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)

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

Pea sized hail rained from the skies in Prince Rupert on Nov. 30 leaving roads covered in a sheet of ice. (Photo; K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Large hail caused icy conditions in Prince Rupert

High wind warnings in effect for North Coast and Haida Gwaii

The Fairview-Ridley Connector Corridor is now 75 per cent complete, announced Prince Rupert Port Authority on Nov. 30. (Photo: supplied by PRPA)
Crews are working 24 hours a day to complete vital infrastructure road in Prince Rupert

Fairview-Ridley Connector Corridor is 75% complete announced Prince Rupert Port Authority

Illustration courtesy Pacific Northern Gas
Illustration shows what’s involved with the plan by Pacific Northern Gas to expand the capacity of its natural gas line serving the northwest.
LNG projects hold out potential for lower gas user rates

LNG plants planned for Port Edward and Terrace

Prince Rupert carving artist Henry Kelly is having his work installed on Nov. 20, as a permanent art exhibit at the Prince Rupert Regional Airport. The traditional cedar canoe is a welcome symbol to those arriving at YPR. (Photo: supplied)
Art unveiling ceremonies at YPR cancelled due to new pandemic restrictions

Coast Tsimshian Cultural Exhibit at Prince Rupert Regional Airport features local carvers

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Still from a video surveillance camera of a man alleged to have stolen from several people at knife-point in Chilliwack (Rosedale) early on Nov. 28, 2020. (Facebook)
B.C. man defends his family against intruder, saves neighbour while wielding hockey stick

RCMP looking for footage that captures violent crime spree in Chilliwack

Most Read