When law and policy is unjust, communities have no choice but to act.

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) arrest of Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) founders on October 25th, 2023 is an act of political and moral cowardice.  

In the context of unrelenting loss driven by the unregulated drug market, DULF has taken courageous and ethical action to supply safety-tested substances to people who use drugs at great personal risk of arrest under Canada’s controlled substances laws.  

DULF’s work saves lives. Through their small, community-led model of safe supply, they have demonstrated how access to safety-tested drugs of known potency and contents can reduce overdose, keep people alive, reduce hospitalizations and stabilize lives. DULF’s work has support from leading researchers, physicians and health care providers, public health officials, and community groups. 

DULF has been transparent and communicative about their actions. They have made every effort to proceed legally, including by applying for an exemption from Health Canada which was denied last year. In the midst of the ongoing unregulated drug crisis, DULF made the ethical choice to proceed without formal approval.  

The VPD chose to enforce these unjust laws after more than a year of DULF’s compassion club operating in plain sight. There is no conceivable possibility that the VPD, the City of Vancouver, the Province of BC or any other public or private actor with any familiarity with the drug policy landscape in Canada has been unaware of DULF’s actions since their first action. Police have discretion as to when, where and how to enforce the law — they chose the path of harm, and they did not have to.  

When law and policy is unjust, communities have no choice but to act. The VPD themselves agree that their actions could “absolutely” result in drug users who rely on the compassion club’s services consuming more dangerous substances. Premier David Eby said earlier this week that while DULF is doing life-saving work, the government cannot tolerate illegal activity. The BC government and the VPD are using the law as a shield to justify what even the VPD admit is a dangerous and harmful act.  

People who use drugs have long known they must take care of each other in the face of government violence and neglect. Sterile needle distribution was once illegal; Insite, Canada’s first legal safe injection site, overcame multiple legal challenges to exist. History has demonstrated that drug law and policy change lag far behind need, and that governments will eventually adopt the lifesaving responses that communities of drug users initiate. We believe this pattern will be replicated, and that history will once again vindicate DULF’s actions.  

Until then, we unequivocally assert our support for DULF founders and their life-saving work. Inspired by them, we will continue to advocate for urgent and vital reforms to drug law and policy with every tool we have.

About CDPC

We are an independent civil society network of organizations and individuals working to improve Canada’s drug policies. Staff occasionally re-post important articles and curate this space with guest bloggers from our network.