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Rob Ford, Harm Reduction (Blog)

A personal insight into the Rob Ford drug scandal, harm reduction, and the depths of human hypocrisy

by Rob Connell

The Toronto Raver Information Project, seen here tabling, focuses on harm reduction in relation to drugs, something Mayor Rob Ford has so far opposed. Photo courtesy of former TRiP Coordinator Lisa Campbell
The Toronto Raver Information Project, seen here tabling, focuses on harm reduction in relation to drugs, something Mayor Rob Ford has so far opposed. Photo courtesy of former TRiP Coordinator Lisa Campbell


 From 2005 to 2008 I was a member of the Toronto Raver Information Project (TRiP), an organization founded in 1995 by members of the city’s electronic dance music, or rave, sub-culture. Given the continually unfolding Rob Ford scandal I’d like to offer a personal insight into the drug policy prescriptions he has advocated for much of his political life so that we can better understand the dynamics of this problem and what his mayorship is costing Toronto. The purpose of the TRiP Project is to address drug and sex issues in the rave community by providing harm reduction information, referrals and supplies. Briefly, harm reduction is a way of thinking about and practicing healthy ways of being that build on the risk reduction strategies we all use to keep ourselves as safe and healthy as possible. TRiP believes that knowledge is power and is dedicated to reducing harm by providing non-judgmental info and supplies around safer drug use and safer sex through means that are practical, realistic and attainable for the person. This philosophy and practice is not in opposition to abstinence (the “just say no” approach) but recognizes that “just say no” is not a realistic, desirable or attainable goal for many of us. Instead it offers a broader range of options for anyone looking for ways to sustain their health and well-being.

In my capacity as the coordinator of the TRiP project I served on the Toronto City Council's Drug Strategy Committee from 2007-2008. During my tenure the committee was grappling with the implementation of Toronto's safer crack use kits, a pragmatic project designed to reduce the spread of blood-borne viruses (HIV and Hepatitis C) among at-risk crack users. Toronto’s safer crack use kits contained heat-resistant glass stems so as to reduce the risk of burned and cracked lips which act as vectors for infection. Most of our work revolved around trying to convince the two drug detectives on the committee to tell their colleagues to stop seizing and breaking the kits, thus sabotaging a city approved initiative.

Rob Ford was not on the committee, but his vocal opposition to the crack kits, and harm reduction as a whole, was well known.In his 2005 statements on the issue, recently re-published in the National Post (), Councillor Ford dismissed the concept of harm reduction in its entirety and essentially advocated that the only response to crack use should be forced rehab or for users to "dry out in jail." 

As a councillor there wasn't much he could do to stop our work, but I don't think anyone on the committee imagined that this ignorant and petulant man would one day pursue his mission of crushing sane drug policies from the position of mayor (although truth be told, in terms of drugs, the real buck stops at the Federal Government and Supreme Court, but that's another story entirely). Now with everything that's come to light, I wonder if Rob Ford will be following his own policy proposals and marching himself off to prison or forced rehab? Or, more interestingly, will he now be accessing one the city’s harm reduction services that he’s tried so hard to crush in the past.

For the record, in and of itself, I don't care that Rob Ford enjoys crack or any other substance, although it reflects poorly on his integrity that he so vigorously lied about it. I do care that he has a long history of demonizing and vilifying people who do the exact same thing as him. I do care that his very political existence seems to revolve around gutting social programs, including progressive and compassionate initiatives and policies designed to actually help, rather than punish or further harm, people dealing with similar substance use issues as him. Therein lies the truly disgusting and outrageous aspect of the scandal.

Given the huge disconnect between what Rob Ford says and what he does, in terms of drugs I think we have a mayor who is either so deluded and unreflective that his grasp of reality and capacity for sound judgment is in serious doubt, or a person who is largely unable to empathize with others and has sunk so deep into cynicism and self-serving manipulative lying that he's approaching the behavior of a sociopath. Its possible that future revelations on his alleged role in murder and extortion may shed light on this last point.

Although I think it's fair to point out that Ford’s substance use has at time resulted in reckless endangerment of others (impaired driving) and seems quite self-destructive, we should be wary of ridiculing and demonizing Ford for his drug use, in and of itself, because this feeds into the social stigma that helps justify the disastrous war on drug. As I have pointed out above, there are much better reasons to criticize the beleaguered mayor.

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