Paige Smith 0:07
Hello, everyone. Welcome to our latest episode of our Below the Radar conversation series. Today we talk with Ann Livingston, community organizer and drug user activist. She is the co-founder of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, and is currently the Executive Project Coordinator of the BC Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors. With our host Am Johal, Ann discusses the two current public health emergencies, the COVID 19 pandemic, and the fentanyl contamination drug deaths in BC. They then examine the stark differences in government response to each of these crises. We hope you enjoy the episode.
Am Johal 0:53
Hi there, welcome to Below the Radar. Great that we have my friend Ann Livingston, joining us today she's one of the amazing organizers and founders of the Vancouver area network of drug users. I first met and back in the late 90s. At that time, she was working with Bud Osborn and many people, having meetings every Saturday, at a place above the living room drop in activity center at the corner of Powell and Jackson. And that was when a public health emergency was declared back in 1996, or 97. It's a very different scenario right now. But a public health emergency was declared in 2016. We've had contamination of the drug supply. We've had 175 People die in June of this year and in the previous month 171. That's the most people who have died of drug related deaths ever per month in British Columbia. 5731 people have died since 2016. This is of course happening at the same time as COVID-19, during the pandemic, where another public health emergency is declared where government measures have been taken much more directly and much more quickly than it has with the other public health emergency. So Ann, I'm just wondering if we can just start if you could introduce yourself a little bit?
Ann Livingston 2:19
Yeah, um, I've lived in the, my name's Ann Livingston, I lived in the Downtown Eastside for going on 30 years now. And I live in the Four Sisters Housing Co Op, and I first started working as a volunteer on welfare with little kids. And anyway, so we formed VANDU with a, actually, Garth Mullen says the NDP didn't do anything. They did one thing. VANDU got funding, and it was from a reduction in hospitalization fund that they had to do community work that would reduce hospitalizations, and it was a very small program, which has been discontinued now. Anyway, it was a step. Once we got going, we really really got going so they couldn't deny us funding. They tried to cut our funding. The work I'm doing currently is with the BC Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors. I was, I worked as the Executive Project Coordinator at VANDU for around 10 years and I used to just go to their board meetings. I'm still like a friendly volunteer or whatever. But the BC Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors was finally funded last fall, we got our April money in November, I think they were dragging their feet. And we're starting a network of drug user groups throughout the province. So we've got 10 drug user groups funded through our group right now. And we're the COVID has really made a terrible difference in being able to start user groups because much of the work that we're doing is COVID work. And when we asked for COVID money to replenish our overdose efforts, we were denied. So the basic premise of the work I do is to get drug users to be conscious of their power and to become activists and to see the politics of what's going on and to lobby for change. So many, many drug users are not resistant to that, but they only know service provision. So they want to do service provision and they want real jobs. And thankfully, those jobs are existing, but we're just getting going with these groups. So we've got a group in Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, Nanaimo is just starting to work. Victoria has always had a group but we plumped up some of their funding so they're part of our network. Quesnel, actually we're funding two groups there and Prince George we funded pounds to make sure they had a location to do their, I think unsanctioned. OPS but who knows? I'm a little out of touch with them. There's a REDUN group which is the rural empowered drug user network and Nelson and they're getting a chapter in Kimberley Cranbrook has just set one up, so they're calling themselves East Kootenay and Kelowna area network of drug users is very small but just getting going.
Ann Livingston 5:00
Mostly doing, the workers are working in different harm reduction initiatives about at least they're beginning to form themselves into a group. I don't know who I've left out. But anyway, there's a, there's a, it takes tremendous effort. And we've done this just since November with a lot of chaos. So that's for the 10 years leading up to the funding. I stayed on welfare. I have a disabled child who recently died. But my father died last year. So I was very much engaged. And I still have a child at home. So I did the single mother on welfare. So I'm a real expert on welfare. And it's, so I have a lot of intimate knowledge of the intersection between welfare, drug use, harm reduction, prison, courts, you know, it's a tremendously complex mess that's been made. And they've created a perfect storm of shitty policy that's causing these record high overdoses.
