Today (February 20) drug users and their allies marched in cities across Canada, including Ottawa, Toronto, and Victoria, as part of a national day of action on drug-overdose deaths.
In Vancouver, some 200 people gathered at Victory Square at West Hastings and Cambie streets.
The crowd was smaller than one that assembled for the same demonstration one year earlier, perhaps owing to today’s freezing temperatures. But they marched through the city’s downtown core and made enough noise to ensure their message was heard.
The group called for decriminalization: for the federal government to immediately remove criminal penalties for the personal possession of illegal narcotics, including hard drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Jordan Westfall, executive director of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs (CAPUD), addressed the crowd shortly before it began its march, which later ended at the Federal Court building on Georgia Street.
“When someone is criminalized, they’re not going to access health care,” he told the Straight just before they set off. “They are going to be discriminated against in terms of housing, employment, and health care. They’re not going to seek support or help. And, often, that can lead to people overdosing on toxic drugs.
“Decriminalization brings people out of the shadows,” Westfall continued.
Susan Boyd, an author and drug-policy researcher based at the University of Victoria, called attention to the sheer numbers of fatal overdoses that B.C. and all of Canada have experienced in recent years.
In 2017, 1,422 people died after taking drugs in B.C. For all of Canada, that number is estimated to exceed 4,000.
“These deaths are preventable,” Boyd said.
“In the midst of an overdose death, public-health crisis, why are we arresting anyone for drug possession?” she asked. “Why aren’t we, today, decriminalizing the personal possession of all drugs?”