insite vigil poem by the late Bud Osborn

Last week, for the National Day of Action for the Overdose Crisis, we marched with 922 feathers, one for every life lost in BC in 2016. Our Executive Director, Donald MacPherson, vividly recalls being in the same place 20 years before for the same reason at Oppenheimer park with 1,000 crosses and his friend Bud Osborn.

Two weeks ago, we hosted an event, convening those from across Canada actively working on establishing supervised consumption services in their communities. The event was opened with a poem. When the poem was read, it stirred a committed sense of determination in the room, fuelled by the shared and extended duration of suffering from the loss of so many lives to accidental drug overdoses.

The poem was written by the late Bud Osborn, who passed away in 2014.


the fight for insite

began in a political/rhetorical atmosphere

of depraved indifference

regarding overdose deaths and pandemic emergency


horrifying ghosts of human beings

calling radio talk shows and actually telling me:


“why don’t they just string barbed-wire

around the downtown eastside

and let them infect each other to death?”


“the only good junkie is a dead junkie”


comments like those heard in nazi germany


I remember one welfare week

eleven years ago

sirens screamed lights flashed red and white

all day all night


one hot afternoon that same week

I met a friend of mine

on the corner of cordova and main

she’s a first nations woman and activist

who told me when i asked

how she was

that her family was gathering

to make another crucial decision


her cousin had fixed alone Wednesday evening

in a sro room

and when her husband returned

found her dead on the floor

he made a noose

with a long piece of cloth   hanged himself

and soon was dead

and because the couple had an infant son

the family was gathering

to determine the best disposition

for the suddenly orphaned child

and this entire unjust and tragic situation

might well never have happened

if insite was open


but as my friend and I were saying goodbye

a flame burst inside me

fuelled by grief and rage

like a fierce spontaneous combustion

flashing up through my nervous system

and roared in my head like a psychic explosion


because of another

because of too many

because of an unnecessary

overdose death



two words repetitively in my head


no more! no more! no more!

of this heart-breaking family-shattering community-diminishing

pain     of overdose deaths


I immediately ran from that conversation

to see mark and liz and kirsten at the old portland hotel

and with dave diewert ann livingston

and several others

planned a day of action


we pounded 1,000 crosses into oppenheimer park

blocked main and hastings with a heavy chain

and distributed statistics of misery

to commuters unable to get to work


1,000 crosses memorializing just three years of overdose deaths


a cross is a symbol of political execution

a cross is a symbol for social revolution


and form that afternoon

the battle to save lives was declared

the battle to save the lives of those

so many other wanted to die


and from that afternoon

to insite’s opening

we’ve never ceased in our efforts

to save lives and bring peace


because everyone     suffers

when compassion is undone

insite vigil poem by the late Bud Osborn
an excerpt from the book Raise Shit! Social Action Saving Lives
co-authored by Donald MacPherson, Susan Boyd and Bud Osborn

Bus Osborn Portrait

Donald MacPherson

About Donald MacPherson

Donald MacPherson is the Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and one of Canada’s leading figures in drug policy. In 2000 he published Vancouver’s groundbreaking Four Pillars Drug Strategy that precipitated a broad public discussion on issues related to addiction.

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