04/16/2018 08:41 EDT | Updated 04/16/2018 09:56 EDT

Dear Liberal Party: To Help End Overdose Death Crisis, Decriminalize Now

We urge you to be the progressive government you promised to be, choosing human rights and evidence-based policy over ideological relics.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Blair Gable / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Dear Liberal party members, members of Parliament and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

Last year alone, more than 4,000 Canadians died from overdose, according to federal health estimates. These deaths were preventable. Close to 6,000 more will have died by the end of this year if the year-to-year 45 per cent rate of increase continues. If the government had heeded the advice of those with lived experience, those working directly with those at-risk, and experts in public health, this crisis would not have grown the way it has. We continue to call for evidence-based, compassionate drug policies.

We recognize this government's efforts to address the overdose epidemic: additional federal funding for treatment; regulatory changes to broaden the distribution of Naloxone; approving licensing for supervised consumption services; and providing a more enabling framework for overdose prevention sites.

Canada is losing more people to overdose than at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

These may go some way to mitigating the harm in the midst of this public health emergency. However, these measures are insufficient, as the crisis is currently worsening. Canada is losing more people to overdose than at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The devastating effect of this crisis has left thousands of Canadian families and communities forever impacted by the loss of their loved ones to overdose. Our country as a whole can expect long-lasting social, cultural and economic impacts of losing thousands of people. Meanwhile, people who use substances continue to experience unjust reductions in quality of life resulting from incarceration, criminal records and systemic discrimination.

We urge you to be the progressive government you promised to be, choosing human rights and evidence-based policy over ideological relics. A resolution for sensible drug policy is on the agenda at the April 2018 federal Liberal convention. We wholly support this resolution and urge that you accept it as a party policy and quickly advance legislation to decriminalize low-level possession in accordance with that policy.

Hemera Technologies via Getty Images

The proposed motion, "Address the Opioid Crisis Through a Public Health Approach," states that, "The Government of Canada should treat drug abuse as a health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services and re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations."

As the world watches dated and harmful North American drug policies translate into the toxic drug market that experts predicted, we look to the sensible approaches of Portugal, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Norway and others as examples that demonstrate a truly effective approach to health. We would expect a government that holds the dignity of people as a central value to adopt the proposed policy resolution in the interests of the public's health and safety. There is no excuse for delay.

As representatives, direct-service workers, family members, people who use drugs, professionals and researchers in related fields of health care and public health, and other citizens who have been impacted by this crisis, we demand our federal government act on our experiential and expert knowledge and that our elected officials do not further delay an effective and timely response to this heath emergency.

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We see the fatal impact of the criminalization of people who use drugs every day in our communities. As a result of the stigmas perpetuated by prohibition, we have a system which discriminates, oppresses, and continues to marginalize some of our country's most vulnerable populations.

The overdose death crisis we currently face is a public health emergency and needs to be treated as such: as a health care issue, and not an epidemic of criminal behaviour. The impacts are not only on affected individuals, but the wider social and economic health of the country as well.

We need you to listen to our voices as we call for the essential next step: decriminalization. The example of Portugal and other European countries illustrates that this policy works.

We ask you to prevent thousands of more unnecessary deaths by supporting this resolution.


Organizational Signatories

BC Civil Liberties Association
Canadian Association of Social Workers
Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
Families of Sisters in Spirit
Harm Reduction Nurses Association
Journal of Prisoners on Prisons
keepSix - Supervised Consumption Services (Toronto)
Moms Stop The Harm
Overdose Prevention Ottawa
Overdose Prevention Society Vancouver
PIVOT Legal Society
Say Know - Drug Education Project Non-Profit

