Monday, March 10, 2008

Liz Rights the Media

10 March 2008

'Morning, Bill:

In your interview this morning with Mayor Sullivan, you asked a question the Mayor could not (did not want to) answer. In response to the Mayor's airy claim that the system he was advocating had "been successful in other jurisdictions", you asked, "Where?"

Well turns out that "Victoria has just opened one" - no time there for results to be reported one way or another. And "Toronto is considering the idea". I forget where he said the other 'consideration' is taking place. Then he went on to talk of zoning and planning for beds and buildings that, as yet, are barely a light in someone's eye. More talk, more studies, more award-winning architects - and more dollars. Still nothing tangible. This has gone on for decades.

It has become increasingly obvious that Mayor Sullivan shares an unfortunate trait with Premier Campbell - or buys his supply of napkins from the same retail outlet. They each go to bed at night - or sit on a beach, take the weekend off, whatever - and wake up to scribble down their latest dream.

Problem is, of course, those dreams have a habit of becoming expensive nightmares for taxpayers. More to the point, many millions of dollars are spent - or levied - only to mark political time on our societal problems -- or for us to find years down the road the problems are worse than before.

If Mayor Sullivan is sincere in his suggestions for the DTES, he should pay attention to those who have real expertise in the subject matter, people who have worked very hard under miserable conditions - and very successfully - to turn addicts around one tragic person at a time.

What we need to do is invite the Mayor to a private viewing of Tears For April: Beyond the Blue Lens. The only others in the audience would be Al Arsenault, David Berner, former Judge Wallace Craig - and Margret Kopala if she's in town. Now - if the Mayor would do only that, he would find out in very short order what system needs to be put in place, how to do it and what it would - and would not - cost. But don't hold your breath, people like Mayor Sullivan and the Premier are allergic to the facts as they are; they prefer to float in the clouds, it's less work that way.


December 2007 – MARGRET KOPALA – in the 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 a 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 or even at the hand of a john, but as a bit of refuse on the garbage heap of humanity’s lifestyle choices – literally.

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.
* * * *
Note to visitors of This is one of Margret Kopala’s finest western perspectives. We in Vancouver are indebted to Margret. I hope you recommend her writings to your contacts.
Wallace Craig


PositivelyJim said...

I'm glad they didn't hold the Wright brothers, or thousands of other visionaries up to the same high standard you ask of Mayor Sullivan by asking him "Where else has this new idea already been successful?" (Thereby inherently disqualifying it as a new idea.)

Evidently, you were one of the people on the sidelines (as usual) saying "If man was meant to fly, then God would have blah blah blah......"

And please. Spare me the stories from someone quoting John Walters, one of the most delusional people on the planet with respect to drugs. Among his gems:

North American marijuana smokers and those that use it for medicinal applications are contributing to assassinations and political unrest in Mexico.

99% of people who use methamphetamine become instantly addicted.

marijuana is the "gateway" drug leading to harder drugs.

According to John Walters, marijuana is responsible for all the evils in the world, including our frustrating inability to confirm or dismiss the existence of Bigfoot.

I just get so sick of people who haven't got a clue about addiction and recovery keep treating it like it's a black and white issue. Because it's not - like everything else, it's shades of gray.

David Berner said...

and speaking of shady...