VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Crass, cynical, defamatory, and damaging. That is how longtime drug-user activist Garth Mullins is describing the inclusion of a quote of his in a BC Liberal candidate’s campaign ad opposing an overdose prevention site in Yaletown.
Vancouver-False Creek Liberal candidate Sam Sullivan posted a four-minute video to Facebook Friday.
Mullins’ quote appears halfway through, and he says it is being “weaponized” and taken out of context to oppose a critical harm-reduction intervention in the riding Sullivan is running to represent.
“Sam Sullivan is running an ad that’s very much against the overdose prevention site that’s being proposed in that part of the city, and he uses a quote from me as part of marshaling his argument,” Mullins tells NEWS 1130.
“And the quote I say is ‘I’m not going to stand around an open hole with John Horgan digging a grave’. I said this in the summer, and I was saying that the NDP government needs to do more, needs to do more on safe supply and harm reduction. But in this context, Sam Sullivan was kind of taking my quote and making me seem like I’m on his side against a safe injection site, as if that would be the thing causing the injuries or the harm. I was pretty pissed off to see that in his ad.”
The quote was taken from an interview with the Tyee, and Mullins explains its context.
“There was a whole bunch of us that had sat on provincial government committees helping the government implement its harm-reduction strategy. As the pandemic has dragged on we’ve realized they’ve really been stalled, and foot-dragging on a lot of their response. And then, as we saw record overdose fatalities in the summer some of us just decided to walk out. And that’s what I said when I walked out,” he says.
“I really meant it. I felt like I was sitting on those committees while nothing got done, and while people I know were dying. I couldn’t stomach it anymore.”
There have been 1,068 illicit drug deaths to date in 2020 in B.C., based on preliminary data. The total number of illicit drug deaths in the first eight months of the year surpassed the total for all of 2019. BC Emergency Health Services reports close to 7,500 overdose calls throughout B.C. this past summer, making it the highest number of overdose calls ever recorded in a three-month stretch.
“We need more safe injection sites in more neighbourhoods, we need faster and better safe supply, we need decriminalization certainly not what Sam Sullivan is implying which is we need less of that, we need to shut that stuff down,” Mullins says.
He has written to BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson demanding action.
I wrote this letter to @Wilkinson4BC calling on him to remove @sam_sullivan‘s @bcliberals campaign ad where he misrepresented my words to support his opposition to an OPS. I also suggested removing Sullivan from caucus for being so crass about our dead. pic.twitter.com/HpXvykhBK1
— Garth “Phantom Power” Mullins (@garthmullins) October 18, 2020
“I told Wilkinson as the leader of the party that Sam Sullivan is in, ‘You know look, you’ve got this candidate that’s being pretty crass around the incredible amount of overdose deaths that my community has sustained. Maybe you want to ask this guy to leave caucus, maybe at minimum you want to ask this guy to pull down his ad.’ But I think it shows really bad judgment to be doing this in the middle of the biggest public health emergency the province has ever seen.”
While Mullins says neither the BC Liberals nor the BC NDP have addressed the crisis of fatal overdoses with due urgency in their campaigns. He thinks the New Democrats have been indifferent, while the Liberals have been hostile.
“Sometimes it looks like the BC Liberals are campaigning against us, against drug users and also against people who don’t have good housing instead of campaigning against the NDP. It seems like we’re all the enemy,” he says.
“It’s a very cynical ploy. In the past Sam Sullivan has occasionally said something good about Insite, the first safe injection site. So it makes me think that somewhere he does know that these things save lives, that these things are a real help for the very street disorder that he worries about. Now he’s in an election campaign and he seems to have forgotten those things. So it seems to me that maybe he’s more interested in being elected than making sure that more people don’t die.”
Further, he says the multiple crises affecting his community were exacerbated when the Liberals led B.C.
“Over the last 20 years this city has gotten to be a really hard place to live. There is a housing crisis, and an overdose crisis and just a crisis of affordability in the city. That’s all really come to the fore over the BC Liberals’ tenure in office for 16 years,” he says.
“I voted, and I voted NDP because I know that things would be so much worse if the Liberals were in power.”
A decision on setting up a permanent overdose prevention site in a city-owned building in Yaletown was set for Oct. 6. It has been delayed for two weeks, and council heard from over 100 speakers.
“You have these you know ‘concerned citizens’ saying, ‘Oh my gosh look at the people on the street,’ and going to city council and saying some very nasty things,” he says.
Opponents of the overdose prevention argue providing this service to people who use drugs will make the neighbourhood more dangerous, something Mullins says perpetuates stereotypes and stigma.
“There’s a lot of mirroring of those talking points or even cheerleading of those talking points in the BC Liberal campaign,” he says.
When sharing the campaign ad on social media, Sullivan wrote: “Our neighbourhoods are less safe after the government moved untreated, unsupported people with addictions into nearby hotels and community centers … Now a injection site across the street from a Playground. The NDP is making our communities less safe.”
Mullins says activists will continue their work regardless of who is elected on Oct. 24.
“You better believe I’m going to keep the fire lit underneath them as I have been, and that’s what our movement is here for and I know that’s how we actually win things. It’s not about where we put the ‘x’ on the ballot, it’s about what we do on all the days between the elections.”
NEWS 1130 has reached out to Sam Sullivan for comment.