Skeena-Bulkley MP Taylor Bachrach was disappointed the House of Commons (HOC) rejected an NDP bill to take a health-based approach to substance use on June 1.
It was a really emotional moment in the HOC, Bachrach said.
After the rejection of the bill was announced, someone in the chamber could be heard crying out, “Shame on you!”
Earlier in the week, the province of B.C. announced starting in 2023, possession of up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs will be decriminalized in the province.
“What the federal government agreed to in British Columbia is only one part of the approach that we need to be taking. And, so what the NDP’s bill was about was taking an evidence-based comprehensive approach to treating the overdose crisis as a health crisis, not a criminal justice issue,” Bachrach said.
In 2021, there were 2,236 deaths in B.C. caused by drug overdoses. When you divide the province by local health areas the Upper Skeena had the highest overdose death rate per capita in the province.
Part of the bill proposed a National Strategy on Substance Use Act to reduce the stigma that people who use drugs face, provide universal access to recovery, treatment and harm-reduction services, implement evidence-based prevention programs and ensure access to a safe supply of medically regulated substances, among other things.
Access to trauma-informed treatment services is a huge issue in the Northwest, Bachrach said.
“I talked to so many social service providers who say they can’t get people into treatment programs fast enough, that the wait times are very problematic. And transportation is very challenging as well. And so there are people who are ready to access treatment but they aren’t able to on the timelines that are needed.”
The Bloc Québécois, Greens and a handful of Liberal MPs joined the NDP in voting in favour of the bill, but it was defeated 71-248 with the Conservatives and most Liberals voting against.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to leave the door open a little on Wednesday, saying the federal government will not pursue decriminalization with other jurisdictions without putting “the system and supports in place.”
Trudeau said the government took this approach with B.C. by building capacity and offering many ways to support people, such as projects offering a safe supply of illicit drugs.
Carolyn Bennett, minister of mental health and addictions, left the door wider still.
She said the government will watch how decriminalization unfolds in B.C. to see if it achieves its intended goals for “both public safety and public health.”
As a crisis of opioid-related overdoses and deaths rages on in Canada, advocates have long been saying that decriminalization would help to reduce stigma associated with drug use and help save lives.
“We’re going to keep doing everything that we can to bring this approach into reality because the stakes are extremely high and lives are at stake,” Bachrach said.
-With files from Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press
Kaitlyn Bailey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View