by spider • Monday June 23, 2003 at 05:52 PM
Canada: Vancouver Authorities Downplay Rights Abuses
(New York, June 23, 2003) - The city of Vancouver's attempt to discredit
Human Rights Watch only highlights the city's failure to address concerns
about an anti-drug crackdown in its Downtown Eastside, Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch's May 2003 report, "Abusing the User," presented first-
hand accounts from numerous Downtown Eastside residents, health service
providers, city officials and researchers suggesting widespread police
misconduct early in the crackdown on drug traffickers beginning April 7. The
report documented violations of the due process rights of injection drug
users and actions that impeded their access to life-saving HIV prevention
services. The mayor issued a 29-page open rebuttal to the report on June 10.
"The mayor has chosen to shoot the messenger, rather than act on the
message," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "His
desperate public relations effort makes us more concerned than ever about the
rights of vulnerable people in the Downtown Eastside."
In an open letter to the mayor, Roth responded to a series of claims that he
characterized as "willfully misleading." The mayor claimed the Human Rights
Watch report was based on "hearsay," discounting the detailed, first-hand
accounts on which the report was based. He also downplayed concerns that the
crackdown was driving drug users out of reach of health services, relying
instead on an incomplete evaluation of the crackdown's impact.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for genuinely independent oversight of
the Vancouver Police Department and protection of needle exchange and other
harm reduction services for injection drug users. Human Rights Watch echoed
the concern expressed by many health service providers and some city
officials that intensifying police action in the fight against illicit drugs
should be preceded or accompanied by intensification of treatment and harm
reduction services, a principle inherent in the city's "four pillar"
On May 8, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting police misconduct
and other human rights violations in connection with an anti-drug crackdown
on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Canada. The poorest neighborhood in
Canada and home to an estimated 5000 injection drug users, the Downtown
Eastside of Vancouver suffers from what may be the worst epidemic of
HIV/AIDS in the developed world. The city and the province have for some
time invested in needle exchange, methadone maintenance therapy, and other
harm reduction-based services to injection drug users in the Downtown
Eastside. In November 2002, Vancouver elected a mayor, Larry Campbell, who
ran on a platform of addressing injection drug use and HIV/AIDS with "four
pillars" of treatment, prevention, harm reduction, and law enforcement.
Shortly into the mayor's term, the Vancouver police department tripled its
presence on the Downtown Eastside and launched a crackdown that some health
experts feared would contribute to a new wave of HIV transmission in the
city. Human Rights Watch documented first-hand accounts of police
violating the due process rights of injection drug users through excessive
use of force, illegal search and seizure, and harassment through the use of
petty offenses. Human Rights Watch also documented the negative health
impact of the crackdown, including interference with needle exchange
programs, increased risk of drug overdose, and interruption of primary
health services. Our report recommended that the city of Vancouver ensure
an independent investigation of all allegations of police misconduct and
take steps to mitigate the health impact of the police crackdown.
Human Rights Watch's letter to Mayor Campbell:
Q & A on Human Rights Watch's report "Abusing the User: Police Misconduct,
Harm Reduction and HIV/AIDS in Vancouver,"
Human Rights Watch's report "Abusing the User: Police Misconduct, Harm
Reduction and HIV/AIDS in Vancouver," http://hrw.org/reports/2003/canada/