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Big thanks to every person who has been a part of our story through this particularly challenging year. We look forward to continued evolving and adapting, through lessons learned and insights gained during these times. Thanks to the Good Lovelies for premiering this video during their recent Christmas Tour.

David Sweanor is an Ottawa lawyer and adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa. As one of the country’s leading experts on harm reduction, his work has focused on reducing death and disease from cigarettes, but extends to other issues including healthy cities, nutrition, prison reform, illicit drugs and human rights. ​Born and raised in Port Hope, David believes in the power of individuals to make a difference. In 2016, he was named Ottawa’s Outstanding Individual Philanthropist.

​David has pledged to match every dollar raised in Green Wood Coalition’s Street to Stability campaign, up to $10,000.

Green Wood: During a recent conversation, David Sweanor shared his thoughts on getting to a more equitable, healthier world. David, how do we start this conversation in the midst of a global pandemic? David: When we’re hit with an emergency like COVID, one of the problems is we say we’re all in this together, but we don’t act that way. We end up with some people who are left out. We get messages like ‘Just stay home,’ but the fact is, there are people without a home, or a safe home, or a home that’s more likely to cause transmission because it’s crowded with people at risk. It’s not dealing with their lived experience. What happens to one of us affects all of us because we’re all interrelated, and diseases that can spread through a marginalized part of a community can lead to everyone else. And we’re related in terms of basic humanity, which we see in small towns the way people sometimes don’t in big cities. Because you know the people you went to school with, or you see them around town. They’re not invisible to you. Green Wood: You feel we have a better chance of seeing one another’s humanity in a small town? David: You don’t grow up in a place like Port Hope and Cobourg and only know people from a background similar to yours. There are lessons we can learn and take action at a local level, at a very human level, dealing with people with needs we can recognize. Many people simply don’t see the suffering other people are going through because they live a completely separate existence. You drive your SUV to an office where you park and go to an office where other people are very much like you, you go to your social clubs interacting with other people like you, and if someone says, ‘These people who are not working or who are using drugs are just bad, they need to get their act together,’ it’s easy to miss the context of their lives. Green Wood: Is it possible to change that way of thinking? David: One of the things that really changes people is when they can see the real person, when people can say, yes, I know the family they came from, I understand what the problem is, I know the person has mental health challenges. It’s much more real, not an abstract thing. I think we have chance of getting past that knee-jerk morality to a deeper morality to say, ‘If we have the ability to reduce suffering and death, and we don’t do it, isn’t that immoral?’

I think we have chance of getting past that knee-jerk morality to a deeper morality to say, ‘If we have the ability to reduce suffering and death, and we don’t do it, isn’t that immoral?’

Green Wood: How big a part does morality play in resistance to harm reduction approaches like safe injection sites and needle exchange programs? David: There’s a constant tension between people who have a rational, scientific approach and those who see things in moralistic ways. If you see something as a solvable problem, but I see your solution as being immoral, because I see the activity as being a sin, it’s very hard to get us to have a meeting of minds. Over time we tend to change our views so there is no longer strong moralistic opposition. It’s happened with gay marriage, interracial relationships and interfaith relationships, including when my parents got married, a Protestant marrying a Catholic. It’s helpful to know we have found ways forward on these issues. It takes time, often for individuals, it takes a particular experience, meeting someone, knowing someone who has these problems. Green Wood: Locally, we’ve seen these kinds of objections. How do we get past them? David: I think we’re getting to that point. When you look worldwide, the whole war on drugs approach is seen as a failure, and people of all political persuasions are saying, ‘This doesn’t work, the criminal law approach isn’t working. It’s costing a tremendous amount of money and costing an awful lot of lives.’ We need to see this as a public health issue, not a criminal law issue. Green Wood: And for those whose fears feel real and justified? David: The same as we say we want people to understand the lived experience of those who are using drugs and why, we need to understand the lived experience of those who are outraged by it and concerned that it’s in their neighbourhood. This requires a discussion, and I think it does come back to issues of compassion, of trying to understand why there are some people who would be using a drug and why other people are very upset about that. How do we try to understand where each is coming from and what we can do to come to an option that reduces the death and disease, the suffering as much as much as we can, while minimizing any harm or objections within the community?

​This requires a discussion, and I think it does come back to issues of compassion, of trying to understand why there are some people who would be using a drug ​and why other people are very upset about that.

​Green Wood: You began by saying we’re all interconnected, yet our differences sometimes seem easier to see. David: When my kids were little I would talk to them about these things. My son was car crazy as a little boy, and he was keen on us getting a luxury car. At the time, there was a Vitamin A project in Cambodia I was interested in funding, and I said we could buy the car or I could put it into this Vitamin A. Now Vitamin A prevents children from going blind and some of them from dying, and it works out to about $20 per life saved. And so we could buy the fancier car or we could put the money into doing something like that. He sort of pauses and says, ‘Why would anybody spend it on a car?’ It’s the idea that we truly are all in this together. It’s a matter of saying, ‘What sort of world do you want, and if you have the ability to help get to that world, why wouldn’t you do it?’ Green Wood: You’ve pledged up to $10,000 in Green Wood’s Street to Stability campaign. Why do you care so much? David: Because it’s Port Hope, it’s the stuff I grew up with from my parents and my grandparents and the view of the world that if you can help other people, tell me why it is you wouldn’t. If you can have a day when you can make a difference, why wouldn’t you do that? Green Wood: Thank you so much for your time today, and for your good work on many fronts. And thank you for this generous challenge. We wish you and your family a happy holiday season.

If you'd like to join David Sweanor's challenge and make a donation to support Green Wood Coalition's work, just click on the button above. Thank you.


These are difficult times. As we witness the global pandemic's devastating impact on the most vulnerable members of our community, Green Wood Coalition is standing in the gap.

Through our work on the street, we've seen:

  • More people with nowhere to call home

  • More people trapped in substance dependency trying to cope with their mental anguish

  • More people who feel like their lives just don't matter.

We can do better for those who are hurting, hungry and homeless. We can do better, together.

Here's how you can help us give compassion and care:

​​1. Make a one-time donation using the online form below

2. Join our Change x 12 monthly donor club

3. Give a gift of stock or securities (a great option for end-of-year gift planning)

4. Make Green Wood Coalition a part of your personal or family legacy with a planned gift

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