From The Vault: Tom Flanagan, white supremacists, the Reform Party and NAMBLA

Remember when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff and CBC commentator Tom Flanagan was vilified after a YouTube clip of his comments about child pornography went viral (well, by Canadian standards). 

A victim of the reactionary “gotcha” culture that Twitter emboldens, the next day Flanagan was dropped as an advisor to his protege Danielle Smith’s Wild Rose Party and was soon axed from his gig at the Mother Corp.

As someone who watched his fair share of the Daily Show in university, the thing that struck me in that YouTube clip was Flanagan’s mention of NAMBLA – The North American Man Boy Love Association. Dozens of articles had gone over his brief comments on child pornography, but none had delved into this reference.

So I decided to phone him up at his U of C office. To my surprise he picked up and answered my queries about the reference.

Here is the “webfile” that I wrote at the time (March 7, 2013), but just couldn’t square putting up online. It sounded too ridiculous, too “tabby” for a mainstream paper to run. Well, that’s the beauty of this here blog, without further ado (or a proper headline for self-spiked article): 

Former high-level conservative political strategist Tom Flanagan says he ended up on the North American Man Boy Love Association mailing list around the same time he was rooting out neo-Nazis from the Reform Party in the mid-90s.

Flanagan has drawn widespread criticism for his comments on child pornography made last week, but until now has not explained his admission in that same speech that he was on the mailing list of the pedophile advocacy group “for a couple of years.”

“It starts with working for the Reform Party and being asked to clean out the racists that may have infiltrated the party – there were not many but there were a few,” he said over the phone from his University of Calgary office. “I subscribed to (defunct neo-Nazi group) Heritage Front’s magazine because I was charged by the Reform Party with tracking them.

“But then they went out of business  and then… after a period of time, I started getting all this other stuff – none of which I ever asked for.

Flanagan said it was “mostly neo-Nazi but it included this man-boy love thing.”

“This was back in the mid-90s, who knew what the rules were then?” he said. “I didn’t subscribe.

“They put me on the list. I threw the stuff away. It eventually stopped.”

San Francisco-based NAMBLA, which advocates for the abolishment of age of consent laws criminalizing adult sexual involvement with minors, published a satirical piece making light of Flanagan’s situation this week. But the organization did not clarify if and how Flanagan was ever signed up for their newsletters.

Last week Flanagan said at the forum in Lethbridge, Alta., that he questioned whether people viewing child pornography should be jailed for their “taste in pictures.”

Flanagan made similar remarks three years earlier to the University of Manitoba’s student newspaper.

He said this week in National Post guest newspaper column that the question that prompted his remarks last week came out of left field and had nothing to do with the forum where he was speaking.

Flanagan was a one-time strategist for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and for Alberta’s Wildrose party, and was a political pundit on CBC TV – all have since denounced him.

He is still listed as a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute conservative think tank.

Neither Flanagan nor Fraser Institute would comment on his position there.

“I will say I’m getting tremendous support from individuals, and I have made hundreds of new friends, from gay and lesbian activists  to social conservatives and born-again Christians and everything in between,”Flanagan said. “But it’s all individuals, so I have no comments on organizations.”

With files from The Canadian Press

POST SCRIPT: Just checked and it looks like The Fraser Institute weathered the media firestorm (of one reporter) and kept Flanagan on as a senior fellow. Good on it for sticking to its guns.

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Drawing pain and giving blood



Great snap of Grady (Gman) Killam and his mother Keara taken by Vancouver Sun shooter Ric Ernst last November. Tough time holding back tears that day as the three-year-old enjoyed what may have been his last visit to the playroom.

It’s part of my responsibility as a journalist to download and translate people’s pain so that readers may learn from the darkness and, ideally, even do something about it.

In my short career I’ve had a number of intense, emotional interviews with subjects still trying to register the loss of a loved one or work through a traumatic experience.

Knocking on Carol Todd’s front door and speaking to her the night after her daughter Amanda killed herself at their Port Coquitlam home ranks up there on the intensity scale. So does my sombre lunch with Zoei Thibault in the small town of Kaslo, B.C., as it became increasingly clear that the landslide that wiped out parts of a small hamlet in the Kootenays also killed her best friend, along with her sister and their dad.

