FILE – Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speaks during a press conference in Vancouver on July 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

FILE – Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speaks during a press conference in Vancouver on July 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver mayor asks for approval to decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs

Vancouver has seen over 1,500 illicit drug deaths since the provincial health emergency was declared

The mayor of B.C.’s largest city has asked Ottawa for approval to decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs.

In a Wednesday (Nov. 18) statement, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he wants to go towards a health-focussed approach to substance use. Vancouver has had 290 illicit drug deaths so far in 2020, more than double that of the next city. Overall, B.C. has seen 1,202 fatal overdoses so far this year, with spikes in recent months likely linked to isolation and other unintended consequences of measures put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.

“Personal possession and use of drugs is not a criminal justice issue, it is a health issue,” said Mayor Stewart. “It is time to end the stigma around substance use, help connect more of our neighbours to health care, and save lives.”

Stewart said Vancouver itself has seen more than 1,500 illicit drug deaths since the provincial health emergency was declared in 2016.

Stewart plans to bring up his initiative as a motion at city council. If passed, the city would request a federal exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize personal possession of illicit substances within Vancouver limits for medical purposes.

On the provincial level, both Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have called for simple drug possession to be decriminalized.

READ MORE: B.C. records 127 fatal overdoses in September, roughly 4 each day


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