Surrey NDP MLAs, unlike Jenny Kwan, stop short of advancing policies that will save more lives

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On some occasions in the past, NDP politicians could be counted on to call for what they believed was right, regardless of the political consequences.

The most graphic example of this came in 1970 when 16 of the 20 NDP MPs in caucus—including party leaders David Lewis and Tommy Douglas—voted against imposition of the War Measures Act to deal with the Quebec FLQ crisis.

They knew that their votes were incredibly unpopular at the time. However, they felt they would be vindicated by history and were willing to take the risk.

Similarly, NDP MP Svend Robinson championed physician-assisted suicide in the early 1990s, setting the stage for rational debates on this topic in the years to come.

Robinson's stance has been vindicated by the courts in B.C. He was ahead of his time.

Three Surrey NDP MLAs—Harry Bains, Sue Hammell, and Bruce Ralston—had a chance to leave a similar mark over the weekend when they held a news conference about crime in their community.

They could have declared that the war on drugs is a proven failure, and it's time for a radical move in a new direction.

There's no shortage of evidence that they could have marshalled.

They could have also proposed a supervised-injection site for Surrey along the lines of what exists in Vancouver.

In 2011, a paper in the Lancet reported that overdose deaths around the Insite facility on East Hastings Street had declined by 35 percent.

Bains, Hammell, and Ralston could have also questioned why the Fraser Health Authority website contains so little information about needle exchanges—there appears to be only one needle exchange in Surrey.

Surrey is 316 square kilometres—it's a vast community nearly three times the area of the City Vancouver, which is only 114 square kilometres.

There are three such facilities in Downtown Vancouver alone.

Vancouver has other needle exchanges at the Pine Free Clinic in Kitsilano and through the Carnegie Outreach Program, the Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS, DAMS Women's Inner City Initiative, the Downtown Eastside Residents' Association, the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, the Dr. Peter Centre Day Health, the Evergreen Community Health Centre, and numerous other agencies.

Vancouver Coastal Health has embraced harm reduction; unfortunately, this hasn't happened to nearly the same degree in the Fraser Health Authority, which includes Surrey.

But instead of raising these important issues, the three Surrey NDP MLAs confined their comments to B.C. Liberal government delays in creating a community court in Surrey.

They took the easy road.

We know that Surrey is a conservative community.

We get that the city is policed by the Mounties, who are hostile to proven harm-reduction measures that save lives.

We also understand that Surrey voters rejected all the council candidates on the progressive Surrey Civic Coalition slate in the last municipal election.

But come on—Ralston and Bains have been MLAs since 2005. Hammell was first elected in 1991 and could conceivably retire before the next provincial election.

None of them are going to lose their seats in 2017 if they take a small political risk and push for what's best for public health.

These old warhorses might not even be around for the 2017 election.

Science is on the side of harm reduction. History is on the side of harm reduction.

You can be sure that if Robinson were still in Parliament, he would be on the side of harm reduction.

So why are Bains, Hammell, and Ralston so damn cautious?

VANDU created a guerrilla needle exchange in 2011 to draw attention to the lack of services in Surrey.

It makes me wonder if Surrey residents might be better off if Jenny Kwan became the next B.C. NDP leader.

Unlike the trio in Surrey, Kwan took a political risk—along with then-Vancouver mayor Philip Owen and Vancouver Centre Liberal MP Hedy Fry—to advance a science-based approach to addiction in Vancouver in the late 1990s. Kwan did this as the minister of municipal affairs.

Harm reduction has since reduced street disorder and created a safer community in the Downtown Eastside.

Kids shouldn't have to walk to school with their parents worrying that they might step on needles.

There's no reason why a similar model couldn't work in parts of Surrey.

But it will never happen until progressives politicians start embracing the science and get on with helping to save some lives.

Comments (6) Add New Comment
DavidH
The "Surrey Accord" announced by Ralston, Bains and Hammell last week was about crime reduction, not harm reduction. There is a significant difference.

Few sensible people oppose proven harm reduction strategies, on humanitarian and public health grounds. But contracting serious illnesses or falling victim to overdoses are not crimes against the general public - which is the whole point in Surrey right now ... notwithstanding Charlie Smith's claim that a supervised injection site has somehow "reduced street disorder" on the DTES.

How exactly would the availability of a clean needle for an addict have prevented someone from beating Julie Paskall to death in a dark parking lot? The whole idea is silly ... and opportunistic.
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S
"How exactly would the availability of a clean needle for an addict have prevented someone from beating Julie Paskall to death in a dark parking lot?"

They site is not just a place for people to go and shoot up. It is place that has front line team of nurses, counsellors, mental health workers and peer support workers that can reach out to the addicts and help them get off the street. By taking them off the street you are reducing crime.
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Alan Layton
David H answered the same question that I had - what do needle exchanges and Insite have to do with crime reduction??? Smith states that deaths due to overdoses have decreased by 35% around Insite as some sort of proof that it reduces crime! If you look at it from a very cynical POV that would tend to increase crime. I'm wondering if the author just mixed up his words and meant to say something about harm reduction?

In any case, the one single item I hear mentioned repeatedly by Surrey residents, in the affected areas, is that there are too many half-way houses which unnaturally increases the population of people with violent pasts. I think the last thing that people in a formerly peaceful place like Newton want is to be converted in to another DTES. This area is nothing like Kwan's riding, which is incredibly left wing. She'd be slaughtered in an election in Surrey and these 3 NDP MLA's know that.
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Ke Dongshan
Hammell was first elected in 1991, not 1996 as Smith wrote.
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DavidH
Vancouver’s Pilot Medically Supervised
Safer Injection Facility – Insite

Report prepared by the
Urban Health Research Initiative of the
British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

June, 2009

"The study found that, after Insite opened, public order in the area around the facility improved."

Sounds good, right?

But the definition of improved public order was this: "There were significant decreases in numbers of publicly discarded syringes, injection-related litter such as syringe wrappers, and people injecting in the area around Insite."

As objectionable as drug-use litter might be, litter (even really bad litter) is not a crime against the general public.

Bashing a woman's head in with a rock is a crime against the general public. A supervised injection site is a solid health care initiative, but it has nothing to do with crime prevention.
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Charlie Smith
Ke Dongshan,
Thanks for the correction. I fixed it.
Charlie Smith
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