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Why DULF’s Founders Deserve Awards, Not Arrests

Four Order of Canada recipients and drug policy veterans denounce politically driven police action.

Libby Davies, Donald MacPherson, Jean Swanson and Michael Clague 21 Nov 2023The Tyee

Libby Davies is a former MP and former Vancouver councillor. Donald MacPherson is the former City of Vancouver drug policy co-ordinator and Canadian Drug Policy Coalition founder. Jean Swanson is a former councillor and former DTES Residents Association organizer. Michael Clague is former director of the Carnegie Community Centre. All are Order of Canada recipients.

We wish to add our voices to those who are protesting the arrest of two members of the Drug User Liberation Front, Eris Nyx and Jeremy Kalicum, who have been operating a compassion club in Vancouver since 2021.

We do so as four people with community experience in the tragic impacts of the unregulated illegal drug market activity, particularly in Vancouver.

Arresting people who are selflessly and tirelessly working to save lives through the distribution of drugs that have been tested for impurities will have tragic consequences. More people will die. Will the 43 members who were getting the tested supply be among them?

Yes, the drugs are purchased from illegal sources, just as those are by everyone who uses illegal drugs. For several years now, in several provinces, governments have supported drug-checking services as a way of helping people who use illegal drugs in trying to protect themselves from toxic drugs, injury and death. Safe supply is a very similar type of program, the main difference being the drugs are purchased and tested in bulk quantities to ensure people who use drugs are aware of their composition.

It is ironic to note that a week or so after the arrests, the Chief Coroner’s latest report called for exactly what DULF was doing, but of course with legal substances.

Why then is safe supply being eliminated with DULF in Vancouver? How does eliminating a source of tested, safer supply of illegal drugs serve those who are vulnerable to toxic drugs?

The Vancouver Police Department stood aside when DULF opened and Vancouver Coastal Health provided some funding for DULF, indicating they accepted the broad consensus that the only way to appreciably impact the illicit drug market and its criminal exploitation is by providing a safe supply.

It is disingenuous, after two years of tacit and direct support for DULF, validated by studies attesting to its effectiveness, to now decide it should not be supported.

So, we ask: Why now are these arrests made? After two years? What’s changed? What was the purpose of this action? This after 13,000 British Columbians have succumbed to overdose by illegal drugs since the crisis was declared an emergency in 2016.

At the same time, we urge the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to reconsider the decision not to accept the coroner’s recommendation that there be non-prescription, safe supply alternatives.

In these two years DULF in effect has had tacit permission to demonstrate the inappropriateness of the criminal law. It has done so.

We believe DULF is worthy of an award for its pioneering work in health care and law reform amongst those who are most vulnerable.

For many people who use drugs, the availability of a safe supply provides a lifeline and some security and support in managing their lives and attaining the highest standard of health and well-being that they can.

We urge that criminal charges not be laid against the two DULF members who have been arrested. It does not serve any public interest. It only further criminalizes what is fundamentally a public health and safety issue for people who use drugs.

All levels of government should focus their attention on the effective implementation of a safe and accessible supply of drugs to counter the deadly and poisonous drug market.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Rights + Justice

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