Sunday, April 27, 2014

Report on SURREY ACCORD Meeting

Surrey NDP MLA’s Harry Bains, Sue Hammell and Bruce Ralston invited the public to a town hall discussion of the Regulation of Recovery Houses in Surrey. The event was held in the Newton Cultural Centre last Thursday evening, April 24th.

A small group of familiar faces from recovery work in the Lower Mainland met first for dinner and a bit of a strategy meeting and then headed over to the event together. The contingent included John Volken, Bil Koonar and Gabrielle Steed from Welcome Home, Jim Stimson from Little House, Neal Berger and Marshall Smith from Cedars at Cobble Hill and me, David Berner, from the Drug Prevention network of Canada. The event was packed, about 100 or so people present. 

Harry Bains welcomed everyone, Sue Hammell gave an excellent overview of the issue and Harry Ralston MC’d the evening. Two young men from UBC gave a short presentation about studying harm reduction and methadone for a radio piece they were doing. We were most pleasantly surprised that, far from following the “official story,” they found harm reduction initiatives to be completely failing and counter-productive and they saw methadone for what it is – another market commodity subject to the same criminal activities as any other powerful drug. They were detailed and colorful in their presentation.

Another two speakers told us of their recovery home work. 

When the floor microphone was opened for comment, a line was quickly formed with contributors speaking passionately and knowledgeably about the need to rid the community of rogue operations that use and abuse and take advantage of vulnerable people. 

Marshall Smith and I both spoke about finding a practical solution within the existing and enforceable local Surrey bylaws. We have offered to help write criteria for registration and to help monitor participating agencies.

I think we all felt that the event was well timed, well run and very positive in its tone and content. The big issue now is, as always, what real steps

if any will be taken?

We should add that there were several political personalities in attendance as well, including Jinny Sims, MP, Marvin Hunt, Liberal MLA and Lorne Mayencourt from the Premier's office.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Al Arsenault is a Founding Member of Odd Squad Productions Society which makes educational videos for youth about drugs and he is a 27-year veteran with the Vancouver Police Department. He is also a member of the International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy and a DPNC Board Member.

When I do anti-drug lectures for Odd Squad, I ask kids if a woman is pregnant should she smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, do pot or other drugs, and I get a resounding "No way!" Why not? "Because it will hurt the fetus." Smart kids!

All kids in high school acknowledge that they are still physically growing. Scientific research shows that human brain matures into the early to mid-20s. So I tell these kids to imagine that the brain is like a baby growing inside their head - a baby that's in its final trimester. It is the most important organ of their body, their one and only computer system, and it has yet to come to full-term. Any questions about polluting and poisoning the 'baby brain' while it struggles to grow up healthy? 

I wish that the drug legalizers and health authorities who are pushing this so-called 'medical marijuana' would acknowledge the simple truth of this logical line of thinking. 

More more studies are coming about out about the medical effects of marijuana on the adolescent mind. The earlier you get started on pot then the more troublesome that drug will be in their lives. This is why I cannot believe that even responsible adults want to 'vote' marijuana in as a medicine with it having to go through the strict and rigorous drug testing protocols like any new safe and legitimate drug has to. They want to make marijuana an exception to rule of accepting any as a medicine for public consumption: why bother with medical science when you have wonderful anecdotes... 

It is shameful indeed.

Friday, April 4, 2014


You may not have the patience or desire to sit through this entire Co-op Radio conversation on current issues, but I think it went quite well.

Give it a try while you're making dinner....

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Pete McMartin: A fruitless quest to save the Downtown Eastside


Oversight: PEACH was an ambitious quest to help the Downtown Eastside. Why did it go so wrong?


Mary Morgan, an international consultant in developing countries, was brought in to head up Partners for Economic and Community Help (PEACH).

Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER -- Mary Morgan has seen the worst the world has to offer. Guatemala, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Afghanistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe — her consultancy work in developing nations has given her first-hand experience with war, poverty and disease. She has worked for CARE, CIDA, and the International Rescue Committee, among others.

