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'Reprehensible': Vancouver drug advocacy group faces backlash for selling merch targeting city councillor (PHOTOS)

The group is selling a pin that uses profane language to describe a city councillor.

A group advocating for a safe supply of drugs in Vancouver has come under fire for selling merchandise that describes a city councillor with inflammatory language. 

The Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) has distributed drugs at events aimed at demonstrating the life-saving potential of legalizing drugs. Co-founder Eris Nyx told Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview that selling merchandise is another way for the group to raise money to buy clean drugs to distribute to people who use drugs. 

But the website and its merchandise also serve another important purpose, noted Nyx. 

"Anything we can do to get people to pay attention," she explained, highlighting that "there's [been] a lot of talk and very little action" regarding the legalization of drugs in the country. 

The group has created a pin for sale on its site that reads: "Melissa De Genova is a pumpkin-headed [expletive]" as well as a $50 t-shirt described as a Ltd. Edition "Official" MDG Campaign Shirt 2022. The shirt reads "follow the money" on the back above "Melissa Spaghetti De Genova." 

Since V.I.A. released a story about the merchandise, several people have expressed their opinions about the messaging, which range from fierce condemnation to glowing praise. 

Mayor Kennedy Stewart told reporters in his media availability Wednesday (Jan. 19) that the merchandise is “everything bad about politics" and that "personal attacks, especially against women, are hurting our democracy.”

The mayor added: “This is reprehensible by the group. They know better. They should immediately stop this and apologize.” 

In a tweet, Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung stated that "targeting elected officials with profanity and personal derogation like this vitriol aimed [at Melissa De Genova] is unacceptable. The public has the right to question or strongly disagree with the policies or opinions of their representatives, but this is appalling, full stop."

V.I.A. reached out multiple times by phone and email to De Genova for comment, who did not respond. However, she thanked Kirby-Yung for voicing her opinion in a tweet and added that she has "always been clear on [her] support for the [four pillars] and evidence-based drug policy."

De Genova noted that her "heritage and ethnicity isn’t relevant," and that these types of tactics discourage women from running for elected offices. 

Coun. Lisa Dominato also voiced opposition to DULF's merchandise, tweeting that "this is just another example of why citizens decide not to serve in public office. Personalized attacks, more often against elected women, foster a toxic political climate and decay our democratic system. Debate the issues, not the person."

Coun. Jean Swanson, who has supported DULF in many of their past fundraising events, told V.IA. in a phone interview that she doesn't support what the group said about De Genova in their merchandise. That said, she said it isn't what people should be concerned about. 

"The main thing is we should keep our eye on the prize, which is safe supply," Swanson said. "And the main thing that we should be outraged about is that over six people a day are dying. That's the main thing we should focus on."

Swanson added that she called DULF to say that she didn't think a "sexist button" was appropriate. But she doesn't feel the group was targeting De Genova because she is a woman. Instead, she said they would have targeted anyone who made those comments, regardless of their gender. "If a man said what she said I think they would target him."

In response to comments De Genova made regarding DULF's procurement of drugs on the dark web, Swanson said she felt they were "inappropriate" and that she "totally disagrees with them." While she doesn't agree with the messaging of the merchandise, she understands where the group's frustration stems from. 

"DULF has probably saved 100 times more lives than me or De Genova or any other politician. So you can understand their frustration."

When asked if they were concerned that De Genova may take legal action against the group, Nyx told V.I.A. in a previous interview she isn't concerned with the councillor's reaction. 

"That would be just so funny to me," she explained. "She told us we were supporting terrorism and child pornography."

Nyx went on to say that people should "be able to make statements about our politicians," particularly when the politicians are making harmful accusations. Further, since the summer of 2021, she has lost six friends to the overdose crisis. 

Numerous other Vancouverites have shared their opinions on Twitter. Have a look at some of the responses.