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Philip Owen
Philip Owen

Philip Walter Owen (born March 11, 1933)[1] was the 36th mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia from 1993 to 2002, making him one of Vancouver's longest serving mayors. His father was Walter S. Owen, who was Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia from 1973 to 1978.


Philip W. Owen was born and raised in Vancouver. He completed his education at Prince of Wales Secondary School and later New York University.[2] In his late 20s, Owen started a textile business that later expanded to both Toronto and New York City. He became a director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, president of the Downtown Vancouver Association, chair of St. George’s School and was involved with many other local organizations.

Political career

He entered civic politics in 1978 after being elected to the Vancouver Parks Board. In 1986 he became a member of Vancouver City Council, and served there for seven years.

Owen was elected Vancouver’s 36th mayor in November 1993, and was re-elected in 1996 and 1999, making him Vancouver’s longest serving consecutive-term mayor.

During his nine years as mayor, the city's downtown residential population doubled from 40,000 to 80,000 and the residents enjoy a new vitality in a part of the city that continues to improve and is a model for North American cities. The city maintained a "Triple-A" credit rating as well as being rated the number one city in the world for quality of life by the William Mercer Study.[3]

Under his leadership, the city also opened Library Square, a new downtown headquarters for the Vancouver Public Library which features an innovative architectural design by Moshe Safdie.

Drug reform

Owen is most noted, however, for his championing of drug policy reform.

After four years of research, Owen led local and national debate to fight drug addiction problems in Canadian cities through a "Four Pillar Approach", a comprehensive program with provisions for prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction.[4] An 85-page action plan was passed unanimously by Vancouver City Council in May 2001. This new policy had the support of over 80 per cent of Vancouver's residents, as well as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' Big City Mayor's Caucus.[5]

As a result of the Four Pillar Approach, Vancouver opened Insite, North America's first legal safe injection site for intravenous drug users, in 2003.


In recent years Owen has received recognition from many organizations, including B.C. Health Officers, Simon Fraser University, Lions International, Rotary International, the Brotherhood Inter-Faith Society, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Richard J. Dennis Drugpeace Award (New York) and the Canadian Criminal Justice Association.

He currently sits on the boards of Ovarian Cancer Canada, Opportunity International, the Salvation Army and Vancouver International Airport. In the past few years, he and his wife Brita have travelled to drug policy reform conferences in Canada, Europe, the United States and Afghanistan.

In the spring of 2008, Owen was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour.


On February 15, 2011, Owen published letters in several major Canadian newspapers apologising for comments that he made blaming former Vancouver Police Department Inspector Kim Rossmo for delays in the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton. During much of the Pickton investigation, Owen was the head of the Vancouver Police Board. He has been criticized for commenting, after some 20 prostitutes went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, that there was "no evidence that a serial killer is at work."[6]

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