Eastside city center tour operator closes after ‘poverty tourism’ criticism
An addictions speaker who charged more than $ 350 for tours of the Downtown Eastside canceled all upcoming tours after coming under close scrutiny for his claims and methods.
The Scared Straight Tour, which organizer Pierre Morais says he has run since 2004, promised “reality check” for at-risk youth through a tour of the region, considered the epicenter of drug poisoning crisis in Canada.
However, the tour was increasingly criticized by critics on social media for sounding like ‘poverty tourism’ and for claiming institutional supports that never existed.
The most prominent of these alleged approvals were from the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse and the Vancouver Police Department, both of which denied any affiliation with Scared Straight.
Morais says his tours have educated “thousands of young people” about the dangers of drug use. He said in a statement to CBC News: “We remain proud of the work we have accomplished over the past 20 years.
In his website biography, which has since been deleted, he said he was a recovered addict who had a master’s degree in counseling psychology and had won over 10 awards for his work.
CBC News was unable to independently verify Morais’ references or claims, and it provided no clarification when asked to comment.
The Scared Straight Tour website has now been cleaned of all content, including an annual $ 1,500 virtual membership program and “onsite show” offers, which cost $ 1,500 per day and cover topics such as gang life and the dangers of fentanyl.
The tour’s website also contained testimonials, believed to have come from program participants.
“Fear-based approaches are incredibly dehumanizing”
Although Scared Straight has been around for 15 years, its website began to gain attention late last week for language that stigmatizes those who use drugs.
This includes phrases prominently displayed on social media such as “drug-infested ghetto” and “hardcore drug addicts”.
The Vancouver DTES Scared Straight Tour is abusive and degrading.
It humiliates the people who live in the community. It stigmatizes people with substance use problems.
Its operator profits while causing enormous damage. 1/8 pic.twitter.com/nr1ard8BNz
Fiona York, a community activist from the Downtown Eastside, says the tour did not benefit from lived experiences and looked like a “voyeuristic” outside perspective.
“Someone is taking advantage of the trauma, the story of the people of the Downtown Eastside, without giving anything back,” she said.
“One of the things in the Downtown Eastside is, ‘Nothing about us without us. “So the whole concept of poverty tourism, and this type of tour, is really antithetical.”
Morais did not respond to questions from CBC News regarding the for-profit nature of the tour and whether the community received any revenue.
“These ‘scary’ or fear-based approaches are incredibly dehumanizing to people who use drugs,” says Danya Fast, researcher at the BC Center on Substance Use. “So they’re problematic for those reasons, but I think they’re also incredibly ineffective.”
Fast’s research shows that young people at risk for substance use often grow up around it and are motivated by fear of the future.
“When we add more fear to that, by doing something like these tours… we can actually deepen those fears and anxieties,” she said.
Fast says a much more effective approach would be to have meaningful conversations with young people involving family, caregivers and practitioners.
While family members were invited to the Scared Straight tours (costing $ 150 per person), they were meant to act as chaperones while the program focused on the young participants.
Missing testimonials and mentions
A sample diary, deleted from the Scared Straight Tour website, advertises a stay in a downtown hotel and encounters with recovering “addicts” over a 36-hour period.
One of the items on the agenda includes an introduction to the “Odd Squad Police Officers”.
The Odd Squad, an independent production company created by former Vancouver Police Department officers, confirmed they were involved in the program until two years ago.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Police Department say they are not associated with the tour “in any way.”
The Canadian Center on Substance Abuse also featured prominently on the Scared Straight Tour website. However, the CCSA said it had forced the website operator to withdraw that approval.
“The CCSA had no knowledge or knowledge of this tour and its purpose. To be clear, the CCSA does not now have, [nor] has he already endorsed the Scared Straight tour, ”a CCSA spokesperson said.
Another aspect of the Scared Straight tour website – the testimonials allegedly from tour participants – did not stand up to scrutiny.
The two testimonials that appeared on the front page claimed to be from Pennsylvania mother Meredith F. and Oak Ridge high school principal James Stapley.
However, the two images on the website purporting to represent these participants are, respectively, a photo taken from a GIF reaction and a photo of another director from New Zealand.
Morais did not respond to questions from CBC News about why he cleaned up his website or whether touring will resume at any time.