British Columbia

Q&A: Senator Larry Campbell on the state of Vancouver

Senator Larry Campbell sat down with Early Edition host Rick Cluff to weigh in on homelessness and opioid addiction in Vancouver.

'If we don’t address this opioid crisis, I don’t know what is going to happen,' says former mayor and coroner

Senator Larry Campbell (right) sits down with The Early Edition host, Rick Cluff, to talk about homelessness and addiction in Vancouver. (Bridgette Watson/CBC)

Senator Larry Campbell is worried about the future of the city he spent many years serving. 

Campbell first came to Vancouver as a member of the RCMP drug squad in the late 1970s. He later served as the chief coroner and was elected the city's mayor in 2002 before being summoned to the Senate in 2005.

Campbell sat down with Early Edition host Rick Cluff to discuss his perspective on the city and its problems.

When you were elected in 2002, did you see foresee homelessness still being an issue in Vancouver in 2017?

No. I didn't see it then and when I come into the city, I am saddened and dismayed by the number of people who are living on the street. We thought it was bad in 2002, but I would never have imagined it as it is now.

This is one of the richest communities, in one of the richest provinces, in one of the richest countries in the world … When is it time to roll up our sleeves and say enough is enough, let's fix it?

If it was just one thing we could address it, but the problem is, it is so multi-dimensional. It's poverty. It's mental illness, it's the economy. It's people who have lost their jobs. It's fentanyl. It's drugs. It is so multi-faceted that it needs a co-ordinated effort at every level of government.

If we could turn the clock back to when you arrived in Vancouver as part of the RCMP drug squad in the 1970s ... How has drug enforcement changed since then?

I think it has become more realistic. For instance, I don't think there are resources being put into simple possession of marijuana.

The resources have changed, but at the same time, the scene has changed. When I was working on the street, you had to go find where the addicted people were and now they are everywhere. Now you can pull a van up to Carnegie Hall and everybody there will have some sort of opiate. 

The one thing I really regret is that I didn't open four supervised injection sites, because I thought one would do it and one did not even come close.

If 4,000 people died in Shaughnessy or Point Grey, there would be a national outcry. The whole thing is societal and society needs to get on it.

What can be done now?

I think opening more supervised injection sites is good, but I think we should have opioid replacement there so users are not buying on the street.

With files from The Early Edition.

This interview has been edited for clarity and structure.