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HomeWorld newsBattle over B.C. drug policy flares up over contentious recovery symposium

Battle over B.C. drug policy flares up over contentious recovery symposium

The divisive battle over how to tackle B.C.’s illicit drug crisis has flared up again, this time over a planned symposium focusing on prevention and treatment.

Thursday was the first day of the inaugural Prosper symposium, organized by the U.S.-based Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions.

The event was meant to be hosted at the Wall Centre in downtown Vancouver but was shifted to a hotel in Richmond at the last minute after organizers said they got word activists intended to disrupt it.

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“Authorities are investigating some recordings and very credible information that specific groups … planned on coming for the sole purpose of disrupting the meeting,” foundation president and CEO Kevin Sabett told Global News.

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The symposium drew about 150 attendees and included high-profile B.C. politicians including BC United Leader Kevin Falcon and BC Conservative Leader John Rustad.

Organizers say the event is about brainstorming new ways to get more people into substance use treatment and recovery.

“The idea that everyone can recover, that no one is hopeless, and the idea that we need to spend more resources, especially on treatment and recovery,” Sabet said.

“We need truly a balanced drug policy that on the one hand doesn’t lock people up and criminalize them, but on the other hand doesn’t just let them do what they want and hope we’ll get different results.”

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Critics allege the event was organized to promote the for-profit recovery industry, which they say has a questionable track record.

They also allege Sabet, who advised the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations on drug policy, is promoting a U.S.-style war on drugs approach.

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After the event was moved, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) went ahead with a planned protest at the Wall Centre downtown.

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“Think about who’s lying to you, how they’re lying and why they’re lying, they’re profiteers, they want to profit off pain, OK?” VANDU organizer Dave Hamm said.

“They want us to keep being sick, cycling through their profiteering treatment centres and different plans like that”

VANDU denies it intended to disrupt the symposium, but the conference’s organizers say audio recordings show group members planning to pour dye into a fountain.

Trevor Tablotney, who co-founded the Curtis Dream Foundation after his brother Curtis died from toxic drugs, said he had concerns about the push for involuntary treatment, which he said both doesn’t work and has the potential to hurt vulnerable people.

“My brother, when he would go into rehab to get treatment, he would leave, he would tell us, ‘My anxiety is really high, they take away your phone, they take away your cigarettes, they take away your ability to communicate with your support network, they treat me like its a prison,’” he said.

“Disappearing people off the street is not going to solve this problem.”

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Caught in the crossfire were a number of other people and groups supportive of a harm-reduction approach to the drug crisis, who say they weren’t told about the symposium’s new location and had their tickets cancelled and refunded.

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Those included Leslie McBain, whose son died of an overdose in 2014, and who co-founded the group Moms Stop the Harm.

McBain denied any intent to disrupt the event and said she wanted to attend to hear what the foundation is proposing.

“We wanted to ask questions, just reasonable questions about how they see themselves supporting people who use drugs,” she told Global News.

“We’re just trying to stop the deaths. And if they are with us that’s great, there is strength in numbers.”

Sabet said he’s prepared to meet and talk with anyone “when the temperature cools down.”

“My heart goes out to any parent that has experienced the worst thing a parent can ever imagine,” he said.

“I have empathy and sympathy for them and I would like to engage, and I think we will, in an important dialogue, a powerful dialogue.”

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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