Downtown Eastside ‘scared straight’ addiction tours cancelled in Vancouver

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Amid criticism, a company that offered “scared straight” tours and videos of people struggling with addiction on the Downtown Eastside has suddenly cancelled its operations.

Scared Straight Tours has been selling its services for nearly 20 years, offering kids face-to-face experiences or video tours of people battling addiction and other issues in the troubled neighbourhood.

As of Thursday, its website said all tours are cancelled, the videos were taken down, the company’s Facebook page was deleted, and the owner was unreachable.

NEWS 1130 had been in touch with owner Pierre Morais to arrange an interview days before the cancellations. As of Friday, his phone number was no longer in service.

It’s not clear what led to the apparent ceasing of operations, though the shutdown did come after criticism on social media from people who called the tours exploitative.

Tours missed the mark, says advocate

Sarah Blyth, who founded the Overdose Prevention Society, understands that sentiment.

“Just bringing people down to look at people is fairly humiliating for some of the people down here, especially some of the young people,” she said. “There are aspects of it that are good through the education, but mostly it’s hurtful and there’s better ways to do it and I think there’s better ways to spend people’s time, to help young people, to educate them about drugs.”

She says family, schools, and others can teach kids about drugs and the impacts they have on life in more compassionate ways, rather than taking them on tours.

Helping young people identify the troubles they’re facing, giving them hope, and education are just a few examples of ways to help those at risk, Blyth adds.

“And better supporting them, as opposed to touring them and scaring people and saying this is not what you want to become. It’s sad, actually, because a lot of the folks they come from really difficult circumstances. Anyone can imagine how that might feel,” Blyth explained.

“Having a hard time or suffering in your life, having tours of people come to see you … I don’t think ethically is a very constructive thing. I don’t think it helps the end goal,” Blyth added.

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