But I’ll admit I nearly lost my mind a few days ago when I saw this mess in front of Insite.
For those who don’t know, Insite is the government-funded injection facility in the heart of Hastings Street. Injection drug users are allowed to shoot whatever they want into their veins under a legal exemption from the government.
Millions of dollars have gone into funding the facility, and to launching legal challenges when the federal government threatened to shut it down.
The place is clean, staffed by a bunch of friendly and well-trained twenty- and thirty somethings, and it’s open until the wee hours of the morning. You can get needles, water, tourniquets and clean spoons to cook your drugs, and there’s a nurse there to give medical assistance should you overdose (after all, it’s legal to shoot up there, but the poison still has to be purchased from the bully-boys on the street corner — and who knows what they’re putting in that stuff).
You can probably understand our amazement when my partner Dan and I walked by in the middle of the afternoon and found a man sitting against the outside of the building with a loaded needle in hand and a rubber band tied around his arm. He was less than 20 feet from the front door of Insite, with six lanes of traffic buzzing by.
Dan and I put him in handcuffs and threatened to charge him for possession of a controlled substance. We normally don’t make it a priority to put addicts in jail for simple possession charges. The courts are backlogged as it is, and we both know that time-served won’t do much to cure the addict or deter the offending behaviour. Besides, Crown counsel isn’t likely to fight for a minor possession charge, especially one against an IV drug user on the Downtown Eastside, and I’m not about to invest hours of paperwork on a file that’s going to get no-charged in the morning.
So with our sober second thought we opted to take a different tact. Dan marched him to the front door of Insite for a lecture, while I squeezed out the contents of the needle and used my boot to sweep the debris into a tidy pile.
We gave him the usual spiel about how irresponsible it was to shoot up on a busy sidewalk in broad daylight. We demanded to know why he would choose to shoot up in front of the cops, in the middle of the day, when he was so close to a facility that governments and community agencies have spent millions of dollars and 10 years fighting to keep open.
He ran the gauntlet of excuses. He claimed there was a line-up at Insite (there wasn’t), then suggested staff there steal his belongings (they don’t). At the end of the conversation he admitted that he just needed his fix and he didn’t care where he was when he got it. He was unapologetic.
Such is the overwhelming pull of addiction, I guess.
I thought we had an ally when a staff member from Insite joined us out on the sidewalk. I hoped he had come to lend us support in telling the man how inappropriate his actions were. I figured he’d quote a few figures about how Insite saves lives, and maybe even invite him inside and offer to steer him towards some addictions counselling. I was disappointed when the only thing the staffer did was tell us that we were the ones who were out of line.
He demanded our badge numbers, wrote them down on a piece of paper, then disappeared back into the building to record the incident in the logbook. Sadly, not a word was uttered to the man who had just been busted for shooting up on the sidewalk outside.
In the end, we were left with little option but to remove the handcuffs, wag our fingers a little more and stand by as he cleaned up his mess. We watched as he walked away grumbling under his breath, then we walked the other way doing the same.
And the beat went on.Share