When I wrote this back in February, I had no idea that, 5 months later, I would be seeking nomination for the West Lincoln Niagara Regional Council seat. Thank you to all the amazing women in politics in Niagara who have inspired me to take my seat at the table.
“Remember who put you in office:
it wasn’t you, it was the people.”
– Debbie Zimmerman,
Niagara Regional Chair (1997-2003)
We live in a time and place where racism and misogyny are rampant and unchecked. Just ask Mohamad AlJumaily, who was accosted by another resident at Regional Council in December and accused of being a terrorist – simply for being a man of colour. What kind of values do we project to the rest of Canada, and the world, when we have a regional council who stands by while our Charter Rights are trampled on? From Andy Petrowski’s antics to the Press Freedom Fiasco, Niagara politics have become a national joke.
I recently attended a workshop at the St Catharines library entitled How You Can Build A Better Niagara: Running for Municipal Office. The event was…
I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment. But I didn’t die…”
– Jack Kerouac, On The Road
Before we talk about solutions, we need to understand the problem. There are several theories, or schools of thought, on drugs; chemical use, abuse, and/or addiction, as a disease of the spirit, or a moral weakness, is as old as chemical use while philosophizing. It’s the model on which the Temperance movement and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are based and… it doesn’t work.
Early twentieth century temperance movements were focused on alcohol consumption – and despite short periods of prohibition, it’s known addictiveness, and morbidity and mortality rates alcohol is still widely consumed and accepted.
Alcohol is legal because the majority enjoy it, the economics of banning alcohol is prohibitive, and criminalization led to tainted homemade product and sky-rocketing death rates.
In short, regulation saves lives and builds government coffers through taxation while those who over imbibe, abuse and/or are addicted to, alcohol, are seen as having an illness and treated medically.
Just as AIDS would be a “gay issue” and crack cocaine would be a “Black issue”, the issue of opiate usage was seen as a race and poverty problem – best dealt with by locking people away. But, addiction is indiscriminate… even when society is not. Racialized, criminalized, stigmatized; enter the Age of Jazz, white children of counter-culture movements, and drug use in the twentieth century becomes a War on Drugs.
You can jail a Revolutionary,
but you can’t jail a revolution.
– Dr Huey P. Newton
Hemingway was fond of saying he drank to make other people more interesting… people forget alcohol is a drug and has the same use. Drug and alcohol use by intellectuals, artists, and those seeking to expand their reality, will always take place. Not everyone uses drugs and alcohol to mask pain, just as not all of those who use will become addicted; people do not fit in boxes.
Generations of this shit and we are no more evolved in our treatment of drug use and addiction than we were a century ago. We continue to lock people up for drug use despite it having no consequence to the user, even withdrawal isn’t assured – 5 people overdosed in 1 day last month at Niagara Detention Centre, while Hamilton-Hentworth Detention Centre saw 10 overdoses in 9 people in 6 days. Let that math sink in.
We continue to treat addiction like a moral fault with little regard for the biopsychosocial aspects of drug use. Those who do seek help for addiction, are faced with long waitlists for 21 day inpatient treatment, the current OHIP covered standard, which is basically supervised withdrawal and no better than prison.
Detoxing alone does not address the underlying issues: why did someone begin using in the first place? what has their use done to their relationships? how is their self-image?
In order to successfully maintain sobriety, people need a comprehensive approach including ongoing counselling, not groups or relapse prevention but actual psychotherapy, integrated life skills, employment programs, stable housing, and, if they choose, pharmacotherapies.
Desperation is the raw material of drastic change.
Only those who can leave behind everything
they have ever believed in can hope to escape.
– William S. Burroughs
People who are street-involved, as many addicts are, are one of the most elusive and difficult populations to reach having been burnt, repeatedly, by the system. These are often the people with multiple problems, who shun offers of assistance, and are frequently loners.
People who isolate and avoid contact with others. People who live alone, use alone, die alone. It takes patience, consistency, and, honesty, to build trust; in a world where addicts have few choices, when we only offer limited services, at limited locations, we limit the persons ability to access help.
People are dying and whether you believe addiction is a weakness of the soul or a medical illness, we need to be discussing other strategies; we must do more than make token band-aid gestures.
Supervised injection sites are but one harm reduction strategy and, in a region as vast as Niagara, aren’t expected to have the efficacy we see in denser urban areas. One solution, being used in BC, is supervision of injection opioid use via webcam – you don’t get the immediate CPR help but you do get EMS immediately dispatched.
If we really want to prevent overdose deaths, we need to invest in providing drug purity testing kits with Naloxone. We need to offer the option of supervised injectable opioid agonist treatment (siOAT), a prescription hydromorphone, outside hospital settings as an alternative to methadone or suboxone treatments.
