Harm Reduction in Victoria

Victoria used to have a fixed-site needle exchange – it was underfunded, but it was something, and Victoria was taking steps towards SCS:

1987                    Fixed site needle exchange first opened in Victoria

2001                    the provincial government transferred responsibility for HIV services to the regional health           authorities, with Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) managing a $1.5 million budget for HIV services on Vancouver Island.

2007 (April)        Feasibility Study on ‘Supervised Drug Consumption’ Options in the City of Victoria is released (commissioned by VIHA and City of Victoria). The study suggests “such a step needs to be initiated now, as much talk and little tangible action has occurred to date.”

2007 (Oct)          ‘Mayor’s Task Force on Breaking the Cycle of Mental Illness, Addictions and Homelessness’ determines that “there is a need for small, properly staffed, supervised consumption site.” The commitments included, within six months (May, 2008), a Section 56 application for supervised consumption service delivery.

But then things got weird – the fixed-site was closed, mobile services were restricted, and the big three (Police, VIHA, City) stopped talking about SCS:

2007 (Fall)            Neighbourhood complaints about Cormorant fixed site Needle Exchange (NEX). Complaints were due to over-burdening of the service due to years of underfunding alongside a steady rise in clients, serving upwards of 2000 individuals by 2008.

The ‘Mayor’s Task Force’ prompted the development of integrated case-management teams including VICOT (Victoria Integrated Community Outreach Team), Pandora Assertive Community Treatment Team (PACT), Downtown ACT (DACT) and Seven Oaks ACT.  These teams aimed to reach out to the most challenging people to serve including those with complex mental health and addictions issues. In 2010, these teams claimed to have worked with 200 people and expected to expand to 300 by 2012.

2008, March         Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) purchases location on Pandora for the comprehensive NEX services recommended by the Mayor’s task force.

VIHA CEO Howard Waldner responds to neighbourhood complaints by putting a moratorium on plans for a new NEX, and by enforcing an informal “no-go zone”: restricting mobile needle-exchange workers from distributing safer drug use supplies in the blocks between Blanshard, Chambers, Balmoral and Yates streets.

** Harm Reduction Victoria forms (June NEX Vigil)

2008, May 31          Cormorant NEX closes

** Guerilla Needle Exchange in the “no-go” zone (Sept-Oct, 2008)

2008, Nov               Jamie Graham hired as Victoria’s new chief of police, 3 months after Graham is found guilty of ‘discreditable misconduct’ as Vancouver’s Police Chief, for his obstruction of RCMP investigations into police brutality and illegal confinement of DTES residents. Graham retired from the Vancouver Police to avoid disciplinary action, and was hired by the Victoria Police Board 4 days before Victoria’s Mayor (and chair of the police board) left office.

2009, Nov                VIHA announces fixed site NEX on Princess street. In response to neighbourhood complaints, VIHA disbands the NEX advisory committee, and announces a shift in policy towards distributive services that, in internal documents, VIHA admits don’t meet their provincial mandate for harm reduction services.

The NEX advisory committee suggests that VIHA’s requirement of board approval before consulting neighbours delays implementation and encourages neighbourhood resistance.

2010, March               Graham prohibits Const. David Bratzer from speaking publicly about harm reduction. This prohibition occurs for a conference that is outside of Bratzer’s hours of work, and on a subject endorsed by the city, VIHA and province of BC.

The Victoria Integrated Court (VIC) is established. The VIC is used by clients of the ACT and VICOT teams who are pushed through the court system quickly and efficiently. The Downtown Business Association is implicated in both the development of the court system and reaps the rewards of sentencing. The “Green Team” who clean up the streets downtown Victoria is made up of individuals who have been given community service sentences through the VIC.

And then things got worse – clearing the Pandora Green:

2010, Aug                The City of Victoria introduces Streets and Traffic Bylaw 10-061, section 103A, to clear out 900-block Pandora, in front of Our Place, where fixed-site services were supposed to have been, and a space to hang-out among the street community. Among other things:

– “(5) Between sunset of one day and sunrise on the next day, a person must not: (a) occupy a median by squatting, kneeling, sitting, or lying down on it; (b) stand or walk on a median except while lawfully crossing a street”

2010, Nov                   StreetLink emergency shelter closes and Rock Bay Landing (RBL) opens up, moving a large emergency shelter outside the inner city and to the outskirts, bringing people with it.

Victoria Police order Pandora Pharmacy to cease distribution of safe injection supplies for people who use drugs, citing a ‘no-service’ or no-go zone the police say they have an agreement about with VIHA.

**Beddow Ctr formed (June 2010) ~ a peer-run society working towards the provision of SCS.

**Allies of Drug War Survivors forms out of HRV (Sept 2011) ~ focus on allied work alongside organizers who identify as past or present illicit drug users.

And the bullshit continues:

2011, March               City of Victoria pressures VIHA to return to the table to set up fixed-site services. VIHA CEO Waldner responds that VIHA will return so long as the City, Police and VIHA all agree on harm reduction best practices, “including the reduction of public consumption of drugs and improving public order.”

** Community Solidarity for Harm Reduction Week (2011, May) ~ peer convergence

** VIPIRG’s policing and poverty report is released which shows the incessant ticketing, harassment and treatment of people who are street-involved in Victoria. A campaign begins to address the policing of poverty.

2012, June            VIHA announces a proposed model of service delivery for the “Hard to Reach” populations in Victoria. Creating a new category of people, VIHA suggests the need to modify services to reach the 100 “hardest to reach people who pose a risk to themselves and/or the public”. This model was created with no consultation from people that would use the service or front line workers who work with this population.

2012, Dec              VIHA announces harm reduction ‘hubs’ on Johnson street and Cook street.  VIHA’s strategy is to avoid the use of ‘needle exchange’ language, and there is no mention of SCS.

Common knowledge is that nothing about SCS can be said so long as Jamie Graham is Chief of Police. He is due to retire in Jan 2014.

In 2012, there were over 30 deaths reported in the street community.

Together, we can take the lead in challenging discrimination in the provision of health services in Victoria, and in getting policing out of health services. It’s time for change.