British Columbia

Vancouver votes to support application that would create safe drug 'compassion clubs'

Vancouver City Council has voted to support a federal application that would allow a 'compassion club' model and provide tested drugs in the city.

The application, by the Drug User Liberation Front, seeks an exemption from federal drugs legislation

A man holds boxes containing tested cocaine, meth and heroin that was given out by the Drug User Liberation Front. Vancouver City Council has voted to support an application that would make a 'compassion club' model for handing out tested drugs in the city. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver City Council has voted to support a federal application that would allow a "compassion club" model and provide tested drugs in the city.

The application was put forward by the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), which had previously handed out tested drugs in front of the Vancouver Police Department. 

It calls for an exemption to Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which would allow them to open a safe supply fulfilment centre and hand out clean tested drugs.

The motion by Councillor Jean Swanson passed near-unanimously Thursday evening, after an amendment to ensure the drugs would be purchased through legal means.

DULF plans to obtain legal drugs, test them, and package them to give to drug users. Their motion says this will reduce the risk of overdoses. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We've tried every other avenue to prevent this death. And we know what we're doing will work," Eris Nyx, co-founder of DULF, told CBC News.

If the federal exemption is granted, DULF would work with organizations like Fair Price Pharma to obtain, test and package legally-sourced drugs before handing them out. 

Nyx says the tested drugs DULF provides will ensure people know the dosage amounts they are taking. The motion says this will help prevent overdoses.

Council has now endorsed the DULF exemption application and Mayor Kennedy Stewart will write a letter in support of it to the federal government.

The application has the support of Vancouver Coastal Health and numerous policy experts, including from the B.C. Centre on Substance Use and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

Nyx says any decriminalization efforts on the part of the city would not work without safe supply, and that this application was one step towards that. 

Safe supply advocates have criticized Vancouver's approach to decriminalization and safe supply in the past, saying the city's solutions were flawed.

Supply currently sourced through illicit means

DULF had previously sourced some of their clean drugs from the dark web, which was the cause of much debate in council.

The dark web is a hidden part of the internet that does not turn up on search engines, and requires a special browser to access. Websites on the dark web include those involved in illegal activity, such as street drug delivery.

Nyx says she had no interest in participating in criminal activities, but without the exemption granting DULF legal pathways to access clean supply, they would have to resort to illicit means.

"We're not criminals, we're just people who have lived and worked in this community that suffered so immensely. So many folks have passed away," she said.

Thus far, Nyx says no overdoses or deaths have been reported from the clean drugs DULF has handed out.

Vancouver city councillor Jean Swanson handed out free drugs including meth, heroin and cocaine to people outside the Vancouver Police Department offices in July. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

She says the group will be going ahead with the exemption application soon, including going to court or judicial review if necessary.

"We will go and challenge the government of Canada on our fundamental rights. We will say we have the right to use drugs, without being condemned to not know what their content is and to not be safe."