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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

SANDY Macdougall: If you tell drug addicts and alcoholics that it's alright to continue their destructive lifestyles, that is exactly what they will do

This is a column that Sandy wrote one year ago yesterday.  He asked me to share it with you, and I am -- not just because he asked me, but because it's just as true today as it was then!  Sadly, those with the resources (government), just don't get it   :(

I am not a trained social worker and I have no scientific background upon which to base my opinion and attitude regarding low barrier, harm reduction, projects.

I am totally in favour of providing realistic treatment and services but only where that approach leads to success for those suffering from addictive, abusive use of drugs or alcohol or those suffering from mental illnesses. This approach to treatment should also save the surrounding community free of fear from the behaviour of the program participants.

What has led me to forming my current stance on these subjects is my own personal story combined with the anecdotal evidence of stories of people whom I cherished but whose lives were lost on the altar of permissiveness and enablement such as that promoted in low barrier/harm reduction models.

I am 77 years old, and a recovering alcoholic, with more than 50 years of sobriety behind me. Until I was placed in a position where I was forced to quit drinking, I spent too many years being a pain in the rear to this community.

I was frequently in trouble with the courts, police and my family but I was always treated in a very permissive manner. In short, I was never held accountable for my own actions and shameful behaviour which had resulted from various character defects combined with too much alcohol.

My anti-social activities came to a screeching halt when I crossed a line and a judge ceased offering me permissive solutions.  He sent me to jail where I had no easy access to alcohol and was forced for the first time to accept the responsibility for my own actions.

As a ruse to gain early release, I attended some 12-step meetings and was eventually released back into this same community where I have since enjoyed the privileges, and pleasures, of a sober lifestyle for more than 50 years.  A few years after my release, I was even granted a pardon for the misdeeds of my past.

In the years since, I have served in many capacities with public organizations and even sat for six years on Maple Ridge municipal council.

My point in relating these things is simply to assure you that none of these successes would have been possible if I had continued to exist in a low barrier, harm reduction, model.

I readily admit that, given enough time and patience within the surrounding community, a few of those existing in a low barrier environment will succeed and return to otherwise normal and socially acceptable roles.

These success stories will be too few in number and the community will be left to deal with the chaos, criminal activity, and violence that too often accompany such projects.  To relieve addicts and alcoholics from any demand to cease their addictive behaviours is only to guarantee the continuation of those activities.

In other words, if you tell drug addicts and alcoholics that it's alright to continue their destructive lifestyles, that is exactly what they will do.

I currently reside a few hundred feet from the temporary shelter to which many of us in this neighbourhood were opposed. The fears of our skepticism have been realized by continued drug use, prostitution, major and minor crimes and violence in and around the shelter. The drug overdose death rate is approaching epidemic proportions and in our stairwells we still find too many needles, used condoms and other detritus of people with no direction and no responsibilities.

We have no reason to believe that using that same permissive approach at any proposed facility will result in any improvements.  I am totally willing to do my part in helping people rehabilitate their lifestyles but not at the sacrifice of our own sense of community and security.

Any successful projects aimed at dealing with these enormous social and legal issues must include greater public input and transparency and must be developed apart from existing residential and business districts.

Hopefully, our pleas to reject this proposal will not fall on deaf ears and we can all join together in finding an effective, acceptable approach.

SANDY MacDOUGALL is a retired newspaper reporter, formerly employed by the Maple Ridge News and the Tri-City News; he resides in Maple Ridge.

Sandy was elected for three consecutive terms to Maple Ridge municipal council in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and also ran for the Progressive Conservatives in Kim Campbell's ill-fated federal election campaign


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