B.C.’s First Nations groups call for emergency response to the toxic drug crisis

Following the province’s update on its decriminalization announcements last week, the First Nations Leadership Council and the BC First Nations Justice Council (BCFNJC) are jointly calling for an emergency “cross-governmental and multilateral strategy” to be developed that ensures the safety of people who use drugs.

In a release, Dr. Judith Sayers, BCFNJC Council Member says, the toxic drug crisis needs to be treated and addressed as a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue.

“We feel the need to move away from criminalizing behaviours that are the direct result of the harms of colonialism,” she said.

“It needs to be addressed through healing.”

Regional Chief TerryTeegee of B.C. Assembly of First Nations says the emphasis on law enforcement and policing in the new measure to ban drug use in public spaces is concerning.

“Significant and sustained effort must be made to ensure individuals struggling with addictions are not further marginalized and harmed,” he said.

Teegee says the province needs to engage with First Nations communities to develop a holistic solution.

“Culturally safe strategies can be implemented to support individuals living with addictions that honour their identities,” he said.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs says, the drug and overdose crisis escalated because of a lack of culturally appropriate support services and a lack of recovery services, housing, and tools that don’t address a range of intersecting trauma for Indigenous peoples.

“It is very much wrapped up in the destructive impacts of colonialism,” he said.

“Any changes to decriminalization policy must save lives rather than putting anyone at risk.”