Thursday, December 20, 2007

Excellent response by Liz Evans to the Kopala column

Liz Evans' special column in response to M. Kopala's column in the preceeding post.
[all links added]

The dead can't kick drugs

Vancouver's safe injection site isn't the whole solution to the drug problem in the Downtown Eastside -- but it has done a great deal of good

Liz Evans, Citizen Special
Published: Thursday, December 20, 2007

I was saddened by Margret Kopala's recent column, "Revoke this licence to enable" (Dec. 8). Like Ms. Kopala, I remember my first experiences in the Downtown Eastside as shocking, and I too was naive about the problems there when I left the hospital as a nurse to work in the community. It's now been almost 17 years working in the very neighbourhood Ms. Kopala describes. Addiction is clearly dreadful and tragic, but those who offer simplistic solutions offer false hope. Clearly if it were as simple as Ms. Kopala believes, there would be no debate.

Meanwhile, people suffer and die living with addictions.

Ms. Kopala's one sensible point regarding a young girl facing the tragic consequences of addiction is that she could have been her sister. Indeed, those suffering with addiction across Canada, including those helped by InSite, Vancouver's supervised injection site, are someone's sister, or brother, or son, or daughter.

I have called the parents of addicts who had overdosed to tell them their child was dead. I met one mother, at the airport, who had flown across the country to visit her dying son. She arrived too late and fell to the floor screaming in grief when she heard the news.

I was a young, inexperienced nurse. What comfort could I really offer in this tragedy? She wanted her addict son alive, addicted or not. There are things we can do. Harm reduction is one. It can keep people alive, so one day, they can enter treatment.

Harm reduction strategies buy time because not everyone is ready to enter treatment. Clean needles and condom distribution prevent the spread of disease. These are basic health interventions that are accepted across the world, from the United Nations to the medical health officers of every single jurisdiction of this

InSite is neither the problem nor the solution. It is one measure designed to prevent drug overdose deaths, which it has done; reduce public disorder, which it has done; reduce the spread of HIV, which it has done; provide a doorway into the health system and into treatment, which it has also done.

Twenty-five academic papers have now been published in the world's most renowned medical journals including The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal. To date there has not been one single independently peer-reviewed article disputing the scientific evidence, which Health Canada paid close to $2 million to compile.

The most recent piece of research indicates that there has been a 30-per-cent increase in the number of people entering detox and methadone therapy as a result of using the injection site -- which strengthens further the argument that harm reduction is a necessary part of the health-care continuum. Making this link from the chaos of the streets to the path of recovery even stronger, OnSite opened above InSite this September, offering 30 beds to addicts wanting to detox, and escape the cycle of addiction.

The public is aware that addiction is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive strategy - one that incorporates improved enforcement, comprehensive prevention programs, and flexible and accessible detox and treatment interventions. But it also needs to include harm reduction - so people don't die unnecessarily, and parents don't continue to lose their children.

Other jurisdictions now also involve harm reduction strategies as part of their overall plans to tackle addiction. Sweden, as was mentioned by Ms. Kopala in her column, has now established needle-exchange programs in order to stop the spread of disease and comply with UN expectations, while conforming to international efforts to limit the global AIDS pandemic. Britain, where a heroin prescription maintenance
program has been in place for many years, has now expanded its addiction treatment program to include stimulant maintenance for cocaine addicts.

In no place where harm reduction approaches have been used have advocates argued they be implemented exclusive of prevention, treatment and enforcement. In every jurisdiction where harm reduction is practised, it is done so in collaboration with local police, business and residents to ensure both the individual users and the broader community equally benefit.

Since InSite opened in 2003, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of public injections and injection-related litter. As a resident of the neighbourhood, I have witnessed a stark contrast in the livability of the Downtown Eastside since InSite opened its doors. Over the past four years of operation, InSite nurses have now supervised more than one million injections, each of which would have otherwise occurred outside, in the public view, and with a much higher risk of drug overdose death, or spreading HIV and hepatits C.

While I welcome the significant improvement to my neighbourhood for both myself and my children, the primary reason I continue to support InSite is its ongoing life-saving work. More than 900 overdose interventions have happened at InSite - each someone's child who would not be with us today if InSite nurses had not been there to take immediate action.

