Preventive measures lessen the addiction tragedy
On April 4 the Yukon News ran an article on harm reduction as it relates to the distribution of needles and crack pipes by the outreach van.
There was little mention of the fact that 80 per cent of the work of our community’s outreach van services relate to providing food to recipients of the van’s services, an increasing number of whom are children.
In addition, the No Fixed Address Outreach Van provides medical help, counselling, personal hygiene items and winter clothing.
Everything the van does is to ameliorate suffering and harm for a particularly isolated and needy group of Whitehorse residents, many of whom are homeless.
And yes, it does — with some regret — offer needles for exchange and crack pipes to active drug users.
It does so because HIV, hepatitis and a number of other serious illnesses are commonly spread by multiple users of these devices.
The distribution of these devices is not done with the conscious intent of encouraging drug use, as suggested by some of those quoted in Barbara McLeod’s article.
The question prompted by the article is whether the policy of distributing safe needles and crack pipes, without the merchandise, fosters use of these dangerous substances.
Prior to the distribution of these sterile items, those abusing drugs generally shared their paraphernalia.
Hospitals and medical personnel across Canada identified that unsafe use of needles and more recently crack pipes are a significant cause in the spreading contagion.
As a user you are willing to take almost any risk to fulfill your habit even if you risk HIV infection.
After all, it is an addiction.
The four agencies involved in operating the van wrestled with the harm-reduction dilemma long and hard.
They realized, as do the sponsors of the van, that the service might be unjustly accused of promoting the use of illegal substances.
As someone closely associated with the youth services for more than 50 years, having authored the Ontario government’s response to youth drug abuse in 1970, I find the question why certain young people become addicted is a highly complex subject.
Peer pressure, low self respect, difficulties at school, youthful bravado, rebellion, lack of family support, lack of awareness as to consequences, and hopelessness are but a few of the influences.
Under such circumstances it would be terribly naïve to believe that a healthy young person, offered a clean pipe or needle, would suddenly be influenced to become an addict.
And, of course, the No Fixed Address Outreach Van does not drive around promoting use of its sterile needles and crack pipes.
Coffee, sandwiches, and clothing are the only items distributed without question.
When needles and pipes are requested, professional care is taken in determining whether the individual is an active user.
The professionals staffing the van also look for early signs of changing habits and behaviour.
When they are able to help a person obtain treatment they rejoice. After all, the best harm-reduction intervention is helping an individual to eliminate self-abusive behaviour.
Despite these arguments I can appreciate the discomfort we all feel in seeing the outreach van distributing drug paraphernalia.
Were it not so, we’d all be delighted.
However, we live in an imperfect world and when one seriously considers self-destructive behaviour, which drug abuse most certainly is, and weigh it against the added consequences of hepatitis, HIV infection, and other debilitating diseases, the choice is both morally and medically responsible.
Whitehorse vs. the people
Re McLean Lake park petition:
Although not a resident of Whitehorse or the Yukon, the citizen empowerment provisions in the Yukon’s Municipal Act are of interest to me as these are pioneering provisions unique in Canadian local government legislation.
A stated principle for Yukon municipal governments is that they “are responsible and accountable to the citizens they serve.”
That principle is not reflected in Whitehorse’s April 2 news release on the subject of the McLean Lake petition.
The city misrepresented the facts in this release.
It refers to Municipal Act section 152(1), correctly stating that the matter of a referendum must fall entirely within the jurisdiction of the municipality.
This is true, but irrelevant.
Section 152 is not concerned with the petition, it is concerned with the bylaw to be written at the end of the process after a valid petition has been filed with the city.
The issue at hand is not a bylaw but a petition. Section 153(1) states that eligible petitioners may petition council for a referendum
(b) on a new bylaw or resolution or the amending or repealing of an existing bylaw or resolution, or
(c) on any matter within the jurisdiction of the council including capital projects; but
(d) not on the operating budget bylaw, the capital budget bylaw or the general property taxation bylaw.
Note that section 153 speaks of “any matter within the jurisdiction” and not “a matter entirely within the jurisdiction” as does section 152.
The McLean Lake petition calls on council to amend an existing bylaw, namely the Official Community Plan Bylaw.
The petition deals with planning and zoning matters.
Planning and zoning matters fall within the jurisdiction of the council (Municipal Act, Part 7, Divisions 1 and 2 of Part 7).
The petition question does not deal with matters excluded from the petition provisions of the act (operating budget bylaw, capital budget bylaw, general property taxation bylaw).
A petition sets out the petitioners’ objectives: This is what we want. It is a waste of everybody’s time to file a vague petition: This is approximately what we would like if you would not mind and if it is not too much trouble for you ….
The McLean Lake petition’s question is precise.
It tells citizens exactly what is asked for of the city.
If the required number of citizens sign that petition, the city will know precisely what the petitioners want.
It is only at that point that section 152 will kick in.
The city will have to write a bylaw to achieve the petition’s objective, as defined by the petitioners but with the added responsibility of making sure that the bylaw complies entirely with the legal parameters set out for municipalities in the Municipal Act.
Citizens should not feel intimidated because the city has obtained a legal opinion on the petition’s question.
A petition question is not a matter of law (is it legal or not?), it is a matter of policy (this is what we want).
A petition has to meet three criteria to be legal:
It must be signed by the required number of qualified persons; the signatures must be collected within the prescribed time; and the question falls within the parameters of section 153(1).
As stated above, the third criterion has already been met.
One down, two to go.
Municipal Act section 153(2) states a notice of petition must be submitted to the designated municipal officer before proponents may start to collect signatures.
The reason for requiring a municipal officer’s acknowledgement of receipt of the notice of petition is to establish the starting date of the 90-day signature collection period.
The act does not direct the officer to secure a legal opinion on the question, and it certainly does not authorize him to reject a notice.
I had expected that this time, after the experience of the 2006 Planning Study Bylaw referendum, Whitehorse (council and staff) would make a concerted effort to work co-operatively with the community in the spirit of the principles set out in the preamble to the Yukon’s Municipal Act.
How disappointing to see the city treat its residents as if they were the enemy rather than taking pride in having the privilege to work with their residents under Canada’s most progressive and democratically enlightened municipal legislation!