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B.C. MLA says she didn't agree to appear in 'exploitative' drug crisis video

Elenore Sturko appears in a YouTube video discussing B.C.'s approach to drug decriminalization. (YouTube/Tyler Oliveira) Elenore Sturko appears in a YouTube video discussing B.C.'s approach to drug decriminalization. (YouTube/Tyler Oliveira)
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A B.C. politician who faced backlash after appearing in a controversial YouTube documentary criticizing the province's harm-reduction approach to drug use has distanced herself from the production, calling the video "inaccurate and exploitative."

The video was posted online earlier this month by Tyler Oliveira – a popular U.S. YouTube creator with a massive following – who walked around Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and interviewed several drug users on camera. The documentary has since been viewed more than 6.8 million times.

One of the drug users featured in the YouTube video had just been rescued from an overdose and was waiting for an ambulance when the filmmakers approached him, according to Sarah Blyth-Gerszak of the Overdose Prevention Society.

"I spoke to him the next day," said Blyth-Gerszak. "Being in a viral video in a situation where he was having an overdose is really hurtful and harmful to him. It's not right. There's just no compassion at all."

A number of harm-reduction advocates have also criticized the video as misleading, pointing to one segment in which Oliveira presents video, provided by fellow YouTube creator Kevin Dahlgren, as having been recorded inside an overdose prevention site.

Advocates have claimed that video – which captured conditions Oliveira described as not seeming “clean, safe or supervised” – was actually recorded inside a homeless shelter.

CTV News has reached out to the shelter operator for confirmation of the location.

Elenore Sturko, the BC United MLA for South Surrey and opposition critic or mental health, addiction, recovery and education, appears near the end of the documentary, where she suggests the province’s approach to decriminalization has been less successful than other jurisdictions that have "involuntary care."

"It's just not fair for the public and it's not fair for the people who have addictions, we need to provide them the services they need and make sure they get the support they can to get well," Sturko told Oliveira and Dahlgren in a video call.

Over the weekend, the MLA alleged she was recorded by the YouTube creators without her consent.

"I did not agree to participate in the video," Sturko wrote on social media. "Although I stand by my own comments, I do not agree with characterizations of B.C. made in the video nor the premise of ambushing people on the street as clickbait."

Sturko also shared screenshots of messages between her and Dahlgren setting up a Zoom meeting, including messages she sent on Nov. 2, the day the video was uploaded, in which she wrote, “You never said you were recording me for your video.”

Blyth-Gerszak questioned how a politician could be unaware that they were being recorded, particularly if the interview was conducted on Zoom, which alerts users when a recording is underway.

"I really think an out-and-out apology is due," Blyth-Gerszak added. "I hope she's learned a lesson, and I hope with that lesson she's learned that she's going to come down and see us and have some conversations about what we can really do to help people who are suffering."

The advocate has made repeated calls for Sturko and others in her party to meet with service providers in the Downtown Eastside, even acknowledging the MLA has made some "absolutely valid points" about the need for more addictions treatment to go along with harm-reduction measures.

"Everything is so divisive right now, but at the end of the day we need to be working together to improve things," said Blyth-Gerszak. "The people working down here are dealing with tragic situations, dealing with people dying all the time. It just creates more trauma and stress to not be supported, to not even be listened to about what's going on."

CTV News has reached out to Oliveira for a response to the MLA's allegation that she was recorded without consent, and to concerns about inaccuracies in his video. This article will be updated if a response is received.

The video features a disclaimer that describes the contents as being for "educational and documentary purposes only," adding that while it contains material that may be offensive to some viewers, it is "presented in a truthful and non-exploitative manner."

Days before the documentary was uploaded, the district attorney for Oregon's Multnomah County announced that Dahlgren is facing charges of theft, identify theft and misconduct for alleged incidents relating to "misuse of his official position as a homeless services specialist" in the city of Gresham.

The YouTube creator, who has been a vocal critic of what he calls the "Homeless Industrial Complex," was arrested on Oct. 31, and has yet to stand trial. 

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