About 150 people marched in downtown Toronto on Tuesday to demand all levels of government take action to prevent more drug overdose deaths.
The march, which began at Bay Street and Wellesley Street West, was held on the first national day of action to end the overdose epidemic. The day of action is being organized by Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs, a group of people who say they have "lived experience."
Marches are also scheduled on Tuesday in Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo, B.C., Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal.
Toronto march organizer Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker, said the number of deaths from drug overdoses has reached unprecedented levels in Canada.
"We're here because thousands of people have died of drug overdoses in Canada," Dodd said.
"We're here because governments on all levels, locally, provincially, federally, have been slow to act. Well, we're in the midst of a crisis.
"Over 900 people have died in the province of B.C. One person dies every 13 hours here in Ontario. Hundreds of people have died in this city. And we're tired of it," she said.
"We have lost so many of our friends, people we work with, people we know, our family members. So we are gathering here to demand action."
Dodd said the war on drugs is really a war on people. She said members of the association have come up with solutions to the problem of overdose deaths but elected representatives are not acting quickly enough.
"We think they are not doing enough," she said.
She said the marches are being held to call for better laws governing drug use across the country.
According to a news release, the association wants governments to:
- decriminalize drug possession;
- grant immediate exemptions to all organizations that want to run supervised drug injection sites;
- increase funding for harm reduction resources and services;
- expand access to what it calls opioid substitution therapy, which involves supplying drug users with a replacement drug as part of treatment for addiction.
"We need millions of dollars on the ground to people who are working in the midst of this," Dodd said.
"For me, this is a really important issue. I'm heartbroken. I have so much pain and grief. I'm tired of watching people die. It's preventable. All of this is preventable. People's lives have value."
The marches across the country are expected to draw supporters from drug user advocacy organizations, municipal emergency services, health care providers, and people who have lost loved ones.
Toronto's march stopped at an Ontario health ministry office and Toronto Police Service headquarters.