I was deeply unnerved by the gaze of Franklin Lobos and Omar Reygadas, two of “Los 33” Chilean miners, as we sat in a cozy downtown Vancouver hotel room and they recounted the 69 days they lived like “cavemen.”

But none of those encounters compared to meeting three-year-old Grady (Gman) Killam and his mother Keara as he escaped his room in the B.C. Children’s Hospital cancer ward to enjoy a session in the playroom for the first time in over a month. While my younger sister survived two daunting bouts with meningitis during her infancy, I was too young to remember her stoicism, which seems to come naturally to many afflicted youngsters.

Gman on the other hand was right in front of my tear-filled eyes, gladly posed for photos and chatted with this reporter that day despite leading a life filled with medical setbacks and surgeries that would make many adults think twice about fighting on.

Here’s a snippet from my interview with his mother about the pain he had been enduring and the family’s earnest belief that he might be one of the “lucky ones.”


Photo credit: Ric Ernst, PNG

His gait has been altered by a pair of strokes, and chemotherapy sessions have reduced his blond hair to a wispy pate, but Grady’s main concern this day is eating cheezies, sipping juice and playing with a talking toy truck.

Since last July, Grady has received more than 100 blood transfusions to help him battle acute myeloid leukemia and a rare blood disorder called HLH (hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis). Two tubes coming out of his heart mean that his blood work is now much easier than when he had to endure numerous syringe “pokes” a day.

Grady’s mother, Keara Killam, says the tough three-year-old only cries out when he’s in extreme pain. And she has resolved not to cry in his presence.

“I promised myself that I would never cry in front of him because he can only just know that it’s OK,” Killam says as Grady stomps around the cancer ward’s playroom. “Sometimes my husband and I take turns leaving the room and having a little cry, and then we’ll come back in.”

Yesterday I gave blood for the second time since Killam died March 2. It’s a small gesture I plan to perform roughly every two months as a way to honour this courageous little guy’s life.

Anyone interested in donating in Canada can call 1-888-236-283 or go to http://www.blood.ca to book an appointment. Blood donor clinics take walk-ins but appreciate people booking ahead of time.

From the Vault

How Barwatch knocked out Vancouver’s macho fightwear brands

Young journalists everywhere, let this be a lesson to you!  

I wrote this piece while attending Langara College’s J-School and never got around to shopping it.

Anyhow, here’s my take on how fightwear, gang violence and Vancouver’s nightlife scene all collided a few years ago. Thanks to Rob Dykstra for the editing. The horrible metaphors and languid pacing are all my fault!



How Barwatch knocked out Vancouver’s macho brands

By Mike Hager


Grown men cheer as they witness knees connect with cheeks and feet slam into temples from various angles as another UFC pay-per-view fight fills downtown Vancouver’s Shark Club on a Saturday night.

In the middle of the bar at a long table a group of athletic thirty and forty-somethings sit, momentarily spellbound after one fighter successfully “grounds and pounds” his opponent into submission. Interludes of pumping music drown out the boasting of guys explaining why their fighter is superior on the ground. Girlfriends sip drinks and feign interest. Across downtown Vancouver hundreds of weekend warriors — some with ears cauliflowered from their own pugilism — have paid up to $12 to watch the sport’s 128th title match.

The bloody battles are sponsored by the “fightwear” giant Affliction, but only a fistful of patrons are wearing the brand name T-shirts adorned with Olde English script that have come to identify the macho subculture known as mixed martial arts.

Several years ago, during the height of clubland gang shootings, a sartorial scandal erupted in Vancouver’s nightlife scene when businesses from the public safety initiative known as Barwatch banned the bedazzled brands favoured by gangsters and MMA fans.

These nightspots have an unwritten rule labeling any patron wearing brands like Ed Hardy, Affliction, Smet or TapouT as a troublemaker unfit for entry. These brands are known for their sparkly depictions of tribal tattoos, skulls and hearts and often feature medieval-looking fonts.

