Ottawa's mayor and city council have voiced support for shutting down the city's peer-run, life-saving overdose prevention site which has seen more than 1,100 visits since first opening. In the context of Canada's current, unprecedented overdose epidemic, we believe such services must be maintained, and to close them would be both immoral and potentially life threatening.
Earlier this month, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) endorsed a landlord practice that many are concerned violates tenants’ privacy and stigmatizes people who use drugs: landlords in BC are increasingly using drug-sniffing dogs to search the public spaces of residential buildings, allegedly to prevent grow-ops, drug trafficking, and other illicit drug-related activities.
Whereas police officers are constrained in their use of drug-sniffing dogs by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and departmental rules and regulations, property owners relying on private businesses for dog services are held to a far lower standard. This raises obvious concerns around tenant privacy, stability of tenure for people who use drugs, and drug use stigma. It also has the potential to exacerbate the risks associated with drug use by driving it further underground.Read more
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Maple Ridge RCMP officers outside Anita Place tent city, 2017)
A man ran up to me in an alley. “I heard you’re a lawyer. I need help,” he said.
He was a young man, in the early days of recovery from a history of drug use, and he had relapsed. Relapse is common for people with addictions, but in the context of BC’s ongoing and escalating fentanyl crisis, relapsing can be fatal.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. He woke up to find the police standing over him and was handed a stack of papers—some charging him criminally with drug possession, others ticketing him with a $150 penalty under local bylaws.
Imagine that man was a friend, family member, or neighbour who was dying in front of your eyes. Most of us wouldn’t think twice about calling 911 to save a life, and we expect others would do the same for us. But for many people who use drugs, calling for help means exposing themselves, or the person in distress, to criminal sanctions. It’s an indefensible, immoral position our woefully inadequate criminal justice laws occasion for vulnerable people who use drugs.
The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act came into force in May 2017, ostensibly to encourage people to call 911 when witnessing an overdose in order to save a life. In the midst of the worst overdose crisis this province and country has ever seen, this appeal to human decency and compassion—the duty to save a life—is paramount, or at least should be. But some police forces seem to have other ideas.Read more
Broad coalition of legal organizations calling for significant reform to British Columbia’s justice system
For Immediate Release
August 30, 2017
Vancouver, BC – Pivot Legal Society, Community Legal Assistance Society, BC Civil Liberties Association, and West Coast LEAF are calling on the provincial government to implement significant changes to BC’s justice and legal systems in order to support marginalized and Indigenous communities in the province, and to improve the delivery of justice to all British Columbians.
The organizations urged the BC Government to work closely with Indigenous communities to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to respect Aboriginal Rights and Title.
The coalition of non-partisan organizations working on justice issues proposed reforms that are principally under the responsibility of the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. The recommendations are categorized into ten main areas of law and policy, including, but not limited to policing, corrections, access to justice, family law, mental illness and addiction, poverty and income inequality, and human rights. The full list of recommendations can be read here.Read more
Pivot Legal Society applauds opening of Toronto’s first pop-up safe injection site and urges federal government to expedite approvals of pending site applications
For Immediate Release
August 14, 2017
Toronto, ON – In the context of the public health emergency in Toronto and in cities across Canada, Pivot Legal Society applauds the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance’s courageous and compassionate move to open the city’s first unsanctioned safe injection site. It will undoubtedly save countless lives, as similar sites in Vancouver have done.
“Up until a few days ago, drug users in Toronto who are facing enormous overdose risk have been deprived of access to a safe place to consume drugs. The fact that the activist community has had to take matters into their own hands to provide this life-saving form of health care is proof that Canada’s authorization process is not working, and must be revisited immediately so that sites can operate when and where they are needed,” said Katrina Pacey, executive director of Pivot Legal Society.
Toronto’s first “pop-up” safe injection site opened over the weekend by a small group of volunteers with limited resources. The Toronto police have stated that they will allow the site to operate despite the lack of federal government authorization.Read more
A year after British Columbia declared a public health emergency in the wake of a seemingly unending overdose crisis, the federal government is finally responding to urgent calls across the country. This afternoon, it proposed a regulatory amendment that would significantly expand access to heroin-assisted treatment.
The process, if implemented, would allow for the importation and use of substances otherwise unauthorized for sale in Canada: this would include diacetylmorphine—more commonly referred to as heroin. Upon notification by one or more provincial or territorial public health officials, the federal Minister of Health would be able to remove barriers to importation for select substances.
We are very encouraged by these proposed changes.
"This proposal would simply allow for the importation of a drug included on the “List of Drugs for an Urgent Public Health Need” (the List) to address an urgent public health need, such as the treatment of opioid use disorder."
