Column: Compassion, not prison, is the answer

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I met up with some friends I hadn’t seen since we graduated from Centennial secondary school a couple of decades ago.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I met up with some friends I hadn’t seen since we graduated from Centennial secondary school a couple of decades ago.

Not far from our old haunts, we nursed hot cups of Tim’s on Austin Avenue and laughed about shared memories of our youth. An age of innocence. One filled with big dreams, high hopes, aspirations.

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As we strolled down memory lane, we couldn’t avoid focusing on those unfortunate classmates for whom things had not turned out so well. Many had fallen victim to serious drug addictions. Three died of drug overdoses. These memories transformed our lighthearted recollections into solemn reflections.

All those hopes and dreams extinguished — couldn’t we have helped them?

The Liberal MP for Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam, Ron McKinnon, recently tabled a private member’s bill titled the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. The bill provides amnesty for drug users who call 911 so they can get medical attention without the fear of prosecution. It will save the lives of vulnerable drug victims who want to avoid overdosing without criminalizing those who need help to escape the strong grip of drug addiction.

According to a recent study conducted by Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, 54% of respondents, the majority of whom use or have used illicit drugs indicated they would not call 911 for help out of the fear of criminal charges. This fear kills.

B.C.’s Coroner’s Service announced that in our province alone, there were 465 deaths related to drug overdose last year — an alarming nine deaths per week — and data projects this tragic toll will only increase.

Donald MacPherson, director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, confirmed this, pleading for “every tool in the toolbox” to quell this overdose explosion. He specifically alluded to MP McKinnon’s bill as one of these vital tools to preventing overdose causalities.

If passed, this bill would elevate compassion over fear — and probably save many lives.

What the bill won’t do, however, is rid our streets of dangerous drugs. For that, we will continue to rely on the well-trained men and women of our police forces.

As the conversation at Tim’s carried on to other topics, I could not stop thinking about the fall of my old friends. I wasn’t there to see the path that took them to their ends but I’m convinced there were moments they wished for help, and I wonder if they found it. Perhaps there were plenty of times they wanted to check out from their Hotel California, but they could never leave.

Helping addicts emerge from the cyclical decline brought on by drug addiction is a big job requiring cooperation on multiple fronts. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose bill addresses a big part of this by making immediate care accessible when it is needed most.

MP McKinnon recently presented his private member’s bill to Tri-City councils, garnering support for this important document, which can take us another big step in the right direction.


--Adel Gamar is a Coquitlam resident, a former UNESCO education specialist and current policy fellow at the Harvard Law School.

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