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.

DPRK, Human Rights, North Korea, reunification

>Great Blight North #3

>I recently asked well-known blogger The Korean from askakorean.net fame for his thoughts on North Korea. At 16 he left Korea with his family to live in California, and he now lives in New York City. Although off the peninsula for quite some time, his views on the DPRK are similar to many of the South Koreans I have interviewed.

WAP: What was your earliest memory of North Korea or its people?
TK: When I was in the first grade, we learned about the story about this brave boy about our age. (Don’t remember if it was in the textbook or if the teacher was free-styling.) The boy lived in a northern part of Gangwon-do near the Armistice Line with his parents, and some armed communist spies broke into his house, demanding food. The boy exclaimed, “I hate communists!” and one of the spies killed the boy by ripping his mouth open with a bayonet.
Apparently this is a true story, but what a thing to teach to 6 year old kids!

WAP: Do you want reunification?
TK: Yes.

                                                    Seoul’s War Memorial of Korea

WAP: Do you want comprehensive and immediate reunification, similar to East and West Germany -though the DPRK’s economy is much worse shape than the GDR’s ever was- or do you want a more gradual process of reintegration? 
TK: Gradual process, by a small margin. But I think realistically, the only possible way in which reunification would happen is the comprehensive and immediate version.

WAP: Is the reunification of the two Koreas paramount, or does the continued success of the South Korean economy trump sweeping change? 
TK: I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition, because I don’t think reunification will doom South Korean economy (although it will likely depress South Korean economy for a little while.)  Eventually, reunification will be a boost toward Korean economy, for example, by providing cheap labor and cheaper access to China.

WAP:How do you feel about the presence of American troops on the peninsula?

TK: I think American troops are indispensable for maintaining peace in the Korean peninsula.

Here is a paper that brings up some interesting points regarding reunification vis-a-vis the German example.

Honduras, Honduras coup, Human Rights, Resistance Lawyers Front, Zelaya

>Honduran Supreme Court Drags Its Feet, Lawyers Fight Back

>Mere weeks before the highly controversial national elections slated for November 29, the Supreme Court of Justice is in no rush to rule on the restoration of overthrown President of Honduras Manuel Zelaya.

With a muzzled press towing the Micheletti regime’s party line and little connection to the outside world – less than 10% of Hondurans are internet users- many Hondurans are looking towards the Supreme Court for an impartial solution to the crisis that has plagued the country fore more than four months. Yet many Zelaya supporters think they are seeing their worst fears confirmed that the court which backed the coup will prolong any decision on Zelaya’s return to power until after elections.

After the recent attempt at a unity government failed – Zelaya refused to join the team made up entirely of Micheletti nominees- the reinstatement of Zelaya is the coup regime’s only chance of the elections gaining a shred of legitimacy.

Amidst the backdrop of the cooperation between supposedly separate organs of the state, partiality lawyers in the industrial center of San Pedro Sula have set their sights on the Supreme Court with a pronouncement made public yesterday. Here is the full text of from The Resistance Lawyers Front’s (RLF) :


The Resistance Lawyers Front in the North Zone, due to the actions of the Supreme Court of Justice since the 28th of June, appeal to the Honduran people and the international community:

FIRST,  during recent years we bore witness to the deterioration and politicization of the institutions of  Justice. We thought the new appointments in Supreme Court of Justice this past January would make important changes possible in the areas of strengthening the independence and impartiality of that branch of the State. Sadly, this did not happen in the following six months, as the 15 Supreme Court Judges made it clear that justice would continue to serve the powerful political and economic groups of our country. In doing so they deeply defrauded the aspirations of the Honduran people who genuinely thought that by electing these judges they could make a difference.

SECOND: With the awful coup d’état of June 28th, the Supreme Court of Justice -forgetting its role as an impartial organ- has publicly put forward supposed legal arguments in an attempt to legitimize the illegal and unconstitutional actions taken by this de facto regime. Likewise, it has fully neglected their duty to protect the people. It is complicit in all the violations suffered by the Honduran people and has postponed or blocked the processing of constitutional claims presented by the citizenry.

THIRD: In addition to all its actions mentioned above, the Supreme Court of Justice has unleashed a campaign of persecution against those judges and their employees that -valiantly and lawfully- stood against the coup d’état and for the reestablishment of the constitutional order.


  1. That the Supreme Court of Justice rectify its partiality, which only searches to legally justify the completion of the coup and the continuation of a de facto regime, and honor their obligation to protect fundamental rights.
  2. That the Supreme Court of Justice immediately cease its persecution of judges and employees that,  exercising their civil rights, have demonstrated against the coup d’état.
  3.  That the Honduran Bar Association affirm their support for the Constitution and its legality, preventing legal judgments that only look to legitimize the coup, and that they request the Supreme Court of Justice to correct all its biased claims.


San Pedro Sula, Cortes, November 9th of 2009

(Photo courtesy of the RLF)