Alberta Recovery Conference and the far-right

Protesting the conference drew the weirdos out of the woodwork.

Alberta Recovery Conference and the far-right

We knew it might happen.

You’ve likely seen recent coverage from Press Progress and commentary from others showing strong indications that the abstinence-based addiction recovery industry is infiltrated and perhaps driven by far-right political actors.

So when we announced our intention to protest the Alberta Recovery Conference, it didn’t surprise us when the fash later appeared. But thanks to Tristin Hopper, an unlikely ally who amplified our message into national Postmedia distribution, we can hope more moderate conservatives will start connecting these dots.

Early rumblings

It was no secret that Giuseppe Ganci, Chair of the Recovery Capital Conference of Canada and Director of Community Development at Last Door Recovery Society, was bristling about us building opposition to his conference. The two organizations seem to operate as one, as shown by this pair of identical tweets:

Tweets from last door rehab and recovery capital Summit that appear identical. Word for Word. Content of the tweets is just about putting the Alberta government on the back for its recovery oriented system of care.
In case of any lingering doubts about the link between Last Door Rehab and Recovery Capital Conference of Canada. My suspicion: Guiseppe Ganci runs both accounts.

But when some AAWEAR (Alberta's main organizing body for people who use or used drugs) members started expressing hesitation around participating in the conference, Ganci directly phoned members. His aims seemed to be to gaslight them about the sexual misconduct allegations related to Last Door and to sow distrust toward me. Then, after AAWEAR retweeted one of my posts raising questions about the conference, Ganci informed them they were no longer welcome at the conference. Note: I volunteer as board treasurer with AAWEAR.

Here to honk m’horn

The night before our protest, which coincided with the first day of the Alberta Recovery Conference, we were informed the Calgary Freedom Guardians were planning a counter-protest. How accommodating of them.

Telegram message from Calgary freedom guardians showing intention to counter protest our protest, in support of Daniel Smith's initiative to give people time and support to recover rather than free drugs and abandonment. The site a post about the protest by moms stop the harm. the telegram post has 19 reposts and 41 likes.
Telegram post from the private Calgary Freedom Guardians channel.

A few of us had dealt with these folks in support of Beltline residents, health workers and drag events, and we’ve seen minor physical violence conducted on their behalf. But the greater risk was now police aggression toward us like we saw in Beltline, except worse: for a group comprising criminalized individuals, this could spell disaster.

Luckily, lawyers Sarah Rankin and Zack Elias were standing ready, so we scratched their numbers onto scraps of paper and distributed these around the protest.

But in the end, only a couple showed up to guard freedom, or whatever:

Two people stand in the foreground bundled up head to toe including face coverings, with two characters in the background beside the entrance to the Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary. Snow is on the ground all around
Two of our friends who joined us from Edmonton in the foreground while the ‘guardians’ lurk by the conference entrance in the background.
Close-up of the previous photo showing two men chatting together with a window in the background. They are members of the Calgary freedom guardians
A closer look: Nick Smart and Art Matsui are frequent flyers at convoy-related events.

…and out come the wolves

Surprising absolutely no one, Aaron Gunn and his crew of poverty pornographers were attending the conference. Not long into our protest, they made an appearance alongside a righteous Ben West, who snapped photos while berating us.

Gunn managed to maintain a falsely objective demeanour and didn’t cause any overt problems. But the issue wasn’t his presence at the protest – it's the feature documentary to come. I can imagine the title: The War on Recovery. (For anyone unaware, he created Vancouver is Dying with Pacific Prosperity Network backing, which was quickly adapted into Poilievre’s infamous ‘Canada is Broken’ segment.)

We heard from inside the conference that they had put in place significant security measures in case we tried to violently storm the conference. I guess it shows how little they understand harm reduction.

This is more like it — we prefer regulated drug supply and supervised consumption:

A couple dozen people sit along a table inside a cosy bar, posing for the camera. Many make peace signs. Most are smiling
The Palomino offered their entrance for warming space during the protest, so we gathered there afterward for lunch. Thanks for the hospitality, Palomino staff!

We also heard some validation from inside the conference:

Helicopter country

Country star Paul Brandt was invited to open up Day 2 of the conference. He received a standing ovation.

Is this entire conference just an exercise in returning favours to people who have helped advance far-right ideology? It’s a rhetorical question but feel free to answer in the comments.

You can find lots of photos online from the conference — endless combinations of provincial grant and sole-source contract recipients and provincial ministers!

But Ganci’s talk title is a little hard to take given the nature of sexual misconduct allegations swirling through New Westminster’s close-knit abstinence-based recovery network — particularly the term assertive linkage.

Guiseppe Ganci stands on a stage with a presentation title slide behind him, which reads building a recovery community with collaboration and assertive linkages, beside a podium that reads recovery works
Nope. Hard nope. Source: Last Door Rehab facebook page.
Alex Caudarella (centre), new CEO of the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction, posing with Giuseppe Ganci (second from left) and… Keith Humphreys? (second from right; hat not shown). Source: Last Door Rehab facebook page.

Fascinatingly, all this coincided with a new story by Rumneek Johal detailing unsavoury (unhinged?) classroom behaviour by the UCP’s favourite professor, Dr. Julian Somers, who of course presented at the conference. At the same time, Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld declared the position of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police against decriminalization, based on a characteristically paternalistic report co-authored by Somers through the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance (CKSA).

Oddly, it wasn’t disclosed in the announcement that the CSKA’s Chair and President happens to be Chief Dale McFee, who helped support the announcement and provided commentary to media. Another CSKA board member is Alina Turner, CEO of HelpSeeker, which should ring a bell as the Calgary company that sells the cheat codes for defunding social services to police departments across Canada.

In so many ways, this story weaves itself into a political-industrial mesh that cradles the magnetic north of the UCP government — the invisible hand that keeps force-feeding us bullshit and harmful policy. You can view it as an additional layer to last year’s Briar Patch piece describing the “Yellow Vests, United We Roll, and Freedom Convoy as a continuous and evolving right-wing movement.”

Anyways. Now that we can see this is all the same fight against the far-right, how about showing up to protest Jordan Peterson in Calgary this Sunday?

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