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Conservative leader trafficking in dangerous lies Disgraceful, inaccurate Poilievre video exploits suffering of vulnerable people, mirrors Republican-style propaganda

The only thing more offensive than Pierre Poilievre’s peddling of dangerously false information about illicit drug use in a recent video is how he exploited marginalized people to make it.

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Opinion

The only thing more offensive than Pierre Poilievre’s peddling of dangerously false information about illicit drug use in a recent video is how he exploited marginalized people to make it.

The Conservative Party of Canada leader’s five-minute propaganda piece, posted online Sunday, is shot mostly on a downtown Vancouver beach where a tent city is visible in the background. Poilievre is shown sitting on a log, where he peers into the camera and asks smugly: “You ever feel like everything’s broken in Canada?”

Pierre Poilievre, moving ever-closer to a Trump-style weaponization of misinformation, claims falsely that the harm-reduction strategies are responsible for an increase in overdose deaths. (Fred Chartrand / The Canadian Press files)

Behind him, Poilievre says, are people “hopelessly addicted to drugs, putting poisons in their bodies” who have “probably lost their homes, their families — they lost control of their lives.” And where does the fault lie in this human tragedy? With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, of course, because he and like-minded politicians are supplying these “addicts” with drugs, Poilievre claims.

“This is a deliberate policy by woke Liberal and NDP governments to provide taxpayer-funded drugs, to flood our streets with easy access to these poisons,” Poilievre moralizes.

The video, dramatized with old-film effects and a gloomy soundtrack, pans through several tent cities in Vancouver and shows people who appear to be struggling in life. Poilievre says government is fuelling their addictions by supplying them with taxpayer-funded narcotics.

 

Anyone remotely familiar with harm-reduction strategies knows the supply of what experts call “safer” drugs is to protect people from contaminated street drugs. Along with supervised consumption sites, international studies have shown the approach saves lives.

Despite that, Poilievre, moving ever-closer to a Trump-style weaponization of misinformation, claims falsely that the harm-reduction strategies are responsible for an increase in overdose deaths. He uses air-quotes in the video to punctuate a snide remark about how there is no such thing as a “safe” supply of illicit drugs.

“This has been tried, not just in Vancouver but in places like Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and always with the same result: major increases in overdoses and a massive increase in crime,” he falsely claims.

Evidence from around the world, including in Canada, shows these strategies have saved lives by eliminating fatal overdoses in supervised sites and by substituting street drugs, which may contain unexpected substances, with a safer supply.

 

The programs are aimed at people who refuse, or have been unable to — for whatever reason — get the addictions treatment they need. They often connect people with support and treatment they may not otherwise have access to. It is one of many tools, in addition to well-funded treatment facilities, used to reduce drug overdoses and help people overcome addiction.

Poilievre’s claim that harm-reduction fuels crime is not only inaccurate, it’s a dangerous brand of U.S. Republican-style politics that uses false information and propaganda to build a movement. It’s what cult leaders do.

“Giving people more of these drugs will not free them from their addiction, it will only lead to their ultimate death as we have seen over the last several years that it has been tried here in Vancouver,” Poilievre says in a patently false statement.

Exploiting vulnerable people in a propaganda video for political gain was a new low for Poilievre. (Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files)

He makes no mention of the underlying causes of addiction, including poverty, racism, the effects of colonialism on Indigenous people and sexual abuse. Instead, he offers a three-pronged solution to drug addiction, all of which have been pulled from an outdated, war-on-drugs playbook that has failed repeatedly.

In addition to cancelling safer-supply programs, Poilievre says Canada should beef up security at its borders to keep the “precursor ingredients that go into making these drugs” out of the country. Not only is that impossible, it would be a tragic misuse of taxpayers’ dollars.

His third solution: bring in tougher laws for violent re-offenders “who are preying upon these addicts.” If Canada could prosecute its way out of drug addiction, it would have done so a long time ago.

Exploiting vulnerable people in a propaganda video for political gain was a new low for the CPC leader. If anything is broken, it’s not Canada; it’s the state of federal conservative politics with Poilievre at the helm.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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