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Advocates decry 'brutal escalation' of police raid on DTES safe supply program


The decision to raid an unsanctioned compassion club in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has been decried by harm-reduction advocates as a "brutal escalation" by police and an "act of political and moral cowardice."

The Vancouver Police Department announced this week that officers had executed search warrants at the office of the Drug User Liberation Front, which launched a pilot program of selling tested cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines to drug users at cost last year.

Police also arrested two individuals who have since been identified by sources as DULF co-founders Jeremy Kalicum and Eris Nyx.

The raid was met with outcry from supporters of a harm-reduction approach to B.C.'s toxic drug crisis, including the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, part of Simon Fraser University's Health Sciences program, which issued a statement Friday describing DULF's efforts as "courageous and ethical" in the face of the province's consistently high death toll from overdoses.

"Through their small, community-led model of safe supply, they have demonstrated how access to safely tested drugs of known potency and contents can reduce overdose, keep people alive, reduce hospitalizations and stabilize lives," the CDPC wrote in a statement Friday. "DULF's work has support from leading researchers, physicians and health care providers, public health officials, and community group."

Vancouver Coastal Health had a contract to provide DULF with $200,000 in annual funding for drug-testing, but confirmed to CTV News that it has terminated that contract, effective Oct. 31, at the direction of the B.C. government.

Premier David Eby spoke supportively of the crackdown on DULF in the legislature on Thursday, saying: "Even though they were doing that important, life-saving work, they were breaking the law and we can't have it."

In a message of support for DULF, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users cited a "rigorous evaluation" of the organization's safe supply program that found participation among drug users was associated with a 35 per cent reduction in overdoses. There have also been no deaths linked to substances sold through the program, according to advocates.

"By any reasonable scientific or moral standard, DULF's life-saving work should be praised for its success and recognized as an evidence-based harm reduction intervention along a continuum of care that includes self-directed recovery," VANDU wrote. "You can jail a revolutionary, but you cannot jail a revolution. As both sides of the legislature reveal their lethal indifference to the lives of the many, harm reduction must be restored as a movement priority, principle, and practice in the hands of everyday people."

Garth Mullins, a co-founder of DULF and board member with VANDU said the recent raid and subsequent arrests are part of a broad attack against harm reduction.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said. “My heart is with the two colleagues who were arrested.”

Mullins said VANDU sent a letter to BC United MLA Elenore Sturko, who has been a staunch critic of the group and DULF, inviting her to their offices downtown.

Sturko told CTV News her office received the letter.

“No, I haven’t gone and visited DULF, nor have I visited VANDU,” she said. “It’s not to say that I would not take them up on that offer. Like I said, I’m in the legislature now.”

In response to the arrests, longtime drug advocate Dana Larsen, who currently sells unsanctioned psilocybin mushrooms and LSD from a Vancouver storefront, urged DULF supporters to donate to the organization, promising to match donations made by the end of the month to a maximum of $4,200.

Nearly $2,000 had been raised by Friday afternoon, including an initial $1,000 donation from Larsen.

"They've been doing incredibly important work and they need our help and support right now," he wrote on social media.

While announcing this week's raid, the Vancouver Police Department highlighted its past support for forward-thinking drug policy, including the city's first safe-consumption site and the decriminalization of drugs for personal consumption.

Insp. Phil Heard also acknowledged there is "absolutely" a concern that the department's enforcement against DULF, which involved seizing a yet-unconfirmed quantity of suspected drugs, could result in drug users taking more dangerous, untested substances.

"That’s definitely, like, an unintended consequence that we don't want to see. That's not something we're ever trying to achieve. We fully support safe supply," Heard said at a news conference Thursday. "But it has to be legal."

There were 174 deaths from toxic drugs across B.C. in August, according to the most recent data released by coroners, marking the lowest monthly total recorded in the province since June 2022.

The deadliest month of 2023 so far was April, when there were 235 overdose deaths.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Rob Buffam Top Stories

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