Like Ms. Kopala, I hope politicians like Stephen Harper [write to him here] and Health Minister Tony Clement [write to him here] think about the children when they consider public health policy relating to drug addiction. I hope desperately that resources are finally put into prevention efforts to stop kids from using drugs in the first place. But I also hope to never again explain to a crying mother why her child died from a drug overdose that could have been prevented, in a civilized country like Canada.

Liz Evans is a nurse and the executive director of the PHS Community Services Society, which operates InSite, Vancouver's supervised injection site.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007

"The memory of April Reoch deserves better" than this article

Liz Evans' reaction to this article in the post above...

[Links in this article added by me]

08 Dec 2007

by Margret Kopala, The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Citizen

The First Step to Cleaning Up Canada's Worst Neighbourhood Is to Scrap Its Abhorrent Safe Injection Site

Don't call Al Arsenault unless you are prepared to interrupt an awards ceremony. I recently tried but the retired constable was in Victoria receiving two meritorious service awards from British Columbia's lieutenant governor.

The first was awarded to Sgt. Toby Hinton, Sgt. Tim Shields (RCMP) and Arsenault for a short documentary about car theft. The second recognized Arsenault's work as a decoy in capturing thugs beating up the elderly and helpless in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Barely a month earlier, their company, Odd Squad Productions, had won the Excellence in Cinema for a Feature Film award at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival, this time for their most recent production, Tears For April: Beyond the Blue Lens.

For Al Arsenault, these awards are the culmination of 26 years being a beat cop in Canada's poorest, most drug-infested neighbourhood.

The 10 most recent years have been focused on making educational films about its squalid underside.

Like other Odd Squad productions, Tears for April is a matter-of-fact yet deeply affecting feature documentary about the lives of several addicts on Vancouver's Skid Row, with April Reoch as its tragic heroine writ large.

The young, part-native addict is already a mother and into drugs when she arrives on the skids at the age of 17. Despite efforts at recovery, she remains there in a downward spiral of prostitution and drug addiction for the rest of her brief life.

Beyond the foul language, weeping sores, broken teeth and needle marked body, the film reveals the addict's few shreds of dignity. April could have been your sister or mine.

The documentary was snubbed by the Vancouver Film Festival because, according to Arsenault, "They prefer ideology over art." New York picked it up but then, unlike Vancouver where decriminalization and harm reduction are the prevailing orthodoxies, New York gets it. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health published in September, illicit drug use in the United States among 12- to 17-year- olds has declined.

Notably, use of the initiator drug marijuana by adolescent boys is down by 25 per cent. This is good news for the United States because, as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, John P. Walters reminds us, "We know that if people don't start using drugs during their teen years, they are very unlikely to go on to develop drug problems later in life." America is getting the message and so too is Britain where new laws allowing police to seize drugs and issue warnings have expedited case disposal and, according to BBC News, brought drug use to its "lowest in a decade." Then there's Sweden whose successes toward the goal of a drug-free society have been achieved in part by controversial policies such as compulsory treatment.

In Canada where marijuana use among youth is highest in the industrial world and consumption of other drugs isn't far behind, the Harper government's recently announced National Anti Drug Strategy is a promising start toward getting Canada back on the road to prevention, treatment and enforcement.

If the anti-drug budget is augmented by clearly articulated goals and a strategy for achieving them, results could soon appear.

As these unfold, mandatory minimum sentences and drug courts will affirm that possession and dealing are against the law, something even judges like Justice John Gomery seem to have forgotten.

Canada's National Anti-Drug Strategy makes no concessions to harm reduction or decriminalization measures.

Nonetheless, its biggest problem will be the decriminalizers and harm reduction crowd who have bogged the country down in controversial practices involving needle exchanges, crack pipes and safe injections even though consultation with an experienced organization like Alcoholics Anonymous would have quickly revealed that such practices merely enable the addict.

The epicentre of this approach to drug addiction is Vancouver. Here, opposition to harm reduction practices and safe injection facilities like the Downtown Eastside's Insite is routinely squashed, ignored or lambasted, though an observation that Insite seemed tantamount to "state assisted suicide" did manage to make it into the local press - -- not least because it was made by American broadcaster Dan Rather who was in town scouting out a TV special on the Vancouver Olympics.

