Human rights include the right not to die in the gutter, says BC premier

VANCOUVER — Long before the pandemic, British Columbia was facing two major crises that the provincial government had been unable to improve, let alone resolve.

The pain and misery caused by the toxic drug crisis and the desperation and desperation caused by the housing crisis are two stories never far from the front page of any BC news agency. With the pandemic and its aftermath, the two perennial problems have worsened.

As 2023 approaches, the province’s new premier, David Eby, 46, knows the challenge presented by both and seems optimistic about the possibility of making long, elusive strides.

Eby, a native of Kitchener, Ont., spoke about the policy changes he hopes to achieve on both issues over the next 12 months during a year-end interview with the Star. He said the housing crisis required a response from many different angles.

« People with decent incomes are simply unable to find homes they can afford to live in and older people (have to) choose between food and rent, » he said. « And the growth, or at least the stability, of homeless populations despite significant public investment to address this crisis is a really thorny issue. »

Preserving existing affordable rental housing and ensuring units are built through the current housing market downturn are both key, Eby said.

The province « must be » involved in building middle-class housing, he said, referring to the federal government’s postwar strategies for housing returning soldiers. These strategies focused on building low-cost rental housing and efforts to pave the way for homeownership.

Eby also pointed to the federal government’s funding of co-ops in the 1960s and 1970s as another example of successful approaches.

Since becoming Premier on November 18, he has launched what is expected to be a comprehensive series of initiatives aimed at increasing access to housing in the province, including a $500 million grant program for organizations wishing to build rental housing for residents of British Columbia.

A ministry dedicated to housing was also created.

« I feel a lot of hope about where we’re going to end up, » Eby said. « It’s an incredibly stressful time for families right now looking for a place to live and with the population growing I feel enormous pressure to respond. »

The pressure could increase as Canada seeks to attract even more immigrants to the country, aiming to attract more than 500,000 a year by 2025. This is a figure at the discretion of the federal government, but the provinces bear good many of the burdens that such an influx will bring. to bring.

Eby said he expects Ottawa to be involved in the infrastructure needed to welcome newcomers, including housing and access to services. He called on the federal government to help build amenities such as community centers to ensure the quality of life is maintained in fast-growing communities.

British Columbia will have to push the federal government to divert attention away from Ontario and Quebec to get such help, he said.

“We will have to be in front of their offices regularly and make sure to remind them so that British Columbia is supported in the same way as other provinces,” he said.

Prior to becoming Premier, Eby served as Minister of Housing and Provincial Attorney General.

In August, he suggested to Postmedia that involuntary treatment of people who have repeated overdoses is a tool the province could use to deal with the drug crisis. The suggestion earned him the scorn of drug advocates, including the BC Civil Liberties Association, of which he once served as executive director.

The situation in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside seems perpetually controversial and dire, but in recent years it may have reached a new gravity. Canada Post canceled delivery service in part of the neighborhood due to concerns for the safety of its letter carriers earlier this year.

« I really believe we can do better, » Eby said of the province’s past approaches to the toxic drug crisis and its aftermath.

During the year, what police called « stranger attacks » on unsuspecting pedestrians around downtown Vancouver began to increase, with many addicts blaming them. Shortly after being sworn in, Eby launched a new public safety plan aimed at tackling repeat offenders and creating more mental health response teams.

The safety of people living on the streets drew attention in July when a gunman shot four people whom police said were ‘passengers’, killing two of them, before being shot dead by police in the Vancouver suburb of Langley.

Meanwhile, tents had sprung up along East Hastings and the fentanyl crisis claimed even more lives around British Columbia. In the first nine months of 2022, more than 1,600 people died from toxic drugs, according to the province.

Months later, Eby said he doesn’t have the expertise to comment on how best to get those who frequently overdose on « a better path, » but the province will use evidence-based policies to deal with the overdose crisis.

“I strongly believe that human rights include the right not to die in the gutter, and the government has an obligation to do all it can to respect the human dignity of every person,” Eby said. .

« That’s what we’re going to continue to do and we’re going to do it in accordance with the advice and the best evidence we get from the experts on how we do it in a way that gives people the best chance of surviving. »

Finding a way to get people out of the cycle of toxic drug use that repeatedly lands them in the emergency room is key, he said.

Eby pointed to a project in development at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver that will provide a transparent door to drug treatment and, if needed, supportive housing for those who end up in the emergency room following an overdose.

Although he’s just the latest BC politician to rise to the challenge, over the next year Eby said he hopes to be the one who can make progress by slaying two dragons trampling the people of the city. province and improve the standard of living of residents.

« You’ll see a real focus from us provincially to support fast-growing cities with essential services, around health care, education and public safety, » he said, “but also amenities that build communities.


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