Canada’s Governor General Julie Payette met at a fire hall in downtown Vancouver on Feb. 22, 2020, with firefighters and police officers as well as officials including Mayor Kennedy Stewart. (The Canadian Press photo)

Governor general says multiple solutions needed for ‘complicated’ overdose issue

Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as politicians and health experts

Canada’s Governor General visited an overdose prevention site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Saturday after meeting with first responders on the front lines of substance-use issues fuelled by the opioid fentanyl.

Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as officials including Mayor Kennedy Stewart, British Columbia’s Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin and Dr. Patricia Daly, the chief medical health officer for the Vancouver Coastal Health authority.

Payette said she’s learned that the overdose crisis that has caused thousands of deaths across the country is complicated and will require a co-ordinated response including health and mental-health services in order to find solutions and “diminish hardship.”

She said it wasn’t her first visit to the drug-riddled neighbourhood and that she’s had a longtime interest in addiction issues.

“Before I was Governor General of Canada I served on the board of Drug Free Kids Canada,” Payette said of the non-profit organization that aims to help parents in particular deal with youth addiction and prevention.

“My reason to be here today is just to highlight and thank the folks that do this every day,” she said of firefighters and police officers who respond to multiple 911 calls daily involving people who have overdosed.

After her visit to the fire hall, Payette walked a few blocks with first responders and officials to the Molson Overdose Prevention Site, where people inject their own drugs and other drug users trained to supervise them ensure they get help if they overdose.

The site opened in December 2016 under an order from the provincial health minister, seven months after the B.C. government declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency because of a record number of overdose deaths, mostly due to fentanyl.

READ MORE: Fatal overdoses down by 33% in B.C., but carfentanil deaths continue to spike

Coco Culbertson, senior manager of programs at PHS Community Services Society, which runs Molson, said Payette’s visit may help to reduce the stigma of drug use.

“She was incredibly empathetic and understanding of how these places offer humanity and dignity to people that often don’t have a lot of agency in society,” Culbertson said.

Molson is around the corner from Insite, North America’s first facility to offer drug users a place to walk in off the street to inject their own drugs under the watchful eye of a nurse.

Insite opened in 2003 to curb overdose deaths and spiralling HIV rates when the federal Liberals were in power and under an exemption to Canada’s drug laws but the facility became the focus of heated court battles with the election of the Conservative government before a unanimous 9-0 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2011 kept the site open.

The success of Insite has spawned similar sites across the country including two others in British Columbia, which is also home to 30 overdose prevention sites in B.C., including the one Payette visited.

Jonathan Gormick, spokesman for Vancouver Fire Rescue Services, said the governor general’s meeting with first responders is meaningful because she’s not a politician.

“I think when she gathers evidence and she advocates for a position it’s taken with more validity because it’s not based on getting votes, it’s not based on towing a party line or saying something just to oppose an opposition party,” Gormick said. “Hopefully it will influence some change and be supported across party lines.”

Health Canada says about 14,000 people died in the country of opioid-related overdoses between January 2016 and June 2019 and thousands more were hospitalized.

Later on Saturday, Payette was to meet with five teenage skiers who were hailed as heroes last year for helping to save an eight-year-old boy who was dangling from a chair lift on Grouse Mountain. The teens grabbed a piece of out-of-bounds netting to help cushion the boy’s fall after convincing him to jump.

“I’m the mom of a teenager so I know how important it is to say, ‘Hey, good job,’” Payette said.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

opioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kevin Timothy to plead guilty to animal cruelty charge

He will appear at the Duncan courthouse on March 24

Minister and Halalt First Nation chief consult on effects of recent flooding

Community heavily impacted with many damaged and uninhabitable homes

Drivesmart column: Regulatory vs advisory road signs

The regulatory sign must be obeyed exactly as it is read.

Alistair MacGregor column: Responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic

This crisis has shown us just how many Canadians struggle every day to pay the bills

Second vehicle from Crofton Geo-Tech theft recovered

Supervisor at Crofton operation finds it parked at Chemainus campground

List of cancelled Cowichan Valley community events

An ongoing list of events that have been cancelled in the Cowichan Valley due to COVID-19

World COVID-19 morning update: Olympics delayed one year; 12,000 health care workers infected

Comprehensive world news update: Lockdown in UK showing signs of hope

Newspapers are safe to touch, World Health Organization confirms

Just make sure to wash your hands as you would after touching any surface or object

‘It’s up to us: Recently-returned B.C. couple urges Canadians to take COVID-19 seriously

Garrett Kucher and Tory Apostoliuk make it home after almost a week of lockdown in Spain

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

Canada will make sure masks sent by China meet quality standards: Trudeau

Chinese Embassy tweeted that China was sending 30,000 medical masks along with gowns, gloves and goggles

B.C. issues guidelines about distancing, reusable bags to grocery stores amid COVID-19

Hand sanitizer and markers to keep lines two metres are apart are needed, province says

No plans to call in military right now to enforce COVID-19 quarantine: Trudeau

Trudeau unveils $7.5M for Kids Help Phone, $9M for vulnerable seniors amid COVID-19

Most Read