(Katrina Pacey after Bedford v. Canada Supreme Court hearing, 2013)
I have written a lot of messages to the Pivot community since 2001, when I became part of a small group of committed people who were building this thing called “Pivot Legal Society.” But I don’t think I have ever written a message that felt so deeply emotional, where so many different feelings – grief, gratitude, excitement, pride, and nervousness – are all present at the same time.
After almost 17 years at Pivot, I have decided to leave my position as executive director in the spring of 2018. I have spent months reflecting on where Pivot is at, and where it is headed. The organization is stronger and more passionate than it has ever been. We have an incredible staff team and board of directors, a strong record of making progressive change, and a clear vision for our campaigns going forward.
(Katrina Pacey during Pivot's early years in the Downtown Eastside)
It may seem like an odd decision to leave the organization when it is at its best. But that is exactly why I have decided that now is the right time for a transition. Pivot is entering a new chapter in its evolution. The organization’s future is filled with potential and new challenges. I am excited to invite new, creative leadership into the organization when it is at its most energized.
I will remain in my role until the new executive director has been identified, and will be here to support them as they move into their role. The search begins in January 2018 and I am really excited to see who will step forward to lead this incredible organization.Read more
In the highly charged world of drug policy, where fear and misunderstanding fuel hyperbole and harmful government action (and inaction), hard numbers speak an undeniable truth: overdose prevention sites save lives.
Operating absent a federal exemption from the government, overdose prevention sites maintain a low-barrier, peer-driven mandate. As compared with the hurdles that more formalized supervised consumption sites must clear, the flexibility of overdose prevention sites make them an indispensable health service with higher rates of use.
Among the many factors contributing to their success is the variety of health and safety services they offer. These locations provide an alternative to formalized supervised consumption sites that may be inaccessible to people for a variety of legitimate reasons, including a lack of inhalation services, prohibitions against communal injection (for those who cannot self-inject), or for other social and interpersonal reasons.Read more
There is substantial evidence from a range of jurisdictions which demonstrates that drug prohibition laws and policies, including the use of incarceration, can negatively impact health and social outcomes among persons living with addiction. Here in BC, law enforcement efforts have not resulted in a decrease in overdose deaths.
For example, between 2011 and 2016 police investigations of heroin possession increased 409%. During that same timeframe, fatal overdoses increased 334%. Law enforcement responses are not curtailing the crisis and are causing harm to the people we mean to protect.
Thousands of people across British Columbia experience homelessness every year. Many of them rely on public spaces for their survival and must carry all their worldly possessions with them in bags and carts.
For them, when police officers and bylaw officers confiscate carts or belongings, whether to tidy a sidewalk or park, or explicitly to deter homeless people from resting or gathering, these confiscations mean losing everything they have in the world.
In the context of the current public health emergency, there is an urgent need for the BC Government to take all possible steps to remove legal and other barriers to evidence-based health services for people who use drugs.
In 2016, 982 people died in BC as a result of illicit-drug overdose. Data released by the BC Coroners Service confirms that 1,013 people died from illicit-drug overdose in the first eight months of 2017, putting the province on track to see 1,520 illicit-drug overdose deaths in 2017.
In April 2016, the BC government showed strong leadership by declaring a public health emergency. However, despite official recognition that drug use is a public health issue, drug users remain highly criminalized. Even more astounding is the fact that community-based service providers, grassroots organizers, and individual drug users who have been on the frontlines preventing thousands of overdose deaths remain at risk of criminal charges because they do not hold a federal exemption.
On the stereotype of the “drug kingpin”: Why tougher penalties for fentanyl trafficking won’t end the overdose crisis
When many of us hear the term “drug dealer” our subconscious conjures a shadowy figure trafficking in human misery and suffering while living large off ill-gotten profits. It’s a powerful, convenient image, but largely inaccurate, at least when it comes to who is being arrested and convicted on drug charges in Canada.
Earlier this year, the BC Court of Appeal rolled out a harsher sentencing range for individuals convicted of selling fentanyl: instead of the usual range of six to 12 months, the Court ruled that street-level fentanyl dealers should receive sentences of between 18 and 36 months, or even longer.
Now, BC’s Minister of Public Safety, Mike Farnworth, has stated that BC is considering giving Crown counsel the ability to charge accused fentanyl dealers with manslaughter. The tragedy of overdose deaths unfolding across this province is all too real, and requires a strong government response, but as history has shown, the “war on drugs” approach to substance use has failed.
Farnworth, however, subsequently clarified his comments, saying the province would "target high-level players rather than street-level drug dealers," which is a welcome step back from hardline enforcement, but it remains to be seen if it would play out in practice.
(Photo credit: Sara Wylie, National Day of Action, February 21, 2017)
The reality is that many who deal drugs are victims of their own supply. Research from the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) has found that among people who use drugs, the most common reason for dealing is to support their addiction.
It is largely those living in poverty, homelessness, and with addictions who are being arrested and charged. Law enforcement disproportionately targets the most marginalized of street-level dealers. This is the same group of people who are devastated by the daily loss of friends and family, and are at great risk themselves of fatal overdose.
Moreover, the BCCSU has found that recent incarceration is associated with an increased likelihood of being involved with high-risk income-generating activities, including drug dealing. This suggests more policing creates a self-perpetuating cycle wherein policing fuels drug dealing, which in turn necessitates more policing—hardly a solution to the problem.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Maple Ridge RCMP, 2017)
There is substantial evidence showing that incarceration can negatively impact the health and social outcomes of those living with addiction—the very people society and government should be working to help. Incarceration is associated with an increased risk of HIV infections; delays initiating and interruptions to evidence-based opioid addiction care, including opioid agonist treatment during incarceration and following release; and reduced tolerance to drugs resulting in a dramatically increased risk of fatal overdose upon release. Addressing drug addiction requires medical intervention and evidence-based drug policies that decrease reliance on the illicit drug markets rather than the blunt instrument of the criminal law.
In the United States, lawmakers responded to the fear around the emergence of crack cocaine by introducing harsh sentences for offences involving crack that far exceeded those for powder cocaine and other illicit drugs. Police also responded with more aggressive enforcement. The end result was a discriminatory surge in the incarceration of poor, racialized people, the effects of which are still being felt in many communities.Read more
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