Several years on, Vancouver police cite this initiative as one of the tactics that have cut down on violent gang activity in the city. The meteoric rise of MMA now means some Barwatch members show the profitable pay-per-view events. But, their

comprehensive ban has helped kill any chance these brands have of regaining their popularity among trendy clubgoers.

Owners of Vancouver’s hotspots knew they had to take action in 2007 after a spate of high-profile shootings targeted gangsters throughout Metro Vancouver that fall. Convicted criminials like Gurmit Singh Dhak — a 29-year-old who served time for shooting a man in the face — were being taken out at restaurants like the swanky Quattro on Fourth in the affluent Kitsilano  neighbourhood.

As drug gangs jockeyed for territory and market share, an undercurrent of fear overshadowed the average person’s night out in the city.

“Barwatch was a business and police initiative,” says Mountie Sgt. Shinder Kirk , spokesman for B.C.’s gang task force. “What we had seen was a considerable amount of violence in and around entertainment districts, not just only in Vancouver, but throughout Metro Vancouver.”

After the increased violence Barwatch members stepped up their security tactics and outlawed several brands they claimed attracted a dangerous crowd.

Barwatch had previously drawn the ire of clubgoers for it’s swiping and storing of each patrons driver’s licence information. The database system for monitoring troublemakers also got the attention of provincial privacy commissioner David Loukidelis, who in 2009 ruled the program violated B.C.’s Personal Information Privacy Act.

After making a deal with Loukidelis, the Barwatch bars were allowed to keep swiping and storing a patron’s information as long as they deleted it after 24 hours. But, if bar staff determine a patron caused a problem, then that patron’s information can be kept for up to a year. The authorities didn’t weigh in on the clothing ban, because citizens entering private properties have to abide by the rules of the premises.

Many aficionados of the increasingly popular brands made a stink online saying the ban was autocratic and the cops had no business policing the closets of everyday citizens. Vancouver clothing designer Jason Dussault helped lead the charge.

Dussault, who looks more postmodern biker than savvy entrepreneur, made his money securing financing for Vancouver start-ups and before creating Dussault Apparel Inc. When in stock, his embroidered hoodies run anywhere from $300 to $1,500 at Vancouver’s high-end men’s boutiques.

Dussault, a high-school dropout from Kamloops, like to cover his clothes in macabre imagery. This includes the usual cast of badass creatures like demons, snakes and eagles as well as his own sadistic Peter the Panda and misogynistic Spuzzum the Clown characters.

The businessman was so incensed by the ban that during last year’s Vancouver Fashion Week he debuted a line of “Barwatch Baby” T-shirts.

“It’s a nanny state, we’re being controlled by the government,” Dussault says over the phone from L.A. — where he recently moved his family for the second season of his nationally broadcast Citytv reality show.

He thinks the ban received little attention here in Canada “because it’s a quaint little country. We’ve been taught not to stand up and not to say anything but sorry. Gene [Simmons of the rock supergroup Kiss] reminds me all the time the 5th thing out of our mouths is always sorry.”

During the fashion-week show, helmet-clad models with megaphones marched down the runway in nothing but the shirts and high heels to Darth Vader theme music. On the front were depictions of an infantile Stalin or Napoleon (Dussault says he nixed Mao and Hitler) wearing Barwatch logos and standing in front of the velvet rope. An awareness ribbon with the words “Fuck Censorship” adorned the backs of the T-shirts.

“We’re being told what to wear, what to eat, if we can smoke cigarettes or not. The world has become too controlled and people can’t make their own decisions,” Dussault says.

Dussault voiced his discontent with the ban online, through his clothing and by approaching the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to file a legal complaint. Initially the BCCLA was interested in the possible violation of Charter rights. But, its interest soon cooled after more shootings from gangs associated with the macho labels.

“It was a tough thing to back. To be honest with you, there’s a large group of douchebags that wear that [Ed Hardy] brand,” Dussault recalls.

“I tried to lead the charge and no one backed it up.”


It’s late Saturday and downtown nightlife is abuzz with swarms of drunk suburbanites who crowd into cheap pizza joints and chat away as they wait the often arbitrary period of time to get into the clubs. Collared shirts, hoodies, jeans and high-end T-shirts abound, yet Ed Hardy and the fightwear brands are conspicuously absent. The clothing ban has taken its toll on the fist-pumping couture-clad masses.