What we have been doing, for over a century, does not work. The economics of our failed system need to be addressed through decriminalization of drug use, to be replaced by long term treatment options.
In a region that is known for its wine, and it’s soaring overdose death rates, we need to be asking why we aren’t treating drugs like we treat alcohol – taxable, regulated, and most importantly, readily available for those who wish to consume it.
How many committees does it take to advise Niagara-on-the-Lake Council whether or not to declare itself, the Heart of Fruitland Ontario, a Bee City?
Two… Council referred the conversation about pollinators to both the Agriculture and In Blooms Committees.
Is NOTL so anti-pollinator that they must defer a motion to support pollinators to two committees ? The crowd heckled the Bee City presentation; it’s the twenty-first-century and I’m looking around for pitchforks and torches like we’ve been accused of witchcraft.
(A farm rich community one would think promoting pollinators would be a no brainer… but, alas, that doesn’t take into account the love of vinyards, soft flesh fruit, and golf courses – all known users of pesticides).
Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON – As you know, I often attended municipal council meetings across the Region; never have I witnessed anything as rude or entitled as the crowd at Niagara-On-The-Lake.
…there really are no other words for it.
Even at the most heated NPCA board and Regional Council meetings, people are reminded to act with decorum.
The council chamber is a place for meaningful debate and all should feel welcome to voice what matters to them without fearing public mockery.
They heckled; it’s the twenty-first-century and I’m looking around for pitchforks and torches like we’ve been accused of witchcraft.
According to an article in The Standard, Lord Mayor Pat Darte said if he had tried to control the audience any more, the situation would have become worse.
I was shocked not only at the behaviour of the crowd but at Lord Mayor Pat Darte’s inaction; asked to comment, I could think only of words such as ‘aghast’ and ‘mortified’ – words that rarely feature in my lexicon; I’ve seen school children act with more maturity and respect.
A politics and policy writer, and I left the meeting speechless.
Port Dalhousie has long been embattled over plans for the Old Port Mansion site at the corner of Lock and Main Streets. Almost a decade after an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing, and three years after finiciers Fortress Real Developments took over, no decision on the future of the current reinvented proposal has yet been made by the City of St Catharines.
Residents fear City Hall will allow height restrictions beyond what the character of the heritage area demands for 3 currently planned condos. The proposals for the current Lincoln Fabrics building and the Royal Canadian Legion next door hinge on 2-storey allowances, both propose 8-storey’s.
The historic Lincoln Fabrics building is currently 6-storeys, the Official Plan calls for 3. Note: in real estate, a storey is generally accepted to be approximately 10 feet, or 3 metres, in height. This is why although the Lincoln Fabrics building has 4 floors at it’s highest, it is considered to be a 6-storey building.
Other than that, I believe the plans have been well received by the community; the site at Lock and Main Streets is far more complex.
A tower, by any other name, is still a tower.
Once upon a time, in a Port called Dalhousie, the crowning gem in the City of St Catharines, there was a proposal for 17-storey tower that went to the OMB. After all was said and done, the fight exhausted, Port Place was never built.
Some buildings demolished, a scar on our heart, the site has sat like an open wound; the years passed.
One day, the people were informed the project had been taken over by financiers Fortress Real Development. They proposed a 14-storey mixed-use building with 157 units, and over 23,000 square feet of commercial floor space and a total of 258 underground parking spaces.
Gone was the 17-storeys and the theatre, replaced with 14-set-back-storeys and more units.
Seasons changed, the lake rose, the lake receeded, and the people of Port Dalhousie waiting to hear their fate.
On Friday, April 13th, 2018, the Ontario branch of the RCMP executed search warrants on 6 locations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), tied to Fortress Real Developments, as part of an ongoing investigation into syndicated mortgage fraud.
How does this effect Port Dalhousie? It may not… but, fraud investigations can lead to seizure and/or forfeiture of property.
Why does this matter? If St Catharines Council votes to accept the proposed Amendment to the Official Plan, that amendment is irrevocable – should a new developer want to build, the amended heights would be applicable.
Doesn’t the 2009 OMB hearing overide the Official and Secondary Plans? Yes, and no. A decade has passed since that decision and, with the adaption of a new Secondary Plan, and a new proposal, the existing ruling can be revoked. That’s right – we are not stuck with 17-storey’s.
The current Official Secondary Plan calls for 3-storey’s at street level; the Amendment currently in front of Council, allowing for the 14-set-back-storey’s of the new plan, would fix the allowable height at the Lock and Main Streets site at 14 storey’s.
Let St Catharines Council know – Port Dalhousie demands a moratorium on a decision regarding Fortress Real Development’s Union Waterfront Proposal until such a time as the RCMP investigation is complete or Fortress proves financial capability to continue with the project.
