VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If a plan to decriminalize the simple possession of drugs in Vancouver goes ahead, it will be a “huge step towards helping save lives,” says a mother who lost a daughter to B.C.’s toxic drug supply.
Karma Leroux, whose daughter Gemma died of overdose in 2017, says she supports Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s motion that, if passed, would see the city officially request an exemption from Canada’s laws criminalizing the possession of illicit drugs for personal use.
“My daughter may be alive today if we had that in place when she was alive,” she said.
The motion is on Tuesday’s council agenda and could be voted on during an evening meeting.
Decriminalization could divert resources from law enforcement towards public health efforts supporting people who use drugs, Leroux said.
The Vancouver Police Department already has a policy of deprioritizing the enforcement of simple possession, but criminalization perpetuates the stigma that pushes people like Gemma to use drugs alone and not seek help, she said.
“We believe that drug users are not-good people in our society and that they should be punished and this is such an old view. This is such an outdated view,” Leroux said. “This is not a moral failing; this is a health issue.”
Donald MacPherson, the executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said he too is cheering the mayor’s move.
#BREAKING The mayor of #Vancouver wants his city to be the first in Canada to decriminalize the simple possession of illegal drugs. @kennedystewart’s proposal has support from @vancouverpd’s @ChiefPalmer and @VCHDrDaly. #opioidcrisis
— Marcella Bernardo (@Bernardo1130) November 18, 2020
“It’s a beginning of extracting ourselves out of a historically punitive approach to people who use drugs that is far past its due date,” he said. “For people who use drugs, it’s going to liberate them from the criminal law for simply using a substance.”
If Vancouver does officially request the exemption, it will be just the latest in mounting calls for decriminalization that have already come from B.C. Premier John Horgan, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical officer Dr. Patricia Daly and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
At some point the Liberal government in Ottawa has to listen, MacPherson said.
“What are we waiting for? I know all drug politics are political, [but] the cabinet really has to muster some courage to do the right thing and follow the public health guidance, as they tell us to do with COVID,” he said.
More than 1,500 people have died of overdose in Vancouver since the province declared a public health emergency in April 2016.
“We’re five years into this crisis and people are saying we should stop calling it a crisis if it’s just the new normal,” MacPherson said. “Well, it can’t be the new normal. The death toll is just too high.”