The drug-addled stink that will rise from this issue during the 2010 Winter Olympics should alone give pause to reconsider Insite though, to thoroughly mix the metaphor, fur has already flown over its future. Contrary to the findings of
University of British Columbia studies
extolling Insite's benefits, a paper published earlier this year by the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice challenges the harm reduction approach to drug addiction on both theoretical and practical grounds. "A Critique of Canada's INSITE Injection Site and its Parent Philosophy" by Colin Mangham argues the facility has achieved few or no reductions in the transmission of blood-borne diseases, no impact on overdose deaths, and that the facility is used only sporadically. Any reduction in public disorder, says the 20-year veteran in the drug prevention field, resulted from the injection of 60 police officers into the area when the facility opened, not safe injections at Insite.

Moreover, while the harm reduction lobby takes us on wild goose chases, the really important stuff -- the need to reduce drug use through prevention, help addicts through treatment, and reduce drug availability through law enforcement -- is marginalized even though in the cases of tobacco and alcohol, such approaches have had considerable impact.

Mangham's analysis of the harm reduction phenomenon is particularly important. As manifest in the agencies, bureaucracies and the many politicians that surround all levels of government today, he says it is "a ( libertarian ) ideology viewing drug use not only as inevitable, but as simply a lifestyle option, a pleasure to be pursued, even human right ... ( it believes ) others should only be there to help reduce the consequences of your choice until if or when you choose to choose differently." Or, as Al Arsenault recently told the Province, "... a person can have one foot in the ditch and another in the grave and they go, 'Oh, I don't want to be judgmental, here's your box of needles.'" Yet few seem to have considered that others might have something to say about an ideology that relieves the user of any personal responsibility, destroys families and communities, costs taxpayers money, and is now spilling into other formerly taboo "lifestyle" choices.

Think prostitution, for instance, where the term "sex-trade worker" is a step toward its normalization and ultimate legalization. Similarly, harm reduction is also a first step toward full legalization of drugs.

Even so, Mangham was pilloried in the west coast press though for anyone concerned about this issue, his paper is required reading.

Presumably exhausted by this battle of the experts versus front line workers like Mangham and Arsenault, few now are challenging Simon Fraser's Garth Davies whose paper "A Critical Evaluation of the Effects of Safe Injection Facilities" gathers data about safe injection sites from around the world and concludes "none of the ( positive ) impacts attributed ... can be unambiguously verified." And, certainly, no safe injection facility could have saved April Reoch, whose violent, banal and senseless death arrived not at the end of a needle, nor even at the hand of a john but as a bit of refuse on the garbage heap of humanity's lifestyle choices.


Whether it is an academy award for Tears for April or the 2010 Olympics, the world will soon have a wide open window on Vancouver. What will it see? The festering eyesore of degraded humanity ripe for exploitation by the latest serial killer called the Downtown Eastside? Or a city where pushers and users are in treatment or in jail and whose youth are hip to the dangers of drugs?

Insite's licence to enable has been on life support since Canada's minister of health extended it last year but as a first step to cleaning up Al Arsenault's old beat, it's time to pull the plug. It's about the 14- year-olds, Minister Clement. The memory of April Reoch deserves better.

Harm Reduction, a refresher

Here's a great summary list of the main points of harm reduction from a drug policy perspective (as opposed to incorporating other harm reduction measures like drunk driving prevention programs). Prime Minister Harper obviously hasn't read it, but he should ...

from the site : Drug Policy Alliance

Reducing Harm: Treatment and Beyond
Harm reduction is a public health philosophy that seeks to lessen the dangers that drug abuse and our drug policies cause to society. A harm reduction strategy is a comprehensive approach to drug abuse and drug policy. Harm reduction's complexity lends to its misperception as a drug legalization tool.

