Monday, October 28, 2013


This piece was a Vancouver Sun op-ed. It says a lot about why the DTES continues to be a hell hole. Add to this a recent report from a friend that the number of long-time clean and sober Narcotics Anonymous celebrants has markedly declined since the opening of Insite. Read on...

 Opinion: City plan for DTES ill-conceived

 Proposal to allow only social housing and rental units will keep area crime-ridden and impoverished
Opinion: City plan for DTES ill-conceived

Downtown Eastside poverty activists and their supporters rally to decry the gentrification of the DTES and to protest against the impending construction of condominiums and high-end restaurants in the area.

Photograph by: Jason Payne Jason Payne , PNG

Do you think there should be neighbourhoods in Vancouver where new rental housing is not permitted?

Do you think there should be neighbourhoods in Vancouver where new ownership housing is not permitted?

I pose these questions because the recent Vancouver city council report on neighbourhood planning proposes zoning changes in the Downtown Eastside to effectively prevent any new ownership housing for the foreseeable future.

More specifically, new residential developments would require 60 per cent social housing and 40 per cent rental units. This would be a departure from the current policy allowing a broader mix of tenures with 20 per cent social housing and 80 per cent rental and/or affordable ownership housing.

According to the staff report, this recommendation follows extensive planning consultation in the community that has involved the city manager, general manager community services, general manager planning and development services, director of social policy, and assistant directors of housing and planning and staff.

In my opinion, this proposal is outrageous and ill-conceived from a community social planning perspective.

It is extremely poor social engineering, and if approved, would allow the DTES to remain the worst crime-ridden and impoverished ghetto in any Canadian city.

A zoning bylaw prohibiting home ownership would be a contradiction of everything planners know about creating healthy neighbourhoods. To the best of my knowledge, it would be the first time in North America that a municipal bylaw creates a rental zone, where residents are not allowed to buy a new home.

This proposal is also wrong from various financial perspectives.

Today, there are limited senior government funds for social housing, and increases are unlikely. Rich Coleman, the provincial minister responsible for housing, recently told an Urban Development Institute luncheon he intends to limit funding for new social housing projects to only those in greatest need, namely the homeless and others suffering from mental illness and addictions.

Coleman prefers to see provincial funding go toward shelter allowances for needy households so they can be better integrated into existing buildings, without everyone knowing who is living on government assistance. He adds this approach will also house four times as many people for the same dollars.

I also question how much rental housing will be built under the new zoning. While Vancouver politicians boast about the recent increase in new rental housing starts, in nearly every case, these projects have proceeded because the city has granted exceptional density bonuses and/or forgiven the development cost charges that are normally collected to pay for much-needed community amenities.
So one might ask, given the questionable economics and contradiction with professional planning wisdom, why would city staff be recommending this approach?

To answer this question, one needs to examine the politics of the DTES.

From my experience as a founding director of the Building Community Society, a DTES non-profit organization formed to improve living conditions for local residents, a very small number of activists have a remarkable level of influence in the community.

While I was volunteering, they opposed a neighbourhood spring cleanup, which I hoped would have had a positive effect like the successful “broken windows” initiative in New York.

They even opposed asking the government for an increase in the shelter component of welfare, claiming this would simply put more money in the pockets of landlords.

More significantly, they consistently opposed any new condominium housing, even in mixed tenure developments like Woodward’s.

They claimed it would lead to gentrification and attract new residents who would make local residents feel uncomfortable.

Sadly, these same activists appear to have convinced city staff that condominiums should be banned, despite the reality that there is so much government-funded social housing in the area, low-income households will never be forced out to make way for the gentry.

While local residents should have a say in the future of the DTES, I believe the rest of us, especially those who like me are disgusted and ashamed of what continues to be allowed to happen to this neighbourhood, should speak up as well.

Council has now agreed to extend the DTES community consultation until Jan. 31.

Meanwhile, I would encourage every Vancouver resident to take a walk around Hastings and Main and consider whether a ban on allowing people to purchase homes in this neighbourhood really seems like a sensible planning approach.

If you agree it is not, you should instruct council to direct city staff to come forward with a more thoughtful, considered, and positive plan; one which might hopefully contribute to the transformation of the DTES into a truly healthy and diverse community.

