Vancouver Anti-Drug Efforts Might Increase Area's HIV Risk, Advocates Say

Advocates in Vancouver, Canada, in a Feb. 10 letter said that the city police department's 2009 business plan to increase drug enforcement for the Downtown Eastside area also could increase the spread of HIV, the Vancouver Courier reports. The letter -- signed by seven not-for-profit organizations and scheduled to go before the police department board on Wednesday -- was sent to Police Chief Jim Chu and Mayor Gregor Robertson. It said the plan to increase patrols, street checks and ticketing in an area "whose population is disproportionately disabled, aboriginal, HIV-positive and hepatitis C-positive" could increase the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, as well as "limit access to critical health services and will not achieve its desired goals." The Courier reports that the business plan also calls for a priority on seizing drugs rather than prosecuting people for simple drug possession. The letter was signed by directors of AIDS Vancouver, the Positive Women's Network, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the YouthCO AIDS Society, the Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the British Columbia Person with AIDS Society.

The concerns expressed in the letter are based on 2005 research conducted by the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the Courier reports, adding that the research was conducted after the police department increased anti-drug efforts in 2003. The Centre found that during that time period, injection drug users would utilize used needles rather than visit a supervised injection site or a needle-exchange program out of fear of being arrested by police. The advocates in the letter said that they "strongly urge you to reconsider what appears to be an illegal and inappropriate response to core issues of poverty and homelessness in Vancouver." They added that they "especially urge you to resist the temptation to clear the streets and parks of the Downtown Eastside of their longtime residents to address the imagined perceptions of the international community in 2010," when the Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in Vancouver. According to the letter, the provincial and federal governments should increase resources for treatment and affordable housing programs (Howell, Vancouver Courier, 2/18).

Online The letter is available online (.pdf).

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