It’s beginning to look a lot like 1916

In April of 2018, I wrote a historical article for The Uniter examining the prohibition era in Winnipeg. From 1916 to 1921, the sale and consumption of alcohol was prohibited in Manitoba. Similar legislation was passed throughout Canada and the United States in the 1910s and ’20s, motivated by fears and misconceptions about alcoholism.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Ellery explained, “Alcohol problems were thought of as moral problems ... If you drank too much, it was because you were a bad person.”

How naive and misguided we were back then, I thought, thanking my lucky stars that present-day Winnipeggers were more educated on issues of addiction.

But, as this week’s cover feature explores, we haven’t come nearly that far. Comments editor Haley Pauls speaks to people in recovery, as well as treatment providers, to examine the many barriers to addiction treatments that still exist in Winnipeg.

Science’s understanding of addiction may have caught up to the 21st century, but public attitude and civic policy seem stuck in the dark ages. The battle over the creation of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre is an obvious illustration of how people fighting to overcome addiction are still demonized and dehumanized in Winnipeg.

But as Haley points out, the hostile, inhospitable attitude toward those seeking treatment is prevalent throughout the system in subtler, more insidious ways. For all our high-minded attitudes about how far we’ve come in the past 100 years, the sad truth is that our municipal and provincial governments are still treating addiction as a moral failing rather than a health crisis. Until they step up and do more than the bare minimum to address these needs, we’ll still be a city stuck in a cruel, misinformed past.

—Thomas Pashko

Published in Volume 74, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 21, 2019)

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