Single Car collision closed roads in/out for 6 hours
Traffic backing up on Main St
Main/Martindale during a QEW closure
I have attended Open Houses regarding the Port Dalhousie Secondary Plan, and proposed condos, at both the Lion Club and Performing Arts Centre (PAC); I feel the community’s position has been consistent and clear: Lincoln Fabrics should RETAIN ITS EXISTING HEIGHT and be the ruler by which we measure new construction.
I would like to be clear – I am not anti-development and share the business communities desire to see something, anything, built sooner rather than later – but not at the expense of our heritage; Port Dalhousie is the crown of St Catharines; it is attractive precisely because it has a 19th century village charm. Tall buildings do not belong nor do we see them in other heritage sites.
When my parents started speaking about retiring to Niagara, it never occured to any of us they would settle in St Catharines. I was living in Ohio at the time and, even though we drove home to Toronto bi-weekly, via Niagara, I could barely place St Catharines a map. Then, one day, when i received an email declaring they’d bought a heritage home in Port Dalhousie and would be restoring it – to be honest, I still didn’t realize it was St Catharines, not until I started to exit the QEW to visit on my way through.
That was a few years ago and, when the time came, I choose to follow my family and also relocated to St Catharines, first downtown, now in Port. (I’ve come to realize living on a beach in wine country is not a bad gig)
Why did we have open houses if not to present a plan that reflects the publics desire to retain our heritage? My friends and neighbours, my parents friends and neighbours, may have diverse views about most topics but on this we all agree: Lincoln Fabrics should be the HIGHEST building in Port and retain its existing height, while the proposed Port Place, at the Legion site, should be built to match.
Why did we pay for a report if we are just going to ignore it? Why did we need to file FOI requests to have it made public? Why did council delay this plan for a full year allowing developers the chance to apply under the existing rules?
I am left with more questions than answers and feel frustrated that the community’s input, which is consistent with the consultants original report, is being ignored.
It is time that Staff and you our elected representatives listen to us the voters.
On March 26th, Health Canada announced it had corrected a disconnect between federal drug regulations and the ability of doctors to prescribe synthetic heroin for long term users who have not benefited from other harm reduction, and medication, programs thereby removing undue barriers to treatment.
Preliminary death data by Public Health suggests more people died in Niagara of suspected opioid overdoses in a 6-month period of 2017 than all of 2016. Make no mistake: this will save lives.
Pre-criminalization: From war to taxation
Once upon a time, all granny had to do was walk down to her local apothecary and order herself up some cocaine or prescription heroin; soldiers, left addicted to morphine after being wounded, could order up opium by mail until 1908. One hundred and ten years : that’s how long it’s taken Canada’s government to criminalize, to stigmatize, and finally, to take some real action on opioid addiction.
Like alcohol, opium was considered a commodity, a revenue stream for the Crown; ever wonder how Hong Kong became a British subject? Opium. For real. Hong Kong island was ceded in the treaty ending The First Opium War. A decade later, in 1856, Britain again went to war with China, this time joined by France, in an attempt to further open China to foreign merchants, and legalize the opium trade, in what is commonly called the Second Opium War.
Even Canada imposed a tax on opium factories in 1871; because consumption of opium and cocaine were viewed in terms of medical uses, opiates were not only perfectly legal, they were completely unregulated. Medicines didn’t list their ingredients until the early-twentieth century and most users of opioids and cocaine, or some combination thereof, had no idea they were even taking these compounds, they just knew they felt better.
While therapeutic usage was not the only value to opium, recreational use is as old as the Mesopotamians, addiction for most was accidental (insert deja-vu reference).
With the synthesis of morphine, then heroin, and the advent of the hypodermic needle, opium use gained popularity throughout the nineteenth century. The medical profession was beginning to explore psychiatry and even Freud spoke of morphine addiction in his 1884 On Coca (still controversial, Freud, himself a regular intravenous cocaine user, advocated the use of cocaine as a cure for morphine addiction).
Yet wasn’t until 1908 with the passage of the Opium Act of 1908 and the Proprietary and Patent Medicine Act 1908, that regulations around opiates and cocaine were introduced.
So what changed in the years between 1871 and 1908? Why did Canada move away from taxation to classify substance use as criminal and vilify those we deem to reject proper societal rules? Moral Propagandists
Tell me if any of this sounds familiar; the world is in chaos as Imperial powers fight for control of key trade routes and resources. Mass waves of immigrants and refugees flee political turmoil and famine. Colonial institutions are failing as national protectionists are blaming the loss of jobs on reciprocity agreements, or lack thereof.
