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The Question Is… What is the new Insite film?

Illicit Projects’ latest film explores the history and community created around North America’s first supervised injection facility

Julie Chapman

I was not a part of getting Insite up and running. Yet as a longtime resident and activist in Vancouver, I wanted to speak with those who spearheaded the first legal illicit drug injection site in North America. I wanted to speak to the large number of people who have used the services that changed not only the community in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but the city, the province, the country and the world.

This past September marked 20 years of Insite, a flagship in harm reduction that is known globally. It welcomes thousands through its doors each year without judgment, hostility or fear. The Insite Supervised Injection Facility, located at 139 E. Hastings St., is a place where drug users can use safely, have their drugs checked for alternative harmful substances, access detox and rehabilitation facilities within the same location (Onsite), as well as receive support and clean supplies.

Opening in 2003, Insite was the first sanctioned supervised drug injection site in North America (receiving Federal exemption from Health Canada). Insite’s pioneers also changed the law in Vancouver, as a deal made with the police that allowed drug users to hold drugs legally without the fear of arrest, provided they were heading to Insite to use safely.

The harm reduction and decriminalization movement nationwide has been based on the success of Insite and the positive effect it has had on the world for 20 years. It’s made up of a grassroots collective to serve the people, not judge, reduce stigma and most importantly, treat drug users in need of their services as human beings. 

Illicit Projects has been video recording comments from the community, current and former drug users, Insite staff, politicians, activists, police and the grassroots collective that made Insite into a flagship of harm reduction in the world. We are calling it Insite 20: Then and Now — an online and interactive video that will screen at The Heart of the City Festival.

Come check it out and learn more about this groundbreaking service in the heart of the Downtown Eastside.

Insite 20: Then and Now is an online and interactive Speakers’ Corner-style documentary and discussion with community members, drug users, activists, law enforcement and politicians on the impact of North America’s first legal injection site that opened its doors in 2003. Post-show discussion with Insite and PHS Community Services Society founders Mark Townsend and Liz Evans; former Vancouver councillor Jean Swanson; and author and former member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Libby Davies.

Produced by Illicit Projects. Sunday, October 29, 7 p.m. Free. Online event, registration info on Heart of the City Festival website early October: heartofthcityfestival.com 

David Mendes is an artist and activist living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and is the co-founder and national program director of CASS — the Canadian Association of Safe Supply. He is the producer and art director for the theatre and community research program Illicit Projects. 

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Julie Chapman

Julie Chapman


Julie Chapman is a born-and-raised Vancouverite who now lives and works in the Downtown Eastside. Julie was a longtime volunteer with SWUAV (Sex Workers United Against Violence), and is currently involved with the B.C. Association for People on Methadone and the BC Centre for Substance Use. She is a member of The Shift peer newsroom, and is a published poet and writer. She is also a self-taught pianist.

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