Squamish’s elected officials are hoping a local crisis will gain national recognition.
The District is calling on the federal government to declare the overdose epidemic a national public health emergency, legalize illicit drugs, and decriminalize personal use of drugs, among other things.
On Dec. 1, council voted unanimously in favour of a motion that was proposed by Moms Stop The Harm, an advocacy group composed of those affected by overdose deaths.
It asks the District to urge the federal government to consult with people most affected and develop a national overdose action plan and advocate for the “legal regulation of illicit drugs to ensure safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs, and decriminalization for personal use.”
The motion also said that declaring the crisis a national public health emergency will help unlock additional funding for the problem.
Council was supportive of the idea.
“It’s not just a question of whether or not it should be legal, it’s trying to get a safe supply, which I think is vitally important. The opioid crisis...is actually causing a bigger hole in our societal fabric than the COVID crisis at the moment,” said Coun. Doug Race.
“While it’s not strictly within the jurisdiction of local government, it is something local governments can advocate for, so I would like to add our voice to that.”
Coun. John French said that drug addiction and the mental health issues accompanying them are not policing issues and should instead be left to those trained to help people with them.
“Higher levels of government need to hear from municipal leaders like us,” French said.
The District is not alone in advocating for legalization and decriminalization.
Perhaps the highest-profile case to make headlines recently is that of Vancouver, which unanimously approved a motion to decriminalize simple possession of illicit drugs.
The motion still requires approval from Ottawa.
The federal government has also acknowledged the serious nature of the opioid crisis.
Ottawa has approved 40 supervised consumption sites, and has supported the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which provides some legal protection for individuals who seek emergency help during an overdose.
Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, has also suggested the decriminalization of hard drugs as a possible solution.
Ottawa has not made any promises on that front, but federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said decriminalization is a measure that is being “debated.”
Since 2016, more than 6,400 people have died from drug poisoning in B.C. Of those, 1,386 have been this year, according to the BC Coroners Service.
Due to the impact of the crisis on Squamish, in November, council unanimously supported a motion for a Vancouver Coastal Health funded overdose prevention site (OPS) that will be operated by Helping Hands in the District-owned former shelter located downtown.