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"Aggressive Crackdown" Will Escalate HIV Crisis

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Issue: 3 Section: Canadian News Vancouver, British Columbia Topics: police, AIDS

July 11, 2003

"Aggressive Crackdown" Will Escalate HIV Crisis

Vancouver is home the largest population of intravenous drug users in Canada and, not coincidentally, to one of the worst epidemics of HIV/AIDS in the developed world. As many as 40% of the addicts living in Vancouver's downtown eastside are living with HIV/AIDS.

A drug deal in Vancouver's downtown eastside: home to the highest population of intravenous drug users in Canada, and one of the "worst HIV epidemics in the developed world." photo: City of Vancouver
A report released by Human Rights Watch in May claims that with mounting police harrassment of drug users, the disease could spread much more quickly. Since April, the Vancouver Police Department has been engaged in "Operation Torpedo", an initiative aimed at getting drug dealers off the street. The ongoing operation has reportedly been successful in removing drug dealers from the streets.

But Human Rights Watch observers say that this success comes with an unacceptable cost. The report documents several instances where police harrassed and physically abused drug users who were not being charged with dealing. The report charges, "these actions, which violate Canadian and international human rights guarantees, contributed to driving drug users underground and away from life-saving HIV prevention and other health services."

With the Olympics coming to town, activists say that the temptation may be too strong for city officials and police to "clean up" the city's downtown eastside, which is uncomfortably nearby to some key Olympics sites, by force. But the report warns that indulging the pressure to cover up the city's problems could make them worse. "Experiences from around the world have shown that HIV transmission increases with the incidence of abuse and stigmatization faced by those most at risk of the disease."

Dru Oja Jay

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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