Tuesday, September 10, 2019

MSM Missed Manitoba Meth-election Stories On Crime, Needles, Injection Sites, And Detox

With no public interest broadcaster at work in Manitoba on the provincial election, important and serious aspects underpinning health, economic and safety policy were left to languish on the sidelines of mainstream media story selections
I tried my best to carry the ball and make sure voices raising inconvenient truths in the election were heard. 

Readers donated towards this work and I've been honoured to earn their trust and support. You can join the donors list too.
This column is about four election issues - discarded used needles, meth-induced property and violent crime, safe injection sites, and drug detox and recovery spending priorities - and how the mainstream media completely let the public down by ignoring or under-reporting those stories and not holding politicians to account. 

1) Since last October my main beat has been to uncover critical errors and deficiencies in public health practices that are resulting in over a hundred thousand contaminated used needles dumped unsafely onto streets, boulevards, lanes, parks, and private residences all over Winnipeg already this year. (I focused on Winnipeg but it's a huge problem in Brandon, rural areas and first nations communities as well.)

As the election loomed I reported that the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority had underestimated the number of discarded sharps in Winnipeg by 400%. AT LEAST. And I reported that the year over year increase  from their October 2018 estimate to June of 2012 was 1200%. 

That news got the attention of PC MLA Sarah Guillemard and the Bear Clan on Twitter. who liked and retweeted my comments. I got further comments from Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont and a city councilor chimed in too:

"Mynarski Councilor Ross Eadie, whose north end ward has been noticably afflicted with discarded used needles, reacted to our story exposing that health officials lowballed the estimate of discarded needles in Winnipeg by 400% last year.

With discards estimated to be up 1200% since last year, Eadie cautioned:

 "I definitely believe Street Connections has not handled their program very well over the years on the collection side."

... Dougald Lamont, the Manitoba Liberal leader was critical of both needle and data collection by the WRHA, saying it was "not surprising that the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's estimate of discarded needles was so far from actual numbers," and insisted  that "Manitobans deserve to know the extent of issues within their communities."

Lamont was bang on. The WRHA's "harm reduction" policy and free needle exchange program is based on a 1996 study from goddamn Baltimore - where NO ONE was cranking methamphetamine.
Last October the WRHA claimed:  
"Needle distribution programs have also been shown to reduce the number of discarded needles in the community overall.", citing a study published in the year 2000. 
 In the same email, officials argued:  
"Needle return rates have very little to do with the number of needles found discarded unsafely in the community." 
Can someone explain why needle returns were counted and rates were tracked and bragged about by those same exchange programs in Regina, Saskatoon and other places in the past? 

Oh ya, because when it's at 88%, that's proof users aren't dumping free needles onto playgrounds.
But if it wasn't for me asking politicans questions what they were going to do about used needles endangering the public and the WRHA's failure to monitor, let alone control, the meth epidemic, no one in the media would have asked.  
"Good data is very important for governments to make the right policy choices", Lamont said.  
To be clear - the WRHA uses a 23 year old study to justify a program depositing, by their own admission, up to 41,000 needles of THEIR needles on the street, that doesn't collect proper needle return or discard data, and that doesn't even require ANY needles be brought in or a single question asked before "harm reduction" workers hand out clean needles by the boxload.  

Green Party leader James Beddome and the NDP candidate in St. Boniface Laurissa Sims, concurred with Lamont at a St. B town hall that the WRHA had failed to ensure "harm reduction" for addicts didn't result in harm for law-abiding citizens and for children. That's all 3 opposition parties, criticizing the role of WRHA harm reduction policies leaving used needles on our streets, under the Pallister regime.

You'd think CBC or someone would have picked up on that as an election issue. 


2) I suggested in a column that "If "Crime And Fear" Emerges In The Manitoba Election - It Won't Just Be Campaign Rhetoric" - and I backed it up with the very statistics the Free Press buried in a community tabloid.

"A recent Lance story - a Free Press Neighborhood tabloid - about crime rates in St. Boniface contained the bombshell statistics that should have been on the front page of the parent broadsheet.

2018                                 One year increase     Increase since 2014
Property crimes  2,893          55.7%                     92.9%

Violent crimes       385           28.3%                     27.4%

Total crimes         3639          49.6%                     78.2%

I repeat -- "a rise of 92.9 per cent over the five-year average." 

But the valid crime concerns of the residents and businesses seeking enforcement - not to mention families terrorized by meth-crazed relatives and neighbours - got no traction in the elction campaign. Why? 

For one, because there is no effective voice for crime victims in this city, and none of the opposition parties wanted to be caste in that role. In fact, the NDP platform didn't address crime enforcement at all. 

However, there is an effective and coordinated lobby in support of the WRHA. Those activists have never questioned the harm reduction policy - let alone admit its failures - and makes money off any program expansion. 

So crime issues became secondary to jockeying for public support over spending promises  made about treatment options and health care services, ignoring immediate protection of our community. 
And no one in the media championed their cause.

As for Brian Pallister and the PC's, they talked a good game about hiking policing and enforcement budgets, but no one asked them if they will attach measurable results to the funding, or how they define success.

* The next time an MSM reporter mentions the 92.9% increase in property crime in St. Boniface to an MLA or a Premier and asks what they will do, it will be the first time.  

* If they ask for a comment about the analysis of former cop James Jewell, who dissected a flawed investigation structure under police chief Danny Smyth that amplified the factors behind the 92.9% hike in property crime, it will be the first time

* The next time reporters ask those wanting your vote how they will reform the Intoxicated Persons Act to allow for detention of addicts in a meth psychosis, a prerequisite to expanding ANY drug stabilization or detox unit services, it will also be the first time.