Am Johal 6:00
Back in the late 90s Ann when you were organizing, where, you know, prior to government sanctioning sites like Insite, you were doing work on the ground, which was essentially setting up sites that weren't government sanctioned as a form of resistance. And so there's a long history in Vancouver of people taking action, with or without government support. I'm wondering if you can just outline a little bit some of the work that you were doing at that time, because it scaled up and I can remember the times when you guys came, you and Bud and others from VANDU to meet with government ministers giving them an earful in government, but that that was the culmination of years of work on the ground, where government wasn't listening.
Ann Livingston 6:47
Yeah the first project wasn't VANDU. It was with a group of activists. And we originally were meeting in Cana and we rented a small space in the Downtown Eastside and began meeting there. And it was just shocking the response we got, for me anyway, as an organizer, and I was just, you know, baking cookies, we didn't have any money. I think John Kirby said we could have $100 a month to hold one meeting a month. And it was just so inadequate, we just started meeting every second week, and then no one could remember which week was on. So we just met every week. And then hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of drug users came and I took notes, and I just really taken a course about tools for peace, I brought these Nicaraguans in about techniques for organizing where, you notetake and you start to really tease out what the most urgent issues are. And then the actions that the group takes are really their actions, you don't just come to a neighborhood like this and say, you know, you guys are all dying, you know, I've got this plan, we're all going to do this. You have to really engage with them. So it's their action, and it really changes their minds. It's this kind of introspective idea that their addiction isn't because of their own fuckup. It's, you know, I my, you know, people stand on a street corner, oppressed and ashamed. And they're using, you know, if only we could get heroin now, but, you know, they think it's their fault that poppies are grown in Afghanistan. But I think when people start to take a more broader political view of how they became addicted, why is the drug war continuing how it feeds into the criminal justice system, it was a consciousness raising very similar to the consciousness raising, I remember going on around the women's movement and getting abortions. So the thing that I learned from my mother, who I don't think said a swear word in her whole life and was very goody two shoes and had actually a master's degree in social work and worked in Saanich mental health as a psychiatric social worker. She was breaking the law. And she was, you know, so I had a different impression about what breaking the law was. And what she was doing was abortion counseling, which was illegal. And, of course, Morgentaler was doing abortions, it just came naturally to say, well, we should just do an overdose prevention site. Because there was no other way to save people's lives. It's, it was shocking the number of overdoses occurring in the 90s in this neighborhood, certainly. And even like Prince Rupert had a tremendous high rate, you'd find pockets of it all over the place.
Ann Livingston 9:21
Doing that the overdose prevention site was a tremendously empowering thing for the people who came there and used the site. They don't know whether to shit or go blind when you do that, because if they come and arrest you this is people need to understand policy in that sense. If you can get into court for running an injection site during a pandemic of overdoses or whatever you'd call it, you will be found innocent you are allowed to break the law to save lives and that's why I would say after running maybe six or seven of these so we would we if we had the so so there was one on Powell Street and it was called the back alley and the police came in and, you know, they shut it down. And we were the bad bad people or people relapsed because of us and like the horrible day ass and DERA. And all those groups hated us for doing it, although we initially had their support. And I just kept saying you're missing the boat on this, this is a huge health care thing. And they ignored us. And then the next time we got funding, I think it was a couple of years later. And Bud Osborne was key to that in the sense that he had a tremendously powerful way of speaking through his poetry. So the whole kind of art scene and people wanted, you know, he was cool, you know, people wanted to be associated with that. So it was a really open minded approach. And I think that's true of arts anyway, we need in these movements, you always need the people that know all the data, you need the voice of the actual person who you can't listen