Pubdate: Wed, 01 Nov 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Ian Bailey
Page: S2


Tory Leader open to new ideas for tackling crisis in B.C., but remains
leery of supervised drug-use sites and further decriminalization

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he is trying to keep an
open mind on options for dealing with the opioid overdose crisis in
British Columbia, but is not backing off key tenets on harm reduction
his party pushed in government.

That includes reservations about supervised drug-use sites. In an
interview on Wednesday ahead of a visit later this month to the Lower
Mainland, Mr. Scheer also said prosecuting drug users may steer them
into rehabilitation programs that would reduce the risk of overdoses.

"As I have been told by several representatives of the law-enforcement
community, often the ability to prosecute for these types of heavier
drugs is a way to get people in the door to rehabilitation services,"
he said, rejecting the idea of decriminalizing drugs beyond marijuana.

"There's interaction with the legal system that can compel those early

Still, he said being leader of the Conservatives, whose record in
government included objections in the courts to the operation of the
Insite supervised-injection site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, has
not held him back from considering varied ideas.

"I don't feel constrained at all. I feel the Conservative Party has
been a voice for those who have legitimate concerns around what the
consequences of some of the policies have created. It's necessary to
have that side of the conversation," Mr. Scheer said.

Amid a major crisis in British Columbia that has prompted the province
to declare a state of emergency, Mr. Scheer said he is looking for
proposals from Vancouver on how to proceed. He will be in the
Vancouver region for a two-day visit in mid-November, his second since
becoming party leader.

Although he has been in his position since May, Mr. Scheer said he is
still "in the listening phase of my leadership" when it comes to
looking for ideas worth supporting.

Last month, fatal overdoses in British Columbia surpassed 1,000 a year
for the first time. From January through August, at least 1,013 people
died of illicit drug overdoses - more than 2016's year-end total of
982. The projected 2017 total of 1,500 is about seven times the
average in the 2000s.

A situation in the Fraser Valley city of Abbotsford last week
underlined the continuing crisis. There were five overdose deaths over
the course of nine hours last Friday.

Asked his opinion on supervised injection sites, Mr. Scheer said
Conservatives are supportive of court rulings backing these sites, but
want to make sure community concerns are heard.

"My message to people in British Columbia and Vancouver is a sincere
desire to find policy that works, balancing the legitimate and proper
concerns of families and individuals who have real concerns about
[supervised drug-use sites] in their community with the need to save
lives, the recognition that addicts are in a type of place where they
will do what they can to get their hands on narcotics and take them."

The Conservative Leader said he has never visited a supervised
drug-use site to get a first-hand sense of how they work, but wouldn't
rule it out.

"As someone who believes in making decisions based on evidence, I
would have no problem with going to see what goes on there," he said.
"That's an interesting thought."

Gavin Wilson, a Vancouver Coastal Health spokesman, said they would
welcome an Insite visit by Mr. Scheer, who would follow a long list of
politicians who have come by. The health authority funds Insite and
operates it with the PHS Community Services Society.

"It is instructive to get a firsthand look at how harm reduction works
in practice. But we would also encourage taking a broader look at the
services and programs we offer to those who are addicted to drugs.
Insite is just part of the spectrum of services we provide," Mr.
Wilson said in a statement.

In response to the overdose crisis, B.C. has opened more than 20 sites
where people can use drugs.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt