We must protect the rights of people who use drugs

A failed global war on drugs has had a devastating effect on our communities. The criminalization of drug use has led to an epidemic of infectious disease and overdoses, and has needlessly cost countless lives across Canada.. Pivot works with people who use drugs to make changes that will meet their most pressing needs, including timely access to a range of harm reduction, drug substitution, and addiction treatment options in their own communities. We are also working toward a new, evidence-based approach to drug policy that promotes health and human rights.

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Past Victories

Mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes

In 2013, Pivot released Throwing Away the Keys, a comprehensive report looking at the harms and social costs of mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes. Since then, Pivot has intervened in several successful challenges to specific mandatory minimum sentencing provisions. Our goal in those interventions was to ensure that the perspectives and experiences of people who come before of the courts as a result of their addiction, Indigenous people, and vulnerable women were considered when assessing the constitutionality of specific sentencing provisions. In April 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada and the BC Court of Appeal delivered decisions in two of those cases, overturning specific minimum sentencing provisions for certain drug offences. Later that year, Canada’s federal Justice Minister announced that her government intends to cut widespread use of mandatory minimum sentences and give judges back their discretion.

Defending local access to harm reduction

A number of BC municipalities have bylaws in place to restrict access to methadone and harm reduction supplies and to make it difficult to operate services for people who use drugs. The most sweeping anti-harm reduction bylaw in BC was introduced by the City of Abbotsford in 2005. In May 2013, Pivot filed a lawsuit and human rights complaint challenging the bylaw, which prohibited all harm reduction uses anywhere in the municipality. In early 2014, the City of Abbotsford voted to amend the bylaw before the case went to court, a huge victory for people who use drugs in the City of Abbotsford and for human rights in this province.

Access to heroin-assisted treatment

When it comes to treating addictions, doctors should have the full range of evidence-based tools at their disposal. Heroin-assisted treatment stabilizes lives and improves health outcomes in ways that other traditional addiction treatments have not.  In 2013, Pivot launched a case on behalf of five patients who took part in the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME), which tested alternative treatments for people with chronic heroin addiction who are not benefiting sufficiently from available treatments such as oral methadone. We argued that government regulations preventing the ongoing delivery of life-saving treatment to these vulnerable addictions patients was a violation of their Charter rights. Pivot successfully applied for a court injunction so that our clients (and the 202 other research participants) could have access to HAT while waiting for the case to go to trial.  In September 2016, the federal government repealed the offending regulations. This was a major victory for our clients, who achieved the change they sought with their lawsuit.