Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part 2; Interview With Ann Livingston

Is Abbotsford’s Police Department Capable Of Dealing With Homelessness or Drug Addiction?

By Mike Archer. In this series we will look at the role of first responders, more particularly the APD, in the larger social issues surrounding mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness which have taken center stage in Abbotsford. We will ask whether or not it is even appropriate to ask the police to play such a central role in the dealing with the many issues surrounding homelessness.

We will look at training opportunities for first responders, especially the police, we will ask how the APD has managed to play such a significant role in dealing with homelessness, for such a long time, with so little training in dealing with the people it has targeted for enforcement.

We have spoken to two well-known individuals in the fields of mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness; and, we have asked for the input of Fraser Health with specific reference to its ‘Moments to Milestones’ video** on first responders and those who suffer from addiction and/or mental illness which was released late in 2014.

We hope to encourage a community discussion about the ways we have tried, and in some cases failed, to solve some of the toughest issues facing society today, and, in the process, contribute to the healing process and the search for solutions which work for the entire community – not just those who measure up to the sometimes unrealistic moral, medical and behavioural standards of a powerful local minority.

While there are strong opinions about how best to approach these issues, some have proven to work, others have not. We hope to help Abbotsford move forward based on best practices, science, medicine and fact in helping our most marginalized citizens.

We have asked APD Chief Constable Bob Rich to participate but have not heard back. We’ll let you know when we do. Chief Rich and the APD have stated publicly that they will not engage in discussions with Abbotsford Today or, apparently, even respond to our offers to explain themselves. To find out why simply click here.

Tell us what you think. Use the comments box below or send us an email at

Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part 2

Interview with Ann Livingston

Editor’s Note: In this part of the series we have interviewed Ann Livingston. Livingston is a nurse and a founding member of the Vancouver Area Drug Users Network (VANDU) and has been instrumental in helping support the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS) and has been actively involved in saving lives on the streets of Abbotsford for most of the last decade.

Today Media: As someone who works for and with the marginalized on a daily basis, what is your general response to Fraser Health’s video on the subject of first responders and the marginalized?

Ann Livingston: Well I wonder if it will be effective. I would urge them to evaluate the impact on people who view it. And the worst thing about the video is that it does precisely what I would have advised them not to do: goes on and on about the DTES. I came to FH region 5 or so years ago and was constantly told to “get lost” by service providers. “This is not the DTES” “We do things differently in Surrey.”

I was not told to get lost in Abby.

The Harm Reduction service providers in Abby basically did not exist as HR was banned so we worked with Warm Zone, ACS, 5 & 2 and Positive Living FV. Most reacted badly to Barry S but we continued meeting as best we could, all desperate to deal with the Abby bylaws. I even met with [former Mayor Bruce] Banman!

But Surrey where needle exchange was done very poorly by South Fraser Community Services Society (which became Keys) with 1 for 1 exchange, 2 loaners and a 10 pack to start.

I take full (and painful) credit for forcing Keys to change their needle policy with 4 public addresses to the Fraser Health Authority meetings with a PowerPoint presentation(attached) and many horrid meetings with bureaucrats from the City of Surrey, the FH Authority, BCCDC, City o Surrey and service providers and the religious orgs doing free meals. We finally, in protest, set up a harm reduction table twice in front of Keys and were screamed at by their Megan Bailley who then called the cops and bylaw officers. They refused to arrest or ticket us. 🙁 The Keys board of directors did not reply to mail or email and the ED Shane Williams would not return calls.

A film outlining the fierce legal battle to set up the needle exchange in Surrey and the dumping of chicken manure by the City of Surrey on 135A’s empty lots around the needle exchange which the City had to then clean up (2009) would be far more effective than appealing to Fire and ambulance and ER personnel to be “nice”.

TM: What is your reaction to Abbotsford Chief Constable Bob Rich’s description, at the beginning of the video, using spousal abuse as a means of explaining his “visceral anger” towards those with mental illness and/or addiction issues? Is spousal abuse, to your knowledge, a significant problem for people suffering from mental illness or drug addiction?

AL: I thought Bob Rich was being really nice in the video clips. The VPD give boring long lectures about how they work closely with Incite (never saying they SUPPORT Incite because they do not) …blah blah blah but their union opposes needle exchange and Incite! As does the BC Association of Chiefs of Police. Rich is frank and honest about how the culture of policing can become cynical and encourage cruel treatment of people labelled addicts.

TM: Constable Shane Wiens of the APD describes his job as one which “drains you and tears you down.” Wiens is one of the APD officers who was named in the complaints against the APD by members of the Abbotsford homeless community. Does the way he describes his job, in your view, indicate that he has the proper training or attitude to be sent out to enforce Abbotsford’s anti-homeless bylaws?

AL: The police do not know anything about public health. They do not know that harm reduction IS public health and is based in science and is THE effective way to deal with “addicts” even if the stated goal is abstinence. This information is kept from them and the workers engaged in outreach to homeless people struggling with addictions. They then believe that the worse addicts are treated the more likely they are to “bottom out” and therefore stop using drugs and alcohol. This myth kills many people who use drugs and is not based in reality. FHA pumps out info on diabetes and heart disease and hypertension but refuses to engage the public in education campaign around determinants of health, addiction, harm reduction and trauma.

