Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns was “super disappointed” Wednesday when the federal government rejected his private members bill, C-216, to create a national health-based strategy for the toxic drug crisis that has claimed the lives of 27,000 Canadians in the last six years.
The bill aimed to legislate a health-based approach to substance use, and to reduce the stigma to enable those who use drugs to seek help.
“It’s heart-breaking,” said Johns, the NDP’s critic for mental health and harm reduction. “The Liberals continue to take this piecemeal approach to the toxic drug crisis. It’s the leading killer, cause of death, for people 19-39 in B.C. More than suicide, car accidents and homicides put together.”
Sixteen Liberals voted in favour of sending the bill through to the committee stage for further study. In the end, Wednesday’s vote was 71 yay, 248 nay.
Johns said the Liberals have chose to ignore the recommendations of Health Canada’s task force on substance use — which Bill C-216 reflects. His proposal would have followed evidence and advice of public health experts to decriminalize personal possession, expunge criminal records and create a national substance use strategy to provide a low barrier, regulated safe supply.
An estimated 20 Canadians die each day from a toxic drug supply. Experts say that criminalization is causing more harm, Johns said, noting the number of people who die alone at home.
Wednesday in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a health-care approach means working with provinces, municipalities and front-line workers.
“We’re taking concrete action to tackle the opioid problem,” Trudeau said. “It is not a simple solution as proposed by the NDP. We need a wraparound approach which B.C. is leading on, and we’re very pleased to work with them.”
Johns said the NDP was only asking the Liberals to build a committee, and to listen to the experts, but chose not to.
“People are going to die as a result.”
Despite his disappointment, Johns is heartened by the work of local governments and community groups such as the Comox Valley Community Action Team (CAT) for getting the message out.
“It’s (rejecting bill) heart-breaking because it was such an opportunity to make the change that we need to see, and to start to address this other public health emergency,” said Shari Dunnet, CAT project co-ordinator. “The governments have been pretty responsive immediately around COVID, and yet here we see this, which is also a public health emergency, and has taken many more lives in B.C., and yet we don’t see the same following of the experts.”
“We know that nobody in B.C. is not connected to this issue,” added Johns, who vowed to keep up the fight. “My heart goes out to the families that have lost loved ones.”