A funeral procession snaked its way through downtown Toronto on February 21, Now Toronto said the next day. The mourners were paying their respects to the hundreds who have died from drug overdoses in Canada this year as part of a National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis.
Dubbed “They Talk, We Die”, protests demanding an end to the “war on drugs” also took place in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Montreal, Halifax, Nanaimo and Ottawa, Now Toronto said.
The protests were sparked by an epidemic of often-fatal overdoses by drug users caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid about 50 times stronger than heroin that had flooded the market. Demonstrators demanded an end to drug prohibition, which they say is a major cause of the epidemic.
“We need to end the drug war, to end prohibition. It’s killing people,” said Zoe Dodd, a Toronto harm reduction worker and one of the event’s organisers.
Now Toronto said protesters called for the expansion of harm reduction programs, easier access to anti-overdose drug naloxone and opiate substitution therapies (including access to prescription heroin) and full and immediate funding for supervised injection services.
In 2014, the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) called for a new approach, decriminalising illicit drugs and emphasising harm reduction.
The CPHA recommended a public health approach “based on the principles of social justice, attention to human rights and equity, evidence-informed policy and practice, and addressing the underlying determinants of health.”
Matt Johnson, a spokesperson for the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance, said if users weren’t forced into the criminal justice system, they’d be less likely to use unsafe drugs in unsafe environments.