On September 30, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy attended the Fed Up Rally on Parliament Hill, which brought out over 100 people advocating for overdose prevention. The original Fed Up Rally started in the US in response to the epidemic of opiate overdoses, and took place for the first time in Canada this year. Author and drug policy activist Donna May was inspired to bring the rally to Canada as a mother who lost a child to overdose. Over the past year, she has worked with drug policy organizations including Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) and the Canadian Harm Reduction Network (CHRN) to organize a rally on Parliament Hill. CSSDP supported and coordinated nine of the Fed Up rally attendees (seven of which are featured above) through the Fed Up Rally Transportation Bursaries, bringing students and youth to Ottawa from Toronto, Hamilton, and Montreal. In addition to participating in the Fed Up Rally, CSSDP also toured some local Ottawa harm reduction services, as well as presented to Members of Parliament (MPs) at an All Party Round Table on the need for drug checking services to prevent youth drug-related overdose and health complications in party settings.
The day before the rally, several CSSDPers came early to make signs and learn more about local Ottawa harm reduction services at PROUD (Participatory Research in Ottawa on Drugs). PROUD is a community-based research project started by people who use drugs and their allies to assess the overall health risk and HIV transmission of the use of illicit drugs. PROUD’s office is especially cool to visit as it has a mock safer injection site, a small room with a few sterile stalls which could be used in the future as a safer injection site. CSSDP was pleased to get a tour of the site, as well as learn more about harm reduction in Ottawa through members of DUAL (Drug User Advocacy League) who help lead PROUD’s research efforts.
After the rally on September 30, CSSDP had the opportunity to present to the seven Members of Parliament who attended the All Party Round Table. Nazlee Maghsoudi (CSSDP’s Chair of the Board of Directors) and Lisa Campbell (CSSDP’s Outreach Director) presented on the need for accessible drug checking services in order to prevent further overdoses of young people who use drugs. You can watch the video of their presentation below, and can read the full brief online. CSSDP had a great response from the MPs present, including the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, MD who invited us to work together in 2015 on hosting another roundtable discussion in Toronto on overdose prevention.
Other presenters included members of DUAL, namely Sean LeBlanc and Jennifer B, who spoke about their lived experience as people who use drugs. Donna May also spoke passionately about her experience as a mother who lost a child to overdose, and how her tough love approach failed to save her daughter. It was not until she discovered her daughter was about to have her legs amputated in the hospital when Donna realized that she needed to change her approach, as well as transform the system that had failed her daughter. Donna expressed that it’s not until people who use drugs become “disabled” that the system can help them. For young people who use drugs who are struggling with addictions, abstinence programs are not effective in preventing drug-related harm. We need to support youth in developing harm reduction strategies before it is too late, including drug education and tools to prevent overdose such as naloxone and drug checking. Also on the panel presenting were Donald MacPherson (CDPC), Walter Cavalieri (CHRN), Eugene Oscapella (Oscapella & Associates Consulting Ltd.), and Ian Culbert (Canadian Public Health Association).
Thank you to everyone who supported us to get to the Hill, including Isomer Design, BC Compassion Club Society, and the Durham CSSDP Chapter for their recent generous donations, and CSSDP’s former Executive Director Caleb Chepesiuk who graciously hosted CSSDP members in his home. Finally, we would like to thank Donna May for organizing this important event and being so open to bringing youth voices to the table. Together we can achieve drug policy reform!