Michael Geller is a registered architect and planner. From 1974-77, as manager, social housing for CMHC, he helped create a number of social housing projects in the DTES.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


CITY JOURNAL is a powerful and influential "second voice" American newsletter. It is followed religiously by policy makers and policy critics across the USA.

In the spring of 1997, Theodore Dalrymple published a very thorough and smart piece titled:

Don’t Legalize Drugs
Advocates have almost convinced Americans that legalization will remove most of the evil that drugs inflict on society. Don’t believe them.

The article is lengthy and thoughtful and well your reading. Find is HERE. 

Friday, October 4, 2013


I never thought I would see this in my lifetime, but it has truly happened. The Federal Government has made a sane and reasonable and knowledge-based and compassionate decision regarding addictions. Congratulations to Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.


Ottawa overrules health officials on Vancouver heroin replacement study


Health Canada had approved prescribing of heroin as part of Vancouver study; new regulations overrule the department


Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced regulations on Thursday aimed at overriding a decision by officials in her department to allow the prescribing of heroin in a Vancouver research study.


OTTAWA — The Harper government announced regulations Thursday aimed at denying heroin to Vancouver addicts involved in clinical research.

The move was made less than a year after the former federal health minister said political interference in the drug approval process was a “recipe for disaster.”

Health Canada last week approved prescribing heroin to the study participants.

But that decision was overruled by the regulations that Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced Thursday. Meanwhile, the Conservative party has launched a fundraising drive linked to the issue.

“The prime minister and I do not believe we are serving the best interests of those addicted to drugs and those who need our help the most by giving them the drugs they are addicted to,” Ambrose said at a news conference in Toronto.

“The answer of course is not to treat heroin addiction with heroin. … Our goal must be to take heroin out of the hands of addicts. We must focus on treatment and we must focus on recovery.”
The regulations, which took immediate effect, will “protect the integrity” of Health Canada’s special access to medication program by denying doctors the right to use it to provide illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine to patients, she said.

The special access program provides emergency access to medicines not yet available in Canada to doctors treating patients with “serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional therapies have failed, are unsuitable, or unavailable,” according to Health Canada.

Ambrose’s decision relates to 21 participants in a major clinical trial, all chronic long-term addicts who had failed to respond to methadone treatment.

Their approvals to access the heroin won’t be revoked, though they can’t be renewed after the permits expire in three months, according to Scott Bernstein, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver who represents their interests.

The trial was an attempt to determine if hydromorphone, a legal opioid painkiller, can work as an alternative maintenance treatment over diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin.

The study’s proponents say ongoing provision of heroin, or a substitute without heroin’s “emotional and regulatory barriers,” keep addicts involved in the health care system, improve their chances of eventually breaking their habits and/or finding housing or employment, and sharply reduces the likelihood of their return to back alleys, dirty needles and crime.

Ambrose’s rebuke of Health Canada’s approvals coincided with a fundraising letter sent to Tory supporters by party official Fred DeLorey.

“I was shocked to learn today that Health Canada approved applications to give heroin to addicts — against the wishes of our elected government,” he stated. “We’re going to take steps to make sure this never happens again — but we need your help. If the NDP or Liberals are elected in 2015, you can bet they would make this heroin-for-addicts program permanent.”

The government’s approach received a scathing rebuke in Vancouver from the program’s supporters.
“The minister is medically, morally and ethically wrong,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and an internationally prominent advocate for so-called “harm reduction” measures.

“This again falls into a pattern on the part of the federal government of acting based on ideology, while ignoring the science.”

Both Montaner and Bernstein, the Pivot Legal Society lawyer, said the announcement contradicts that of Ambrose’s predecessor less than a year ago.

Then health minister Leona Aglukkaq, in a letter to her provincial and territorial counterparts, rejected a request to delay the approval of generic versions of the highly-addictive opioid painkiller OxyContin, also known as “Hillbilly Heroin.”

“A drug approval process based on politics is a recipe for disaster,” Aglukkaq said.

Bernstein said legal action may be considered to fight the decision. Supporters of harm reduction efforts won a major legal battle when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2011 against the federal government’s bid to shut down Insite, the supervised injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.