Ashlie Gough is dead. We don't know why this young woman from Victoria came to Occupy Vancouver, but her death has already sent reverberations across the Vancouver electoral landscape and the global occupation movement. In an astonishing show of non-partisanship, political rivals Suzanne Anton and Gregor Robertson have united to demand the end of the occupation in the interests of safety, security and the public good.
The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the organization which published the 2011 Lancet article corroborating the success of InSite, found that 62 people died of drug-related overdoses in Vancouver in 2009, and that women are twice as vulnerable to overdose as men. The medic who treated the near-overdose on Thursday evening stated that there were 125 drug overdoses in the Downtown Eastside which resulted in deaths last year, a statistic that has been widely reported in the wake of Ashlie's death. While the medic's statement is unsubstantiated, clearly far too many people are dying preventable deaths in Vancouver. Yet how many of these deaths resulted in the kind of decisive action Mayor Gregor Robertson showed when he declared that Occupy Vancouver must vacate the art gallery lawn? Precisely zero.
Two months ago, a woman was thrown out of the sixth-floor window at the Regent Hotel on Hastings street by a drug dealer -- the second such death in a year. Did Mayor Robertson step in and demand that the owners of the Regent provide security and shelter for its residents or face fines and imprisonment? Incredibly, no. Even before Ashlie's death, the mayor and the Vancouver Police Department were showing an staggering amount of concern for the Occupiers' compliance of city by-laws, while the slum lords who profit from the legislated poverty of DTES residents flout these restrictions daily.
The occupation offers warm, convivial shelter based on solidarity and caring. A volunteer kitchen has been distributing food since the occupation began. Furthermore, as a babbler recently pointed out, the homeless and the addicted have as much right to demonstrate as anyone else. While Occupy Vancouver demands a democracy that is accountable, transparent and just, the two opposing mayoral candidates for Vancouver's upcoming municipal election have come out in lockstep, both demanding the end of the occupation. And yet they wonder why millions of Canadians have given up on our cynical electoral system which offers us only distinction without difference, choice without option.
Not only are Mayor Robertson's public hand-wringing and Suzanne Anton's calls for tough action deeply disingenuous, they are also remarkably short-sighted. From New York to Oakland, repressive and undemocratic attempts to bring the global occupy movement to a premature end has without exception resulted in reinvigorated public sympathy and increased numbers. Anyone who has witnessed the belief, the conviction present in the occupation, resonating in any number of cities across this continent, immediately recognize two things: people are powerful, and they cannot be stopped.
Make no mistake: Ashlie Gough's death is tragic, and the whole city should mourn that such a young life was lost, more so that it was preventable. The occupation only asks that every such injustice summons the same outcry, the same demand for change from our public figures, and the same appeals to social welfare, the commonwealth and the promise of democracy.
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