FOI documents suggest Sullivan put personal drug scheme for “walking palliative” ahead of city priorities

Mayor Sam Sullivan sought support from the Harper Conservatives for his controversial drug substitution program by renaming it POST, or Public Order Substitution Treatment, and terming addicts “walking palliative” people unable to live a “‘normal’ Canadian life,” according to city documents I have obtained about the lobbying effort.

The briefing notes, obtained in an FOI release, make a direct partisan appeal for “Conservative leadership” on the drug issue, which ties in ominously with this week’s outrageous attacks on the supervised injection site and medical professionals by federal health minister Tony Clement. Clement’s outburst follows on the heels of national Conservative mailings promising to put “junkies” in “rehab or behind bars.”

When will NPA candidate Peter Ladner repudiate Clement’s remarks, the Conservative leaflets and Sullivan’s ill-starred CAST/POST program?

Sullivan apparently called his program POST, rather than CAST — Chronic Addiction Substitution Treatment, as it was styled in Vancouver — in an effort to win approval from his Conservative friends in Ottawa.

The goal of POST, according to briefing notes I obtained through a Freedom of Information Request, was to provide prescription drugs to addicts – termed “walking palliative” in Sullivan’s proposal – to wean them from heroine and cocaine. (The request sought all records related to Sullivan’s trips to Ottawa and Victoria since his election.)

The documents suggest former Mayor Sam Sullivan put a higher priority on partisan lobbying for his controversial drug substitution program – a scheme endorsed by council but controlled by Sullivan’s own non-profit society – than he did on seeking support for critical initiatives like Insite, the city’s supervised injection site.

In the 86 pages of material relating to Sullivan’s trips to Victoria and Ottawa, released to me by city officials, Sullivan’s drug maintenance program is the subject of two briefing notes totaling five pages, some with a clear partisan appeal to the Harper Conservatives.

Yet renewal of the supervised injection site permit – a clear city priority — rated only a single page, as did extension of the NAOMI trials, a national project assessing the use of prescription heroin in the treatment of long-term addicts.

Given Peter Ladner’s promise to uphold Sullivan’s “legacy,” an we assume he endorses continuing a drug strategy that produced nothing during Sullivan’s three-year mandate?

In Vancouver, Sullivan called his program CAST, Chronic Addiction Substitution Treatment, and organized it under a non-profit society called Inner Change, which included Conservative elder statesman John Reynolds as a board member and lobbyist.

Lois Johnson, another Conservative activist, is also a member of Inner Change’s board and served as one of three executive directors to manage the project since it was formally launched in 2007.

One undated draft briefing note I obtained argues that “Conservative leadership can ameliorate the greatest threat to liveability in Vancouver” through a massive trial of a “Public Order Substitution Treatment” program that would switch 800 addicts from illegal drugs to prescription alternatives “on a voluntary basis.”

Sullivan’s notes make the macabre claim that “in many instances addicts . . . can be medically described as ‘walking palliative’ – people who if they were living a more ‘normal’ Canadian life would have access to pain and other medications in order to mitigate their health issues and so as not to spread diseases.”

“The question is not why the [sic] our Conservative government would support a Federal exemption for this trail [sic]: the question is ‘why wouldn’t they?’”

Sullivan was unable to meet with Conservative health minister Tony Clement in Ottawa until December 2006, although he met with Clement’s parliamentary secretary that spring. It was during the December trip that reports emerged of a Sullivan proposal to “trade” closure of Insite for approval of his drug substitution program.

Yet Sullivan’s 45 minutes with Clement proved a failure on both counts: no approval for CAST or POST, and only a short-term renewal for Insite.

Sullivan’s CAST website appears to have been last updated in January 2008.

Read Vancouver Courier coverage of this story here and NPA candidates on drug policy here.