TM: How unique is Chief Rich’s stated policy of ‘displacing and dispersing’ the homeless in modern police forces in BC? How effective is it?

AL: Clearly causes death

TD: How important do you think it is that the courts have agreed with the Drug War Survivors (DWS) and forced Abbotsford to abandon its ‘Anti Harm Reduction’ Bylaw?

AL: Did the courts really say this? The Incite decision by Pitfield makes clear that people addicted to illegal substances cannot be denied access to a clinic (Incite) that effectively provides healthcare to them because the healthcare system does not deny care to people who eat, smoke and or drink till they are extremely ill.

TM: You have stated that the Fraser Health Region has a worse record dealing with the issues of harm reduction, drug addiction and mental illness affecting the homeless and the marginalized than other health regions in BC. Why do you think that is?

AL: When I see the entrenched levels of incompetence go on for decades in a health authority that is tasked with ensuring the good health of its citizens, I suspect the hiring, governance and oversight is solely driven by political appointments. There was a smart Public Health Officer Dr. Roland Gasparini at Fraser Health in 2009 but he had no power to impact the FHA board (who is a group of odd political appointees who know NOTHING about health) and the horrid CEO Dr. Nigel Murray who has just now been replaced by Dr Evan Adams. Dr. Patti Daly has been able to hold some power in her position as Medical Health Officer at VCH but our healthcare system is run by politics NOT best evidence science. The public opinion shift in Vancouver and VCH was led by Mayor Philip Owen, Coroner (now senator) Larry Campbell and Bud Osborn and the film FIX: Story of an Addicted City and civil disobedience of VANDU and the shocking VIDUS data – not VCH who has now reversed their Community Development approach in favour of police approved Assertive Community Treatment teams. I have had a terrible time trying to even get the basic statistics on ODs (lethal and nonlethal), drug arrests, Hep C rates, and HIV rates in Fraser. What we do know is that for every 100 needles distributed in VCH only 11 are distributed in Fraser.

TM: What can the community of Abbotsford do to move beyond its established strategy of criminalization, litigation and confrontation with its marginalized population?

AL: 5 and 2 is an example of a Christian group that changed and implemented harm reduction as an act of kindness and caring to the marginalized. Again the entrenched belief that harm reduction encourages drug use and is ethically and morally wrong has kept even the service agencies in FHA tasked with harm reduction from implementing best practice. The belief that cruel and unkind treatment to addicts “helps” them “bottom out” is dominant throughout Fraser and is especially held by Christian “helping” groups.

TM: What question(s) should we have asked you which might help Abbotsford and the Fraser Health Region move beyond the current Abbotsford Homeless Crisis?

AL: Public education to those marginalized, the police, the service providers who are paid to help the marginalized and the general PUBLIC making clear that harm reduction encourages “treatment” and abstinence will go a long way stopping the cruelty we see in Abby and Surrey. Municipal governments are key to moving forward as is civil disobedience.

Ann Livinston

Ann Livinston

Ann Livingston is a nurse and a founding member of the Vancouver Area Drug Users Network (VANDU) which was created in January, 1998, to combat the many different threats to the social health of the population of drug users living in Vancouver, including overdose.

She has been instrumental in helping support the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS) and has been actively involved in saving lives on the streets of Abbotsford for most of the last decade.

Short Summary of Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis:

Nick Zurowski, The Face of Homelessness in Abbotsford. Bas Stevens  Photo

Nick Zurowski, The Face of Homelessness in Abbotsford. Bas Stevens Photo

First came  John Smith’s announcement to the national media that he had instructed the APD to handle homelessness in downtown Abbotsford; then the Abbotsford Shuffle – otherwise known as Chief Bob Rich’s “disperse and displace” strategy for solving homelessness; then Mayor Banman’s Chicken Manure Incident (first revealed on Abbotsford Today); then there was the Standoff in Jubilee; followed by the ‘MCC Dignity Village‘ protest camp on Gladys Avenue and the gathering of more and more of Abbotsford’s homeless to the security of living with others and out in the open in the growing size and number of camps across from the Salvation Army and along Gladys Avenue.

Embarrassing Revelations

Abbotsford Homeless Camp. Bas Stevens photo.

Abbotsford Homeless Camp. Bas Stevens photo.

Along the way a few embarrassing revelations were uncovered and published by Abbotsford Today including
the fact that the Salvation Army knew about and was in agreement with the use of chicken feces to encourage the homeless to move from their camp across the street from the Sally Ann; and the rude and demeaning emails shared by police chief Bob Rich and his senior staff after the Chicken Manure Incident went worldwide.

Editor’s Note: We have sent all of our questions to APD Chief Constable Bob Rich but have, as of publication, not heard back. Chief Rich and the APD have stated publicly that they will not engage in discussions with Abbotsford Today. To find out why simply cick here.

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