists will go to for respect and ‘coolness’ within one of the most powerful media brands in the world.
Reporter Kasha Mychajlowycz speaks with Slava from the basement of his mother’s house in Brampton where he was under house arrest awaiting trial in the spring of 2019. In a shocking series of interviews, Slava admits to his role in engaging with high-profile, anonymous drug dealers “Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee” with supposed links to the Mexican cartel in a bid to smuggle drug-lined suitcases into the second most expensive cocaine market in the world. But, he says, he did it all for journalism. In his words, it would be: “my ticket to a huge Vice show.”
This is an insane story. It validates much of what you might have assumed about the media company that “wrote the hipster bible” (ie. edgy, urban news reporters that break the rules to get the story, all in the name of street cred and status). Slava says so himself, arguing that the company culture enabled him to go down this dangerous road, seemingly without consequence.
“I want to be clear, I’m not blaming Vice, however I wouldn’t have pursued this if I worked in other media companies,” he says.
In the podcast we hear from Slava’s former colleagues at Vice, some of whom were approached to smuggle drugs as a side-hustle to their low-paying positions at the company. One young journalist, Jake, says Slava pressured him into illegal and risky activities that he felt might damage his reputation if he refused.
“When they pay you in coolness, you start being worried about how that currency may leave you,” he says.
Cool Mules has it all: music, journalism, drugs and money. As with all Canadaland content, this is a refreshing break from our over-saturated, American-centric media diet. The series has been over a year in the making and it offers a fascinating new angle from someone that approached Canadaland himself as he claimed to have been misrepresented by the media since the story broke in 2017. It’s slickly produced, highly entertaining, utterly shocking and well worth a listen.
Listen to the highly entertaining, utterly shocking, and slickly produced first two episodes available now on Spotify and Apple Music. Learn more at https://www.coolmules.ca/.