Pubdate: Mon, 03 Nov 2008
Source: Capilano Courier, The (CN BC Edu)
Copyright: 2009 The Capilano Courier
Author: Lindsay Kasting
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


Bedouin Sound clashes with the cops. Insite clashes with control.

I arrive at the 100-block of east Hastings late afternoon to be greeted by
an impressive scene in front of Insite, Vancouver's safe injection site in
the Downtown Eastside. Stilt walkers in striped costumes duck out of
Insite's doors to waltz amongst the crowd, their oversized bunches of
balloons drifting high above their already exaggerated height.

A short distance away a DJ nods his head, eyes closed, to the beat of his
headphones and the pulse of the crowd.

Further down, the block is covered in tables and barbeques, where
volunteers grill burgers and serve hot chocolate to anyone who shows
interest; all to the beat of the Clash, Jimi Hendrix and other upbeat
oldies. Both people from the community as well as supporters of Insite's
cause are gathered on the street.

Hastings Street drivers honk their support in passing, as people dance
waving placards with "Insite Saves Lives" printed in bold. People eat, and
smiles abound on one of the most famously dreary streets in Vancouver.

A stage sits right outside of Insite's doors, with a P.A. system set up.
Bedouin Soundclash, Canada's own reggae rock band are the excuse for the
occasion. The boys in the band were in town anyways, scheduled to play a
show with Zaki Ibrahim and Hey Ocean at the Commodore Ballroom that night.
Jay Malinowski, the band's lead singer and guitar player, had contacted
Insite, approximately two weeks prior to the event and offered to play a
free concert to show their support for keeping InSite open. "They said
they were upset by Stephen Harper not listening to the evidence on
[Insite]," says Mark Townsend, director of the Portland Hotel Society
Community Services, the Vancouver non-profit organization that operates
Insite through a partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health. "They wanted
to do something to help."

Insite was created in 2003 to address the number of people using
intravenous drugs in unsafe conditions in Vancouver. As part of the harm
reduction aspect of the four pillars approach, the goal is to minimize the
potential risks drug users put on themselves when using needles in this
environment. Inside, individuals have access to clean injection equipment
with which they inject their own drugs under the supervision of nurses and
trained staff. From there, people move to the post-injection, or chill
room, where they rest until they are ready to leave.

Here, Insite staff are present to connect people to other services, from
primary care of wounds, to detox and other treatment programs.

Another goal of Insite is to reach some of the most marginalized
population, bringing street users into a clean environment with
knowledgeable supervision and engaging them with services and information
regarding safer practices.

The facility is able to operate based on a certain level of cooperation
from all levels of government. It relies on the constitutional exemption
from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act from the federal government,
and exists under the province's jurisdiction as a specialized medical
facility, with the BC Ministry of Health covering operational funding.

The site continues to receive overwhelming support from the community it
exists in as well as Vancouver's municipal government. Originally instated
as a temporary experiment for research purposes, the site was given a
three year exemption from the criminal code. Since then, the exemption has
been extended twice to allow for further research, as federal politicians
were nervous about what effect it would have if they were to be seen
okaying it permanently and despite the studies that continued to prove the
benefits of safe injection facilities. The last of these extensions was
set to run out in June, 2008.

The block party continues.

But tucked around the corner of the block is an unexpected surprise.

The Vancouver Police Department Crowd Control Unit waits; a line of
dancing monkeys waiting for the string to be pulled.

They form a parameter, closing off all traffic to the block.

Behind the line of police motorcycles a crowd builds; more and more people
want to take part in the occasion, and they are not going to be stopped.

Like a dike bursting under the pressure of a month long rain, they burst
through, refusing to be held back any longer.

The deejay is silenced.

Sirens wail, and people's cries grow in protest: "InSite saves lives!" The
police parameter closes in as they confiscate the sound equipment and
deconstruct the tents.

The message is clear: Bedouin Soundclash are not going to be permitted to
play, and no one will give a reason why. This, however, is not the first
hurdle Insite has ever had to clear.

In April of this year, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the
Portland Hotel Society mounted a constitutional challenge to the federal
government's ability to shut Insite, arguing that it addresses a public
health crisis.

On May 27th, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of keeping Insite
open, agreeing that denying drug addicts access to the health-care
services at InSite violates their Charter rights to life, liberty and
security of person.

Judge Ian Pitfield ruled that addiction is a disease and the federal
government can't force addicts to inject drugs in an unsafe environment
when a safe one is available.

The ruling gave the federal government until June 30, 2009 to bring the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act into line with the Charter of Rights
and Freedoms, and granted InSite continued constitutional exemption.

The federal government, however, is taking this decision to the court of

"This is no more justifiable than requiring an exception from the law of
theft from kleptomaniacs, or an exception from the impaired driving laws
for alcoholics," state federal government lawyers in the documents filed
early October, 2008. The federal government is disputing the striking down
of the parts of the criminal code that would prevent Insite from

The BC Court of Appeals has set aside three days for the hearing in late
April of next year. The BC government is already an intervener and it is
expected that Vancouver Coastal Health and the BC Civil Liberties
Association will also apply for intervener status.

On an average day, Insite sees roughly 645 visitors.

Over the past five years since its conception, there has not been a single
fatal overdose.

It has proven effective at reducing public injections and related litter,
reducing needle sharing, preventing overdose deaths and reducing hospital
visits. But for the federal government that is not enough.

They say that Insite has failed in treating addiction, despite the fact
that that has never been the site's primary goal.

"It's very depressing for the people down here and the people using the
site," says Townsend. "All the evidence is in, and it's clear, so it's
just depressing that this goes on and on and on and on. We just don't get
listened to."

As the crowd disperses, deflated and defeated, next to me, Delanye, a
Downtown Eastside resident of the past ten years and Bedouin Soundclash
fan, is affronted by the police reaction to what she sees as a community
gathering. "If this had gone down in Oakridge, [the police] would be
supporting, and the band would be playing right now. In any other
neighbourhood. But the fact of the matter is that people here are kept on
a pretty tight leash."

"I've tried to stay away from politics because I'm an artist and a healer,
and yet I feel like they are continuously challenging us and pushing in on
us and taking away what little we have. So that if you take two steps to
improve yourself, they'll slam you in the face and push you three steps
back. That's how hard it is to get anything done around here."

According to later press releases, the police presence had to do with
noise levels and the possibility of someone getting injured by Hastings
Street traffic. But as the grills continue to smoke and the sky darkens,
drawing a smudged curtain between control and controlled, I wonder.

This seems to be a repeating trend representing a much larger picture for
Insite's proponents: one hell of a battle against a formidable opponent,
before having a brief chance to recoup and prepare for the next one.