THE BLOG
06/28/2018 11:21 EDT | Updated 06/28/2018 11:22 EDT

To The Minister Of Justice: Criminalizing Drug Users Is Killing Us

While the overdose epidemic worsened, we experienced police crackdowns, bail conditions and red zoning charges that put our lives at risk.

To Canada's Minister of Justice,

We write to you in outrage and fury at the Ministry of Justice's abdication of responsibility for the overdose epidemic killing 11 people every day across Canada. In fact, while the overdose epidemic worsened, we experienced police crackdowns, bail conditions and red zoning charges contributing to the deaths of our friends and put our own lives at risk.

AFP/Getty Images
Addicts inject themselves at the Insite supervised injection Center in Vancouver, B.C.

You don't have to travel far from your constituent office in Vancouver to see the devastating impacts of your ministry's policy on human lives. The Downtown Eastside is a glaring illustration of the many failures of the War on Drugs. Our safe access to services, housing, health care and community are near impossible while criminalized.

Fear of police arrests and criminal sanction forces drug use away from the health services and community support we rely on for safety.

Bail conditions that prohibit the possession of harm-reduction supplies (such as clean syringes and sterile water) and force abstinence and sobriety are deadly. These conditions occur before trial, so even before someone is charged with a crime, they're expected to follow provisions that assume they are guilty.

Police practices in many Canadian communities of "red zoning" literally bar people who use drugs from the neighbourhoods they live in. Red zoning is a condition of parole or release after arrest that creates a "no-go" zone for people accused of crime. It means a person can be rearrested for being present in an area of town they were "red zoned" from. This can happen even if they live in that area.

Your ministry is guilty of abetting our deaths.

Each time someone uses alone, or is presumed guilty by pre-trial bail conditions before they ever see a judge, or can't fill their prescription because they've been red zoned from the block where their pharmacy is located — your ministry is guilty of abetting our deaths.

Each time your government shuts down public conversations about decriminalization and legalization, you send the message that the lives of people who use drugs don't matter to you. Overdose is now the leading cause of death among Canadians aged 30 to 39.

As the federal government tries to address stigma in response to the overdose epidemic, understand that unless your ministry removes criminal penalties for drug possession, stigma will always exist, and it will be a contributing factor to many more overdose deaths. It is impossible to destigmatize us without decriminalizing us. Putting somebody in prison is one of the most stigmatizing things a society can do to a person. No amount of money spent on ad campaigns will change that.

John Lehmann/Globe and Mail
Two mounted Vancouver Police officers patrol one of the many alley ways in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on April 30, 2003. Community groups at the time were operating an unauthorized safe injection site for drug users.

Stigma won't be found at the scene of a single overdose death this year; you won't see it listed as a cause of death on a toxicology report. But it is responsible for every single one of our dead. Criminalization is the reason people don't call 911 when they witness their friend's overdose. It's the reason the Good Samaritan Act was made federal law last year. This law doesn't go far enough, however, and we need your ministry to start taking our lives seriously.

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In a country that abolished capital punishment in 1976, we still have Canadians sitting on death row, with no legal alternative to the poisoned drug supply in our streets. Four-thousand Canadians died a needless and preventable death in 2017. We didn't start this War on Drugs, but we will be the ones to end it.

We have five demands that need to be fulfilled:

  1. Drug decriminalization at all three levels of government

  2. End the practice of red zoning by the courts and law enforcement officers

  3. Harm reduction and overdose prevention services in all Canadian federal prisons.

  4. Eliminate pre-trial bail restrictions and conditions

  5. Suspend criminal records for drug possession charges.

Signed,

Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs

In solidarity: Pivot Legal, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Aqpsud, BC Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, Drug User Advocacy League

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