Individual Signatories

Adam Keller
Alexandra Belanger
Alexandra Collins - British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, Research Assistant; Simon Fraser University, PhD Candidate
Alexis Shotwell
Alice Maguire - Social Worker
Andrea Reimer- City Councillor
Angela James - business owner
Angela Welz
Ann Murray
Anna Cooper - Pivot Legal Society, Staff Lawyer
Anne Marie Lasuta
Arij Riahi - Lawyer
Arlene Last-Kolb - Moms Stop The Harm Chapter leader Manitoba
Bernadette Lettner - Hep C treatment nurse
bita mary eslami - Heads and Hands
Bob Rae
Brenda Warner - Retired
Brent Pierce
Brian Henderson - Retired Director, Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Bruce Robinson - Self employed
Caitlin Shane - Lawyer, Pivot Legal Society
Candace Day Neveau
Carey Linde - lawyer
Carol Mackie - Mother of an overdose victim
Carrie Ann - Sasktel
Casey Hrynkow - Masters student, SFU
Cathy Crowe - Street Nurse
Charene Monk
Charlene Winger
Cheryl Wagstaff
Christine Bossley
Clara Casucci-McLeod - Aunt to my nephew, Jordan
Clare Keast
Corinne Chapman - Mother of Bradley Chapman who died of an overdose in 2015
Corinne Woods - Moms Stop The Harm
Dalene Bodechon
Dan Warner - Retired
Dana Dmytro
darlana treloar - Moms Stop the Harm
Darlene Augustson - The Compassionate Friends of Vernon
David Juurlink - Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto
Dr. Dawn Moore - Associate Professor, Carleton University
Debbie Lewis - Mother of daughter who died from fentanyl poisoning
Deborah Gatenby
Deborah Watson - MSTH
Delia Cassatini - Mother and Grandmother, Retired
Denise Marie Vandal
Dennis Long - Breakaway Addiction Services
Diane Hannah - MSTH
Diane McNally - Parent; Public Education School Trustee
Dianne Martin - Chief Executive Officer, Registered Practical Nurses of Ontario
Dominique Adams - RN
Donald MacPherson - Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
Dr. Dorothy Bakker - University of Guelph, Student Health, Physician; McMaster University, Associate Clinical Professor
Emilie Taman - Replacement professor, University of Ottawa Faculty of Common Law
Emily Jenkins - University of British Columbia, School of Nursing, Assistant Professor
Evelyn Violini
Felix Attard
Fernand Magnin - Retired teacher, father of a girl who died from Fentanyl poisoning
Gary Barwin
Gaylene Lalonde
Geoff Bardwell, PhD - Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia; BC Centre on Substance Use
Gerry Pearpoint
Glen Leiper – Parent
Greg Macdougall
Gregor Robertson - Mayor, City of Vancouver
Hakique Virani - Clinical Assistant Prof - University of Alberta; Medical Director - Metro City Medical Clinics
Hayley Munroe Craig - Karmik/Owner & Co-Founder & Outreach Director
Heather Fookes - Mother
Ingrid Guillet
Irene Paterson - Moms Stop the Harm
Iris Youngberg
Jamie Hucul
Jamie Whittaker
Jan Christianson-Wood - Canadian Association of Social Workers, President
Jane Harding - Moms Stop the Harm
Janice Abbott - CEO, Atira Women's Resource Society/Atira Group of Women-Serving Agencies
Janine Violini - Administrative Consultant and Trainer
Jason McGrath
Jen Ko - RCHC / RN / TOPS / Coordinator
Jenna Valleriani - Strategic Advisor, CSSDP; Post-doctoral fellow
Jennifer Kilty - Associate Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa
Jennifer Windsor
Jia Hu
Jill Robinson - Clinical Psychology Graduate Student
Jim Belanger
Jonathan Gormick
Joseph Casucci - Father of 4 children
Julie Vail
Kapri Rabin - Street Health, Executive Director
Karen Cettiga
Kari Ursulescu - Medicine Hat Drug Coalition
Kathleen Scott - Self employed
Kathy Wagner
Kelly White - Street Health
Kevin Hollett - BC Centre on Substance Use
Kim Leclerc - Mom
Kim Pare
