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Opinion: Ethnic slur on merch disparaging councillor De Genova went way too far

Our elected officials should not be targeted in this way - in fact nobody should

As we previously reported, Vancouver's Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) has been selling merch that - to put it lightly - expresses displeasure with city councillor Melissa De Genova. While attacking her policy decisions is one thing, they've clearly crossed a line by getting personal, and they've since apologized for that.

However, the fact that they've brought what is essentially an ethnic slur into the mix has not been addressed, and it should be the main focus.

"Melissa 'Spaghetti' De Genova" is the name featured on the back of a t-shirt the group was selling for $50, and have since removed from their online store along with a button that called the councillor a "pumpkin-headed f****." The "spaghetti" nickname seemed to be there for no reason at all, aside from pointing out the councillor's ethnic background.

Does the fact that she's Italian have anything to do with the ongoing beef between her and this group? And would DULF distribute hateful merch with disgusting nicknames for councillors of other ethnic backgrounds, based on the food they're known for? For example, will a future Chinese city councillor become known as "Chow Mein" by them? Will they sell a t-shirt disparaging a South Asian councillor they've nicknamed "Samosa"?

It feels gross to type those words, but the reality is that's exactly what they've done with this t-shirt.

DULF co-founder Eris Nyx tells V.I.A. that the $50 fundraising t-shirt was meant to "get people to pay attention," because "there's [been] a lot of talk and very little action" regarding the legalization of drugs in Canada.

While the group may be applauded for drawing attention to the issue of safe supply by doing something extreme like handing out free heroin and cocaine, distributing hateful merchandise doesn't serve that purpose. In fact, it takes the focus off it entirely.

COPE councillor Jean Swanson, who works closely with DULF and has worked to aid their less hateful fundraising efforts, doesn't seem to agree. She tells V.I.A. that while she's not a huge fan of the "sexist" merch (as she calls it) the media should place their attention elsewhere, because "The main thing is we should keep our eye on the prize, which is safe supply."

Swanson goes on to say that "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."

I believe it's possible to be outraged about the total failure on the part of the government's response to the opioid poisoning crisis and people on the front lines using what is essentially racism to help raise money for their cause.