Central Saanich joins a growing list of municipalities across Greater Victoria and Canada calling on the federal government to liberalize drug laws as a response to the rising death toll from the opioid crisis.
Councillors Monday voted unanimously to follow Saanich in publicly voicing the municipality’s support to decriminalize simple drug possession. Victoria – one of the provincial epicentres of the opioid-crisis, having recorded 118 overdose-related deaths in 2020 – has also passed language calling for the decriminalization of personal use.
With this move, Central Saanich joins a chorus of public health officials, politicians and police critical of current drug laws.
Councillors had signed off in a separate vote on language that directs staff to report back with options following discussions with local health agencies and non-profits addressing the overdose crisis about whether Central Saanich could support safe consumption sites and other potential actions local governments could take to help.
The language also calls on Central Saanich to request Ottawa declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency, immediately seek input from the people most affected by the crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive overdose action plan, including full consideration of reforms that other countries have used to significantly reduce drug-related fatalities and stigma, such as legal regulation of illicit drugs and decriminalization for personal use.
Comments from Coun. Chris Graham gave the discussion a poignant personal note. “This is a very important issue,” he said. “I lost two family members in the last several years to the opioid crisis. I have lost a cousin and a niece. It’s far more common than people tend to realize and it’s something that we should be actively involved in preventing. What we have been doing in the past hasn’t been working.”
The public heard a brief discussion around the question of whether the municipality risked overstepping its jurisdiction by supporting the decriminalization, as raised by Coun. Gordon Newton. Mayor Ryan Windsor said this represents a case of advocacy. “We are not taking away jurisdiction, we are advocating,” added Coun. Zeb King.
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