Don’t forget cheap labour, provided by new arrivals to the country! (If the men don’t have work, the men drink, and when the men drink, they beat their wives)
Even worse, women are marching. For rights. Equal rights of personhood! (feign moral indignation) if women drink or smoke opium, that leads to prostitution and other moral atrocities like unplanned pregnancy, venereal disease, and, worst of all… she might engage in sodomy (collective gasp) as the Church loses it’s congregation to new morals and a new society not entirely made of the Old World. No, I am not dishing the salacious details of Trump’s as-yet-unnamed manifesto. Surprisingly, or not?, the more things have changed in the last century, the more they have stayed the same. So it was, with the first true waves of globalization, little more than a century ago, so-called proper society rejected mind and mood altering substances in favour of advocating temperance and sexual repression.
Racism, Fear, and Moral Agendas
Where once the government saw revenue, by the early-twentieth century, labour disputes and strikes brought with them rising racial tensions and newly created drug laws.
Some will argue that drug laws were entirely morally based but that simply isn’t true; the Opium Act of 1908 was initiated by then Deputy Minister of Labour MacKensie King after helping negotiate the end of two major labour strikes in 1907, both directly related to cheap Asian labour. While we might like to judge history less harshly, or turn a blind eye to the chronology of events, Canadian archives show that, by 1922, nearly three quarters of those imprisoned for opium offences were Asian Canadians.
The disproportionate number of Chinese charged under the Opium Act, and subsequent narcotics legislation, lead to the general population, European Canadians, to believe the laws didn’t apply to them.
And they didn’t; while opiates were restricted, there was nothing in the original legislation to prevent doctors from writing themselves scripts. That’s right. While granny could no longer walk over to the apothecary, Doc Magoo could… and so could granny after doc wrote her a script.
How many people do you think sought a doctor before Tommy Douglas gave us universal health care? Don’t hurt yourself, it was a rhetorical question.
If you still question whether race plays a factor in the application of drug laws, let’s look at current data. According to a 2013 report by the Office of Correctional Investigator, one in four people incarcerated in Canada are Indigenous, despite representing 3% of the general population; Black Ontarian’s are 3 times more likely to be charged for drug possession or trafficking and despite Black males representing 2.9% of the general population, they represent 9.8% of Canada’s incarcerated population; visible minority offenders increased 40% in the 5 years covered by the report.
And still, people use drugs; the threat of death by overdose and/or incarceration simply do not work as a deterrent; while we are busy locking people up, people are dying. Not just on the streets but in detention centres – there were 5 OD’s at the Niagara Detention Centre on March 24th (thankfully, all are expected to recover).
As our prisons grew to overcapacity, people found new ways to get high, and disputes over social moors continue. We’ve bumbled along, incarcerating and marginalizing; we’ve synthesised new, deadlier opioids; we’ve created a third Opium War.
Peeling Back The Shame of the Twentieth Century
Alcohol use by humans predates the written word while archeological evidence points to opium being discovered around 5,500 years ago and chewing coca leaves around 5,000 years ago; addiction has been around as long as humans have sought to alter our perception through the use of chemical compounds. Colloquially known as the village drunk, it is only with societal disacceptance, and the advent of modern psychiatry, that we have tried to conceptualize drug and alcohol (ab)use.
One hundred and ten years after first passing regulations on opioid use, there is hope for drug users and those who suffer from addiction. We are peeling back the stigma we created to see the human beneath and acting on scientific data not moral superiority. We are easing access to medical treatments that have proved successful in managing addiction while providing users a modicum of respect and humanity… for that’s what harm reduction is: seeing the human being inside the addiction.
Once upon a time, all granny had to do was walk down to her local apothecary and order herself up some cocaine, morphine, or even prescription heroin; soldiers, left addicted to morphine after being wounded, could order up opium by mail.
After one hundred and ten years of stigmatization and criminalization, anyone who seeks to reduce the harm of their addiction to opioids through the use of medical heroin will again have access outside of a hospital setting. Those who seek to manage their opioid addiction through methadone, will have easier access and doctors who wish to prescribe methadone will no longer need to seek an exemption from drug laws.
For hundreds of years, Colonizing powers have fought for Afghan poppyfields; Britain, Russia, the US, have all sought control of, and benefitted financially, from Afghanistan’s main harvest: the poppy. There is a direct correlation between the ongoing war in the middle east and the inability of world powers to stabilize the region, an addiction older than our love of fossil fuels, opium.
According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan opium production was up 87% in 2017 – over 2016 – to 9000 metric tonnes. To put that in perspective, in 2001 opium production was at an all time low of 180 metric tonnes while in 2002, after the US invasion, it jumped to 3000 metric tonnes. If we are to understand how the twenty-first century has led to soaring opioid death rates, we need first examine the economic benefits. But alas, that is a topic best covered in depth; til next time, Niagara. Stay safe.