Pubdate: Thu, 16 Feb 2017
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick


On Tuesday (February 21), exactly 914 feathers will hang from the
trees in Oppenheimer Park.

They will symbolize the 914 people who died of an illicit-drug
overdose in B.C. in 2016. The feathers will be carved out of wood and
as many as possible will bear the name of somebody who died after
taking drugs.

The Vancouver demonstration is part of a national day of action that
is so far planned for seven cities across Canada. In B.C., events are
also planned for Victoria and Nanaimo.

In a telephone interview, Karen Ward, an organizer with the Vancouver
Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), said the event will begin in the
Downtown Eastside at Oppenheimer Park at noon. From there, drug users
and anyone who wants to participate will march along East Hastings
Street to Granville Street. The group will then double back and return
to the park, where people will hang the feathers.

"Our overarching demand is to end the war on drugs and for
decriminalization, working towards legalization and regulation," Ward
told the Straight.

Decriminalization could happen relatively quickly, she explained. The
government could simply amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
to end criminal penalties for the personal possession of hard drugs
like cocaine and heroin. Then, in the longer term, Ottawa could create
a new regulatory system for the legal supply and distribution of those
substances, bringing them under government control to minimize the
risk of more toxic drugs like fentanyl contaminating what people put
in their bodies.

"If there is a regulated market, people will know what they are
getting," Ward said.

In 2016, about 60 percent of illicit-drug overdose deaths in B.C.
involved fentanyl. That's up from 31 percent the previous year and
from just five percent in 2012. On February 1, the provincial
government confirmedthat another synthetic opioid called carfentanil
is present in B.C. drugs. That substance is significantly more
dangerous than fentanyl.

It is not only activists who have suggested that legalization and
regulation might be the best way to reduce drug-overdose deaths.

On February 8, the Straight reported that Dr. Hedy Fry, the Liberal MP
for Vancouver Centre, said it's time Canada begin a debate on the issue.

"This is the discourse that we must have now," Fry said. "Nobody is
ramming anything down anybody's throats. I'm not saying, 'Let's
legalize.' But I am saying, 'It's time we discussed this, openly and
publicly.' "

The previous month, the Straight reported that Don Davies, the NDP MP
for Vancouver Kingsway and Opposition health critic, similarly said he
wants an open debate about legalizing hard drugs in response to the
fentanyl crisis.

"I think we are at the point, as a country, where we can start opening
a dialogue about finding a better method of distributing drugs,
legally, to those who are addicted to them so that we can avoid the
unnecessary death, destruction, and crime that is so clearly
associated with the current model [prohibition]," Davies said. "I am
in favour of starting that dialogue."

Jordan Westfall is president of the Canadian Association of People Who
Use Drugs (CAPUD), which has a presence in nine provinces across the
country. He told the Straight that plans to coordinate a national day
of action were prompted by Ottawa excluding CAPUD from a high-level
meeting on Canada's opioid crisis that was held on November 17.

"Federally, we want to see immediate exemptions for all proposed
supervised-consumption sites across the country," he said in a
telephone interview.

Vancouver's Insite is still the only low-barrier supervised-injection
facility in North America. On February 6, Health Canada approved three
applications for supervised-injection sites in Montreal. Another 10
applications remain under review. Two of those were submitted for
Vancouver, two for Surrey, and one for Victoria.
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MAP posted-by: Matt