Councillor roundly criticized for ‘drugged-out zombies’ remark
It has almost been nine years since Arlene Last-Kolb’s 24-year-old son died of a fentanyl overdose, but a city councillor’s critical remarks about drug users brought back the pain of his death.
Last-Kolb, the co-founder of Overdose Awareness Manitoba and a member of the national Moms Stop the Harm organizations, said she is angry about Coun. Jeff Browaty’s comment that the city needs more policing “due to all the drugged-out zombies” on its streets.
“We cannot let this be the last word, not when people are dying,” she said on Friday.
“I am the mother of a zombie who is dead from the toxic drugs, who got no help… it is a lot harder to call our loved ones zombies when you are talking to a mother. If Browaty is not talking about our children, then who is he talking about because this sounds like culture racism.”
Thirty-six organizations and individuals, most of whom help people fighting drug addiction and poverty, including Sunshine House, Main Street Project, and the Winnipeg Harm Reduction Network, have signed an open letter criticizing Browaty’s comments.
Organizations that don’t directly work with people addicted to drugs, including the Manitoba Federation of Labour, Kyle Ross, president of the Manitoba Government Employees Union, and Melissa Dvorak, president of the Winnipeg Labour Council, have also signed the letter.
“Repeatedly, we have seen Coun. Browaty concoct dangerous lines between worthy and unworthy citizens while piling on stigma to Winnipeggers who already experience the worst marginalization and associated health outcomes,” the letter states.
“His comments reflect inadequate and misinformed thinking on public policy, community well being, and fiscal responsibility.”
The letter notes that harm reduction strategies are supported by scientific research as the best way to help people using drugs improve their lives.
“As we continue to lag on implementing harm reduction recommendations fully, we are watching people die tragic, preventable, and unjust deaths,” it says.
“These are massive challenges that elected officials are responsible for solving. It takes courage, not cowardice, to look these challenges in the face and be useful.”
Browaty, who has represented North Kildonan since 2006, said he won’t comment until after he sees the letter.
Last-Kolb’s son began using painkillers after a weightlifting accident and was given fentanyl while still in hospital. A few months later, in July 2014, he was dead. A lethal dose of fentanyl was in his system.
Last-Kolb said her organization had scheduled a meeting with Mayor Scott Gillingham before Browaty made his remarks, and she will raise the issue with him.
“You can be sure I will be asking how this man can be a part of your inner circle, never mind a councillor,” she said.
“People need to hear facts and evidence, not polarization of one person’s agenda.”
Gillingham released a statement late Friday after the Free Press asked for comment.
“While I don’t agree with Coun. Browaty’s choice of words, I know many Winnipeggers are deeply concerned by some of the erratic and unpredictable behaviour they see on our streets,” Gillingham said. “I share that concern.
“Every major city in Canada is dealing with a significant mental health and addictions challenge right now. The City of Winnipeg has a significant role to play in addressing this challenge through our emergency services and community services departments, and our partnerships with community agencies and other levels of government.
“Within my own office, I’m looking forward to my homelessness and addictions advisor, Jarred Baker, starting his position next week.”
Response to Coun. Jeff Browaty’s Comments
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