to them without starting to cry, they described, you know, holding someone in their arms who died yesterday, you know, that kind of thing. And then you need this other very powerful voice to ensure that the public gets public education really. And when when surveys were done, I think Bud was quoted in the Vancouver Sun 23 times in one year. And those would have been the big bad years, the rate of overdoses in 1993. And into I think 95 was bad. Didn't get per capita. So the rate of overdose didn't get again get touched until 2016. But what was ironic was that Insite opened, and then they had to fight about Insite in the Supreme Court and they won the case. And everyone kept saying, well, they're going to open everywhere and no other injection site opened. I mean, Dr. Peter had an in house one, but you know, that's this, you know, if you weren't a member of Dr. Peter, you couldn't go there. So it wasn't open to the public. So I don't even think you know what I mean, it's great. And I'm, you know, but anyway, it didn't rock my world. And the next time we did anything, we did it again, illegally. And I think the lessons you take from this is you don't get anything unless you just do it. And you create this huge problem for the government, because they know what you're doing is the right thing that they ought to be doing. And they're not doing it because they just keep making more bureaucratic barriers for themselves. If you go to meetings of bureaucrats, they always talk about all the things they can't do. And if you go to meetings of the most, you know, disenfranchised people living in alleys, and they'll always talk about all the things we can do this and we can do that, like very enthusiastic. So it's very, it's important to go with grassroots movement and it's consciousness raising that's going to change it and public health, public education, it's tremendously important that people understand politicians understand Horgan should understand that people in certainly in Vancouver, I don't know if I can speak for the rest of the province do not want to be from that province that doesn't look after their people well enough that hasn't reacted that has grieving mothers and abandoned, you know, orphan children. Can you imagine how many orphan children there are by now. It's shocking. And we meet these orphan children if they then also have addiction issues themselves and join our groups. It's not something that can be tinkered with, it needs to be boldly confronted, and move forward on no matter how painful and upsetting the conversation about it is.
Am Johal 13:21
The more recent situation has really been as a result of the contaminated drug supply, fentanyl, into the drug system itself. And so with the added piece of the pandemic, disrupting traditional networks of street drug supply, that's impacted things even further. So I'm just wondering, from your point of view, if there was two or three governments could do two or three policy changes that government could do right now that would have material effects on the ground, what would they be?
Ann Livingston 13:57
Well, I don't know if you're aware, as soon as COVID hit, they made a risk mitigation document that allowed doctors to prescribe a certain number of drugs to people who qualified and the uptake has been 1,700 people out of probably 50,000 People who would be eligible. And that the moral of that story is never let the College of Physicians and Surgeons be in charge of anything, they're useless. They will only plump up doctors and it has nothing to do with saving lives. So you know, if only we could take legal action but the all of this stuff that's being prescribed, none of its injectable and none of its smokable so it's in some ways people aren't getting it for that reason, but everyone I know who's tried to get it has been punished by the person they've asked for. Their doctor won't give them the carries they used to have in a caring and you can take away your prescription. Health Canada ordered that all prescriptions in Canada have 23 Day takeaways because they don't want people gathering at pharmacies. You know, this is part of a COVID thing and these doctors are completely disobeying that. The other thing that they could do right away is they have this special access. So I don't know every now and then on the news, you'll hear about some kid who's got a super rare disease, and he needs to be saved. And it's super costly and they could get special access, if they would just cover it by PharmaCare. And what's happening in BC right now is they will not cover heroin, under PharmaCare. And because of the complexity of the molecules that are being produced everywhere in the world now, including all drugs, not just so, right now there's a an alert for crystal meth that has methenolone in it or something. I don't know the name, I'm terrible at pronouncing these things. But it's poison, it'll kill ya. And it's because