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Aug 11, 2007

People Who Use Drugs Protest Police Sweeps & Lack of Needle Exchange & Safe Tattooing in Prisons

On Friday August 10th at 2 PM at the 222 Main St. courthouse, VANDU protests VPD crack downs on DTES “dealers” linking these frivolous “sweeps” with increased vulnerability of incarcerated people to HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C

Vancouver, August 10, 2007.
A police operation dubbed “Tyke 2” targeted the street level drug trade in the DTES from July 3rd to 13th. Undercover officers purchased very small amounts of crack cocaine and heroin and then arrested 63 people during a twenty-hour sweep on July 19th.

Police say that they targeted these “dealers” to lessen their negative effect on the DTES community, claiming to reduce public disorder, to prevent loss of revenue for local business, to lower the number of break-ins by addicts looking to feed their habits and to deter illegal drug use.

Dean Wilson of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) suggests that the opposite is true. “Addicts are the ones beings picked up not the dealers. They just hold the drugs so the big guys don’t get busted. But what happens is they must commit further crime so that they can replace the drugs that are confiscated by the police. So in fact, more crime is generated by these arrests”

This observation is based in fact as researchers at The Center of Excellence on HIV/AIDS, have shown that police crackdowns often have the exact opposite outcome than what was intended. Rather than reduced criminal activity and/or reduced illicit drug use, these activities are displaced to other neighbourhoods having no overall reduction of drug dealing or drug use.

Ann Livingston, executive program director of VANDU, worries that with so many addicts being arrested and incarcerated that jails become disease time bombs. ”30 or 40% of addicts here are already HIV positive and up to 90% have hepatitis C and with no needle exchange behind bars, are we not asking for more trouble?” asks Livingston. “We have wide agreement, even from the police, that prison is not the place for people with substance misuse issues and then we endure police actions that the police defend with poorly thought out reasoning such as deterring drug use. There may well be people with addiction issues who stop using drugs because of police actions but we observe that most VANDU members are arrested and many are jailed but continue to use illegal drugs.”

VANDU has repeatedly asked the VPD to stop these sweeps and to participate with community groups who work to improve living conditions in the DTES by targeting violent dealers and unscrupulous landlords. As one user stated “I have never seen anyone quit using drugs because of police pressure.”

For more information contact:

Ann Livingston
cell 604 719 5313
VANDU 604 683 6061

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) is a group of users and former users who work to improve the lives of people who use illicit drugs through user based peer support and education.

Prison Justice Day is Friday, August 10th
What started as a one time event in a prison in 1975 has become an international day of solidarity when prisoners fast, refuse to work and remain in their cells. Their supporters gather in the community to honour the memory of those who have died, to demand action to stop preventable deaths and disease in prisons.


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