By Medicine Hat News Opinion on January 25, 2020.
The conversation was about a minute-and-a-half old when he uttered the words.
Neither of us had met this man before, though Jeremy and I both knew his wife a little she had stopped at the Medicine Hat News trade show booth for a quick hello and had just introduced us to her husband.
We quickly found ourselves on the same side of a topic regarding the media, and the exchange had been quite pleasant to that point. So you can imagine our surprise when he casually tossed in the phrase, Its like those f***ing low-life refugees, as if this was just how anyone would speak.
This moment in time is a couple years old now, and the end of the story is that nothing else happened. It was so unbelievably awful and out of left field that Jeremy and I were both too stunned to speak. And heres the thing all this time later, I still dont know what to say.
How do you defend people escaping war-torn countries to someone who would clearly rather those people stay home and die? I dont think you can.
Ive spent a lot of time this week thinking about local mom Kym Porter, who has been extremely active in her advocacy for people who use drugs ever since her son died of an accidental opioid overdose. I had mentioned to her a few weeks ago that I was planning to write about addiction at some point soon, and I was going to use the need for supervised consumption sites as the foundation of my piece.
Then this week happened.
Not only did Premier Jason Kenney suggest relocation or closure of sites in a Tuesday announcement, he showed his true feelings about those battling addiction when he tweeted out one of the most vile columns ever written, authored by a man who was trying to set a record for ways you can dehumanize people in one sitting.
And so, instead of going through the usual process of collecting information for Laying it Out, I havent been able to get the story out of my head of that time a man Id just met offered up his pure hatred of refugees as if we were discussing our favourite colours. What can I possibly say to those who oppose supervised consumption to convince them of its life-saving necessity when all too many of those people would rather addicts not be saved at all?
If the premier of Alberta believes in an invasion of meth heads who are out of their bloody mind and then refers to the NDPs callousness and regressiveness in setting up drug sites, I think its fair to say hes not the only one who feels this way about addiction.
Youre welcome to wait for the results of the panel report that had strict instructions not to include harm reduction in its findings, but at this point I feel like we can surmise Kenneys plan for supervised consumption without wondering if Albertas 4,587 reversed overdoses and zero deaths matter to him. Even if the benefits of keeping everyone alive were laid out in terms of cost savings, I dont think it would outweigh the disdain for the drug users very existence.
So if we cant even come together in agreement on these peoples value as human beings, let alone how to help them not die, maybe its time we find a new approach. I might see them as victims worth saving, and you might see them as low-life criminals, but we can all agree that society has failed in dealing with the problem.
And if the argument over supervised consumption doesnt convince you of the need for systemic change, then what else do you need? Examples of this systems failures are piling up everywhere but a consumption site takes one of the harshest realities and concentrates it into one spot, focusing everyones attention all at once.
So the question is, What are we looking at?
Are we looking at societys worst, or the worst thing about society? Are we looking at people who deserve jail but not life, or the failure of a decades-long war on drugs?
Do you see a need to go full United States and start imprisoning en masse with minimum punishments that equal our current life sentences? Or do you see the result of a revolving-door jail system that has no historic evidence of reducing drug use, or crime?
Is this just people too stupid or lazy to succeed? Or is this decades of income inequality manifested into poverty at its most tragic, rock-bottom level?
No matter how you view it, supervised consumption is one of the purest examples we have of society going wrong, and our current governments plan to deal with that is to ignore the experts and promote further hatred. Even if you love everything Kenney has said or implied, all his plan will do is take a tragic but concentrated issue and sprinkle it back around the affected cities.
It is a nothing solution to a problem that is only getting worse, and the UCP leader doesnt much care for the victims of it. That might be fine when its just unsightly low-lifes that you can assume no one else cares about either, but how will you feel if the next victim lies in the bedroom down the hall?
Will the premiers expert-ignoring plan of simply scattering the users be enough for you then?
Scott Schmidt is the layout editor at the Medicine Hat News. Contact him at email@example.com. All opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the News editorial board.
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