the crystal meth hasn't been made properly. And it's something that's, that has to be broken down to crystal meth, but it's sitting there as a contaminant. And those are that's new in a way, you know, you don't necessarily have to warn crystal meth people that their crystal meth isn't really crystal meth. So it's happening with every supply that we have. And fentanyl is a small amount of like, no one's going to grow fields and fields of poppies, when they can pour some chemicals together and make 10 times the profits, maybe 100 times the profits with the chemicals. So we're getting fentanyl in and, of course, every effort the police make to try and block this coming in, and the federal government trying to secure the borders actually kills more people. So it's a really distressing and uninformed way of moving forward with it. And we have not been able to convince Farnworth to back off. He has constantly said, No, we're going to ramp up our arrests of dealers will every drug users a dealer, just hang around the Downtown Eastside for a few minutes, and you'll see the activity of the police is not to arrest dealers, who they might even be afraid of who might well be armed, or they might be paying off the police, the police can choose the one they want on that. And I'm just saying I know what I'm talking about. I observe it all the time. And they take the low hanging fruit they get people with two rock and charge them with possession for the purpose of trafficking. So even these promises not to arrest for possession. They don't do that and they won't stop doing it. Dave Murray had two rock on him and he got, it took him three years to work through the court system because he wouldn't back down. And he pled, you know, not guilty. And it's shocking when you see the amount of money and paperwork and effort that goes in because he's in pigeon park with two rocks and some undercover cop comes up to him, begging him to sell him a rock and he finally goes well here you can just have one and then the next second he's in a chokehold. This is how if the average Canadian doesn't understand this is going on. Yes, it is going on. And it continues to go on. And you can't believe what the police are saying they need to be monitored very, very closely. And the tangle of the municipal level of policing versus the level that Farnworth has. Farnworth is in charge of our policing, the Police Board and the mayor and our municipality, who pays for it, and pays plenty for it and always pays more every year, year after year after year, has no control over our policing policies. That is a provincial thing. And also federal, the federal government will be a federal prosecutor on any drug charge, but what we find is they'll drop the drug charges, and then they just got people engaged in these failing to comply with conditions of release, which no one can comply with, because they're stupid. I mean, if you live in an alley, and they tell you you have a nine o'clock curfew, exactly how is it you're going to be inside by nine and they're absolutely predictable. Police make tons of overtime hours on the so this is one whole end of the problem. But what I'm trying to say to this Provincial Government in terms of health, Minister Dix has been completely silent and hopeless on this for many, many years. I've never, and they could get special access to heroin, you know what they say? It costs too much. It costs too much. So, junky lives aren't worth it, they don't matter. And that and the parents of these kids are really test. So you know, I'm thinking what we need is a legal strategy, I think they need to start suing and saying that it's very obvious that they're not doing what can be done, you can get special, special access to heroin. And if you'll make an application for it, and PharmaCare would just put up the money to pay for it. We've got people on heroin, there's a big myth in BC that we've got heroin prescription, well, we've got the people that were left from the controlled trials for heroin, and the only reason they were able to stay on heroin is because we organize the SNAP group and we're like militant in their face. No, you're not going to take a group of people, put them on heroin, and then just dump them after you finish studying them. So that was a big fight that Dave Murray formed SNAP. Anyway, VANDU was certainly part of that and the BC Association of People on Opiate Maintenance. And we won that battle but it only kept the people in the trial on the heroin, and that heroin is being paid for by the Health Authority. And then there's about 12 people. I'm not sure how many a very small number of people on heroin on 135A at the clinic there and that heroin is being paid for by Fraser health authority. And then when they get into this battle about it, we're going to get more heroin out there. Because no one seems to be moved. As I said, they are always, always telling us what they can't do.
