British Columbia

Here's where the leading candidates at the centre of the overdose crisis stand on safe supply

Angel Gates has lived in the Downtown Eastside for more than 31 years. Altogether, she has lost 75 people to the opioid crisis, including her best friend and the father of her eldest child.

Downtown Eastside resident says candidates need to remember that drug users vote, too

Angel Gates is calling for the decriminalization of drugs and for access to a regulated safe supply. (CBC News/Ben Nelms)

Angel Gates has lived in the Downtown Eastside for more than 31 years.

Altogether, she has lost 75 people to the opioid crisis, including her best friend and the father of her eldest child.

"Every time I hear a siren, I wonder if it's going to be somebody else I know," said Gates.

"There are too many people. It's just too much now. We need help."

Since 2016, more than 4,500 people have died from overdoses in B.C., while across the country, that number jumps north of 11,500, according to provincial data gathered by the federal government.

As the death toll continues to climb, she says drugs need to be decriminalized and regulated through a safe supply.

And Gates has a reminder for those running to represent her riding in the upcoming federal election.

"We vote, so keep that in mind," she said.

CBC News spoke with the four leading candidates for Vancouver East to find out where they stand on decriminalization and safe supply.

The Liberal candidate

The Liberals have nominated Kyle Demes, a marine ecologist and the director of Institutional Strategic Awards at Simon Fraser University.

"This is a health issue. Our bottom line is we have to save lives," Demes said when asked whether he would support decriminalization.

"I'm not thinking about people as criminals; I'm thinking about how to save their lives."

Kyle Demes is the Liberal Party candidate for Vancouver East. (CBC News/Harman)

The first-time candidate stopped short of endorsing either decriminalization or safe supply, but said he appreciates the idea of safe supply.

"I'm a scientist and the background I have is, any time you have a contaminated source, you try and clean up the contamination as an immediate step," he said.

The Green candidate

Bridget Burns was raised in East Vancouver, where she now works as a community activist and co-organizer of the Vegan Night Market.

She says she has watched her community change over the years as homelessness and addiction have continued to grow in the Downtown Eastside.

"I think it's time for some immediate action in this neighbourhood," said Burns, adding she supports both a safe supply and decriminalization.

Bridget Burns is the Green Party candidate for the riding of Vancouver East. (CBC News/Harman)

She believes controlling the drug supply would prevent unnecessary deaths. But clarified that the clean supply would support existing users. She says decriminalization would re-focus drug addiction as a health issue, opening up the possibility for more services for people living with addiction.

"People don't deserve to die because of a contaminated drug supply," she said. 

The Conservative candidate

Chris Corsetti, a lawyer with the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada, is representing the Conservative party.

He's against decriminalization and safe supply and argues a more comprehensive option is needed that offers those struggling with addiction "a pathway to recovery."

"The cycle of injection, overdosing and reviving with no adequate assistance to get addicts [into] treatment in recovery is simply not the type of healthcare that Canadians deserve," said Corsetti.

Chris Corsetti is the Conservative Party candidate for the riding of Vancouver East. (Chris Corsetti)

However, he says, if elected, he will take the concerns of his community — including safe supply and decriminalization — to his party when developing policy.

The NDP candidate

Incumbent NDP MP Jenny Kwan says she supports both the decriminalization and safe supply of drugs but took it one step further and offered a plan on how it should work.

Clean drugs should be accessed, she says, through a prescription from a medical professional.

Jenny Kwan is the incumbent MP for Vancouver East and the NDP candidate in the upcoming federal election. (CBC News/Harman)

Kwan is also calling on the federal government to recognize the crisis as a national emergency.

"This is not just happening [here]. This is happening across the country in communities large and small," she said.

She says a clean supply means drug users would no longer need to engage in illegal activities to chase their next high.

"You know, Canada, we have the capacity and ability to address this issue. The real question is why haven't we?" she said.

Regardless of who is elected, Gates says the time for action is now.

"We have a heart in the Downtown Eastside and it is dying," said Gates.