British Columbia

Police intimidating drug users, say nurses

Street nurses in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside say the current police crackdown is interfering with the neighbourhood's needle exchange.

Street nurses in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside say the current police crackdown is interfering with the neighbourhood's needle exchange.

The nurses say police officers sometimes intervene while they are dealing with their clients, which scares them off.

B.C. Nurses' Union spokesperson Marnie Hewlett says many addicts aren't getting medical treatment, because they feel intimidated.

"The hard-core users are slipping further and further underground," she says. "It's harder to find these clients for contact reporting for communicable diseases such as TB, STD and HIV."

The BCNU is calling for an independent inquiry into policing in the Downtown Eastside, and the appointment of a police liaison officer to deal with their concerns.

Police Chief Jamie Graham says the department is listening, and is trying to be responsive to community needs.

"We're working at the safe injection site with the staff that work there to make for better outcomes, so I'm optimistic," he says.

Both Graham and Hewlett agree the problems in the community are bound to get worse next year when Riverview Hospital closes and new provincial welfare rules kick in.

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