Ann Livingston 20:20
They can do special access, I looked it up, and they could cover it on PharmaCare, it needs to be listed as one of the medications they'll cover, and they need to cover some proper stimulant. So the big victory of the risk mitigation guidelines was that for the first time I've ever seen, you could prescribe either Ritalin or dexedrine to people that were dependent on stim- Were using them, they just said, if you're using them come and get them. And they're not injectable, you can't inject either of them. If you inject drugs that aren't injectable, you're actually putting yourself at risk for endocarditis, and soft tissue infections and chalk lung, where the chalk in the pills comes out in your lungs, and it'll kill you believe me, it'll cost way more money looking after people who are very, very ill. So we're not having any logical conversation at all. There's no, I don't know how to call Bonnie Henry, I would have called her months ago. And I don't know how I've never spoken to Judy Darcy, I just think it's shocking. But to go back to the politics of this, I found a book about Ernie Winch, do you remember this? It came out, but I found a book for this book being in for $1. And I don't know why I grabbed it. But anyway, the CCF had a plan to do heroin prescriptions in Vancouver. In 1939, 1939! So in case anyone's thinking, this is some new thing and it's too difficult for the left to understand. They should read this chapter in Ernie Winch's book, not sure how to get it out but because I know there's a real political thing. But it would appear that the recovery people there's this sort of classic sense of recovery, but that, and that's that what people need to do to really have a good life, if they've been involved in substance use disorder, any kinds of addictions, whatever you want to call it, or even casual drug use, is to become abstinent. And what's happening now, if you look carefully at anyone who's a spokesperson for abstinence based programs, it's not your average AA goer or NA goer. It's people who work in a very lucrative, well, I don't know, if they're lucrative, I don't know, if they're making any money, I just know how much they cost to go to. And they'll be $35,000 a month to go to some of these very posh, lovely recovery places. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, I think people need the choice, you should be able to go there, if you want to go there. But it's not covered, they'll take a couple of welfare recipients a month on some, you know, ration of people, they're going to allow to go to that. And but the bigger problem is, and you'll hear this from Patty Daily. There's a lot of people in recovery that are dying, because you can't have a safe relapse. And everyone will say, and you will hear it all the time. No one ever doesn't say to sense relapse is part of recovery. Well, now relapse is is you're dead, because you go to buy something, you're not in touch. And that's what we've been trying to say, let's make peace with these people. Everybody who's released from a recovery center should be given the name of the drug user groups need to be strengthened. We're just getting going. We are scrambling. And but they need to be told, if you're going to use go see these drug users in this town, wherever you're closest to or phone this number. Because we've now got a hotline, we've got an 800 number for anyone to call and say, you know, Where can someone meet someone? And are we going to, because if they can find drugs that are safe, or even if they find unsafe drugs, but they've got a buddy system to do them in, these are informal networks of support, this is truly, what do they call it? A fellowship. And that's what we're trying to do with the fellowship, with the drug users, we don't want to just say five users are going to get funded in, I don't know, Penticton. And then they're going to walk around, pick up needles or run a little OPS. And then they stuff all the money in their pockets. And they're the great workers and they have all the drugs, their drug users or their clients. Well, that may well be a fine thing. But you're also going to need a drug user group that doesn't have any kind of, that that says to everybody. You know why you're a member of this group because you use drugs and that's usually the reason they are excluded from everything. So they're kind of startled, but then you just begin this process of saying, Keep networking with people if you don't know where to buy drugs, someone will know if you're ever going to use drugs, call somebody. You know, just keep going with it until we can get these things going and you can't find something that would interfere with that more than COVID. So, a lot of our initiatives have when COVID hit OPS has locked their doors, needle exchanges locked their doors, I was just shocked. We are all like in some kind of trauma mode. So we were trying to like I was filling my car up with supplies and driving them to Chilliwack, you know what I mean. We were opening a storefront that wasn't ready to open, that was all busted up inside and didn't have a bath, you know, the bathroom worked. But you know what I mean? I'm just saying we really, really suffered through this. And then when we went and said, Can we have some money because we just did COVID. We're really seeing our efforts now, doing all the COVID work with a certain group of people that are excluded from everywhere, because a typical story tends to be oh, well, you know, we've got funding for or we've got housing for people like you, and then we find out that we now have another level of people that have get kicked out of that housing, you know, and and there's, there always seems to be that so we're always ready to catch at the very bottom to say, well, we'll try and stick up for you, we'll try and get you back into that housing. But the other part of this that's so really odd, is simple things like making sure that everybody who has substance use disorder gets a disability cheque, not an oh, employable cheque. And I don't know if people know how rotten our welfare system is like the US it's, it's not what it was. So when you are on a certain level of welfare, you have to prove that you're looking for work in six weeks, or they cut you off. So many, many, like people that come to OPS's don't have welfare. And you asked, like, when we did a survey way back, it was almost 30% don't have welfare at all. So even if I'm like magic, and I know how to make a few phone calls, even I was just a volunteer, I was not employed, it was all run by volunteers, that I can get them housing, they have no way to pay for that housing, because then we have to get them on welfare, and then get them housing. So we've got a very poor understanding of the position people really are in. And there's many, many things that may seem like small things to the regular person, but will completely flatten the person who's trying to get their life back together.
