Vancouver activists lay stakes in Ottawa to call federal attention to drug-overdose deaths

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      A memorial and protest that’s travelled from Vancouver to Ottawa has made it to the steps of Parliament Hill.

      The demonstration began in Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside on September 29.

      On that day, activists and frontline responders built a cemetery there to symbolize people that Vancouver has lost to the ongoing overdose epidemic.

      They took 2,224 stakes to the park and laid them in the grass because, they said, that’s how many people B.C. has lost to illicit-drug use over the last three years.

      The event was organized by Collective Resistance to Injustice (CRI), a new group of Vancouver activists, frontline workers, and substance users who are pushing for a more urgent response to overdose deaths. It was planned with the help of a number of community groups, including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS).

      From the Downtown Eastside, organizers took the stakes and their message across Canada. Today (October 10) they arrived in Ottawa, where they placed them on the lawn outside where legislators meet to lead the country.

      Many B.C. health-care professionals and politicians have called on their federal counterparts and the Trudeau government to take more significant action on drug-overdose deaths.

      Quite a few of them have called for a national debate on the decriminalization of all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. They argue that will allow Canada to truly treat addiction as a health-care issue and reduce stigma to allow people to access treatment services with fewer barriers. Other B.C. politicians have called for the full legalization of illicit narcotics. They say that would allow for the government to regulate their supply and therefore minimize risks posed by dangerous contaminants such fentanyl and carfentanil.

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to entertain those ideas. He’s repeatedly said the government will not debate decriminalizing or legalizing hard drugs.

      Canada does not track drug-overdose deaths at a national level. The federal government, however, recently begin attempting to compile statistics for deaths attributed to opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone (brand name OxyContin). According to Health Canada, at least 2,458 Canadians died after taking an opioid in 2016 (the early state of the government's tracking system means that number is likely a conservative estimate and is expected to rise).


      In B.C., where the coroners service closely tracks illicit-drug overdose deaths, it’s projected that more than 1,500 people will die of an illicit-drug overdose this year. That's up from 978 fatal overdoses in 2016, 519 the year before that, and 369 in 2014. During the first seven months of 2017, the synthetic opioid fentanyl was detected in 81 percent of illicit-drug-overdose deaths in B.C.