Michael Manitoba had just finished his shift at the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He walked outside to get some fresh air and noticed something was wrong.
“I don’t remember much, except that I obviously did some tainted drugs,” he said.
Manitoba was having an overdose.
While an ambulance was on its way, an American YouTuber captured what Manitoba was going through. The incident was then posted online in November as part of a documentary on the DTES, and has since gained 10 million views.
“It’s devastating,” Manitoba said. “I feel horrible thinking that millions, literally millions have viewed that – seen me at my worst.”
What happened to Manitoba wasn’t an isolated incident. It’s part of a growing trend, according to advocates.
Harm reduction and recovery expert Guy Felicella said there are instances of people visiting the DTES to film those in vulnerable situations, solely for clicks and views, only to be monetized on social media platforms like YouTube.
“To me, it’s disgusting,” Felicella said.
The video that included Manitoba without his consent was made by Tyler Oliveira, a creator with a large following, who walked around the neighbourhood and filmed DTES residents. CTV News has reached out to Oliveira for a response, and this article will be updated if a response is received.
The video received backlash for its inaccuracies, and for including BC United MLA Elenore Sturko, who has since distanced herself from the production.
In response to Oliveira’s narrative, freelance videographer Nathaniel Canuel made a video featuring Manitoba and other DTES advocates condemning the harm the original video caused.
“I think fair enough, people are fed up with the issues, the problems we’re facing, but there’s an ethical way to show it and there’s a harmful way to show it,” he said.
Canuel has previously made films on the DTES. His most recent is about renowned local graffiti artist Smokey Devil, also known as James Hardy. Canuel said he thinks there should be ramifications for people who post videos like the one Oliveira did.
“It’s exploitative and it’s wrong,” Canuel said.
THE MYTH OF PRIVACY IN PUBLIC
While some may believe filming in public won’t result in any legal consequences, Jade Buchanan, a technology and privacy lawyer, said that’s a myth.
“I see this statement very often that people have no expectation of privacy in public places, and that is no longer the case, if it ever was,” Buchanan said.
He said the courts have recognized that we live in a world where most people have access to a high-quality camera, the ability to record good-quality audio, and cheap access to more surreptitious means of surveilling one another in public.
Buchanan said Manitoba could file a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, or sue for invasion of privacy.
Manitoba said he’s undecided whether he’ll pursue legal action, but said he hopes people reconsider filming others in their most challenging moments.
“It’s just wrong. It’s unethical,” he said.