FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Province moves to circumvent B.C. Supreme Court, harm reduction nurses slam “recipe for preventable death”

Victoria, B.C. | April 26, 2024 — The Harm Reduction Nurses Association is profoundly frustrated and disappointed to hear the British Columbia provincial government’s announcement that they have sought permission from the Federal government to recriminalize all people who are at risk of dying from the unregulated drug crisis who lack access to housing or 24/7 safer use spaces in their communities.

“The B.C. government’s actions today will put people who use drugs and people who rely on public space at further risk of harm and death,” says Corey Ranger of the Harm Reduction Nurses Association. “We all want and deserve communities where all people, whether they use drugs or not, can access safety and well-being. By imposing these restrictions on the decriminalization pilot without offering real solutions like expanding overdose prevention services and access to housing, the province has declared some lives unworthy of saving.” 

The BC Supreme Court injunction to prevent Bill 34, the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act, from coming into force found that the province’s proposed restrictions on decriminalization would lead to irreparable harm. The Harm Reduction Nurses Association has previously reached out to the Province with an offer to collaborate to address concerns without causing further harm, through a range of legal and policy changes that would better protect the lives of people currently at risk of overdose and increase public safety. 

“Rather than focus on solutions appropriate to the eight-year emergency we are in and thousands of lives lost, the Province has chosen to do an end-run around that court decision,” says DJ Larkin, co-counsel for HRNA and executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

“This pushes people who use drugs out of sight, to covert and isolated use. Combined with a toxic and unpredictable drug supply, that is a recipe for preventable drug poisoning death. We don’t want people to die hidden in alleyways,” says Ranger. “We don’t want any more families to have to grieve their loved ones. We want effective solutions. And we know that criminalization is no solution. This is a step back.” 

HRNA members say B.C.’s actions directing healthcare workers in hospitals to follow policies that “prohibit drug possession, use and purchasing of illicit drugs,” will further impede nurses’ ability to ethically provide compassionate and life-saving care to people who use drugs. 

“Principles of equity, autonomy and justice are embedded within nursing regulatory professional practice requirements,” says Michelle Danda of HRNA. “These policy directives will further marginalize and stigmatize people who use drugs and create division between nurses and patients as opposed to a community to support care. We need nurses to unite around compassionate, evidence-informed care.” 

“To keep everyone safer – including nurses and all healthcare workers – we need widespread access to safer use spaces, including inhalation services,” says Ranger. “We can achieve safety without resorting to punitive measures.”

HRNA has outlined a number of actions the Province could take that would help, not harm, including: 

  • Rapid scaling-up of supervised consumption sites wherever they are needed 
  • Exploring options to responsibly regulate the drug supply for safety 
  • Scaling up access to regulated, evidence-based voluntary non-profit treatment 
  • Investing heavily in affordable housing and poverty reduction 

More than a century of prohibition has demonstrated that enforcement has not decreased drug availability or use, is extremely expensive, and is clearly linked to an increased risk of overdose and cycles of homelessness

“The decriminalization pilot has its drawbacks, and ultimately does not address the unregulated toxic drug supply that continues to drive this crisis,” says Larkin. “Even so, it is an important part of a broader shift. To be effective in reducing harm and supporting healthy communities, it must be accompanied by additional actions. Blaming the decriminalization pilot for systemic issues of rising homelessness and visible poverty scapegoats those already suffering. When we see public drug use, it is because people do not have housing, services or safe places to go – and because people want to stay alive, not die alone and out of sight.”

Today’s announcement is a direct circumvention of the Bill 34 injunction and poses the very same risk for irreparable harm. 


Links and Resources: 

  • B.C. Supreme Court Ruling on Injunction Application 
  • Bill 34 – Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act
  • April 16, 2024 HRNA Press Release
  • December 30, 2023 HRNA Press Release 

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