Despite receiving more than 3,000 signatures across Canada, a petition started by a Vancouver Island couple to decriminalize personal drug possession was turned down by the federal government in January.
Last March, John and Jennifer Hedican, of Courtenay, put forth a petition calling for the declaration of the overdose crisis as a National Public Health Emergency, to reform current drug policy to decriminalization and the creation of a system to provide safe substances.
The declaration of a National Public Health Emergency invokes the Emergency Act, and allows the establishment of emergency shelters, hospitals and payment.
In its response, which was tabled on Jan. 28, the federal government said it is not currently considering the decriminalization of personal possession of drugs, other than the legalization and regulation of cannabis.
It was also noted that declaring a national public health emergency at this time would not provide the government with any additional powers beyond what it has already used.
“We recognize that in places where decriminalization has had a benefit, such as Portugal, there has also been significant concurrent investment in domestic treatment, social services and harm reduction services. Canada’s recent investments to address the crisis are in line with these actions,” it read.
The petition was open for signatures from March 27 to July 25, 2018 and was presented to the House of Commons on Dec. 3, 2018 by Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns.
In April 2017, the Hedicans lost their son Ryan, 26, following a long battle of addiction due to, as termed by the family, “fentanyl poisoning.”
“We are hoping that national attention to this issue will demonstrate just how pervasive substance use is and how we have to support those who use, rather than letting them die,” the Hedicans wrote in an email last year.
The government noted in its response it will continue to work with provincial and territorial government, municipalities, health practitioners, law enforcement and other stakeholders including people with lived and living experience, in order to address the crisis and reduce opioid-related deaths and harms in Canada.