  • Harm reduction rests on several basic assumptions. A basic tenet of harm reduction is that there has never been, is not now, and never will be a drug-free society.
  • A harm reduction strategy seeks pragmatic solutions to the harms that drugs and drug policies cause. It has been said that harm reduction is not what's nice, it's what works.
  • A harm reduction approach acknowledges that there is no ultimate solution to the problem of drugs in a free society, and that many different interventions may work. Those interventions should be based on science, compassion, health and human rights.
  • A harm reduction strategy demands new outcome measurements. Whereas the success of current drug policies is primarily measured by the change in use rates, the success of a harm reduction strategy is measured by the change in rates of death, disease, crime and suffering.
  • Because incarceration does little to reduce the harms that ever-present drugs cause to our society, a harm reduction approach favors treatment of drug addiction by health care professionals over incarceration in the penal system.
  • Because some drugs, such as marijuana, have proven medicinal uses, a harm reduction strategy not only seeks to reduce the harm that drugs cause, but also to maximize their
    potential benefits.
  • A harm reduction strategy recognizes that some drugs, such as marijuana, are less harmful than others, such as cocaine and alcohol. Harm reduction mandates that the emphasis on intervention should be based on the relative harmfulness of the drug to society.
  • A harm reduction approach advocates lessening the harms of drugs through education, prevention, and treatment.
  • Harm reduction seeks to reduce the harms of drug policies dependent on an over-emphasis on interdiction, such as arrest, incarceration, establishment of a felony record, lack of treatment, lack of adequate information about drugs, the expansion of military source control intervention efforts in other countries, and intrusion on personal freedoms.
  • Harm reduction also seeks to reduce the harms caused by an over-emphasis on prohibition, such as increased purity, black market adulterants, black market sale to minors, and black market crime.
  • A harm reduction strategy seeks to protect youth from the dangers of drugs by offering factual, science-based drug education and eliminating youth's black market exposure to drugs.
  • Finally, harm reduction seeks to restore basic human dignity to dealing with the disease
    of addiction.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Burnout on the frontlines

VANDU is the organization that operated InSite initially before there was a federal loophole.

Fighter for Addicts Ready to Quit
Ann Livingston of VANDU is wearied by death.
By Sarah Ripplinger
Published: December 13, 2007

After spending the past 13 years trying to save Vancouver's poor from the filthy alleys of the Downtown Eastside, Ann Livingston doesn't have a pension plan or any significant savings, but she has decided to quit her job.

Livingston, a star of the widely shown documentary Fix, has spent the last nine years co-ordinating the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), a non-profit operated by addicts. She's done a lot to help drug users get their voices heard. But she says she is tired of Vancouver's hypocrisy. While the host of the 2010 Olympics is termed the world's "most liveable city" by The Economist magazine, its poorest neighbourhood grapples with an epidemic of HIV/AIDS comparable to Botswana's.

After devoting more than a decade of her life helping people in the Downtown Eastside, Livingston says she hasn't noticed improvements in living conditions or a decrease in the demand for aid. In fact, she says, things just seem to be getting worse.

"Yeah, people did change, but then they died," Livingston remembers thinking to herself last spring. "I started to realize, I do leadership development with people who are very likely to die and there's more dead people now that I've worked with than live people."

She recalls a "critical incident" after watching a former VANDU board member try to kick in the office windows while yelling offences at her.

She found herself breaking down at red lights, rationalizing that, because of
her busy schedule, "now would be a good time to cry."

That was when she decided she had to solve her own problems before taking on everyone else's. She began imagining a new life "because I want to do something more powerful than being the crabby bitch at VANDU who yells at users." She thinks she flies off the handle so much because, for too long, she's put off grieving.

Day starts before dawn Livingston's thick grey hair sits smoothly across her shoulders. She frequently looks into the distance when she speaks. In jeans and a cotton T-shirt, she's outspoken, but her mannerisms are almost shy. She keeps a respectful distance between herself and others.

Most days, she is up checking e-mails by four in the morning. "It's mainly because I have trouble sleeping at night." She works at the computer while balancing on a blue exercise ball to ward off back pain. Then she gets her four-year-old son ready and off to daycare in time to make it to VANDU for a long day of work.

As a single mother on welfare, Livingston moved to the Downtown Eastside with her three boys (four now) in 1993, and was moved to act by the sight of people shooting up and dying on the streets. She enrolled in a four-day course on community organizing. The workshop was run by a group from Nicaragua that shared its experience of starting a literacy campaign and a campaign to collect bottles for making tomato preserves.

She co-founded VANDU in 1998, Pivot Legal Society in 2000, and was a founding member of the Eastside Movement for Business & Economic Renewal Society board in 2001. Livingston also ran for city council three times "to bring the issues of homelessness, ill and criminalized citizens to city hall."

She attends city and police meetings and sits on countless harm reduction, prostitution awareness, economic and community development boards connected with people in the Downtown Eastside.

