thumb-2023-07-06-vancouver-city-hall This article is more than 9 months old

Vancouver’s City Council is Shutting Down an Overdose Prevention Site. The City Has No Plan to Help People Who Depend On The Site.

“They don’t care what happens to people who use drugs”

Amid a right-wing panic over drug use and visible poverty, Vancouver City Council announced last week that an overdose prevention site located in the city’s Yaletown neighborhood will be shut down, even though no alternative location has yet been chosen.

City Councillor Peter Meiszner made the announcement last week, stating that the decision not to renew the lease was prompted by “negative impacts on our community.”

However, many stand in opposition of the choice, including OneCity Councillor Christine Boyle, who pointed out that Meiszner himself publicly stated that he “does not support closing the site without an alternative location.”

The Yaletown OPS is one of the busiest in the city and drug policy advocates say losing this location will lead to more deaths during the public health crisis.

Garth Mullins, host of the Crackdown Podcast and an organizer with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), says closing the Yaletown OPS does not take into account the impacts on drug users in the neighbourhood as well.

“People die in every part of the province,” Mullins told PressProgress. “The idea to just get everybody from your community as a drug user to go to the Downtown Eastside to use a safe injection site is ludicrous.”

“The answer isn’t to close this one and open a better one somewhere else. It’s just to open more of them. If you have more services throughout the city, then you don’t get as much of a concentration of people.”

Mullins says the location closing is a reflection of people not wanting to see visible poverty in their communities, despite the fact that it exists everywhere.

“I think that people often just don’t like to see the reminder of how brutal, desperate and unequal our society is,” Mullins said.

“The desperation and misery that surrounds here is by creating a city that is unaffordable. Vancouver is a billionaire’s playground.”

Kali Sedgemore, President of Coalition of Peers Dismantling The Drug War (CPDDW) says this decision demonstrates the council’s lack of regard for people who use drugs.

“This effectively shows you that they don’t care what happens to people who use drugs,” Sedgemore told PressProgress.

Sedgemore says that the council’s rationale behind the decision, including protecting the “impact to the community,” puts profits and neighbourhood residents’ discomfort over saving lives.

“It’s saddening to see that they’re so upset that their condo prices might go down. This is a life saving service during a public health crisis, by doing this you’re killing more people,” Sedgemore said.

Residents and business owners have complained about the site, including through a petition filed in BC Supreme Court by developer Bruno Wall, president of Wall Financial Corp, who operates Seymour Residences located near the OPS.

Sedgemore says that the focus on the OPS when there are also dozens of bars located in the area has everything to do with a disdain towards drug users.

“They care more about money than they care about people who use drugs,” Sedgemore added.

“There’s nowhere else for anyone to go, people are going to have to use in back alleys.”

Mullins says the Yaletown OPS closing down is a part of a larger right-wing moral panic about visible poverty, which some would rather keep out of sight and out of mind.

“The closing of the OPS in Yaletown is a symptom of a much bigger backlash and moral panic that’s going on. I think that it’s got tendrils not just to city hall but to Ottawa, Victoria and we’re gonna see more bad things,” Mullins told PressProgress.

“It started soft, it started just with these little campaigns, of people filming homeless drug users, using drugs in the street, or just being homeless, and posting them on social media to try and shame people.”

Over time, Mullins says right-wing politicians including Pierre Poilievre began to run on the idea that across the country, cities are full of disorder and crime.

“The campaign has been really across like the right wing part of the spectrum. And I think that includes the ABC, and the party ran entirely on that. The election in Vancouver last year was framed around public safety,” Mullins said.

Mullins adds that these fears around public safety are not new – but it raises the question of public safety for whom.

“In the 90’s there was a public safety panic but at the same time, Pickton was hunting and killing people from the Downtown Eastside – Indigenous women. And that was not part of the panic,” Mullins said.

“This time it’s the same way. There’s people who are dying from toxic drugs. But that’s not part of the public safety concern that they’re talking about.”


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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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