When celebrities come to Vancouver, they’re usually spotted in trendy boutiques and restaurants – but British comedian Russell Brand wanted a tour of the Downtown Eastside.
Before his Saturday evening show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Brand spent a few hours with Liz Evans, executive director of the Portland Hotel Society – the organization behind Vancouver’s infamous supervised safe injection site. A recovering addict himself, it’s an issue close to Brand’s heart. He tweeted his support – along with a picture. (Today he posted the same picture and comments to his Facebook page)
“Some people think that addiction is just something people do for a laugh”, said Brand in a recent BBC documentary “From Addiction to Recovery” , in which he examines Britain’s treatment of addicted drug users. While an outspoken advocate of abstinence-based recovery, Brand also supports widely controversial harm reduction strategies like Insite, that give users a sterile environment to inject, provide clean needles and emergency treatment. The facility also offers treatment and counselling for users wanting to get clean.
The estimated number of injection drug users in Vancouver is 12,000 – with a reported one-third residing on Vancouver’s much maligned Downtown Eastside.
“The consequences of addiction in our modern “civilized” society should not be death”, wrote Liz Evans in the Calgary Herald last month. Rebutting to columnist Licia Corbella that blamed Insite for the death of Canadian Glee star, Cory Monteith. “We need to get out from under the blaming and fear and start to care about people with some wisdom and clarity.”
Brand sees pragmatism, love, and compassion as the solution to the “disease of addiction”. Not in just an “airy-fairy-let’s-all-hold-hands-and-hug, liberalism” kind of way, however. “You have to offer them treatment” he says in his sharp-tongued film. “We need to start regarding addiction in all its forms as a health issue”.
By Brenna Fynes