Is the Conservative party trading lives for votes?
Like many issues, when it comes to drugs, The Conservative Party of Canada seems more interested in their political prospects than the well-being of those affected by their campaign strategy and policies.
Evidence and research into addiction and the effects of certain types of drug use has long pointed to a need for a different approach than focussing exclusively on the heavy-handed whack-a-mole law enforcement we were long used to. As addiction rates increase, public healthcare and law enforcement costs also increase, and it stands to reason that addressing some of the underlying issues will save some dollars while keeping the public safer. We’ve made progress on some fronts while most advocates suggest we have a long way to go.
Harm reduction has become one of the mainstays of conversation about improving drug policy and government’s role in protecting individuals and the public at large.
Vancouver’s InSite is a legal “supervised injection site” where clients can inject in a safe environment under the watch of health professionals. The clinic does not supply any drugs, and has medical staff and resources on hand to provide addiction treatment, mental health support and first aid. Fifteen years of data and a significant number of peer-reviewed studies indicate that the site had likely saved lives, reduced drug use and the spread of disease & HIV, and increased entry into addiction treatment. With InSite receiving the support of some of Canada’s leading health organizations, and a significant amount of scientific evidence on their side, many wish to bring similar programs to communities across Canada.
Months ago, Conservatives were circulating a petition in opposition to sites like these, claiming to ‘keep heroin out of our backyards’, right after introducing new rules that made it much more challenging to open safe injection sites.
Not only did the petition make predictably misleading statements about what these sites would do to communities and the leaders that support them, it featured a cheesy & ominous photograph where spent needles sat on the ground beside the feet of anonymous persons.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, that’s a thousand words worth of bullshit. Safe injection sites and needle disposal programs and the like serve many purposes, one of which is keeping needles from being disposed of improperly.
During a local debate at the Lambton College, I’m told Sarnia-Lambton candidate Marilyn Gladu took a question about harm reduction sites where she dismissed and characterized them as “tax dollars paying for drug use” and not being a good idea. (She also made some fairly ignorant remarks about marijuana usage, which were caught on video, joining a cavalcade of obnoxious statements from Conservative candidates on similar themes)
More recently, the Conservatives released a meme about “keeping dangerous drugs away from our children and out of our neighbourhoods,” claiming opposition parties want to make illegal drugs easier for children to access.
Setting aside the obnoxious fallacy about the focus of their opposition, they go on to explain on a landing page that they will “continue to build on the National Anti-Drug Strategy (they) started in 2006.” – Even then, Conservatives were at odds with themselves and evidence. In a 2005 statement, Harper used the same mischaracterization of harm reduction that Gladu recently did. Harper stated “We as a government will not use taxpayers’ money to fund drug use.” He went on to suggest that an alleged “rapid expansion of the drug trade” was somehow connected to the *tabling* of marijuana decriminalization legislation. Apparently debating policy in the House of Commons… causes underground drug economies to flourish?
While the Conservatives continued to contradict themselves with language about protecting communities and undermining the very things that will help them do that, the other major parties, the NDP and Green Party in particular, have been supportive of evidence-driven drug policy and harm reduction strategies.
In communities like Sarnia, where efforts from multiple organizations are being made to address high addiction rates and substance abuse and mitigate resulting costs and harm to public, we need leadership. Real human beings, real families are affected by these issues. Some lives are lost far too early in preventable circumstances, unable to receive the support they need while others are stigmatized into shadows. Even the most heartless among us can see the benefits in responsible drug policies, harm reduction and addiction support, even if the interest is purely economic.
When multiple agencies and levels of government work together, expending energy and dollars to better our community, the last thing we need is someone telling us they want to be our MP while towing the line for a party that has continually undermined progress towards safer communities. I value human life more than I value Stephen Harper or Marilyn Gladu’s political careers, and I hope you do too. -A
Copyright 2013 A.W. Young