April 14 marked five years since British Columbia announced that the drug poisoning crisis was a public health emergency. 

It’s been five years since the province said they were going to take the deaths of disproportionately young, poor, Indigenous and disabled people seriously. Five years of releasing regular figures from the coroner’s office and acting like that’s enough, as death counts steadily march higher. Five years of grief, and trauma, and community action stepping in to stem the flow. Five years of government inaction. Five years of policy failure. 

More than 6,800 people have died in B.C. alone over the last five years, with average deaths doubling to 144 per month in 2020, from 72 in April 2016 when the crisis was declared.

The grim anniversary was met by a flurry of activity in Vancouver. Harm reduction advocate Guy Felicella ran one of his weekly COVID-19 vaccine clinics, dispensing Pfizer shots to drug users and support workers in the Downtown Eastside. Moms Stop The Harm demonstrated in support of safe supply, holding photos of the children they lost to poisoned drugs. And the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) handed out free heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine — bought online with cryptocurrency, their ingredients were clearly labelled, modelling what safe supply could look like. 

Vancouver is far from the only place in the province that’s been affected by the drug poisoning crisis. Events were carried out in Penticton and Powell River, and local news in Kamloops and North Vancouver also ran stories. But there was little recognition beyond B.C. — even in neighbouring Alberta, which saw 997 deaths between January and November 2020, or Saskatchewan, which had 379 suspected drug toxicity deaths in 2020.

The B.C. government also reiterated its plan to formally ask the feds to decriminalize simple possession in the province. Feds have previously rejected the plan on multiple occasions. 

As I wrote in February, decriminalization is not enough. The safe supply that the province has been promising for years needs expanding. Sarah Berman reports for True North Journal that 3,329 people in B.C. accessed safe opioids in 2020; an estimated 77,000 people across the province have an opioid use disorder. DULF demonstrated (not for the first time) that handing out safe drugs to those who need them is feasible, practical and actively prevents deaths. 

B.C. has spent a decade reacting to drug poisoning deaths rather than preemptively acting to stop them. They declared a public health crisis five years after deaths started rising. Safe supply is happening too slowly, and decriminalization remains a pipe dream that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government won’t back. 

We hope the next five years will be better — that this is the dark before the dawn. We must hope it’s not the dark before the power’s cut forever. 

This Week From Passage

Canada Has Failed To Guarantee Abortion Access For All.” V. S. Wells.

Canada is proud of its status as one of the few countries in the world without any abortion laws on the federal books. This week, I wrote that this might be a bad thing. The lack of federal abortion law means provinces can deliver abortion services as part of healthcare — so cut-off date, available procedures and accessibility vary wildly depending where you are in the country. Promising the right to abortion in federal law could help enshrine and regulate its delivery country-wide.

Ontario’s Journalists Have Failed To Hold Doug Ford Accountable.” Robert Hiltz.

Reading Robert’s article on how journalists are failing in their coverage of Ontario Premier Doug Ford reminded me of 2017, when mainstream American media uniformly failed to figure out how to deal with a megalomaniac masquerading a leader.

The Liberals Are Terminating A Study Of Military Sexual Misconduct.” Robert Hiltz.

After it emerged that chief of the defence staff, Jonathan Vance, allegedly had inappropriate and forbidden relationships with two of his subordinates, the defence committee announced they were conducting an investigation into sexual misconduct in the armed forces. Yet this week, the Liberals voted to shut this investigation down prematurely. Wanting the military and the government to be accountable for their failures seems like a pretty low bar for a functioning democracy, and yet here we are. 

#YesAllWomen Is A Dangerous Misconception Of Gendered Violence.” Mila Ghorayeb.

In the aftermath of Sarah Everard’s killing in Britain, social media has reignited its discussion of gendered violence. But lumping sexual assault, harassment and gendered murder together in the same category ignores all the differences between those kinds of violence. Gendered violence isn’t something we can solve with self-defence classes and admonishments to men: the people in power need to do something material, and radical. 