Am Johal 26:51
Now, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called on the federal government to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal consumption. I was just on a panel yesterday where Garth Mullen sort of critiqued decriminalization and there were some questions from the audience as well about the difference between decriminalization and legalization. If you were the policymaker, and from your vantage point, what would your call would be for government around the, you know, when the chiefs of police called for decrim, I think from from your point of view, you'd likely have some critiques around that, but what would the policy regime look like that would have material effects on the ground?
Ann Livingston 27:36
Well, decrim means that they're going to give out tickets. So I, VANDU, is a little famous for tickets, so I'm a little more knowledgeable about tickets than I ever wanted to be. But so here's how it works with tickets. If decrim came in, and you just got a ticket for possessing drugs, if you're middle class, you're going to pay the ticket, right? So we would save a lot of people from getting criminal records, and that's a good thing. But the people at the bottom aren't going to pay some huge fine, they don't have the money to get through yesterday. They're not even on welfare a ton of them. So it's a ploy for the police to continually arrest and re arrest the same people for failing to comply for conditions of release. Because much to my shock, even a jaywalking ticket. We'll eventually they'll keep notifying you to come to court and you don't you don't pay the fine, then you don't come to court. And then they'll issue what's known as a bench warrant and yield stupid legal system. I have no idea what that is. [alarm in background] But anyway, that's my son's alarm going off. Okay, so anyway, once you got, haven't paid a ticket, now there's a bench warrant, and now you will be arrested for something that is a crime. You have to pay these tickets or you have to show up in court. It's contempt of court. Contempt of court is a serious matter. And I have always thought in my life Oh, bullshit. And then I thought, no it's really serious. Those judges do not like this at all. So then you're in court and you're charged another couple of charges. I don't know what they are, they're bullshit charges for poor people for failing to show up in court or failing to comply with conditions or failing to meet with some probation officer or failing to failing to on and on and on. 70% of the people in jail in this province and across the country as well are in jail waiting to see a judge because they won't give them a release and they won't give them release. I mean, sometimes it's because you're the bacon brothers, but other and sometimes it's because you beat your wife so I'm not saying to get away from this. But it shouldn't be there for people who have failed to comply with previous conditions and can't be trusted to be released and show up in court because they're gonna miss the court date. Well, my position is of course they're gonna miss the court date. It's bullshit charges anyway, they aren't even criminals. They didn't actually do a crime crossing the street or getting a ticket or you know what I mean, so this we need to be very, very careful with ticketable offences and it's getting people away from the discussion about legalizing drugs and regulating the drugs. And that's the big, big task at hand. It's the task we all have to do to try and educate the public. And we need way more soirees. That was one of the great things. I've read a few poems, and then this huge drug policy discussion would break out and we knew our stuff. We made sure we knew our stuff. And we brought people along and it's so weird that we have heroes from the most right wing rotten governments, Terry Lake, who declared Oh, this OPS is legal. And man OPS's. And that was just me and Chris Ewart and Sarah in an alley with nothing. I was, I was pulling up, I was on welfare. So I get the stipends for working at the street market. And it would say, if you stayed there, you were in charge for 12 hours or something, you get 100 bucks. So take the 100 bucks and divide it up into stipends. And if people came there to use your drugs, and they seemed remotely capable, I'd say look, I gotta go pick up my kid. So here's the keys. You're in charge. Like maybe I knew that they knew how to do an overdose. And we were begging for Narcan. I can't even describe it to you anyway, though. That's how I recruited volunteers. Because people really came to their best selves. People were very frightened. There was no exaggerating how many people were just dropping, and we told people screaming for