Minister Jennifer Whiteside, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has issued the following statement on the one-year anniversary of decriminalization in British Columbia:
“A year ago today, British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to take steps to treat addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one. Our government’s goal is to reduce the fear and shame associated with addiction, so more people can feel comfortable reaching out for help.
“People living with addiction shouldn’t be trapped in the court system. It doesn’t help anyone or make communities any safer. Fear of criminal repercussions increases risks of overdose by leading people with addiction challenges to hide their substance use and deters people from calling for help during an overdose emergency. Further, we know criminalization can have an impact on the ability for someone to seek and hold employment, income and housing, which further perpetuates cycles of poverty and undermines people’s recovery journeys.
“The decriminalization pilot project is part of B.C.’s broader work to address the ongoing toxic drug crisis, and we are beginning to see results. We have already seen a decrease in the criminalizing of people who are living with addiction, so they can be better connected to health care they need.
“This past year has seen a concerning increase in toxic drug deaths in provinces across the country, and British Columbia was no exception. Ending this measure will not save a single life. As the toxicity of illicit street drugs continues to increase, more people are at serious risk. There is no single solution to this complex and unrelenting public-health emergency, and we will continue to use every tool available to save lives and connect people to care. This includes investing in early intervention and prevention services, expanding access to harm-reduction supports, increasing medication-assisted treatments, and expanding treatment and recovery services so more people can get care they need where and when they need it.
“Our government remains determined to stem the tide of the illicit drug poisoning crisis by doing everything we can to help people and save lives. This measure, as one part of our comprehensive, ongoing actions, will help us get there.”
Ya’ara Saks, federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions –
“The overdose crisis is taking a tragic toll on families, friends and communities across Canada. To combat this crisis, we need to be working with all levels of government, health professionals, first responders and civil society to save lives and improve the health and well-being of Canadians. Stigma and the fear of criminalization are known to cause people to use alone and not seek out support services. This exemption is an innovative and bold measure that is one part of our comprehensive and compassionate approach to reducing harms and saving lives. The data is clear: fewer people are being criminalized for personal possession, and more people are accessing lifesaving services, including treatment. As the first exemption of its kind in Canada, we will continue to work closely with British Columbia to monitor impacts, learn as we implement and make adjustments as needed.”
Adrian Dix, B.C. Minister of Health (quote updated Jan. 31, 2024) –
“Decriminalizing people in possession of a small amount of certain illegal drugs for personal use is about saving lives. It is one action the province is taking to address issues related to the toxic drug supply that is killing too many people. It is part of the Province’s continuing efforts to build out a comprehensive system of mental-health and addictions care that includes expanding the number of treatment beds, rehabilitation services and housing options for people struggling with substance-use disorder and offering them a chance at recovery.”
Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson, president, BC Association of Chiefs of Police –
“Senior police leaders in British Columbia recognize the importance of a compassionate and evidence-based approach to ensure people who use drugs receive the integrated care they require. We stand committed in our desire to not criminalize those who use drugs, but to redirect individuals to alternate pathways of care. This is a complex public-health crisis that we must continue to work together to address as we know the overdose crisis continues to devastate communities throughout British Columbia.”