A veteran of the industry, the Shark Club’s hulking general manager Tim Murphy says his patrons now accept those brands are banned.

“What I see is tonight, for instance, we have this [UFC] event here and I don’t see anybody wearing any of it. No couture, nothing…” Murphy says he reluctantly enforces the ban. “We support Barwatch because we’re one of them, and I think that you hate to influence people and what they’re wearing, but at the same time we want to conform to what everybody else is doing so we just go along with it.

“It doesn’t mean they’re bad people for wearing it.”

Just up the street at Library Square one bouncer disagrees, “People who wear that brand are the brand,” meaning they’re the ones starting fights.


Adam Brennan Smith, 26, is a personal trainer and a fanatic of MMA. He was also one of dozens of people angry enough to join online anti-Barwatch groups who say the ban amounts to “borderline harassment” when they can’t go out and have fun with their friends.

“I just think some jerkoff is going to start a fight with someone whether he’s wearing a button-up shirt or a TapouT shirt. It’s still the same person wearing a different shirt,” Smith says.

He does concede that the brawler sporting TapouT — one of MMA’s most successful clothing brands — is much more likely to finish the fight. Smith says the ban stigmatizes MMA as dangerous after it has already undergone the complete transformation from anarchic bloodsport to legitimate athletic pursuit. He proudly wears fightwear outside the gym to support the fact he trains in ju-jitsu.

“It doesn’t mean I’m going out there trying to be a tough guy and start fights with somebody at all. It just means that I’m there to support the sport that I love.”

Smith sees no difference between wearing a gothic Anderson Silva T-shirt and a Sidney Crosby hockey jersey. Both support a sport, one is just a little edgier. Smith says he consciously alters his clothing before hitting the town.

“When I’m going out to the bar now, I’m obviously going to have to think ahead and plan on what I’m wearing. Because if I’m going to go there and stand in line for half an hour to get to the front, they’re just going to tell me to go home.”

Smith can see the irony between a bouncer’s main purpose of disrupting violence and letting in people wearing something called fightwear. But he contends, “Fighting and barfighting are two different things, totally different situations… a lotta the time it does get roped together because the general public does see it that way.”

Shawn Mostafa and his mohawked friend look like anything but members of the general public as they walk the Robson shopping district on a busy Sunday afternoon in their bright Ed Hardy gear. With his mesh-backed hat and their bedazzled casualwear, Mostafa and his friend are the types of guys getting tossed from bars for their clothing choices. Yet, Mostafa, somewhat sleepy after a long night, works the door at Fabric nightclub and admits he’s had to turn away people in Ed Hardy gear while working at other bars.

“I used to work at other clubs where they used to do that… I think it was stupid. I didn’t like it. We got ordered to by the club policy. Usually police don’t like that stuff. They think those brands bring violence. I really oppose that ban, no brand brings violence.”

The drowsy Mostafa thinks he knows the real culprit.

“Alchohol brings violence. Why don’t they ban alcohol?”

Mostafa, like Smith, sees any sport promoting a healthy lifestyle as good for society.

“Ban the people by the people, not for what they’re wearing. That’s pretty oldschool, lotta these guys [gangsters] are wearing suits these days, but if you’re wearing Ed Hardy, ‘Oh, he’s a gangster.’”

The fact is gangsters often wear the banned brands to show off their ability to drop huge money on a T-shirt or hoodie. Gang Task Force spokesman Sgt. Shinder Kirk says it’s not just a question of the clothing when identifying gangsters.

“We know the gang members that we deal with tend to try and show their wealth by buying higher types of brands,” Sgt. Kirk says. “But, other people are very successful in business and buy those types of brands.”

Incredibly, Kirk says Barwatch’s blanket ban on macho brands was news to him, but in any case the gang squad doesn’t look at a person’s clothing. Instead Kirk says “It’s not the brand, it’s the individual that we’re concerned with.”

Indeed, if Kirk and company are identifying gangsters in Vancouver’s restaurants and nightclubs by these brands they are in trouble, because nowadays Affliction, Ed Hardy and the like are extremely hard to find.

