A Would-Be Mayor's Mission: 'Safe Injection Sites'

A Would-Be Mayor's Mission: 'Safe Injection Sites'
Posted by CN Staff on November 15, 2002 at 07:55:32 PT
By Clifford Krauss
Source: New York Times 
Vancouver, British Columbia  Larry Campbell, a former policeman and the leading mayoral candidate, was campaigning down his old beat on West Hastings Street the other night when a man in a denim jacket and with a straggly goatee gestured to him. He might have been a prospective voter, but he had something other than politics on his mind. "Bud?" the man said, parlance for marijuana among the street dealers in the Downtown Eastside section of Vancouver.
Mr. Campbell shook the dealer off and looked for other voters to greet in a neighborhood where drugs, prostitution and homelessness have become an eyesore and scourge in recent years. "On this street you get anything you want," he said, shaking his head. "Weed is the least offense."In ways big and small, illegal drugs are dominating the hottest Vancouver mayoral race in a generation. Recent polls show that Mr. Campbell has a big lead in Saturday's election over Jennifer Clarke, a city councilor who is the candidate of the center-right Nonpartisan Association. The party has held the mayoralty for the last 16 years and has dominated city politics for most of the last six decades.The issue that has inflamed the campaign is whether Vancouver should follow Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Sydney in creating "safe injection sites." In such indoor areas, intravenous heroin users would be able to inject drugs bought elsewhere without the threat of arrest under the supervision of public health care workers who would offer them safe needles and counseling to change their lives. Health Canada, the chief federal health agency, is considering sanctioning such sites around the country. Vancouver is expected to be the first to try the idea, especially if Mr. Campbell wins. He wants to start the program within two weeks of taking office next month.Ms. Clarke says that she is ready to study the idea, but that it would need approval from the federal authorities and local communities. Mr. Campbell is running on the ticket of the Coalition of Progressive Electors, or COPE, an association of left-wing groups with heavy union support. He campaigns in a black trench coat and a green fedora tilted just so, giving him the look of a streetwise, no-nonsense detective who knows how to deal with crime.That image has been burnished by the popular Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television series "Da Vinci's Inquest," a show about a tough Scotch-drinking coroner loosely based on Mr. Campbell's other former career as chief coroner of British Columbia. Mr. Campbell is an adviser and occasional scriptwriter for the show, whose star and main character share the Campbell name.Mr. Campbell's early campaign buttons said "Mayor Da Vinci.""It's art resembling life," Mr. Campbell suggested. Ms. Clarke and Mr. Campbell agree on many things. Both want more buses and better streetcar service. Both favor new parks and improved day care services. Both want to put more police officers on the street.Their conflict is over drugs. As a former coroner, Mr. Campbell rattles off the statistic that 1,200 addicts have died in Vancouver over the last 10 years, mostly of disease and overdoses. As a former member of the police drug squad, he speaks graphically of the ways addicts prepare and inject their heroin."Now the addict goes to an alley to find a needle that is dirty and may have blood on it and then he sucks up water from a puddle which could have urine in it or rat feces," he said in an interview in his downtown headquarters. "We're saying, `Make it safe and bring these people in contact with health professionals.' We will have detox and treatment."He said addiction must be treated as a disease, not a crime.What to do about the Downtown Eastside has become the major issue in Vancouver because in recent years heroin and crack users have been held responsible for the highest property crime rate of any city in Canada. As a port, Vancouver is an entry place for drugs from Asia. With a relatively mild climate that makes street living less uncomfortable than in colder cities, it attracts addicts and homeless people from all over Canada.Business leaders are worried that Vancouver's reputation for being a center of drug use could hurt its bid to play host to the 2010 Winter Olympics.Municipal politics here is still a civil affair in which candidates applaud each other between retorts at public debates. But the subject of "safe injection sites" produces real sparks."Mr. Campbell believes that he will put in safe injection sites by Jan. 1, whether it's legal or not and whether or not there is community consensus, and there certainly would not be time for public consultation," Ms. Clarke said in a radio debate this week. Mr. Campbell shot back: "The drug addiction problem took off the last 10 years while Ms. Clarke was in office. Rather than study this problem yet again, COPE is actually committed to doing something about this problem now."Ms. Clarke has been hampered by the refusal of Mayor Philip Owen, who is not running, to support her, in part because of their own disputes over drug policy. Hoping to make inroads in the last days, she has begun advertisements linking Mr. Campbell to a failed former provincial leftist government. In an interview, she expressed frustration that she was having trouble dispelling Mr. Campbell's television image."It's like Martin Sheen running for president," she said with a sigh, "and voters assuming that Martin Sheen would respond as president the way the television character does" on the hit show "West Wing." Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Clifford KraussPublished: November 15, 2002Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: CannabisNews Narcotics Archives
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Comment #1 posted by Whirrlin on November 17, 2002 at 17:31:18 PT:
Where would they get it?
I have one question, this seems like a good idea, or at least a creative suggestion that takes drug use as a public health issue instead of a criminal one. However, my question is, if the addict can go to these clinics for needles and supervision, where is he/she still going to get the heroin in the first place? Is the clinic going to provide it? I could see alot of loopholes coming from this, I think this proposal needs more clarity
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