OTTAWA – Faced with an unprecedented spike in opioid deaths brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Green Party of Canada is calling for the federal government to save lives by immediately decriminalizing the possession of opioids and other illicit drugs and creating a national safe supply program.
“The overdose epidemic is a health emergency that has only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Green Party Leader Annamie Paul. “Border closings; disrupted drug supply chains; an increasingly toxic supply; reduced social services; and closures of safe injection sites have led to a record number of opioid-related deaths across the country.”
Canada’s opioid toxicity death rate for the first half of 2020 was the highest since national data began to be collected in 2016 by the federal government (14.6 per 100,000). Provinces like B.C. and Ontario have reported that 2020 was the deadliest year for opioid deaths on record. Health experts, including B.C.’s chief coroner have pointed to criminalization as part of the problem.
“The opioid death toll has been rising for years, yet all the while, criminal charges against users keep accumulating, along with the stigma” said Ms. Paul. “The federal government continues to insist on treating drug use as a criminal matter as opposed to a health crisis. I do not understand the government’s rationale for not immediately decriminalizing possession and working with the provinces to ensure a safe supply of drugs, and increased social and health supports for users.
“The Green Party called for decriminalization and a safe supply in our 2019 election platform. We support the recent requests by the B.C. government and various municipalities for an exemption under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use. However, this is no substitute for a national strategy, and it is the federal government that should be leading the way by decriminalising drug possession nationwide, without waiting for such requests,” said Ms. Paul.
Guided by the recommendations of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, and a growing number of leading public health officials – and in an effort to save as many lives as possible – the Green Party of Canada is calling for decriminalization to occur within the life of this Parliament and no later than Canada Day 2021.
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