“Those kids just took off their shirts. They’re the same people going down to Granville Street and causing fights every week,” says club promoter and DJ Jason Sulyma. “They could be wearing spacesuits next week and they’re still going to kick in a bathroom door, say something offensive to a girl or pick a fight.”

Sulyma —who deejays around the city as MY! GAY! HUSBAND! — says people didn’t understand when he started banning these brands from his parties at the Biltmore Cabaret in 2007. Sulyma and his indie kid friends delighted in barring macho guys wearing these labels from their parties.

“They didn’t understand it ’cuz they were always used to getting their way and kids that looked like us were always getting bounced.”

On the phone recuperating in his bed after a debaucherous Vancouver music showcase at Austin’s SXSW festival, Sulyma says the ban isn’t about fashion.

“I dress like a bum, I have three black shirts and three black jeans. That’s what I wear.”

It’s about quality control. The people in those brands exert a mentality not welcome in a fun party atmosphere Sulyma argues. “The hypermasculinity — every guy has it — the guy in the best jean jacket with the best punk patches, he’s hypermasculine. I believe that I’m a masculine man, but I don’t let that pour out when I go to the club. You know that there’s girls trying to have fun, there’s people trying to have fun. And that’s not the place for a male ego in the full sense of the word.”

He says it’s within everybody’s right to feel cool, but the people in these macho brands often cross the line.

“You know the one loud guy you grew up with in high school that always said stupid dumb fucking stuff just to get attention, but everyone still liked him ’cuz he’s a prettyboy or whatever… It’s just being a jerk. That’s what it is — ruining people’s fun.”

Sulyma, founder and organizer of the independent Olio music festival, finds it hilarious today’s tough guys are wearing styles first made popular by Vancouver’s gay community.

“Gay cats used to wear that Ed Hardy and Affliction style. They were huge, you’d go to gay clubs and there’d be guys with old English fonts and the raven underneath and sparkles on his shoulder.”

Once they became more mainstream, Sulyma says pioneers of the brands “were like, ‘We don’t wear this when the sun’s up and we don’t beat each other up. We’re gay, we have sex with each other.’ That’s all these guys want to do is make out with each other, but they’re too scared. It’s just really funny that we saw this style going from underground gay parties to gay cats making clothes for celebrities. And then you see Justin Timberlake with some sparkly Ed Hardy hat for some weird reason.”

“Like you’re ever going to tell them, ‘Oh I used to see those types of shirts in really rad gay stores in the early 2000s.’ They’d just punch you out,” says Sulyma.

When asked if he knew his about his favourite brands’ early popularity in Vancouver’s gay culture the bouncer Mostafa coolly brushes it off, “no idea, I didn’t know.”

Gay or not, clothing styles are part of a variety of cues in one’s environment that can influence people’s actions. Brand expert and SFU business professor Stephen Kates doesn’t know whether banning clothes is the answer, but says people are sensitive to these cues.

“If you get rid of some of those visual cues you could affect the level of violence.”


As athletic shoppers look for the coolest new $60 T-shirt at BoysCo’s flagship store on Robson Street , they are engulfed by heavy bass and pop rap. About a year ago, the store stopped selling Ed Hardy because their prices had become to low to make any profit says store manager Lindsay Walstra.

The ephemeral nature of fashion means brands come and go, but Vancouverites’ hunger for the Hardy was especially voracious at one point.

“There’s never been anything to replace a brand like that,” Walstra laments. “There hasn’t been a brand where people go crazy. “You pull it out of the box and people coming in say, ‘Oh what’s that? I want that, I’ll take one in each colour.’ It doesn’t happen anymore.”

Across the street, Below the Belt saw these macho brands taking up almost a third of the store at their peak. Affliction and Ed Hardy are now relegated to a small discount table choked out by other brands now considered to have more cache.

Dussault knows better than anyone the effect Barwatch’s clothing ban had on the partying public. “People, when it comes down to it don’t give a shit, they’ll just buy another shirt.”

