Calgary columnist suggests Cory Monteith died because of Vancouver

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
A drug user injects himself at the Insite clinic in Vancouver.

A Calgary Herald columnist wrote a disappointing piece on Friday suggesting Glee actor Cory Monteith died because he was in Vancouver and not another Canadian city — suggesting the city’s safe injection site was directly to blame for the fatality.

You know a writer is trolling the Internet when she blames the death of a f 31-year old actor, with a history with drugs, on Vancouver by citing as evidence the inherent knowledge of "any informed Vancouverite," a brief relationship she had with a Toronto heroin user, the unwillingness of Montreal police to tell her how to score drugs and her own personal sushi addiction.

Licia Corbella, the Calgary Herald's editorial page editor, wrote such a piece, stating that Monteith would not have died of a drug overdose if he was in any other city in Canada.

No, really. It's an emphatic declaration that borders between her personal conviction and the apparently glaringly obvious.

Corbella writes:

[S]how up in most North American cities and even a heroin junkie can’t necessarily find their poison. Even police don’t know where to go in their own city to find the stuff. But ask my strait-laced 82-year-old mom in Vancouver, and even she knows.

“Would Cory Monteith still be alive had he been visiting Halifax, Toronto or Calgary instead of Vancouver? In my view, it’s highly likely.

The column goes on to blame Insite — Vancouver's safe injection site — for creating an atmosphere where Monteith could score drugs without fear or concern of arrest.

Let's set aside the fact that Insite doesn't sell drugs, and set aside the fact that there has been no suggestion or indication that this is where Monteith obtained the heroin that ended his life. Because these assertions are so far beyond belief that even Corbella's regular readers likely went, "OK, let's just see where she's going with this."

The remainder of the article is a shameful diatribe clearly written by someone who wanted to hit a specific conclusion and only needed to find dots to connect along the way. That conclusion: Insite is bad, m'kay?

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Let's take a look at some of the most head-scratching comments she makes.

“Everyone from teetotalling old ladies with blue hair to a straight-A student in elementary school — all know if you want hard, illicit drugs, just go to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and heroin will be as easy to acquire as chewing gum.”

Repeating things heard at tea parties and hair salons is nice. And sure, most Canadians are familiar with the Downtown Eastside and its drug problems. That is why Insite established itself in that neighbourhood. Whether you agree with Insite's mandate (or consider it a success) no one would suggest Insite caused the area to become a drug den in the first place.

“[I]t’s safe to assume he either picked some up himself or had a gofer do it for him by visiting InSite, the government-sponsored and funded safe injection site at 139 East Hastings.”

No, it's really not. Considering Monteith was from B.C. and had an ongoing battle with addiction, if one were to assume anything it would be that he knew people who could set him up. It is unlikely that a recognizable star would wander up and down skid row asking strangers for drugs. Or wait in the car while someone else did it for him. However, I don't care to presume anything on this count. Leave that to police.

“But no one ever asks how many people have died of drug overdoses who use the safe injection site as a legally safe place to procure drugs.”

Actually, considering Insite's mandate is so controversial, opposed by even the current federal government, you can be sure many people ask such questions. It faces rigorous third-party oversight and review. Of the 1.8 million visits the site has received since opening in 2003, there have been zero overdose fatalities on site. Independent research has found that fatal overdoses within 500 metres of the site have dropped 35 per cent since it opened. At this is right at the heart of darkness, as Corbella asserts. Elsewhere in Vancouver, that number has decreased by nine per cent.

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Corbella goes on to tell a decades-old anecdote about a Toronto addict, with whom she developed a working relationship, who once called her in a panic because she couldn't find heroin in Montreal. She tried to help her score. "I didn’t have any Montreal police contacts, but called the on-duty sergeant. He didn’t know and neither did the various other police officers I was transferred to."

Corbella uses this anecdote to suggest that drug users, and even local police, don't know how to score drugs in cities other than Vancouver. I would suggest it is more indicative that police aren't interested in telling strangers how to score drugs in their city. And that a jonesing addict lacks the sense necessary to made all the bad decisions they would like to.

There are other comments in the story which will make some want to pound their head against the desk. Like the writer's anecdote about a "double crunch sushi roll" addiction, but you get the point.

Insite is an innovative and highly-scrutinized project. Toronto is one city considering a similar project, and the benefits and concerns surrounding safe injection sites is certainly a debate Canadians should be aware of.

But making a connection between Insite and the death of Cory Monteith is gross and irresponsible. Insite advocates would point out that Monteith is more likely to still be alive had he used drugs at the injection site, rather than in his hotel room.

I won't. I'll only point out that a column that suggests Monteith died because he was in Vancouver is not worth the paper or pixels it is printed on or with.

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