As people who live in Canada continue to die in devastating numbers from fentanyl-related overdoses, there has long been clear and pressing rationale to expand access to cleaner, safer substances through prescription programs.
Research trials carried out both locally (at Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic) and internationally (in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Denmark) have studied heroin-assisted treatment and proven the significant health and safety benefits for people with long-term addictions.
Vancouver’s studies demonstrated substantial health improvements for participants as well as remarkably high retention rates in the program. Participants’ involvement in illegal activities were cut by nearly half. Rates of illegal heroin use dropped dramatically, as did the amount of money spent on illicit drugs.Read more
Today, at the Canadian Senate in Ottawa, I watched the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs discuss possible changes to Canada’s prospective drug laws. These amendments included a number of recommendations submitted by Pivot.
Canada’s New Drug Strategy: Bill C-37
Last December, Parliament introduced Bill C-37: An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts as part of its new Drugs and Substances Strategy. In part, the Bill aims to simplify the onerous process of applying for an exemption to operate a supervised injection site. It is a significant departure from Canada’s old Anti-Drug Strategy, which ineffectively prioritized prohibition over prevention, harm reduction, and treatment—an approach that left a legacy of 922 fatal overdoses last year alone in British Columbia.
Bill C-37 is an important step in the right direction, but given the public health emergency facing communities across the country, it does not go far enough. We can do better.
Planting the Seeds of Change: Pivot’s Recommendations
Improving timely access to health and safety services for people who use drugs is critical. Unnecessary barriers to supervised injection cost real lives and reinforce stigma against drug using populations. Pivot’s recommendations take aim at those barriers and approach supervised injection as exactly what it is: an evidence-based health service that saves lives.
- Further streamline the federal exemption process by narrowing the information applicants must submit in their application to operate a supervised consumption site. Applicants should only be required to submit evidence of need for a site.
- Empower provinces to temporarily authorize emergency supervised consumption sites in the context of health crises.
Monday night, in the midst of an overdose crisis which will surely go down in history as one of Canada’s worst, a room packed with doctors and members of the public heard about the dire need to expand access to Heroin Assisted Therapy (HAT).
Despite study after study validating this form of treatment, and the medical community firmly in favour of offering it to drug users who don’t respond well to more conventional interventions, only one clinic offers the service, and only a fraction of drug users addicted to opiates have been given access to this potentially life-saving treatment. This is why a coalition of groups teamed up with Simon Fraser University to hold a public event in the hopes of answering the question:
What is keeping the government from expanding access to HAT?
The panel consisted of members of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Providence’s Crosstown Clinic, and the SALOME/NAOMI Association of Patients (SNAP), along with Susan Boyd of the University of Victoria, and Pivot Legal Society’s Litigation Director Douglas King. The message from the stage was clear: while a number of obstacles impede the expansion of HAT, including provincial funding and federal bureaucracy, none of them are insurmountable; and in the midst of our current crisis there can be no greater urgency.
One of the strongest arguments in favour of expanded access was given in a slide by Dr. Scott MacDonald, lead physician at the Providence Crosstown Clinic, the only place in North America where patients can access prescription heroin in a supervised setting.
It shows a precipitous decline in the use of street-acquired (often lethal) opioids when individuals were prescribed safe, medical-grade heroin. Many of these people were then offered other health services and support that helped them rebuild their lives and find hope.
Dave Murray is one of those people. He took part in two clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of prescription heroin and is a living testament to how it can benefit society.
Pivot Legal’s Director of Litigation and police accountability lawyer, Douglas King, also spoke about our fight to keep Crosstown Clinic open and services available once rigorous scientific review justified their existence.
At the end of the clinical trials, the Conservative government of the day cruelly planned to cut off access to the one thing making a measurable difference in the lives of drug users.
That plan failed thanks to the fortitude of courageous community members like Dave Murray who fought tirelessly to keep the program alive. Without their lived experience and generosity to share their stories the life-saving access would have ended, and so too a source of hope for many in the Downtown Eastside.Read more
Yesterday, Bill C-37: An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other Acts came one step closer to becoming law in Canada.
The federal government’s new drugs and substances legislation, which aims to simplify the process through which communities apply to set up supervised consumption sites, passed second reading at the Standing Committee on Health. While Pivot commends many of the changes that Bill C-37 proposes (and the expedited basis on which they are being moved through the House of Commons), we remain concerned that the changes do not go far enough to adequately address the immediacy of Canada’s overdose epidemic.
In efforts to encourage more meaningful reforms, Pivot is recommending that the Senate consider a set of amendments to the Bill before it is passed into law.Read more