From the Vault

How my dad almost lost his leg…

Studying for a Canadian politics exam in his parent’s dungeon-like basement, Phil was thankful when Jim Hudson’s call broke the morning’s silence. On that balmy April Saturday, Jim said he’d come over to the Hager’s Kerrisdale house after lunch with Bruce “Eagle” McCarther so they could have a study break throwing the pigskin around the side lawn.

Phil was 6’3”, 230 lbs and a loose-head prop for the University of B.C.’s rugby team – A clean-cut athlete loved by his friends for his happy-go-lucky demeanor. He felt great as he went outside in his sweatpants, T-shirt and favourite woolen slippers to play catch with Jim and Eagle.

After some time playing, Reggie Tupper swung by on his Triumph motorcycle and Phil got the uncontrollable urge to jump on his old bike and take it for a rip. The winter had been harsh by Vancouver standards. It was the spring before 1969’s “Summer of Love” and Phil and his buddies were discovering the freedom a set of wheels could bring. Needing a more suitable vehicle for his winter commute to UBC, Phil had sold the Triumph to Reggie six months earlier. Phil’s replacement car — an army surplus 1952 Willys 4×4 Jeep with camouflage paint from the Korean War — was sitting in the driveway next to his parent’s bungalow.

“I gotta take it for a ride,” Phil pleaded.

“Take it, but I want to try out the Jeep,” Reggie replied.

“The keys are in there,” Phil was already on the bike as he shouted to his three friends, “I’ll meet you back here in 20 minutes!”

He hit Southwest Marine Drive and maxed the Triumph out at about 100mph on the way out to UBC. Nobody was on this road because the university was closed on weekends and most students got to and from campus via 10th Avenue. After reaching Totem Park he turned around and gunned it for home, once again feeling that ineffable joy the open road can bring.

Two blocks from home, Phil decided to take a peek at his uncle’s backyard renovation. Pulling into the gravel laneway, he slowed to a crawl and straightened his back to see over the fence. As he drew near the T intersection he began a slow, blind left turn. Halfway through the turn, Reggie flew into the intersection in the Jeep and blindsided him. Its bumper smashed into his calf, sending him flying over his handlebars six feet into the air.

Years of tackling and rucking on the rugby field taught him to tuck his neck in and roll out of the fall. Clutching his battered shoulder, Phil looked down and saw the bottom of his leather slipper curled beside his calf with his right foot. It clung to his leg by the Achilles tendon. Two bones jutted out from where his foot used to be and blood spurted with each heartbeat.

His three friends from the jeep were immediately upon him. Though adrenaline numbed the pain, Eagle’s ghostly-white face revealed the severity of the situation to Phil.

After nearly losing his right foot to gangrene, Phil was put in a cast for six months, but he never fully recovered.

Over the next several decades his menisci and ligaments ground down, his legs ballooned and burned as mobility an issue. However, two years ago he bought another hog and still enjoys maxing it out on a nice spring day.

DTES, elections, Human Rights, politics, Vancouver

How Vancouver’s supervised illegal drug injection site is winning the PR battle

Vancouver’s Insite is making headlines again as a new study shows it has slashed fatal overdoses in Canada’s poorest postal code. With the federal government’s appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court this May, the program’s future is once again in jeopardy. Here are my thoughts after visiting the controversial injection site.

Photos courtesy of Vancouver Coastal Health

After touring Insite this week it is clear the operators are doing their best to win over the hearts and minds of Canadians skeptical of the harm reduction approach to drug addiction.

First-time visitors immediately notice the cleanliness, professionalism and transparency of the supervised injection site. In the main room, stainless steel shelves form 12 open booths that together service up to 1,000 users a day. The smell of cleaning supplies wafts through the Spartan rooms as site manager Darwin Fisher holds court.

Fisher is passionate about giving the addicts of Canada’s poorest postal code a voice in their own recovery. This method of mitigating the harmful conditions surround their addiction, and then allowing them to get the treatment they need seems to be working.

A recent study released by the provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, pointed to harm reduction services like Insite as helping lower the rate of HIV infections among injection drug users.

In a news release about the report Kendall said, “The recent decline in new HIV cases is encouraging, especially since a significant decrease has been seen amongst vulnerable populations like those who use injectable drugs. This decrease is more proof that Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy and other harm reduction services are working and should be expanded.”

