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VANCOUVER — Former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen, a driving force behind North America’s first life-saving supervised drug injection clinic, has died.

Owen was 88.

A statement from his family says he died peacefully on Sept. 30 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease.

Owen served in various elected roles in Vancouver from 1978 to 2002, including the last nine years as the city’s mayor.

He was one of the first champions of the four pillars drug strategy, an approach to addiction that emphasizes prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction, and his work led to the creation of Insite, North America’s first supervised injection site.

The family says memorial and funeral plans for the husband of 63 years, father, grandfather and great-grandfather will be announced later.

Christian Owen says in the statement that the family has always been proud of his father. 

“He loved this city, every part of it, and you could see this in how he found the right balance, even when it came to the toughest issues. He was a gentleman and a devoted Vancouverite, right to the end.”

Owen was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2008, and last year, the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation and BC Centre on Substance Use established the Philip Owen professorship in addiction medicine at the University of B.C. in his honour. 

Owen was the son of Walter Owen, who served as lieutenant-governor of B.C. in the 1970s.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart called Owen a gentle and decent man, whose time as mayor will be remembered for his courage and foresight.

His work saved thousands of lives, Stewart said in a statement on Friday. 

“Though a challenging idea at the time, mayor Owen learned from talking with those living with addiction that harm reduction was the only way to address the overdose crisis of the mid-1990s and early 2000s.”

Stewart said the city wouldn’t be taking the steps it is now with safe supply, plans for decriminalization, and expanded treatment and support for those facing mental health and addiction challenges if it was not for Owen’s leadership. 

“He will be missed.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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