The last time drug user Dean Wilson got upset with politicians over their treatment of addicts, he dragged a coffin before then–Vancouver mayor Philip Owen at City Hall.
Outside the Westin Bayshore on October 8, where Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was speaking to supporters, Wilson—president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users—joined a pro-Insite rally before talking to the Georgia Straight inside the hotel lobby. He quickly ruled out a similar coffin stunt for federal Conservatives regarding Vancouver’s supervised-injection site, Insite.
“I don’t need a coffin,” Wilson boomed. “I’ve got the law and I’ve got the science on my side. The law said that we were right [to have Insite running to help addicts], and the science said that we were right.”
Asked if he thought his actions would make any difference to the election outcome, Wilson continued: “I know it’s going to be another minority government. We’re going to carry on like that, and that’s fine. But I’m just telling you the guy [Harper] is sick. Tony Clement, for one, doesn’t know shit about health, and he’s a health minister. And the prime minister doesn’t care about poor people. He doesn’t care about sick people. Instead of taking tons of dirty laundry and hiding it, let’s build a laundromat.”¦There are ways of solving these problems, and I think it’s time to do it.”
The Straight tried to obtain a response from Harper regarding Wilson’s allegations, at one point moving through security and supporters to meet Harper at the door as he prepared to leave the Bayshore event.
Was he aware of the protests outside? And, if he were to win another term as prime minister, what would he do with Insite?
Harper ignored the Straight’s questions. He exited the building after one final wave to his supporters. Outside, Mark Townsend—the PHS Community Services Society’s executive director—told the Straight he found Harper’s attitude “very, very unfortunate”.
“Millions of dollars are being spent assessing this thing [Insite] and the evidence is in, and he just doesn’t want to listen,” Townsend said. “It’s like he’s a control freak. He knows how everything is, and he can’t listen to anyone else.”
The Straight left phone messages for other Conservative candidates, as well as with Chuck Doucette, a retired RCMP officer and the West Coast spokesperson for the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, but none replied by the Straight’s deadline.
At the Bayshore, Strathcona resident Gillian Maxwell told the crowds, “We need to keep Insite open because Insite saves lives. The scientists say it saves lives and the B.C. Supreme Court says that it’s a health-care facility, and people who inject drugs deserve a right to health care. We’re here to tell Mr. Harper that he has to keep Insite open and he has to start caring for Canadians.”
In May, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield ruled that Insite could continue to operate as a supervised-injection site, the only one in the country, and declared sections of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act unconstitutional.
“In my opinion, Section 4(1) of the CDSA, which applies to possession for every purpose without discrimination or differentiation in its effect, is arbitrary. In particular, it prohibits the management of addiction and its associated risks at Insite,” Pitfield wrote in his ruling.
“We need to have a government that’s responsible, and helps people and doesn’t punish them,” Maxwell told the Straight. “Whatever ways we can find to get the message out there, we will do it. These people are important. They are our most marginal, vulnerable population in the country, and we need to take care of them.”
Looking at Insite by the numbers
> Date of Insite’s first supervised injection: September 21, 2003
> Visits to Insite per day: 750 to 800
> Overdoses at Insite between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008: over 200
> Fatalities at Insite during the same period: 0
> Insite users who are HIV–positive: 18%
> New cases of HIV in the Downtown Eastside in 1996: 2,100
> New cases of HIV in the Downtown Eastside in 2006: 30
> Vancouver residents who support Insite: 65 percent
Source: Vancouver Coastal Health