3) Another election train all the opposition parties hopped onto, without question from the media, was the establishment of "safe injection" sites. 

The contrast with the Progressive Conservatives was easy for the media to grasp and portray - conservatives are against letting addicts shoot up in taxpayer-paid spaces (bad policy), and everyone else was agreeing with the "WRHA harm reduction fan club" to open places for users (good policy). 

Well... not quite everybody. With good reasons to boot. But the media wouldn't hear of it, let alone report on it.

But the trio at the St. B town hall heard it, from Marion Willis and the addicts in the residential recovery program at Morberg House. 
She dared them to produce a single study showing a safe injection site was appropriate for meth users. They still haven't. 
Here's the video:

Refuting the NDP 100 day plan to centralize services with the Main Street Project, Marion Willis told the panel, "I'm a better expert what it actually takes to take meth addict from addicted to Morberg House, these outcomes are achieved because it isn't happening on Main Street..."

She went on to dispute their lockstep support for safe injection sites as a viable option to handle the meth crisis: 

"I would challenge you to go and find some current research on methamphetamine use disorder, guess what? IT DOESN'T EXIST... Everybody has adopted the protocols for addressing the opiod crisis ... this is a methamphetamine crisis, and it's a very different beast..."
There isn't enough understanding and I see that clearly ... it's painfully obvious to us that even those within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority making decisions actually don't know enough about it and they're making a lot of assumptions." 
Now god forbid, any media outlets had asked politicians favouring safe injection sites how they would propose handling the increased 
crime those facilities had brought to neighborhoods in Calgary, Edmonton, and Wab Kinew's favorite example, Lethbridge, where a man was stabbed in the face last weekend and where the rooms are booked solid as meth addicts smoke themselves into oblivion in a modern day, taxpayer-funded equivalent of an opium den. 

But can you imagine if just one had reported what Marion Willis, whose program has a 67% success rate, with no funding from the provincial government, told the panel?   

 "'Harm reduction' isn't necessarily a safe injection site when it comes to meth. I beg you to start talking to people who have overcome the addiction, take it from them, they're the true experts sitting here."
Early in the campaign Marion Willis identified a vacated building in the west end that is already designed for exactly what is needed - drug detox and stabilizationIt's actually two buildings, with the modern medical treatment side with secure bed units to the west connected to an old nun's residence converted to an administration and residential treatment building at 800 Adele Avenue at Arlington St. 

She sees it as a potential centre of excellence, with drug treatment and education programs aligned with long term supports for recovery. 

The problem is, that the Pallister government felt an existing lease was too profitable for the landlords and intend to legislate their way out of a 20 year contract between a child-welfare agency and the building owners. The First Nations children in care were relocated (to where, no one seems to want to say) and in the process government officials, committed to paying $36,000 a month in rent for an empty building through the new year, said some negative things about the facility that resulted in a lawsuit over souring potential new renters. Messy messy, and a lot of hard feelings on both sides.

At the St. Boniface town hall, Willis beseeched the candidates to look beyond the legal dispute the government has provoked with the building's owners and take a big step to handle the meth crisis. 

"What this city needs most has been sitting since February empty, locked up, within walking distance of Health Sciences Centre." 

* All 3 candidates agreed their parties would look into it being part of their drug treatment program expansion. 

* Member of Parliament for the riding, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, is very familiar with the success of Morberg House and told us he'd go to bat with Ottawa for funding

Area councilor Cindy Gilroy wrote "I have treatment facilities in my ward and have supported the need for treatment centers so am not opposed." 

So, the MP and councilor are interested in the building being restored to public health care use, as are the leaders of the Liberal Party, Green Party, and a mental health support worker running for the NDP. And guess what?  

Even two of Pallisters' Progresive Conservative candidates - both MLA's seeking to return to the Legislature - agreed that if 800 Adele is already designed to handle drug detox, then it should be considered for a potential new site. 

Watch the response of Jon Reyes, seeking election in the new constituency of Waverley, about using the existing facilty at 800 Adele instead of the PC commitment to spend millions to build a similar 12 bed unit at HSC.

"I think it's very important for us to have these conversations with the stakeholders that have experience who have the experience in terms of these treatment centres ... I am very open-minded when it comes to information that can be brought forward." 

Shannon Martin is the Tory candidate in McPhillips, another MLA relocating to a new electoral division:  

"I think Marty, we have to look at every opportunity to use existing facilities ... we shouldn't be in a position to rule anything out, everything should be on the table."

So, two Party leaders in Manitoba, the area MP who was on the House of Commons Health Committee, the area city councilor, an NDP rep, and two Progressive Conservative MLA's running for re-election - all agree with the concept Marion Willis brought forward this summer, for the province to make use of the drug stabilization unit at 800 Adele instead of taxpayers paying $36,000 a month to keep it empty. 

Dane Bourget, Director of JibStop, told me he could have the detox beds and the residential treatment beds at 800 Adele "filled in 24 hours!" 

That ain't fake news.

PS. A reader pointed out that readers should be pointed at the stories I broke about election laws not requiring candidates, like 3 from the NDP including Wab Kinew, to reveal they failed to pay court-ordered fines and had their paycheques garnisheed at additional taxpayer expense. 



And my story about Kinew refusing to be interviewed by two local women political journalists:


Independent journalism like this is how the public interest is protected. 

That's what I have tried to do with my 2019 Manitoba Election Coverage as a one man bureau. 

Regardless of the election results, it would be nice if the mainstream media finally paid attention to these four issues - discarded used needles, meth-induced property and violent crime, safe injection sites, and drug detoxand recovery spending priorities - and asked the next class of MLA's and the next cabinet the kinds of questions I have raised from the angles I have explored, even if it challenges their own views in the newsroom.