Canadian Media Is Working Hard To Celebrate Our Colonial History.” Davide Mastracci.

The death of Prince Philip, age 99, was a chance for Canada’s media to show it’s a good little colony and write glowing tributes of an old, powerful, rich, racist, sexist, man. The press was universally positive — and excessive. What does it say about Canada, a country that swears allegiance to an unelected ruler who lives on another continent, that our media went out of its way to solicit royal anecdotes from everyday Canadians, and never platformed any criticism of him? R.I.P. to the Queen’s favourite third cousin. 

Elsewhere In Canada

Bill C-15 Is Chance ‘To Actually Break With the Colonial Status Quo.’” Ellen Gabriel, Ricochet.

Bill C-15 is part of the federal government’s “reconciliation” plan — proposed legislation that aims to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by making sure federal laws recognize Indigenous rights — which is currently in its second reading stage in parliament. Ellen Gabriel examines why Bill C-15, for all its flaws, may be the beginning of the long overdue decolonization process. “I remain hopeful,” Gabriel writes. “I do not have a choice.”

Budget May Reveal Extent Of Federal Support For Risky New Nuclear Reactors.” Joyce Nelson, Rabble.

Keep your eyes on Monday’s budget to see what the Trudeau Liberals are planning to do with nuclear power funding. Though widely opposed by Indigenous and civil society groups, the feds have already started pushing small modular reactors as an alternative to diesel — and currently, nuclear reactors and waste can be abandoned at remote sites. Environmentalists love it when the government’s proposed solution to climate change is to create radioactive danger zones!

Around the World

Blowout In Bessemer: A Postmortem On The Amazon Campaign.” Jane McAlevey, The Nation.

The fight for organized workers is playing out around the world, but all eyes were on Bessemer, Alabama, when an Amazon warehouse tried to unionize. They were defeated — and, as Jane McAlevey explains, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. She points to some U.S. laws and context contributing to the failure, as well as laying out the union’s mistakes (and Amazon’s responses) to show us what worker organization should look like.

RIP To Prince Philip And That But Britain’s Relationship With The Monarchy Is Absurd.” Diyora Shadijanova, gal-dem.

“MPs gave tributes to Prince Philip for seven and a half hours and no other parliamentary business took place on Monday. Remind me, did parliament ever do the same for the 125,000 people who died in the pandemic?” Britain is a very silly country. It’s frankly astounding that Canada still treats its Commonwealth status as a point of pride rather than a mark of shame. 

Ideas & Culture

The Crusade Against Pornhub Is Going To Get Someone Killed.” Samantha Cole, Motherboard

Anti-sex work ideology is often tied up in other insidious mindsets — including anti-trans rhetoric, white supremacy and misogyny. Social media has made these links easier to trace. Samantha Cole examines how dangerous anti-porn rhetoric is, how it came to be adopted by far-right militia and why we should be concerned.  

Excited Delirium: How Cops Invented A Disease.” Arjun Byju, Current Affairs.

If you’ve heard about excited delirium in the past few months, it was probably in the context of how it’s an incredibly questionable diagnosis that cops keep using to explain the deaths of Black men in the U.S. when they encounter the police. Medical student Arjun Bayu digs deeper into the supposed syndrome, untangling its connections to Big Taser, its deficiencies as a diagnosable medical condition and the racist culture that allows such unlikely diseases to even be considered seriously in the first place.

One Last Thing

Well, a few last things. Spring 2021 is apparently New Publication season. We shared a story a couple of weeks ago from The Hoser, a new GTA-based organization covering underreported stories, who officially launched this week. The Breach, promising progressive investigative journalism and video explainers, went live this week, and published their first story, exposing a secretive meeting group between federal Liberals and top oil execs. And The Resolve, journalism by and for BIPOC in Canada, hopes to launch imminently too. 

Hooray for independent Canadian media!

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