Vision Vancouver's Ian Campbell wins respect from those who've earned the public's respect

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      On Friday (May 25), I paid a visit to the Overdose Prevention Society at 58 East Hastings Street, where staff and volunteers provide a safe place for local addicts to inject illicit drugs.

      As I mentioned in an earlier article, its year-end report revealed that it received 175,284 visits in 2017, dealt with 147 overdoses, and there were no deaths.

      It's a stunning record for an organization that was launched as a voluntary, life-saving initiative by executive director Sarah Blyth and long-time harm-reduction activist Ann Livingston.

      There's a venders' market next door, which has become a popular gathering spot, particularly on weekends.

      As Blyth was finishing showing me around, an Overdose Prevention Society security guard approached her and pointed to a man who needed shoes.

      The staffer, a tall Indigenous woman, said the man's feet were so large that he required size 12 footwear. And she was having trouble finding any shoes that big in the market.

      As she spoke, the man was leaning silently on a shopping cart outside the society's premises, a sad case completely disengaged with all around him, wearing only dark socks on his feet.

      I went back inside the Overdose Prevention Society's office to continue talking to Blyth.

      A couple of minutes later when I looked out the window, this distressed man was in huge new sneakers that seemed to fit him perfectly. By now, he was shuffling his way down the street toward his next destination.

      The security guard somehow found what he needed. It was an act of generosity and professionalism by someone who cared about the people around her.

      She was wearing a button that said "Ian Campbell for mayor".

      I asked her why she was wearing it.

      "I like the guy," she replied.

      Blyth, who heads the organization, appeared at Campbell's campaign launch earlier this month.

      I took this as a sign that Campbell, who's seeking the Vision Vancouver mayoral nomination, has spent a fair amount of time in the Downtown Eastside.

      Chief Robert Joseph endorses Campbell

      Campbell is a hereditary chief and elected councillor of the Squamish Nation, whose traditional territory extends from Vancouver up the Sea to Sky corridor. He's also been a leader in the fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline project.

      A while ago, I had a chance to talk to Chief Robert Joseph on the phone about Campbell.

      Joseph, a residential-school survivor and hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, had just returned from Ottawa, where he received his Order of Canada for his energetic and creative leadership in advancing reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

      Joseph is best known for working with the City of Vancouver in organizing two highly successful walks for reconciliation.

      He's also spoken to countless organizations about his experiences of being abused as a student, drifting into alcoholism, and bouncing back to pursue his life's work of creating a harmonious future for people regardless of their backgrounds. His message is rooted in recognizing that we can't move forward together without acknowledging the past.

      In an almost giddy voice, Joseph said that 10 years ago, he never would have considered that Vancouverites might be ready to elect an Indigenous mayor.

      "Even five years ago, I never would have thought this possible," Joseph added. "It just shows the potential for people, wherever we live together, to be able to embrace each other."

      He has lived on the Squamish reserve for 20 years, which is also home to the office of Reconciliation Canada, which he founded.

      Joseph said that in that time, he has observed Campbell. Joseph also consulted him about the reconciliation walks.

      One of Ian Campbell's more vocal supporters is Chief Robert Joseph (above), an Order of Canada recipient who organized two successful walks for reconciliation in Vancouver.
      Charlie Smith

      "One of the things that's always impressed me about him is his integrity," Joseph said. "I think he's always acted with deep integrity, always been open and honest, and he's always served his people, of course.

      "He's always recognized the idea that all of us living together in this great city need each other," Joseph continued. "If we're going to continue to prosper and share the prosperity, we all have to work together.

      "Everybody has to be included. The election of Ian Campbell as mayor would be a real positive contribution to that idea."

      Joseph then went on to describe Vancouver as a "city of firsts", including being the first to embrace reconciliation. 

      "Now, we're going to be the first to entertain the idea of electing an Indigenous mayor," he said. "I just think that people here need to be bold and courageous and consider Ian Campbell's mayoralty bid very seriously. His experience would be a huge asset to the city."

      With praise coming from people like Chief Joseph and the Overdose Prevention Society staffer who's on the front lines battling the addiction crisis, Campbell's candidacy must indeed be taken very seriously.

      Of course, there are many endorsements for Campbell and others seeking to succeed Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is not seeking reelection.

      But these two voices, in particular, stand out for me because they come from people who've demonstrated levels of public service that go far beyond the norm.

      One is in the trenches in the city's poorest neighbourhood; the other has been honoured at the highest levels of society and has watched Campbell mature into the leader he is today.

      It's early in the campaign, but Vancouver could indeed be on the verge of achieving another historic "first" on its road to reconciliation.

      "It would be a strong signal across this country of ours to Indigenous mayor," Joseph said. "Others would soon follow, I think."