thumb-2024-05-05-far-right-safer-supply This article is more than 2 months old

The Far-Right’s Newest Scapegoat: ‘Drug Users and Unhoused People’

Experts say BC’s far-right is shifting focus from COVID-19, vaccines and 2SLGBTQ+ issues to safer supply drug policies

Drug policy experts and activists in Vancouver are responding to what they call a rise in far-right protesters in British Columbia who are shifting focus to the province’s safer supply drug policy.

BC’s far-right groups, who have previously been vocal against COVID-19 public health measures, SOGI-123 and 2SLGBTQ+ rights, have now taken to protesting safer supply and people who use drugs.

Far-right anti-safer supply protesters have recently been spotted taking to overpasses around the Lower Mainland, including one over the highway in North Vancouver, displaying signs accusing the BC government of giving drugs to children.

Stephanie Wilson, a North Vancouver activist and researcher, says far-right groups have been “planting seeds” since before the pandemic, inciting fear around COVID vaccines, the 2SLGBTQ+ community and now, crime and homelessness.

“In the October 2022 municipal elections in BC there was a very hard right-wing shift at that time,” Wilson told PressProgress. “There were freedom convoy associated groups that were running candidates / coaching candidates, they really wanted a right-wing sweep through BC which fortunately didn’t happen – but it really planted a lot of seeds that we’re seeing today.”

“It’s just a roller coaster of things, there’s a mass of causes that kind of percolate through the far right and then things kind of spike and ebb as interest rises and falls as news stories draw their attention to different things.”

In North Vancouver, Wilson said this had impacts even at the local level when it came to a proposed supportive housing project for people with complex needs.

“It really became this lightning rod for unhinged right wing conspiracies,” Wilson said.

Photo credit: Stephanie Wilson

Vocal online opposition to safer supply includes a National Post columnist named Adam Zivo, and a controversial SFU professor who has ties to the recovery industry named Julian Somers.

“Like Vancouver is Dying, Canada is Dying, people were referencing Adam Zivo in public hearings. Julian Somers showed up to speak at one point to talk about how horrible harm reduction and housing first are. It was really the first moment that I saw this at a local level.”

Wilson said it was last fall when things ramped up and, after the local outcry, the overpass rallies suddenly switched to explicitly denouncing safer supply.

As of May 7, drug use is illegal in all public spaces in BC, including in hospitals, on transit and in parks, which drug policy advocates say effectively “guts decriminalization,” which was piloted in BC in January of 2023.

Drug policy advocate Karen Ward says that this policy pushes people who use drugs into dark corners, as a direct response to this right-wing moral panic around people who use drugs.

“The focus of this right wing moral panic switching from trans kids to drug users and unhoused people—the thing in common here is all about bodily autonomy and visibility. But when our legislators accede to that, it’s very, very troubling,” Ward told PressProgress.

Ward adds that while politicians occasionally come out and denounce the protests and violence inflicted on other communities, people who use drugs are rarely included in this public support.

“They will stand up against other moral panics but they simply cave when it comes to this one because of the bias that prohibition has set against drug users,” Ward added.

“It’s not spontaneous, it’s all very deliberate.”

Ward says the amendment to existing drug laws prove that while politicians and policy makers are acknowledging that people are using drugs, they simply want it out of the public eye, meaning more people could die.

“They’re saying, ‘you can do this as long as we can’t see you — as long as you’re housed,’” Ward said.

From 2021-2024, 47% of unregulated drug deaths in BC took place in a private residence.

British Columbia Coroner Services

In 2024 so far, 572 people have died due to the illicit and toxic drug supply.

“This is what politics have led us to,” Ward said. “The right is literally campaigning on corpses and then the left says, oh no, we hate them too—we’re going to use them as an example of us doing the right thing.”


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Rumneek Johal
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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