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Les Leyne: Leaders shift their stances on B.C. drug policy

As Premier David Eby cites drug seizures in response to a backlash to decriminalization, BC United Leader Kevin Falcon is sounding increasingly dubious about harm reduction

Under fire in the legislature for the NDP’s permissive attitude about use of hard drugs, Premier David Eby did a quick pivot and started talking tough about enforcement.

He produced a list of recent seizures and maximized the amounts to increase their significance.

“In just the last six-month period,” he said, there was one seizure of chemicals capable of producing 525 kilograms of fentanyl and 150 kilograms of MDMA (ecstasy).

“That’s 262 million potentially lethal doses of fentanyl, and three million doses of MDMA.”

In another case, he said, one million pills were seized and six people were arrested.

Also, an 18-month investigation led to multiple seizures of 52 kilograms of methamphetamine, 20 kilograms of psilocybin, three kilograms of cocaine and one kilogram of heroin.

Further on down the list was a $3-million seizure of drugs, including 72 kilograms of fentanyl-laced fake Percocet and some MDMA and benzodiazepine, with three arrests.

He listed the citations to counter the impression that B.C. has rolled over and given up on enforcing drug laws.

But if those cases were big enough to warrant raising them in the legislature, Eby should follow up with updates.

How many of those arrested made bail? How many of those arrests will result in charges? How many charges will be fully prosecuted? How many ­convictions will result, and how many prison terms will be imposed?

Those aren’t all provincial responsibilities, as drug enforcement is a federal task.

But it would be reassuring to learn that they don’t follow the catch and release pattern that is firmly established in criminal matters under provincial jurisdiction.

Filling in the full story of those seizures would take years. But to further the impression that the NDP are tougher on drugs than the opposition says, Eby cited a bill introduced recently.

It allows for “unexplained wealth orders,” under which seizures of money and property can be made from people who can’t show their assets were obtained legally.

It’s an advance on the ­established civil forfeiture mechanism, where seizures can be made on suspicion of criminality, without the necessity of going to trial and securing a conviction.

“I very much look forward to police and the Civil Forfeiture Office using those tools to crack down on people profiting from misery in our communities,” Eby said.

Seizing proceeds because pursuing criminal cases is too hard is hardly a crackdown.

Eby’s comments came after intense arguments developed about the four-month-old experiment where possession of small amounts of hard drugs in B.C. is now decriminalized for a three-year trial period. The focal point in the legislature is that it has created a situation where hard drugs can be used in public places like parks.

There is a growing list of municipal leaders who are ­getting increasingly upset about the obvious dangers. The NDP has spent several weeks talking and holding meetings about the problem, but staying non-­committal on what to do about it.

Eby on Thursday finally acknowledged that the terms of the experiment, established by the federal government after provincial urging, have to be changed.

“We will do something,” he told the house.

He committed to everyone that the government will work with municipalities to put some protections in place.

On the theory that the best defence is a good offence, much of his remarks on the last day of the sitting focused on the opposition BC United’s varying stances about harm-reduction approaches.

They backed harm reduction generally and decriminalization specifically, but Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon has gotten increasingly critical lately and started putting more emphasis on treatment.

He equated the B.C. government to the infamous Purdue Pharma situation.

He said doctors have noted “remarkable similarities between the government’s current approach of publicly supplied addictive drugs and the OxyContin crisis.”

Millions were enticed into addiction, but Falcon said B.C.’s stance is “to be doing exactly the same thing.”

Eby called the comparison “despicable” and noted that when Falcon was health ­minister in the previous BC Liberal ­government, he did trial runs on safe supply that showed enough promise they led to the ­decriminalization test. The opposition has also backed harm reduction in various venues since then.

He said Falcon is opposed or supportive, “depending on which room he’s in.”

There’s a lot of side-stepping going on, on both sides. Eby is shifting to deal with a backlash to decriminalization and citing seizures reminiscent of the “war on drugs” era.

Falcon is moving away from supporting it and sounding increasingly dubious about harm reduction.

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