Thursday, July 12, 2007


Ottawa City Council has just legally condemned between six and twelve people to death in the next twelve months. Those are the ones who avoid getting AIDS or Hep-C each year because of a free distribution of crack pipes to the addicted--a program now terminated by a vote of 15-7.

The savings? $7,500 a year.

The surprise motion was brought to the Council by Councillor Rick Chiarelli, who claimed that there is "absolutely no evidence" that the program has any effect on the transmittal of these diseases. I have to be blunt here: the man is either lying or pig-ignorant. The evidence, in fact, and there is plenty of it, shows that such programs indeed have the potential to improve public health. On the basis of such evidence, similar initiatives have been implemented in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montréal, Guelph and Halifax.

The Council heard from Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Salisbury, who pointed out that Ottawa is facing "an epidemic" of AIDS and Hep-C. This, he says, will only be furthered by abolishing the program. They didn't listen. They preferred Councillor Chiarelli's knee-jerk expertise. "We spend thousands to arrest [crack users]," he said, "and then spend thousands to supply them with the paraphernalia."

The cost?
The hospital bill for even one AIDS patient is $600,000.

Misleadingly, the media have reported that the University of Ottawa study indicated an "increase in crack use," implying that the free pipes were encouraging more people to smoke the drug. I urge readers to peruse the study, linked to above. There was, in fact, an increase in crack use among addicts, who scaled down their use of syringes when free crack pipes became available.

Unlike his predecessor, who made the same ignorant claim as Chiarelli, the new Ottawa police chief, Vern White, is clearly a thoughtful man. He wants the program reviewed, he said, because he didn't want to go with his "gut feelings" on the issue. He must be feeling a little lonely at present, because gut feelings seem to be preferred, at least by a majority of Ottawa City councillors, over the evidence already available.

I do have some sympathy for Sandy Hill residents who are forced to sweep up used crack pipes, not to mention condoms, from their front stoops. Problem is, this isn't going to change much by abolishing public health measures. They'll simply be sweeping up more syringes and fewer pipes.

The truth is that the Council decision isn't about public health, and it isn't about money. It's about punishment. Addicts are scum, they frighten off tourists, and we should just let 'em die. It's a position quite in keeping with Mayor Larry's recent infamous "don't feed the pigeons" remark. Welcome to the wonderful world of municipal sado-politics.

UPDATE (July 15): Kudos to the Ottawa Citizen's Kelly Egan for this broadside on the governance style of Mayor Larry.

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