But nothing prepared her for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

In 2002, she stepped into the job of executive director of Partners for Economic and Community Help (PEACH). The previous executive director had left, and Morgan was hired for the job.
PEACH was an initiative of the Vancouver Agreement, a joint program funded by federal, provincial and city governments. Its aim was to revitalize the Downtown Eastside. It has since been shut down, but there would be similar programs replacing it.

PEACH’s role was — and I quote from the official bumf — “to give residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside the tools to improve their situation by furthering community capacity building, enhancing entrepreneurship and business development, and creating employment and employment training opportunities.”

Hear that, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer? The high-minded public relations babble? The complete absence of measurable goals? If you suspect that perhaps PEACH was not, in fact, peachy, you would be right. This fruit was rotten.

Walking into the job, Morgan found an agency without any oversight.

“I was stunned. ... There were no lending policies, (and this) for an organization that was solely dedicated to disbursing loans.”

The PEACH program was divided into two parts. The first was a $1-million grant fund, all of which had been given away to various DTES “projects” by the time Morgan had arrived. The second part was a $1-million loan fund. Morgan found it in disarray.

“Just to give you an idea of the mess the organization was in, two business loans of $100,000 had been disbursed with no contracts being signed because there was no lending procedures or lending policies in place. Without these procedures in place, the organization essentially handed out free money.
“In my first three months, I had to write off $350,000 of our $1-million loan fund that came from Western Diversification (the federal agency involved in the Vancouver Agreement). Western Diversification told me that it did not matter if the $1 million was written off. They would give me another million dollars!”

Among the organization’s board — which included Mark Townsend, executive director of the Portland Housing Society — was chair Peter Fairchild, a property manager and consultant who had worked in the Downtown Eastside (he now lives on Vancouver Island). He disagreed with Morgan’s view of the control over loans.

“All of the paperwork,” Fairchild said, “was done with the best due diligence possible. The money was in the local bank (Four Corners Community Savings bank) and they wouldn’t have loaned out any money without the appropriate paperwork being done and everything signed off.”

(Four Corners was shut down by the provincial government in 2004 after posting annual losses since its inception.)

But PEACH employee Melanie Buffel, pressed into the position of loans officer by Morgan, agreed the organization’s oversight procedures were a mess. “Mary and I ended up working together to close a number of loans that had really gone nowhere and were never going to be paid off. And then (we tried) to establish a very rigorous process for giving up new loans. ... So just the process of making decisions of who was going to get a loan was very messy and unclear, and so we spent a lot of time getting a policy and procedure manual in place.”
Said Morgan of those loans: “They were giving loans up to $100,000 (later reduced to a maximum of $50,000) without any checks or balances. For $100,000, you have to get people in there who know how to run a business. But it was essentially a last-resort lending option, which means you get the people of highest risk. And so you get people coming down who wanted free money, and (they) didn’t get penalized.”

Morgan resigned after 13 months on the job. The last straw came, she said, when the board of directors killed a pilot project to encourage Downtown Eastside women to save money. For every dollar they saved, PEACH would kick in two, with the proviso that the money would go toward helping them become self-sufficient.

The board, Morgan said, voted it down because the money could not be considered a loan. “And that’s when I quit. The loans weren’t working ... and there was no interest whatsoever in real economic development. When you are working with marginalized people, there are appropriate business products, and business loans of $50,000 are not appropriate products for that population.”

The real issue for Morgan, however, was the lack of oversight by the government. It was that lack, still continuing today, she said, which leads to spending scandals like that of the Portland Housing Society.
“The fact that the government is giving out that kind of money and they don’t give a damn about what systems are in place, that’s the issue.

“They’re throwing money at (the Downtown Eastside) ... but it hasn’t improved.

“Listen, I’ve been to some bad places in the world. When I got off the plane in Liberia, there was no electricity in the whole country. And that place is moving forward.

“But this is Canada, and (the Downtown Eastside) is a 10-block area. And why don’t we have better services down there? And why aren’t we dealing with the real problems?”