Dr. Kora DeBeck - Simon Fraser University, Assistant Professor
krishna e bera - individual
Laura Day
laurel keating - MSTH
Leigh Chapman - Toronto Overdose Prevention Society
Leila Attar - Co-Organizer at Overdose Prevention Ottawa
Leslie McBain - co-founder Moms Stop the Harm
Linda Belanger - MSTH
Linda Schaeffer - MSTH
Lindsey Richardson - University of British Columbia / Assistant Professor
Lisa Reinbolt - Grieving mother
Lisa Wright
Lise Loubert - Physician
Liz Singh - Streetworker - Head and Hands
Lorna Thomas - Moms Stop The Harm, Co-founder
Luisa Rotella
Lyn Firth - Lyn Firth Counselling for women; Registered Professional Counsellor
Lynn Mather - Retired social worker and addictions counsellor
M-J Milloy, PhD - BC Centre on Substance Use / Research scientist
Margaret McGregor - Physician
Marie-Eve Sylvestre - Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Marilou Gagnon
Marion Wright - Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services, Executive Director
Martha Jackman - Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Matt Ingrouille - Say Know - Drug Education Project / Founder / Director
Matthew Witt - Member: Moms Stop The Harm
Maureen Christensen - Mother of deceased son (2017)
Megan Lowry - Toronto Overdose Prevention Society
Melanie Spence
Mellany Buryska - Social Worker
Michael Spratt - Partner, Abergel Goldstein & Partners
Micheal Vonn - BC Civil Liberties Association / Policy Director
Michelle Thiessen - Researcher
Naomi A
Natalie Kallio - Coordinator, keepSIX Supervised Consumption Services, South Riverdale Community Health Centre
Nick Boyce - Ontario HIV and Substance Use Training Program / Director
Nick Etches
Niki Lucas
Patricia Hamilton - Moms Stop The Harm
Patrick Adams
Patrick McKenna - Ottawa Salus, Case Manager
Peter Kim - Pivot Legal Society
Petra Schulz - Moms Stop The Harm, Co-Founder
Rajdeep Kandola - Physician Lead East Calgary Family Care Clinic
Rebecca Saah - University of Calgary
Rhonda Carter - Service
Rhonda Tremblay - Alberta Health Services
Robert Casucci - Teacher
Robert Fitzpatrick - Hope For Freedom Society Shelter Worker Supervisor
Roxie Danielson - Inner City Family Health Team / Registered Nurse
Dr. Roy Male
Russell Maynard - PHS community Services Society, Senior Management
Ruth Verkerk - Patient Voices Network of BC
Ryan McNeil - Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, UBC
Sajida Afridi - Metro City Medical Clinic/Physician
Sandeep Prasad - Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights / Executive Director
sarah blyth - Overdose Prevention Society
Sarah Sheridan
Sarah Stewart - Owner, Open Minds Mental Health Education and Training
Sean Winger - Educator PWLE
Sharon Findley
Shawn Simmonds
Sheila Horst
Sheila Jennings - Doctoral Student, Osgoode Hall Law School
Shellee Pilgrim
Sherry Robinson
Dr. Stacy Douglas - Assistant Professor, Law & Legal Studies, Carleton University
Stanislav Kupferschmidt - Harm Reduction Outreach Worker/ SWCHC
Stephanie Gasbarrino
Stephanie Lake - PhD Student, UBC; Member of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP)
Stephanie McCune
Susan Boyd - University of Victoria, Professor
Susan Laurin
Susan Robblee - Moms Stop the Harm
Sydney Simmonds
Sylvia Mennear - Mother of deceased son
Tara Lee Romeo - Beyond 12 Steps Healing Treatment Center Program Director
Tave Cole - Toronto Overdose Prevention Society
Taylor Fleming - BC Centre on Substance Use
Theresa Simmonds
Tim Strain
Victor Willis - PARC/Executive Director
Vikki Reynolds, PhD RCC - Clinical Supervisor
Wanda Menzies - Registered Nurse
Wendy Fleming
Wendy Piccott - Account Manager
Zoë Dodd

Read the original open letter here.

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