Dan Rather doc on Downtown eastside...

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Dan Rather doc on Downtown Eastside to air Tues.

Glenn Bohn, Vancouver Sun

Published: Friday, February 15, 2008

VANCOUVER -- A Safe Place to Shoot Up is the title of a Downtown Eastside documentary airing this Tuesday on Dan Rather Reports, a cable-TV news show hosted by one of the world's most respected television journalists.

Rather, the former anchor of CBS News, notes that the 7,000 drug injection users in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood have a hepatitis C infection rate that's comparable to Botswana's.

He highlights the city's harm-reduction initiatives and takes his viewers into InSite, the nurse-supervised clinic near Main and Hastings where addicts are encouraged to inject illegal drugs without sharing needles, to slow the spread of deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Rather, who visited the city in November and worked on the documentary with students from the University of B.C.'s graduate school of journalism, calls Vancouver "a city of contrast."

The city has "a landscape studded with snow-capped mountains, multimillion-dollar condos, cradling a downtown that's home to one of the worst urban blights in North America," the well-travelled Texan declares in the program.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan is introduced as "the first quadriplegic mayor of a major North American city."

"Nobody wants to be a drug addict," Sullivan tells Rather.

"I have talked to many people with drug addictions, and they all want to be healthy," says the mayor, who has confirmed that, before he was mayor, he bought heroin for a female prostitute and bought crack for a man and allowed the user to smoke the crack in Sullivan's van.

"They all want to be clean," the mayor says. "I tell you: I do not want to be a quadriplegic. I would do anything to stand up, but that's not gonna happen. That's not my life. So, I need help managing my disability, just like those people with drug addictions need help managing their disability."

Rather also explores the question of whether the city's highly visible drug problem in the Downtown Eastside will remain unchanged before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics, now just two years away.

Rather notes that a former Liberal federal government allowed InSite to open in 2004, but that the current Conservative government is threatening to close it because Conservatives believe the clinic encourages drug use.

"For now, the federal government in Ottawa has granted InSite a stay until July, but they refuse to speak to us about their official stance on the project," Rather says.

"So, Vancouver has its work cut out for it over the next two years as it prepares to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the clock is running," he concludes.

"But unlike host cities of the past, which have swept their derelict residents to the edge of town, away from the limelight, Vancouver is trying to address its urban ills with a different cure that they call a harm-reduction approach, which allows addicts and prostitutes to take control of their own problems."

Sullivan tells Rather the standard response to those kinds of social problems is to put unwanted people on buses and take them away.

"I'm absolutely committed that won't be Vancouver's response," vows Sullivan, who is seeking re-election this fall.

A Safe Place To Shoot Up premieres on HDNet - a digital cable channel - this Tuesday, at 8 p.m.

gbohn@png.canwest.com

GeneralDanielle Strickland