Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jan 2018
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Tyler Dawson
Page: A9


Picture this: You're an injection drug user, and, you're worried the
next time you use, you might die. So, you head for the Shepherds of
Good Hope, where there's a special trailer. There, you can use your
drugs - and someone will save you if you overdose.

Upon arrival, though, there's a police cruiser outside. Apparently
it's there a lot, at least according to Ottawa Inner City Health,
which runs the injection site, and officers are questioning staff and

And so you turn around. You take your chances injecting elsewhere, to
avoid being harassed by police. Maybe you'll overdose and there will
be nobody to save you. So it goes.

With between 130 and 170 people using the injection trailer daily,
it's got to be asked: How many are not showing up because they're
afraid of the police?

Since Ottawa's mayor and police chief had both been openly hostile
toward the idea before recently softening their views, it's no
surprise those tasked with enforcing the laws may not have, after
years of hearing one thing, quite come 'round to the virtues of
addicts having a safe environment in which to inject their drugs. (On
Tuesday, the chief disputed this characterization of his position in a
statement to the Citizen.)

And yet, this situation is a dangerous one. If injection sites are
providing life-saving medical care - and they are - then anything that
keeps people away risks indirectly causing death.

This isn't complicated. It's worrisome if local cops can't follow

And so, a solution: It's time that drugs - all drugs - are
decriminalized, then legalized and sold like alcohol or tobacco or
(soon) marijuana. Decriminalization would remove criminal penalties
for drug use - legalization would allow regulated use and sale.

The arguments in favour of pot legalization apply to other drugs, too,
including improved quality, the end of the black market as well as a
reduction in crime, desperation and overdoses.

It's also the right thing to do. It's up to each of us to decide how
we treat our bodies.

What the Shepherds struggle shows is that, at present, humane drug
policy relies too much on police acquiescence. A safe-injection site
only works if police abide by a gentlemen's agreement to not arrest or
harangue people coming in and out.

Apparently, it worked fine for the first little while that the site
was open. But something has gone wrong, fuelled, no doubt, by the fear
of a no-go zone where cops can't arrest drug dealers and users smash
and grab everything they can to finance their habit. (Such a no-go
zone does not exist in Ottawa, says the police force.)

The evidence that crime goes up around injection sites is weak at
best, but that certainly hasn't stopped the promulgation of this fear.

If police aren't going to play ball with supervised injection, which
has the potential to save some of the hundreds and hundreds of people
who died from fentanyl overdoses in Canada last year, then it's time
police are removed from this equation as much as possible.

Decriminalization and legalization would kill many birds with one
stone. In December, Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of
Canada, described "a very toxic drug supply" in Canada, with fentanyl
expected in a majority of all opioid-related deaths. This is not a
problem that policing can fix. It make it worse - certainly police do
by keeping people away from injection sites.

If drugs are regulated, they're safer. If they're bought in stores, it
eliminates seedy areas or dealers. If drug use isn't criminalized and
the stigma goes down, it becomes easier to get people into treatment,
if they want to.

Jagmeet Singh, the new NDP leader, has floated decriminalization.
While this would be the right thing to do, it's not likely to be a
votegetter, so it'll stay on the outskirts of Canadian politics. It's
a shame, really, but perhaps Singh will change our political culture.
It's more of a shame that drug users and the people who care for them
feel the police in Ottawa are endangering them.

Even if the police think they aren't responsible here, that doesn't
make it so; the consequences, even if unintentional, require the
police to do a serious rethink about how they're policing near
injection sites.
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