She does it, she says, because "You never know who you're helping. It could be Christ himself." Livingston, who converted from the Unitarian to Roman Catholic Church, cannot understand how anyone could see people starving, homeless and in need, and do nothing.

Harm reduction baby steps

Livingston believes community involvement is the cure for problems of addiction, homelessness and crime in her neighbourhood. It's an absence of community that has lead to government programs that do little to address the problems of addiction and homelessness in the Downtown Eastside. Programs like the supervised injection site research project, Insite -- that provides clean needles and medical and counselling services to users, overseeing about 600 injections every day -- are really just the tip of the iceberg, she says.

There are approximately 12,000 injection drug users in Vancouver, one third of whom live in the Downtown Eastside.

Despite Vancouver's reputation as a trend setter in harm-reduction policies, Livingston says the city needs more supervised injection sites, safe inhalation sites for crack smokers, and educational programs for users on how to use drugs safely and get clean. Before Insite opened its doors, she used her own money to start her own needle exchange program, doling out thousands of needles to users on the street.

Sitting in her two-bedroom apartment filled with hand-me-down children's toys, VHS boxes and pasted-up slogans -- "Hating someone is like burning down your own house to get rid of rats" -- Livingston tells me she's planning to post her job at VANDU as a job share. Someone will get half her salary to work alongside her for a
while and eventually take over her position.

"I want to job share it first and then just ease out," she said, "because I think job sharing is the most kind thing you could do to another person. And the thing is to find another person who, in a sense, can see the redemptive quality to suffering, because there's a lot of challenges to working at VANDU."

'What do you get out of this?'

But how many people are there who want to work with drug users every day for all the right reasons?

As the only non-drug-user on the VANDU board of directors, Ann says she often feels like an outsider. "People ask: 'What do you get out of this?'"

Livingston says she is tiring of the off-based criticism, and even threats, she attracts. A recent column in The Province newspaper described her as someone who might give needle injection demos to children. She is also an outsider to other organizations that receive government funding. Unlike VANDU, these organizations are restricted from the amount of government lobbying they can do, even to the point of having their hands tied. Whereas, VANDU can lobby all it wants, but on a very tight budget.

Livingston, who is 52, is still energized by opportunities to speak to people around the world about harm reduction and affordable housing. She's still working on setting up provincial, national and international drug user groups. And she says she doesn't have any definitive plans, only a feeling that there must be another way to make a
difference. The moment has arrived, she says, to take a look at "the sort of wasteland of my life."

It's time for Livingston to rescue herself, too.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A breather

So a brief digression to kick start some creativity instead of continuing to merely regurgitate the news... Here's a walk through my neighbourhood between 4 and 5.30 pm.

Torn over at Sticky Crows has started in on 12 of 12, a photo project by Chad Darnell. The theme this month is "believe". In order to loosely link the whole thing to this blog, here's something I believe in (well, accept the scientific evidence for, but who's gonna quibble semantics):
harm reduction saves lives.
Lives like that of the person pictured here on this banner. Daily. So do lots of other people.

Pictured here: MPs Bill Siksay (Burnaby Douglas) and Libby Davies (Vancouver East) with Nathan Allen of Insite for Community Safety at a rally on Parliament Hill around Nov 12 (in keeping with the theme... this is my bonus pic anyways. Also a comparitor for the amount of snow a month later).

Right, on to the 12 of 12:

Well, it is December, and it always amazes me (in fact, I find it hard to believe) how great the Christmas cactus looks this time of year.

Well, a theme of "believe" lends itself to naturally to considering faith. We have 5 churches in a 3 block radius of our apartment. That's a whole lotta bells.

This is the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights (a.k.a. the human rights monument) by Melvin Charney (1989). Many rallies, protests, protest marches (i.e. public statements of belief) start here at the end of our block. That's city hall in the background (which, if you can believe, also has a belltower that chimes ALOT).

Right, here's something that a prairie girl like me has a hard time believing: look at all that snow! And it's only December!

The main branch of the Ottawa Public Library. Some believe it should be rebuilt, and I'd agree. There's not enough room, plain and simple. However, I hope they keep the cool fanning pages icon.

The famous five who got Canadian law to recognise women as persons. This led to sufferage.

I find it hard to believe however, that Henrietta Muir Edwards drank foamy lattes...

What may be the nicest library around.

It's got a pretty nice view too. That's Ile Victoria Island in the middle of the river.

Holiday lights at the Hill

Looking down Sparks Street through Confederation Square.

My favourite statue in Ottawa outside of the British Embassy. I believe in whimsy. Nature Girls, Laura Ford (1996). Check out these pics to see the best part: their cute lil shoes.

I'm cheating on my first time out... My personal bonus: a message from Leah. I can't believe I'm so lucky...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The power of a hand written letter

Did you know that no postage is necessary to send mail to your Member of Parliament? Did you know that

Because so few people take the time to write a letter on an issue that concerns them, politicians count each letter as representative of the views of far more citizens. A letter to a federal politician is seen as representing thousands" (Elizabeth May, MP, How to Save the World in Your Spare Time, p.90-91)?

Here's an article (below) from The Toronto Star back in Sept. that illustrates the power of letter writing. Bear in mind that since this article was written, InSite has recieved another extension to the required exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This exemption will expire in June, 2008.

Plenty of time for you to write some letters and get others to as well.

Haven from life in hell

Supervised injection site in Vancouver that has saved dozens of addicts is fighting for its life, too

Sep 15, 2007 04:30 AM

Petti Fong Western Canada Bureau Chief

Vancouver–Earl Crow is alive and surrounded by friends in the Downtown Eastside who've also managed to beat the odds.

Simply being able to survive the alleyways and streets around Main and Hastings is a major accomplishment for Crow.

"I should have been dead long ago and so many people, they're feeling the same thing," says Crow, 46, who has been on and off drugs for almost half of his life.
"This place has connected with people in this community."

What has saved Crow, and others like him, is a supervised injection facility known as Insite, where addicts can receive care from nurses and health professionals.

The injection site, the first and only one of its kind in North America, opened four years ago this month under much fanfare and support from all levels of government.

But while Vancouver and the provincial government still back the project, there are
rising concerns that Ottawa may pull its support.

The previous Liberal government granted an exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that allows users to shoot up inside the facility without fear of being arrested.

When the exemption was about to expire last September, federal Health Minister Tony Clement granted a last-minute reprieve. But instead of approving the request for another three-and-a-half years, he gave an extension until only Dec. 31, 2007.

Until a decision is made, additional research is being conducted on the effectiveness of the site, and all available research will be taken into consideration when making a decision as to whether the exemption will be renewed, a spokesperson for Clement said.

Dr. Thomas Kerr, a scientist at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said there have been more than 25 peer-reviewed research papers published in some of the best medical journals in the world, including The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine.

"It has shown that there has not been a harmful effect and yet we still have a government that is ideologically opposed," says Kerr.

"Minister Clement can honour the weight of the scientific evidence and recognize that there's been a number of public health and public order benefits, or he can make a decision based on ideology."

In August, a community group in Vancouver launched a volunteer-driven organization to gather signatures and letters from supporters and have been faxing the minister's office in Ottawa daily.

Nathan Allen, a co-ordinator for Insite for Community Safety, says the 4,000 letters will be boxed up and sent to the health minister next month in the hope that the stories will be enough to convince Ottawa to keep the site going.

In one handwritten letter, a user recounted the names of all the people she believes would have been saved had the facility opened earlier.

In another letter addressed to the Prime Minister, someone wrote to say the site has kept the streets cleaner and reduced the number of dropped syringes in the alleyways.

In addition to public pressure, lawsuits have been launched to force the government to keep the site open. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users filed an action in B.C. Supreme Court this summer against the federal government seeking a court-ordered exemption to enable Insite to stay open beyond the Dec. 31 extension date.

In another suit, two addicts, Dean Wilson, 51, and Shelley Tomic, 39, who are regular heroin users, claim that if the government doesn't provide the exemption, it will deprive them of their constitutional rights and their pursuit of "life, liberty and security."

Lawyer Monique Pongracic-Speier, who is representing the two claimants, said the suit claims that Wilson and Tomic's constitutional rights will be violated if the federal government shuts down the site. At some point, the lawsuits will probably merge, Pongracic-Speier said.

The government has responded to the lawsuits saying they are without merit.

If the lawsuits and the public pressure fail, a third option has emerged in recent weeks – cutting the federal government out of the facility and running it without support from Ottawa. The federal government funds research for the injection site, but it does not provide direct funding, which comes from the city and province.