Narcan or overdose. And you'd run down and open your Narcan kit and it was empty because you'd already used it. So then we started with don't let the ambulance guy go unless he gives you more Narcan. We're walking around the neighborhood. And for some reason, there was a difficult time to get Narcan and trying to bully the Portland to give me some of the BC centre for Disease Control anyway, was we can't you know, these are situations where people don't realize how these changes come about. They come about because you just say "no way, not on my shift". And then I think you have to use every capable capability and network really, really well. And that's what we're not doing right now. You know, Donald MacPherson, Susan Boyd, you, a bunch of SFU students, anybody who wants to help, should be able to go and have these policy discussions. So we're up to date. These molecules and drugs that are changing, they're changing all the effing time. We've got now got what is it? It's not, it's benzos. Benzodiazepines are a very serious addiction, a very difficult withdrawal. That's all dumped now in the fentanyl. So I don't you know, the thing that pops into my head, I don't know what other people think.
Ann Livingston 32:37
Mildly the overdoses went down when the fentanyl came. I mean, when the benzos were put in, because people just slept. fentanyl, you just use it. It's like the crack of opiates, you use it and it wears off very quickly, and you use it again. But when it hits you, it hits you hard. So each time you use it, you're at risk for an overdose. And you're injecting four or eight times a day, many, many times a day more than heroin. So now when the benzos come along, people are. I just see all these people snoring in the alleys and at first we're just freaked you know, you walk to them, and then you realize they're not overdosed, but you can't really wake them up either. So anyway, that was the benzos. But now, people are benzo dependent. They're going to go through terrible benzo withdrawal without it. So would we just please fix this mess? Before we end up with many more predictable, endless numbers of stupid things like now we're gonna have to get a benzo program and a benzo detox and benzo prescription. Like if we could just get at it. I think, and this is personally my stuff, I think you have to go back to it being plant based, because I don't think we can win with pharmaceuticals and the war of molecules. So I don't know if people are aware, if you have a molecule and you modify it, and that one molecule was illegal, the new molecule you've added a I don't know acid to group two or something. It's a chemistry war, now it's not illegal, because it's not listed on the drug laws, that that drug is illegal. So they're constantly doing this and they create more and more harm doing this. We're getting poisoned MDA, we're getting like everybody gets more and more and more at risk through this. So I think we need to have a public education campaign, because I think there's a certain kind of arrogance that people have, you know, oh, well, I could be affected by COVID. But it's, you know, you got to be a sort of a junkie, you know, that kind of stigma, you've got to be one of those people to be affected by the overdoses. That is not true at all. And anyone who thinks that they couldn't happen in their family is just hubris before the fall. You are just telling yourself lies. This is an incredible public health risk, and it needs to be dealt with. And we need those really sobering conversations. And we should be in all of the, you know, community centers doing this as soon as you know, everyone's distanced and put your damn mask on. I'm trying to think of the mayor that we had, you know, he was some very right wing guy, and he did the right thing on this issue. Philip Owen, so Phillip Owen like why is he our hero? Why can't we have some heroes on the left? I'm just pleading with people for God's sake. And I know psycorps has been trying to get the NDP party to pass some of this stuff so that we can put pressure. There's no conversations. I can't get a conversation with anybody ever and I get sometimes get very slow and reluctant replies, but I think that the NDP should be revving up for this. Any party that takes this on is going to win because I mean, even iced teas, Leslie McBain, because what's that woman's name, Christy Clark used to put her arm around her all the time. And, you know, like be on side with these moms, you know what I mean? And I was like Jesus you're gonna win the election for God's sake. Anyway, I'm just saying that people need to get better informed, we need these arguments and dialogues to go on. The abstinent people need to come on side with harm