Report from public health dialogue in Ottawa reveals decriminalization and government leadership are key in addressing drug toxicity crisis

Ottawa, ON. — Decriminalization, safe supply, and a working task force that includes People With Lived and Living Experience are some of the demands put forward by Ottawa participants of a virtual public health dialogue, Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis.

About 60 participants – including members of federal and municipal government, People Who Use Drugs and their families, public health & harm reduction workers, academics, police, and community members joined together for a public health dialogue held virtually in Ottawa, ON., last fall in collaboration with Drug Users Advocacy League, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, Ottawa Public Health, Ottawa Inner City Health and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. 

Closely following Support, Don’t Punish Day – a global initiative in support of harm reduction and drug policies that prioritise public health and human rights – we’re releasing the report that surfaced from the 2021 Getting to Tomorrow dialogue, titled, Liberating People Who Use Drugs. This document provides framework for all levels of government, sparked by conversation from all participants, on how to address the overdose crisis, including: 

  • Decriminalization at the Federal Level: That the Federal government decriminalize drugs for personal possession and necessity trafficking through a national Section 56 exemption on an interim basis and by the subsequent revision of the CDSA. 
  • Safe Supply & Harm Reduction at the Provincial Level: That the Provincial government fund expansion and operation of safer supply interventions with broader public health frameworks, make new investments into evidence-based substance use treatment that adopts a harm reduction approach, and fund iOAT programs and list 50, 100, and 200 mg/ml injectable hydromorphone on the Ontario Drug Benefits Formular. 
  • Working Task Force at the Municipal Level: That the City of Ottawa convene a working task force of key stakeholders, including People with Lived and Living Experience to monitor progress on these recommendations and the Ottawa Board of Health.  

In the words of our participants: 

“Stigma stops us from seeing all of the people who are impacted.”  

“Criminalizing people is the worst way to help with this.” 

“Not being able to get folks the treatment they need is heartbreaking.” 

Please contact Miranda Fatur, CDPC Communications Coordinator to arrange media interviews to further discuss this report and its recommendations with Sean LeBlanc of Drug Users Advocacy League (DUAL) or Rob Boyd of Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.


Miranda Fatur
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
[email protected]

About Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
Since 1973: Working together to make our community healthy. Good health means more than just treating people when they are sick. Problems like poverty, addiction, and family violence can bring on illness – or keep people from getting well. At Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, we treat illness when it arises. We also work hard to create a healthy community, so that people stay well and get the most out of life, and we believe in: integrity, respect, equity, collaboration, empathy.

About Ottawa Inner City Health
Ottawa Inner City Health Inc. (OICH) aims to improve the health and access to health care for people who are chronically homeless. Our main function is to coordinate and integrate health care services so that homeless individuals can receive the same quality of health care as other Canadians. Health issues while homeless are often complicated by lack of housing, family support and care. In response OICH has special health care units which are located within local homeless shelters creating a safe environment where health care can be provided. These special units are staffed by personal support workers and supported by visiting nurses and doctors. They are operated through a partnership between the shelters. This model has been well accepted by homeless clients and supports health outcomes which are comparable to the Canadian standard.

About Drug Users Advocacy League
DUAL is an independent group of drug consumers, ex-consumer and their allies who fight for the rights of those that use drugs, and our community, in the Ottawa area. Though we do not condone nor condemn drug use, we believe in complete harm reduction, and aim to improve the safety and education of and towards drug consumers. Also, we aim to end the horrible stigma that drug users face. DUAL is non-judgemental and our direction will be chosen by the population that uses drugs. Our purpose is dual – to ensure the safety of those that consume drugs and the community-at-large, and to ensure that the people that consume drugs can do so with the proper education and opportunities to stay healthy.

About Ottawa Public Health
Ottawa Public Health’s goal is to keep people healthy, safe and well. OPH works with the community and partners across various sectors on programs, services and policies that serve people across their lifespan, from prenatal, maternal and baby health, parenting, through healthy aging, and on subjects such as mental health and substance use health, dental health, nutrition, injury and disease prevention, and more. Ottawa Public Health is committed to Reconciliation, health equity and continuous quality improvement. It advances these goals by engaging with residents, partners and communities to develop conditions that support health and health equity.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) is a coalition of 50 organizations and 6,000 individuals working to support the development of progressive drug policy grounded in science, guided by public health principles, and respectful of human rights. The CDPC operates as a project within Simon Fraser University under the Faculty of Health Sciences. The CDPC seeks to include people who use drugs and those harmed by the war on drugs in moving toward a healthier Canadian society free of stigma and social exclusion.

About Regulation Project

The Regulation Project is an international collaboration to advocate and educate for the legal regulation of drugs.