Liberal Senator Larry Campbell, the former Vancouver mayor who opened the site in 2003, says he doesn't believe permission is needed from the government.

"I will keep it going and there are lots of people who won't let them shut this health-care facility down," he says.

"This is one of the few peaceful places in the Downtown Eastside and people's lives are being saved in that place. So there's no doubt in my mind that we will keep it open whatever way we can."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Vancouver Mayor to use Olympics lobby for a commitment to InSite


Vancouver mayor wants Ottawa to beef up Olympic security budget

Published Saturday December 1st, 2007

VANCOUVER - Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan is heading to Ottawa to ask for a beefed-up security budget for the 2010 Olympics that would include money for areas outside more high-profile zones.

Sullivan said Saturday that areas called the "Olympic domain", which will include the athletes' village and some sites for medal ceremonies, will be secured by the RCMP, but surrounding areas to be policed by municipal forces also need major protection.

"We do want to stress that security concerns for the Olympics go beyond the Olympic domain,"said Sullivan, who will leave for Ottawa on Sunday to meet with several MPs, including federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

"I'd like to make the case that the municipal police forces should not be unduly taxed to handle what seems to me is clearly Olympic-related security," Sullivan said.
He said he doesn't have a figure in mind when it comes to how much money is needed for more security at the Games.

The RCMP said in an internal report leaked to the media in July that the $175-million security budget the Mounties have for the Olympics is not enough.

Sullivan said his trip to Ottawa will also include applying for $10 million in funding to construct two downtown Vancouver plazas where the public could participate in cultural events and watch various Olympic events on a big screen. He said he was in Torino for that city's 2006 Games, which included such a venue.

"You'd hear the whole crowd gasp (with) oohs and ahs as they would watch the skiing. It was a really great way for the whole community to participate in what was happening."

Sullivan said his trip to Ottawa will also include discussions with Health Minister Tony Clement about the federal anti-drug strategy and innovative treatment options for Vancouver.

He said he will speak to Clement about the need to keep North America's only safe-injection site open for drug addicts.

The facility, called Insite, began operating in 2003 and is funded by the B.C. government.

It allows people to inject their own drugs under medical supervision as a way to reduce harm connected to drug use.

But the federal government hasn't committed to keeping it open permanently, saying more research is needed into how such sites affect prevention, treatment and crime.

Last month, Ottawa gave Insite another six-month reprieve, meaning it can keep its doors open until next June under an exemption from Canada's drug laws.

"We're hoping to get a significant commitment to Vancouver's drug-addiction problems," Sullivan said. [emphasis added]

Sullivan is also to pay a visit to Toronto, where a spokesman for the mayor says he will speak to the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association on using the Olympics as a catalyst for social and economic change.

Huh. "Harm reduction saves lives" Good line. Where'd they get that idea??

You'd think the Liberals could do a bit better than this... A case of too little too late given their lack of action when actually in power. Hopefully, it is just the beginning of their action on this issue.

From the "24 Hours" free paper, Dec 2nd

Liberals' InSite mail-out panned

A federal Liberal Party mailing from leader Stephane Dion into a Vancouver riding about the controversial InSite safe drug injection site is under attack as "fear mongering" by the Conservatives, while the New Democratic Party calls it a "waste."
And the mailing, which misspells the word "minister" in referring to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is a "rush job" and "confusing," say the two parties.

The November mailing to thousands of households in NDP Member of Parliament Libby Davies' Vancouver East riding accuses the Conservative federal government of "dithering" on renewing InSite's mandate and says "harm reduction saves lives."

But Davies says the Liberals' mailing is ironic.

"I wish they'd done a lot more on harm reduction when they were in government but they don't talk about that," Davies said in an interview, calling it a "waste."

Conservative Party spokesperson Ryan Sparrow said the Liberal mailing strategy is "confusing" and rejected its points.

"We've long been the party that delivers initiatives rather than fear mongering," he said from Ottawa.

But Liberal Party Communications Director Elizabeth Whiting told 24 hours from Ottawa that InSite is a "major issue" worthy of mailing on. Whiting said MPs can mail up to 10 per cent of a non- incumbent riding with their message, paid out of their House of Commons budget, not the party's.

InSite recently got a six-month extension to continue operating until June 2008.