Through a Blue Lens

Constable Al Arsenault, along with six other policemen, document the people on their beat to create a powerful film about drug abuse. This group of officers developed a unique relationship with addicts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. In this documentary, drug addicts talk openly about how they got to the streets and send a powerful message of caution to others about the dangers of drug abuse.

This film deals with mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised

From the playlist : Manifesto for Interventionist Media - because Art is a Hammer

Manifesto Point # 6: Work through the ethics, privacy and consent process with your partners before you begin, and adapt your project accordingly. Sometimes it means changing your whole approach – or even dropping it. That’s the cost of being ethical. Here’s a controversial one. An undoubtedly gripping and raw film, Through a Blue Lens (1999) raises serious questions about the ethics, privacy and consent issues when police arm themselves with video technology in the “mean streets” of Vancouver. The police motivation for making this film was honorable: they hoped to create an educational tool to help prevent drug use among young people by filming what they witnessed on the job every day. But video in the hands of law enforcement is a tricky issue. How much did the subjects have a say in the making and distribution of this film? This is one of the NFB’s best selling DVDs of all time. But should this film have been made in the first place?

— Katerina Cizek

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John Bear Curtis
Richard Todd
Kevin Frank
Danièle Shannon
Jean-Michel Henry
Debra Karen
Toby Hinton
Dave Kolb
Dale Weidman
Len Hollingsworth
Al Arsenault
Mark Steinkampf
Walt McKay
Veronica Alice Mannix
director of photography
Daniel C. Mannix
Shelly Hamer
Michelle Bjornson
story editor
Michelle Bjornson
music composer
Dennis Burke
location sound
Jonathan Ritchie
sound design
Orca Pacific Productions
Orca Pacific Productions
Gillian Darling Kovanic
executive producer
Graydon McCrea


  • captsparks1

    “I used to work security in the downtown east side, and I have met Cst. Arsenault a few times. Sometimes we forget that there is a human element to every addict we encounter, a life story. It's not as simple as treating addicts as a criminal issue instead of a social one. This movie is a powerful reminder that the cost of addiction is great, and is never ending. I have personally seen the difference between clean and wired. Nothing prepares you for it. These Constables have a job that is unpopular and difficult in the extreme, and by doing this film, they may have fallen into an idea that will assist in the war on drugs more so than any amount of enforcement can. Prevention is better than intervention. ” — captsparks1, 2 Aug 2014

  • squamlyfe

    “This was a really hard video for me to watch, i have family members and friends who have struggled with addiction for along time. My friends mom lives there and has for 35 years. its crazy to see what people put themselves through and for what? i get they are addicted but at some point they had to start and they never should have” — squamlyfe, 14 Jun 2012

  • nov3mbermist

    “@longoadhome A few years ago, when I was in high school, we had a few of the officers in this film (the Odd Squad) visit out school. They brought with them one of the addicts, who had since recovered, to speak first hand, in person, with the students. I'm pretty sure it was Randy. He had been clean for a number of years when he came to visit our school.” — nov3mbermist, 2 Mar 2012

  • longroadhome

    “I grew up with Randy in New West , we lived very close to the Millers and always hung around , we did our drugs in those days , weed , hash oil , acid but were always able to cope with things . Randy did have the world at his feet in sports like was said the the doc , hockey being ihis #1 passion , he by far the best player on the ice at any given time when I played Juvinile AllStar with him , But he had family problems and the hockey got passed over for the party life . Seing him in this doc made me think what a waste of a life and a really great guy and friend at one point . It was great to see the help he so muchley needed to get away from what Iam sure was a daily living hell . Hang in there bro love ya your pal Ray Thompson” — longroadhome, 28 Oct 2011

  • Beryl

    “I have a cousin that lives down there from time to time. This film opened my eyes to how bad it is. Damn Mr Harper if he shuts down the injection sites ” — Beryl, 16 Oct 2011

  • AODA_Student

    “Our Instructor for Psychopharmacology had us watch and write a paper on this film. I am not, nor was I ever a drug addict, that is why I find this movie so fascinating and I had to look on the internet for it to watch again.” — AODA_Student, 8 Aug 2010

  • “This movie shows that prohibition of drugs just makes everything worse for everybody, not just drug users. Switzerland legalized Heroin for addicts and there has been not one overdose death since and 2/3 of the heroin users there have jobs and crime has dropped by 60%. Drugs are not a problem, they never have been. Before prohibition started 1.3 % of people were addicted to drugs and after 70 years or more there are still 1.3 % of people are addicted to drugs. Prohibition is the cause of the problems not drug use.” —, 22 Jan 2010

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