By David Beattie
Nearly 20 years to the day since Bud Osborn and other leading DTES activists pulled off an event planting symbolic crosses at Oppenheimer Park that has become iconic in the annals of the area, a bigger event almost identical in nature is planned for September 29 this year.
In September 1997 the protest was to get more government action against deaths mostly from HIV – and it worked. Two decades later the main culprit in the huge spike of opioid deaths is the drug fentanyl. This time around the organizers are taking aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent announcement against decriminalization and the failure, so far, of the new GreeNDP BC government to expand the “injectables” program in which about 100 individuals get free medical heroin supplied to them. They get the drug injected at the Crossroads clinic at West Hastings and Abbott.
A group calling itself C.R.I. Vancouver, short for Collective Resistance to Injustice (CRI), says on its Facebook page that it “is a group of individuals composed of front line workers, advocates, substance users (both active and in recovery), friends, loved ones, and others who stand in solidarity with those impacted by the current opiate crisis.”
“The goal of CRI is direct action, advocacy, and to collaborate with other community organizations to address the incredible disparity and ongoing criminalization and stigmatization of substance use and substance users. We aim to address the role of government bodies and structures in perpetuating the ongoing discrimination of marginalized individuals,” it states.
C.R.I. has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to build the crosses. A statement on the GoFundMe page reads:
20 years ago, in September 1997, community members of the Downtown Eastside rallied for government action in addressing and responding to the rapidly increasing number of deaths from opiate related overdoses and HIV in. This community, grassroots movement was led by key activists, one of whom was the late Bud Osborn.
For the demonstration, community members built and planted 1,000 crosses in Oppenheimer park and blocked traffic on Main and Hastings. This demonstration resulted in the formation of VANDU, the first peer run safer injection site and eventually in 2008 the opening of Insite, the first legally sanctioned and operated Safe injection site in North America. It was a pivotal moment in the shift in drug policy in Vancouver. It created a ripple effect that has saved the lives of thousands.
Collective Resistance to Injustice (CRI) is organizing a commemoration to the community’s initial action in 1997 by collaborating with community members/collectives and key organizers to recreate this event, highlighting the current number of individuals lost to the opiate overdose epidemic in British Columbia (2,224 deaths over three years). Moreover, we are partnering with organizers in cities across Canada to encourage local demonstrations to similarly identify the impact of overdose deaths and to deliver these symbols to Parliament.
With the recent report released that the Federal government is not willing to decriminalize illicit opiates and the ever increasing number of overdoses impacting users, frontline workers, emergency services, and draining resources- We say: enough is enough.
This action serves to pressure the government to shift their approach to drug policy, listen to community members, include them in conversations about drug policy, to address this as a national emergency, and increase accessibility to the kind of care community members have asked for across Canada.”
It continues: This Gofund me campaign will do the following:
– Pay for supplies necessary to build crosses (total number 2,224) (approx. $400)
– Pay for labour in assembling the crosses (community members will be invited to assemble to crosses, connect with each other and share in food and coffee/tea) $20/hr of labour – anticipating between 32-40 hrs of labour needed $640-800
– Pay for the transport of crosses/pick up of crosses from other provinces ($3,000)
In place of donations, we are also seeking support in other ways. If you are able to volunteer time, offer supplies, or food donations please email us at
[email protected] ”
We will also be circulating a letter that will address the policy changes that have been demanded by organizations such as CAPUD, VANDU, and additions made by CRI and other advocacy groups across Canada. The letter will be directed to the health minister (Ginette Petitpas Taylor) and prime minister Justin Trudeau in addition to BC NDP Leader (John Horgan), and the ministers assigned to oversee the response to the overdose crisis in BC (Judy Darcy and Adrian Dix). Similar letters will be and have been circulating in other provinces and territories. If you are interested in signing your name to the letter please email us at [email protected] “As of Saturday September 16 the crowdfunding campaign stood at $695 of the $4,000 goal, raised by 13 people over 13 days.CRI says “Any money raised above and beyond the amount needed will be donated to causes following consultation with drug user networks (VANDU/CAPUD).”