GUEST HOST: Sheila Gunn Reid
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is trying to prevent Calgary and Edmonton from becoming satellite colonies of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. And I think it's working.
It isn’t good in the neighbourhood of East Hastings, Vancouver. It’s been quite accurately described as hell on earth.
It's a disease-riddled third-world slum inside one of the most expensive, beautiful cities in the western world, where misery, suffering, addiction, desperation and remorse are all shoe-horned out of the view of fancy people, corralled in some open-air prison where the bars that confine you are opioids.
And no one, NO ONE, should live like this. These are human beings, the least of our brothers, but the poor souls who languish here are the unwitting subjects in three-decade-long human experiment into harm reduction. The first needle exchange program opened in East Hastings in the 80s and the first supervised drug injection site opened there in 2003.
According to a 2020 analysis:
Since 2008, overdose deaths in British Columbia are up 151 percent, with Vancouver’s numbers driving much of the increase. According to CTV News, Vancouver’s “paramedics and dispatchers are feeling fatigued and burnt out” by the pace of opioid overdoses, “and some are experiencing occupational stress injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Total social spending in the Downtown Eastside now amounts to more than $1 million per day.
Despite these intensive efforts, the city has failed meaningfully to reduce rates of addiction, homelessness, and criminality in the neighborhood, which remains the epicenter for all overdose deaths in the region. In 2017, the City of Vancouver logged 8,000 overdose calls, with the Downtown Eastside responsible for 5,000 of the total, even with a population of only a few thousand residents.
Harm reduction strategies are killing a second generation of addicts. Worse still, BC has legalized hard drugs with the help of Justin Trudeau.
But Alberta is doing something very different than following in the miserable footsteps of BC. The focus here is on treatment, getting people well and returning them to the people who love them, whole and productive.
The Alberta government has rejected the concept of a government-enabled safe supply of drugs to addicts and a safe place to do them, announcing in 2019 that 4000 treatment beds were to be scaled up over the course of four years, and the government, for once, is ahead on deliverables.
But there is more.
Two weeks ago, Alberta's public safety ministry launched a 15-week pilot program in partnership with the Edmonton City Police (EPS) to deploy 12 Alberta sheriffs to patrol the streets of downtown core of the capital city.
Yesterday, it was announced that a similar three-month project is being launched in Calgary in collaboration with the Calgary Police Service; 12 sheriffs to the downtown core to address social disorder.
Today, more treatment beds were announced to help Albertans crawl out of the pit of misery of drug addiction.
Smith's investments in treatment, building on those of Jason Kenney, have even inspired the progressive city government in Edmonton to walk back a lunatic policy of giving out crackpipes and needles in transit stations, citing safety concerns.
And I could not be happier about it. For every clean former addict is a mother who doesn't worry about burying her son, a child who gets their mom back, a homeowner who isn't robbed and a family that can take their kids to the park without worrying about dirty needles in the sand.
Hope and help is what addicts need, not paraphernalia and poisons.
Joining me tonight is Arthur Green of the Western Standard on his important work to document the social decay caused by gangs, drugs and progressive policies on both in Edmonton.