Dean Wilson used to be an IBM salesman. Now he is possibly the most outspoken drug addict in Canada. As president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) he is a loud and articulate advocate for street addicts from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods, and the site of the highest HIV rate in North America.
“As a political act FIX is an urgent and just and heart breaking film. As a work of art it expands the known limits of human nature with remarkable portraits”
– Michael Ondaatje, author, The English Patient
Ann Livingston is the charismatic organizer of VANDU. She is a non-user, driven by an impatient spirituality and she is as confrontational as hell. Together, Ann and Dean lead an unpredictable crew of street addicts in their fight to open North America’s first safe injection site for drug users. Safe injection sites, where users can inject drugs without the danger of overdose or infection, are seen by supporters as the first step in bringing addicts into treatment programs. In 27 cities around the world, safe injection sites have been proven to save lives.
Dean loves Ann. But he also is captured by the drugs he uses.
Dean Wilson has found a curious ally in Philip Owen, the conservative Mayor of Vancouver who has alarmed members of his own party by championing a daring new drug philosophy called Harm Reduction. The Mayor’s plan for dealing with drug and addiction breaks away from the American-style War on Drugs by seriously considering safe injection sites and heroin maintenance programs for long term addicts. Philip Owen is a mayor struggling to transform his city from being North America’s most notorious drug port into possibly becoming the first city on the continent to realistically face drug addiction.
The Mayor is staking his political career on Harm Reduction. Dean Wilson and Ann Livingston say the drug users are staking their lives on it.
But not everyone agrees with the Mayor or the users. Key members of the Mayor’s own political party, together with an alliance of business and local residents, say they will do everything they can to stop safe injection sites and the Mayor’s plan. They say their neighbourhoods, their children and their livelihoods are at risk. They are taking to the streets. So are the drug users.
“A quest to open North America’s first safe injection site evolves into a love story and a revolution. This unblinking and beautifully rendered portrait about Vancouver’s drug plague altered a civic election”
– Maclean’s, Canada’s Weekly Newsmagazine
Vancouver Police Sargeant Doug Lang is the cop caught in the middle. He is in charge of the corner of Main and Hastings, the heart of North America’s largest open drug scene. He wakes up homeless addicts who sleep in the streets, arrests drug dealers and tries to maintain a sense of law and order in the area – he calls it “shoveling water.”
As the Mayor battles members of his own political party, Dean Wilson dares to face his own addiction. The stories of FIX span over two years as our characters’ lives interconnect to reveal a battle for the hearts, minds and streets of a city each one calls home.
British Columbia MLA Ernest Winch urges Canada to follow Britain’s model of providing minimal doses of opiates made available by legal means under doctors’ care.
Vancouver’s Community Chest and Council recommends provinces across Canada establish clinics for chronic drug users so they can receive minimum dosages.
Fatal drug overdoses in Vancouver increases from 18 in 1988 to 200 in 1993. (A Framework for Action, Donald McPherson, Drug Policy Coordinator, City of Vancouver)
Chief Coroner of British Columbia, Vince Cain, releases a broad analysis of drug use in the province. The Cain Report states that vast amounts of money are being spent on the drug problem within the criminal justice system with little or no effect. The report calls for policy makers to recognize that the misuse of heroin, cocaine and other drugs is primarily a health issue.
The Vancouver Injection Drug User’s Study (VIDUS) conducted by the BC Centre for Excellence records the rate of incidence of HIV amongst injection drug users to be 18 percent. This is the highest HIV rate ever observed in the developed world.
The Vancouver/Richmond Health Board declares a health emergency in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. This is in response to the high rate of overdose deaths and simultaneous epidemics involving HIV, hepatitis A, B and C, syphilis and tuberculosis.
The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) is founded by Ann Livingston, Bud Osborn and a group of active drug users. VANDU has since grown into the largest drug user group in Canada, and one of the largest in the world.
BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. John Millar submits a report, “Pay Now or Pay Later”. He states that the illicit nature of drug use is forcing users to criminal activity and jail and that there is inadequate provision of and capacity for addiction treatment for intravenous drug users. His solutions include tightly controlled medical prescription of heroin and a reduction in sentences for possession.
Between 1990 and 2000, more than twelve hundred people have died in the city of Vancouver from drug overdoses. (A Framework for Action, Donald McPherson, Drug Policy Coordinator, City of Vancouver)
Canada Wild Productions begins to shoot FIX: The Story of an Addicted City
Mayor Philip Owen proposes A Framework for Action: A Four Pillar Approach to Drug Problems in Vancouver. The Framework presents 36 actions falling under the categories of Prevention, Treatment, Enforcement and Harm Reduction. The last pillar includes a task force to consider safe injection sites in Vancouver and across the country.
After months of intense debate, Vancouver City Council votes unanimously to support the Mayor’s drug plan, A Framework for Action. Lacking a federal legal framework and funds from both the province and the federal government, most of the plan cannot be implemented.
The Federal Safe Injection Site Task Force recommends a pilot study on safe injection facilities proceed. The task force, chaired by British Columbia’s medical health officer, Dr Perry Kendall, develops minimal criteria for pilot programs of safe injection facilities.
British Columbia’s Provincial Task Group on Addiction produces a report, which includes a recommendation that safe injection facilities be implemented.
A Federal/ Provincial / Territorial report “Reducing the Harms from Injection Drug Use” is tabled with Canada’s ministers of health. A Task group to examine the feasibility of a scientific study of supervised injection sites is struck.
The rate of incidents of HIV prevalence amongst injection drug users in Vancouver rises to 30 percent. The rate of hepatitis reaches 91 percent. (the BC Centre for Excellence)
February. Mayor Philip Owen puts forward a motion to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) — Big City Mayor’s Caucus. The motion recommends that the Caucus identify three or four cities willing to join Vancouver to participate with Health Canada in scientific trials of supervised consumption sites. The motion is passed unanimously.
April. Opponents of the Mayor’s drug plan push Philip Owen out of his own political party. The Mayor decides not to run for re-election as an independent.
November 15. Vancouver elects former provincial coroner Larry Campbell as Mayor. Both Campbell and eight out of ten new councillors are pro harm reduction.
September 21. Vancouver opens North America’s first Safe Injection Site.