Although a petition started by a Courtenay couple to decriminalize personal drug possession was turned down by the federal government last month, the pair is not giving up on collecting signatures.
Last March, John and Jennifer Hedican put forth a petition calling for the declaration of the overdose crisis as a National Public Health Emergency, to reform current drug policy to decriminalization and the creation of a system to provide safe substances.
The declaration of a National Public Health Emergency invokes the Emergency Act, and allows the establishment of emergency shelters, hospitals and payment.
In its response, which was tabled on Jan. 28, the federal government said it is not currently considering the decriminalization of personal possession of drugs, other than the legalization and regulation of cannabis.
It was also noted that declaring a national public health emergency at this time would not provide the government with any additional powers beyond what it has already used.
The petition was open for signatures from March 27 to July 25, 2018 and was presented to the House of Commons on Dec. 3, 2018 by Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns.
“Our online/e-petition closed last summer, as its window was only three months, but the written paper petition does not have an end date,” John explained.
The couple continues to collect signature when they are able to at functions around the Valley. In the winter, they collected 1,000 signatures with the help of nursing students at North Island College.
“Every 25 signatures on the paper petition can then be sent and it gives our MP Gord Johns the opportunity to stand in the House of Commons and speak to our petition for one minute.”
In April 2017, the Hedicans lost their son Ryan, 26, following a long battle of addiction due to, as termed by the family, “fentanyl poisoning.”
“We are hoping that national attention to this issue will demonstrate just how pervasive substance use is and how we have to support those who use, rather than letting them die,” the Hedicans wrote in an email last year.
John said the response by the government to their online petition was disappointing as they had the opportunity to make meaningful action.
“While we were disappointed, we weren’t surprised, as their response was in line with all their rhetoric that is given any time this subject is raised,” he added.
“Ryan’s second year passing anniversary is April 24, 2019, and 3,000 more British Columbian citizens and 9,000 Canadians have been killed by a contaminated source in those two years.”
The couple believes decriminalization of personal possession will help remove the stigma attached to addiction and substance use. They have given a presentation entitled Ryan’s Story to schools in the Valley and beyond.