Parliament Video: Jenny Kwan on Protecting Communities from Opioid Overdose

On December 10, 2018, the House held what is called a "take-note" debate on the topic of the opioid crisis in Canada. This is perhaps one of the most important debates we can have in the House, from my perspective, as the member for Vancouver East:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Chair, this is perhaps one of the most important debates we can have in the House, certainly from my perspective, as the member for Vancouver East. People will know that the Downtown Eastside is what some people say is ground zero where the overdose crisis began. I saw people's lives lost. I heard the House leader's comments about the loss of people she knows. In my own community it is an everyday occurrence, and this has happened for years.

When we fought for the first safe injection site in Vancouver East, we had a demonstration in the community where we planted 1,000 crosses. Each cross had a name marked on it to remember and commemorate the lives that had been lost as a result of an overdose. That was in the 1990s.

We thought it was bad then, and we moved heaven and earth to bring the first supervised injection facility in North America to the Downtown Eastside. It was not an easy process. We had to work with the federal, provincial and municipal governments to finally get there. We established full collective action between the governments. We created the Vancouver agreement where there was a federal representative, the member from Vancouver Centre, myself as the minister then at the provincial level and the then-mayor, Mayor Philip Owen. We came together to do this and drive it through. Eventually, through much hard work, and community distrust as well, we finally got that safe site. It was the Conservatives, I might add, who levied the hate and fear against the community and actually stopped the supervised injection facility. They attempted to do that. It took the community to take the Harper government to court, and it won all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to keep that facility, to continue to save lives.

We have come a long way since then, but the crisis has not averted itself. We now are in a situation that is way worse than it was back in the 1990s. We now have a fentanyl crisis, where people are dying so rapidly that it is absolutely breathtaking. In British Columbia, we now have over 1,400 deaths. We are looking at four people dying of an overdose every single day.

We are trying to exercise all of our resources to save lives. In that process, volunteers in our own community came forward and established the OPS, the overdose prevention sites, on their own, without resources, because they wanted to save lives. These unsanctioned sites have saved thousands and thousands of lives. Each day they see 500 people come through. Without any funding, they continue to do this work. The people working there are stressed to the limit. Every time they experience an overdose, it takes a toll on them, but there is no recognition from anyone. From the government side, there is no federal funding. We have heard from the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith and others. She talked about how this is happening throughout the communities. OPS could exist in every single community today to save lives.

Mr. Chair, before I go further, I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton Strathcona.

If we truly want to do that, let us put aside partisan politics. All I heard from the government side was bragging about how great they were doing and how many millions of dollars they have put in. However, if we really want to save lives, let us just park that for a minute and say what can work. OPS works. Let us do that. We also know the Vancouver agreement worked. Let us bring forward an agreement like that in every single community where there are overdose deaths happening. Bring all levels of government together and they can sit at the table to resolve those issues in the name of saving lives. Remember, every single life that is saved is someone's daughter, someone's son, someone's family member.

I would ask the Conservative members to remember this. Dead people do not detox. We need to understand that and take this issue all the way to what needs to be done, which is to recognize that this is completely a health care issue and not a criminal justice issue. With that, we can save lives."

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