The Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, a non-profit corporation designed to win Vancouver the right to host the 2010 Olympics, pledges to "actively address the concerns of those living in inner-city communities during the planning and implementation of the Games."145 A police crackdown that violates the fundamental human rights of Vancouver's most marginalized residents does not begin to fulfill this pledge. This report, issued one month into the current police operation, documents abuses ranging from outright police brutality to conduct that interferes with legal and life-saving health interventions. It reflects a pattern of abuse that has been documented by other groups and corroborated by research data since long before the crackdown began.
The government of Canada at all levels has made important commitments to persons affected by HIV/AIDS in Canada, including the most socially and economically marginalized persons who are most at risk. The government has invested in life-saving needle exchange services for injection drug users since 1987 and has increased support for methadone access in recent years, including in prisons. Canada's national HIV/AIDS policy is premised on the importance of protecting the rights of those most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. "Fear, stigma and discrimination-unfortunately, HIV/AIDS still evokes these reactions in Canada and around the world," says the HIV/AIDS Strategy document of Health Canada. "A key component of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Strategy is to address HIV/AIDS legal, ethical and human rights issues, and to protect and advance the human rights of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS."146
The police crackdown in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver flies in the face of these principles. The actions of the police do not reflect sensitivity to narcotics addiction as a medical problem rather than a crime. The city of Vancouver and provincial authorities have not endeavored to ensure that treatment for drug addiction and harm reduction programs receive the same strong support enjoyed by law enforcement measures. The heavy-handed quality of the police crackdown and the apparent disregard by the police of the health and human rights consequences of their actions inevitably add to the marginalization and stigmatization of Vancouver's most vulnerable persons and may contribute to a new and deadly wave of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases as well as overdose-related complications.
As part of its "war on drugs," the government of Thailand has recently been accused of summarily executing over 1500 suspected drug dealers, many of whom were actually low-level drug users according to press accounts.147 Repressive laws on narcotics addiction across the former Soviet Union contribute to the stigmatization of drug users there, which feeds the fastest growing AIDS epidemic in the world.148 If it is not attentive to the actions of its police officers against injection drug users, Canada may find itself torpedoed into the company of nations that fight HIV/AIDS and drug use by violating the rights of their people.
146 Government of Canada, Health Canada, Canadian Strategy on HIV/AIDS: Human Rights [online] at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hppb/hiv_aids/can_strat/rights/index.html (retrieved April 18, 2003).
147 See, for example, Richard C. Paddock, "Thailand wages a bloody war on drugs," Los Angeles Times, March 17, 2003.
148 United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS, Report on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic 2002 (Geneva: United Nations, 2002), and Open Society Institute, International Harm Reduction Development Program, "Drugs, AIDS and Harm Reduction: How to Slow the HIV Epidemic in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union," especially pages 10-20. Available at http://www.soros.org/harm-reduction/resourceguide/index2.html (retrieved April 19, 2003).