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As her friend was overdosing on drugs laced with fentanyl, Katrina Adams called 911 in a panic.
While paramedics were working to save the woman’s life, police walked through the back door and began arresting other people in the house on drug charges.
“A friend is overdosing and they’re concerned with what they’re overdosing on, but only to follow up with, ‘Well, where did they get it?'” said Adams, a drug user living in Ottawa.
In May 2017, the government introduced the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act — a law meant to prevent scenes like the one Adams witnessed last summer. A year after the legislation was passed, however, many drug users are still too scared to call for help in overdose crises because of the threat of arrest.
Ottawa-based criminal lawyer Michael Spratt said the reflexive response of the justice system is still to prosecute petty drug crimes.
“Arresting someone … doesn’t cure addiction,” he said. “If it were only that easy, we wouldn’t have an addiction crisis right now.”
The federal government has said it’s not interested in decriminalizing any drugs other than cannabis, despite calls from the cities of Toronto and Montreal to consider the idea.
Spratt suggested a stopgap fix that wouldn’t require an amendment: raising police and public awareness of citizens’ rights under the law.
“We need to make sure that police officers are informed about this law, we need to make sure members of the public are informed.”