In Victoria, Harm Reduction is what you want it to be. A few days ago the City and VIHA hosted a public meeting (July 19) and handed out material that posed this question, "What is harm reduction?"
The list included several examples of harm reduction, from straight ahead descriptions like, brushing your teeth, a healthy diet and using a condom during sex. Not a bad beginning to the list but what about supervised injection sites? The paper stated "(harm reduction) is not a supervised injection site (unless the community wants it to be)."
Has something happened on Vancouver Island since I left the land of BC ferry hostages. Last year while I was on the board of VARCS, (the best little non-profit AIDS service and support agency in Canada) in Victoria, the mayor was sounding very supportive of supervised injection sites...
"We've been hearing about people shooting up in the alleys, people shooting up in people's front yard, around people's businesses and schools. In order to deal with some of those problems, we do need a safe injection site." Mayor Alan Lowe, Mar 19 2004 (CBC Radio ~ Victoria needs safe injection site, says mayor.
Mayor Lowe does not stop there, in the same interview with CBC he adds ...
"We know that taking these people and throwing them in jail hasn't worked in the past 100 years. We need to do things differently. This is something that has proven to be successful. I will fight for it."
The Mayor clearly indicates he is supportive of making supervised injection sites part of the harm reduction effort in Victoria. The Mayor is even more decisive in this Canada Now News Clip, March 18, 2004.
The Mayor of Victoria was not expected by many to be supportive of the idea and received praise from then Victoria Civic Electors (VCE) city councilor, Rob Fleming. (Fleming was elected MLA for Victoria-Hillside in the last provincial election)
"I'm pleased that the mayor is an admirer and supporter of it (supervised injection site) and that there seems to be people from across the political spectrum and the community with an interest at looking at it," Fleming told the Mark Browne of the VicNews Weekend Edition, April 5, 2004
Lowe said some people have told him the city shouldn't be "going down this route." But when they hear about the needles on the street and addicts shooting up in front of downtown businesses, they change their tune, he said. City looks to drug strategy of Vancouver Times Colonist Friday, April 23, 2004
And earlier this year after returning from a trip to Europe Mayor Lowe said,
"If I had a wish list, I would like to see a safe injection site with housing, with a drop-in centre and with medical treatment." ~ Louise Dickson of the Times Colonist reported on May 15, 2005
"It's premature to talk about location and to say the City of Victoria will have one," Lowe told the TC in the same interview. "But I think it's the way to go... I don't think it will be that difficult to have the people of Victoria support it. Our entire council supports it. I think people realize enforcement is not working."
So far you would think that the entire Victoria City council supports the supervised injection site with the added support and medical services and efforts were well underway to have funding secured from the province and federal government and Health Canada approval for the injection site.
It is no doubt it was the leadership of VCE and councilors Fleming and Denise Savoie that City council started to address this issue seriously. Now Fleming is gone, and Savoie looks to have an excellent shot at being elected Victoria's MP, where is leadership to come from on this issue?
It's not coming from the current gang of VCE or the Mayor.
Mayor Lowe noted at the July 19 meeting that Vancouver's InSite facility was experiencing great success, but in the same sentence, he added that Victoria is not the Downtown Eastside. We need a "made-in-Victoria solution." My question here is what does this mean? Harm reduction isn't a safe-injection site, but it might be if the community says so? Safe-injection facilities are working in Vancouver, but they won't work here? What is the city saying? Does Mayor Lowe favour having a site here in Victoria or not?
One person at the meeting asked Lowe what others have avoided. Paul Lidgate, candidate for a VCE nomination asked the Mayor if he supported a stand alone safe injection site or an integrated health-care site like he saw in Europe?
The Mayor who only 8 weeks previously stated Victoria needed a safe injection site with the additional support and medical services responded somewhat differently this time. "The city needs to talk to people, a safe injection site is not yet what we're looking at." Lidgate restated what he heard the mayor say, "...that what I heard you say was that you (Mayor Lowe) didn't have a definitive answer on the question of whether we should have a safe-injection site." Mayor Lowe responded that was correct.
Just where is this city council at? The Mayor and councilors were happy in 2004 to have everyone believe they were all on board and moving toward adding a supervised injection site to the harm reduction services in Victoria.
Paul Lidgate told me in an interview Friday "I'm expressing the same frustration evident in the Weekend Edition's editorial of July 22, that continued waffling and fence-sitting on this issue is doing harm to the issue itself. I know we need to build community support before proceeding with a safe-injection site, and I know there would be a great deal of bureaucracy to overcome to make it a reality."
Carol Romanow long time Victoria activist and member of SOLID (Society of Living Intravenous Drug Users) asked, "How much longer can we wait for people to die? We need to stop talking. We need to simply start building and they will come."
Lidgate credits the progressive voices in the VCE for advancing the (safe-injection) issue and very likely pressed Mayor Lowe and others on council to address what might otherwise have been ignored.
Still Lidgate is concerned that some of those progressive voices may have backed away from this issue because of a possible public backlash. "Having put the issue on the agenda, progressive councilors should overcome partisanship and work with others on council to ensure the issue is properly and fully addressed, for the benefit of our city, for the sake of injection drug users, for all of us."
Lidgate a member of the City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Advisory committee raised the issue of a safe-injection site at the July 5, 2004 meeting to move the debate into the community. The matter was referred to the Mayor's advisory committee.
The question for voters in Victoria is one of what will happen next. Is this council hoping to put off the tough debate on this important issue until after the election? Voters will be electing people in the fall that will be making decisions on how the city advances harm reduction services and supports for drug users or if endless rounds of studies keep it from occurring.
Mayor Lowe and council have been supportive of advancing a harm reduction model similar to what the Mayor saw in Europe. The mayor has repeated referred to the successes in Vancouver. So why is VCE so alarmingly quiet as the Mayor backpedals just months before an election
This election is the time to have the debate with the people of Victoria. Councilors and the Mayor are supposed to lead.
Tags: Harm Reduction, Victoria, BC, Health, Drug use, HIV, Hepatitis, Drugs