By a unanimous vote, Bill C-224, more commonly known as the “Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act”, has passed its final stage in the House of Commons and will head to Senate. The vote occurred on November 2nd, 2016.
Bill C-224 amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act by adding an exemption from possession charges for individuals who are seeking emergency medical or law enforcement assistance for themselves or for another person who is overdosing. The purpose of the Bill is to eliminate a possible barrier preventing people who are overdosing from receiving important, possibly life-saving help. Should the Bill pass, individuals will not have to fear arrest for possession of a controlled substance if they are seeking aid to save themselves or others from a drug overdose.
The Bill was sponsored by Ron McKinnon, a Liberal MP representing Port Coquitlam, BC. When Mr. McKinnon introduced the Bill to the House of Commons on May 4th, 2016, he told the story of Austin Padaric, a 17-year-old high school student from Heidelberg, Ontario, who overdosed after taking drugs at a party. Austin’s acquaintances did not call 911 while he was overdosing, instead trying to deal with the situation on their own. The next day, they finally sought medical attention, but the delay proved fatal, and Austin died a week later. Mr. McKinnon’s bill seeks to save lives by eliminating the fear that Austin’s acquaintances obviously experienced.
On October 28th, Mr. McKinnon gave a speech in the House of Commons prior to the final vote on the Bill. He stated that the most compelling testimony for the Bill came from Canada’s drug-using community. He found that the “[drug-using] community does not feel safe and does fear law enforcement in an overdose situation”. Support for the Bill has come from all corners of Canada, and this was reflected in the bipartisan, unanimous vote.
Mr. McKinnon also noted that the drug-using community as well as the Standing Committee on Health agreed that the proposed exemptions in the Bill should be broader, going beyond simple possession. Mr. McKinnon himself agreed with this stance, but believed that these changes would make the Bill more complex and controversial, potentially delaying or preventing its passage. Mr. McKinnon instead noted that preventable deaths are occurring every day while the Bill is being deliberated. He said that “if passed in its current form, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act would still save lives”, laudably choosing to prioritize the protection of human life over politics.
This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.