reduction, they still do this, oh it should be tough love, and the more they suffer, the more likely they are to succeed. None of that's true. There's no evidence to support any of it. The other thing that's really quick win is they've got to do something like 48% of the people in Vancouver Coastal Health are being found and supported housing or private SROs. And there has to be a guest policy that doesn't kill people. The other thing, honestly, every day, I have to slog through another pile of COVID bla bla bla bla bla, and honestly, you know, there's as much misinformation going on just saying, if I said something about COVID, and called CBC they go, Oh, really, you have a PhD? Sure, we'll put you on, you know, anyway, she needs to give an update, we want to know where these people are found. When we're running user groups, what's the whole point of setting up a network of drug user groups, if we can't find out? I don't care if you don't, don't give me their names. I don't give a damn. But we, you know, is a shady lane arrest home in North Vancouver, there's been this many cases and this many deaths, what the hell, if they can say that and not get sued, they can tell us where these overdoses are. And at least the kind of users that are really motivated to do this organizing work that we're doing, we can come in with a plan. Okay, I heard it's here. Let's go there. You know what I mean? Like to be activists on the ground, you need to be able to go where it is, and we should be getting these updates every day? Why is it not public knowledge? If it's, it's fine for us to know where every damn case of COVID is in the province? Why don't we know where every overdose is? And I mean, weekly. And that, you know, I also and I've already prepared, they said, Well, you know, we don't get the, we don't get all of the tests, they send it away to get a complete set of what was in their urine and blood of that dead person. Well, I'm pretty sure there's a pretty strong clue when you can see that. And by the way, people are now dying, more of smoking than injecting. And this needs to be made much more clear. And there should be no injection site, or OPS that does not allow smoking, like for heaven's sakes, anyways. And people go to their rooms and smoke if you can't smoke at the injection site, like obviously, but anyway, you can see at the site of the dead person, what's happened because people go down, like they just bam, they go down and whatever they were just last doing, there'll be a needle, if they're injecting there'll be tinfoil and whatever and whatever's left, right, there. It is, you could use words like alleged or suspected or like, you know, they can hedge their bets on it. But we need this information. And I think that they'll be seen as heroes, this will not be a bad thing. I don't know why they don't do it. And we iceguard says, we now know how they respond to public health emergencies with incredible detail, with incredible rigor. And except if it's junkies, they can just fuck off and die. Like what else can you conclude from this? So that and then I think, just on my personal thinking, we've seen action before when we took legal action. When we've gone for a lawsuit we sued the you know, VANDU tried to sue Health Canada, and I think Conroy was our and then Insite suit, and they put them together and then they dropped VANDU's suit. We were saying that the drug laws are killing people, but it never got heard. And we didn't have a high cooperation level between the lawyers. But anyway, I'm just saying we need to have strategy sessions. Let's do what works. The idea that we're just going to sit around and count dead bodies and weep is not acceptable.
Am Johal 39:35
Ann thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar and thank you for all the incredible work you do. Hopefully there's going to be a sustained conversation on this to move the public policy dial so thank you.
Ann Livingston 39:47
And just if anyone is interested on August 15th there is a huge march in the Downtown Eastside. So look for it on Facebook, or under VANDU or any of the user groups. You'll see it there and come down and join us.
Paige Smith 40:04
Thanks again to Ann Livingston for joining us on this episode of our Below the Radar conversation series. Below the Radar is created by SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement and is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. As always, we want to thank the team that puts the show together, including myself, Paige Smith, Fiorella Pinillos, Melissa Roach, Kathy Feng, and Jackie Obungah. David Steele is the composer of our theme music. And thank you for joining us. Tune in next time for a brand new episode of Below the Radar.