In fact, every empirical study of infection rates among the people in the Downtown Eastside has come out in favour of Insite and its work. When talking to the media, Fisher wields these numbers like a sword in the face of a federal government hell-bent on shutting the service down.

Insite is as transparent as an entity run by three separate bodies can be. It is this transparency and an emphasis on empirical data that has been more effective in swaying public and political opinion than any preaching about the horrible circumstances of these addicts ever could.

Most taxpayers do not want to hear about the sad tales of abuse and trauma that precede a person’s gradual descent into the hell of addiction. What is much more important is the amount of money it costs to get a person off the street and into treatment. The amount of money it costs to process and care for a person with a skin infection from shooting up in the dank, dark and dirty alleyways of the Downtown Eastside.

Concrete numbers about the amount of money it is saving taxpayers are the best way Insite can gain further support, and perhaps one day expand their brand of harm reduction nationwide.

It may be a callous way to reach out for support, but Insite’s advocates know its $3 million annual oprating budget is miniscule compared to the overalls of illegal drug use.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse found, in a 2002 study, abuse of illegal druges like heroin cost Canadians $8.2 billion annually. Along with alcohol and tobacco, illegal drug abuse cost taxpayers $8.8 billion in health care and $5.4 billion in policing this abuse.

Former mayor Larry Campbell helped get the initiative off the ground, and ever since these positive numbers have come in, civic and provincial politicians have taken note. Today, these politicians are loath to criticize Insite’s effectiveness in curbing infection and costly health problems in drug-addicted people.

Federally, things are much different. Initially the Martin government begrudgingly supported the facility, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has fought tooth and nail to stop the money flow.

In order to fully understand the work of Insite, Harper should heed last year’s call of the B.C. Nurses’ Union and visit the facility himself.

Then, and only then, can he pass judgment on its role in Canadian society.


B.C.’s sled dog uproar erased other issues worth barking about

This is an editorial I wrote for today’s issue of The Voice about the recent Sled Dog Task Force and the speed of which the provincial government reacted to the public furor created by the massacre of 100 dogs.

Photo: Christine Zenino

Yesterday’s Sled Dog Task Force’s report brought swift legislative action from the premier aimed at tackling B.C.’s “terrible black eye” of animal cruelty.
The resulting animal cruelty laws, now Canada’s toughest, were met with applause from animal lovers across the province. But what does the genesis and speed of the task force and its legislative success say about B.C.’s political discourse?

“British Columbians have said clearly that cruel or inhumane treatment of sled dogs or any other animal is simply not acceptable,” Premier Christy Clark said in a press release yesterday.

Are there not a host of more pressing problems British Columbians find simply unacceptable?

Direct action was taken over the slaughter of about 100 dogs, yet the public inquiry into allegations of police malpractice and incompetence during the investigation into the missing women has been beset by delay after delay.

Shortly after public outcry erupted from news reports of the dogs’ massacre, the task force was set up with an order to complete their inquiry and report back within 45 days.
Contrast this with the years it took police, and society as a whole, to recognize dozens of women from Canada’s poorest postal code were being abducted and murdered by a serial killer. As early as the summer of 1998 the press were reporting a huge uptick in women disappearing from the Downtown Eastside. The police force reacted sluggishly and didn’t merge the investigation with the RCMP until April of 2001. By that time, numerous media reports had detailed the outcries for action from friends and families of the victims.

Politics dictate the government must listen to the concerns of its constituents, the priority of these concerns is another matter altogether.

In dog-friendly Metro Vancouver many people were rightly horrified with the mass “culling” of the sled dogs. More than 200 dog owners showed up at a February rally against the massacre in the affluent suburb of West Vancouver.

From 2007 to 2009, over 68 impoverished infants died in B.C. Twenty-one of these deaths were investigated further and just below three-quarters of the infants were aboriginal.

It took a full decade of leading Canada in child poverty rates for the provincial government to begin reforming the children and family ministry and sketching out the basics of child poverty plan.

Much like in the media, it seems easier in politics to respond to a sensational problem which affects proportionately less people than tackle a more nuanced issue that impacts us all.