RCMP’s E Division should stand up for itself
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, October 20, 2008

The RCMP has its problems but nothing justifies cowering before special interest groups. This time, it’s ‘E’ Division that’s under fire from the Pivot Legal Society in a Vancouver battleground where electoral politics has nothing on the politics of supervised drug injection.

The Downtown Eastside’s Insite is on the brink of becoming Canada’s worst public policy disaster, yet last week the Pivot Legal Society called for Canada’s auditor general to investigate the RCMP’s authority to commission research into the facility’s effects on crime and associated issues. The problem? First - and despite the information being available on one website over a year ago - Pivot alleges the research was “secretly” commissioned; secondly, though two reports were favourable to Insite, two were critical: one by Garth Davies, a professor at Simon Fraser University and the other, the now seminal analysis entitled A Critique of Canada’s INSITE Injection Site and its Parent Philosophy.

Written by Dr. Colin Mangham, a veteran of over 27 years in substance abuse prevention and a former professor of health education at Dalhousie University, the critique painstakingly questions studies suggesting Insite either saves lives, reduces crime and disease transmission, or encourages treatment. It also exposes the facility’s parent philosophy that drugs are a lifestyle choice, a premise whose ethical contradictions can only be resolved by legalising drugs or, as the city of Oslo recently determined, by closing its injection facility.

Dr. Mangham confirmed to me this week that nothing in his paper has been disproved or even specifically challenged. Instead, and given its status as the new four-letter word, it is being dismissed as “ideologically” biased though as someone once observed, name-calling is the last refuge of the intellectually bankrupt.

It’s not the first time. Like Davies and Mangham, Health Canada’s panel of experts summarized first the studies’ positive findings then their methodological and design flaws. Among many qualifications to the studies’ assertions, the panel noted how only 5% of drug addicts in the area were using the facility and of those, only 20% on a regular basis.

Its report was promptly dismissed as ‘political’.

And when addiction treatment specialist Dr. Donald Hedges attempted to appear before a Parliamentary Committee to argue Insite is encouraging risky behaviour (the heroin addict needs progressively higher highs), he was harrassed and intimidated by demonstrators.

Thug democracy rules and now it’s the RCMP. Never mind the quality of the work, just question the right of a beleaguered institution to undertake it. To make matters really interesting, point to derogatory remarks coined by a retired constable about the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/Aids which nonetheless powerfully symbolizes the deep chasm between the epidemiologists who dominate Insite scholarship and officers who must work in an area which after 5 years of Insite remains an open-air lavatory. Literally.

Let’s be clear. All experts, however narrow their disciplines, have important contributions to make. Those with experience in the field are no less important than those in academe. But there is good reason why neither should dictate public policy which must save lives, reconcile competing interests and address complex issues. Only the citizenry through its elected representatives can do this.

Still, if the Pivot Legal Society wishes to involve Mrs.Fraser, so be it. Transparency is always a good thing. And while she’s at it, why not open the books of all the service organisations in the DTES. Why not reveal the names of board members, peer reviewers, their fees and salaries, spousal relationships, political connections and who, in what government department, motivated by what rationale, is authorising payment for all this.

Better still, why not just concentrate on ending drug use and addiction.

As the RCMP begins its internal review into this matter, let “E” Division stand tall for its own area of expertise. Since access to drugs is the biggest challenge to recovery from addiction, no treatment (or prevention) agenda is possible without a law and order agenda. Sweden’s zero-tolerance model and mandatory treatment for addicted repeat offenders should also be considered.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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