Pubdate: Mon, 30 Dec 2002
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 The Vancouver Sun
Author: David Reevely
Note: With files from Gwendolyn Richards Vancouver Sun


Municipalities React As Poll Shows Divided Opinions Outside Vancouver

A poll showing Lower Mainland residents outside Vancouver are almost evenly 
split on their willingness to have safe drug-injection sites in their 
communities doesn't reflect the attitudes in Surrey, a politician from that 
community said Sunday.

"Surrey is ... a more conservative place than, say, Vancouver or Burnaby," 
said Surrey Councillor Marvin Hunt. "I think views here are less tolerant 
of illegal behaviour."

Hunt was commenting after a Vancouver Sun-Ipsos-Reid poll found that 50 per 
cent of Lower Mainlanders outside Vancouver would either strongly support 
or somewhat support the creation of places in their own communities where 
drug addicts could shoot up.

Forty-seven per cent were against having the sites in their municipalities, 
including 37 per cent who were strongly opposed.

The survey of 364 Lower Mainland residents was part of a larger poll 
conducted between Dec. 2 and Dec. 9. The margin of error is 5.1 per cent, 
19 times out of 20.

The poll did not produce separate results for each municipality in Greater 

Hunt, who is also chairman of the Greater Vancouver regional district, said 
he'd be surprised if the 50-per-cent approval figure represented Surrey 
residents' views accurately.

"I would suggest to you that generally, the citizens of Surrey would prefer 
to focus on rehabilitation and detox," said Hunt. "I would say that's 
pretty different from the perspective of many of the citizens of Vancouver."

In Burnaby, however, Councillor Nick Volkow said a 50-50 split among voters 
"sounds about right to me."

He said he thinks residents' willingness to elect a left-leaning city 
council indicates a willingness to take a new tack in the fight against 
drug abuse.

"I don't think it's a matter of illegality versus legality," Volkow said. 
"I think it's a matter of recognizing what hasn't worked."

He said he "would have no personal concerns about having a safe-injection 
site in the city of Burnaby.

"Junkies and crackheads are all over, and they should get treated where 
their support systems are -- their families and friends who can help them 
are in Burnaby, and in Surrey, and in Richmond, and everywhere else."

Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell, who has promised a safe-injection site in 
Vancouver by March 1, said he doesn't know whether Vancouver's plan will 
fail if other municipalities don't have such sites.

"People should be treated in their own communities, but I just can't say 
whether it would actually fail without that," he said.

"I do know we shouldn't be taking on other municipalities' health problems. 
Drugs and their effects cross municipal borders."

The best place to try to help drug addicts, he said, is close to their own 

North Vancouver district Mayor Don Bell said he isn't ready to take a 
position on safe-injection sites, but there's no point in pretending that 
drug abuse is restricted to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"We can't expect Vancouver to take all the responsibility for dealing with 
this," Bell said. Drug addicts are everywhere, and "I think we have a 
responsibility to help the people in our own communities who need it."

Craig Keating, a City of North Vancouver councillor and chairman of a North 
Shore task force on illegal drugs, said: "I think what we're seeing is a 
case of politicians scrambling to catch up to where public opinion has been 
for a while."

The task force he chaired supported the four-pillars approach to drug 
addiction, including needle exchanges, but stopped short of recommending 
safe injection sites in its report last spring.

Keating said his own view is that it's time to give them a serious look.

"What we called them is 'safe-consumption health centres,' which might 
sound a little coy, but I think it does a better job of describing what 
would actually go on," he said.

"It's not just a place to go and use drugs. It's an entry point into the 
system, where you'd have to have support from drug counsellors and other 
health professionals available right there."

The theory behind safe-injection sites is that addicts using clean needles 
in a clean environment are less likely to suffer health problems. They'd be 
separated from predatory dealers and would be able to talk to nurses and 
counsellors about getting help if they want it.

Reducing the damage drugs do to addicts is one of the pillars in the 
so-called "four-pillars approach" to tackling the drug problem. The others 
are improving treatment programs, stepping up public education on the 
effects of drugs, and enforcing laws intended to stop dealers.

The four-pillars approach was a major part of Campbell's campaign in the 
Nov. 16 civic election that brought him and his Coalition of Progressive 
Electors' party into power.

Hunt said some municipalities, including Surrey, "have challenges" with 
allowing harm-reduction measures such as safe-injection sites. "There's a 
great deal of common ground, though, and we should focus on that."

Hunt said Lower Mainland governments should spend their energy in the three 
areas other than harm reduction.

"Basic geometry says a triangle, with three supports, is the strongest and 
most stable shape," Hunt said.

Though Campbell disagreed, Surrey Councillor Gary Tymoschuk said opening 
safe-injection sites is tantamount to telling drug users it's okay to abuse 

"It's not okay. Period. Full stop. End of sentence... I don't see how it 
helps people to get off drugs, to tell them drug use is acceptable," 
Tymoschuk said. "If Vancouver wants to go forward with that, that's its 
prerogative, but I absolutely wouldn't support doing it here."

Surrey has experimented with harm-reduction in the form of a 
needle-exchange program in Whalley, he said. "I don't see that it's done 
any good at all. There are at least as many people in the streets and doing 
drugs there as before, and maybe more."

He said he thinks Surrey city council would "definitely" vote against the 
measure, and he supports cracking down on drug users.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum has promised to have 60 new police officers on 
the street in 2003, and the city recently jacked up business-licence fees 
for methadone clinics that treat heroin addicts to $10,000 a year from 
$195, a move Campbell called "not really helpful."

Tymoschuk said he finds it "quite amusing" that Campbell advocates 
cooperation but hasn't asked for a meeting with Surrey councillors.

Campbell, in turn, said that as a director of the GVRD, he hopes to use 
that body to discuss the issue with other mayors and councillors from 
across the Lower Mainland.

Hunt, as GVRD chair, said he isn't sure the GVRD is an appropriate venue.

"Drugs and how they're dealt with are really more a concern for local 
government," he said.

Maybe so, Campbell said, but "it's killing people. That seems to me to take 
it up a step in terms of its importance and where it belongs on the agenda."

Philip Owen, the former Vancouver mayor who championed the four-pillars 
approach, said anyone opposing the sites doesn't fully understand the issue.

"Other municipalities better comprehensively deal with this issue or 
they're going to get it in their backyards far worse than they have it 
now," Owen said.

Advocates of drug-policy reform have to go out to these municipalities, sit 
down with citizens and community leaders, and explain exactly why 
safe-injection sites are a good idea, he said. "There's a huge learning curve."
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