Bereavement day bill passes, but much work lies ahead
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This article was published 02/06/2022 (372 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The passing of a bereavement bill is being welcomed as a step in the right direction, but the real fight is still being waged in Manitoba and across Canada to save people from substance poisoning.
Bill 234, a private member’s bill to set aside a provincial day of bereavement for families who lost loved ones due to overdoses — was read a third time in the legislature on Wednesday and passed with unanimous support.
There was one amendment made, said NDP MLA Bernadette Smith, who serves as the party’s mental health and addictions critic — the date was changed to state it will be the first Sunday in May, instead of the day before Mother’s Day.
Smith said the day and wording in the bill was changed so it wouldn’t appear it was a day of bereavement for just mothers. In previous comments, she explained this was a day for families and friends of people who have died as a result of substance poisoning.
It will move on to receive royal assent.
While she was glad it passed, Smith said there was a lot of frustration over how long it took to reach third reading.
“There were some procedural issues that I don’t think were necessary because this government has shown it can act quickly when it wants to,” she said shortly after the bill was passed.
In earlier comments, House leader and Justice Minister Kevin Goertzen said it was a scheduling issue, adding the government would work to pass the bill.
It’s a symbolic day, but it will be helpful in showing anyone who has lost someone close to them there is support for their cause.
Now that there is a day to grieve, Smith said there is still work to be done to get people struggling with substance use safe supplies and help.
“It’s great we are allowed to publicly mourn, but now we want to stop people from dying altogether,” she said. “This is why I am working to get Bill 217 passed so we can have accurate reporting and warn people when there is a toxic drug supply out there. We shouldn’t be getting our data from the media.”
That bill, the Fatality Inquiries Amendment Act, which would require the chief medical examiner to publicly report the number of drug overdose deaths in Manitoba for each month, as well as identify the type of drug linked to each overdose.
This is all coming as the federal government announced it is working with B.C. to decriminalize small amounts of drugs for personal use.
Smith said she is watching to see how this unfolds, but it is related to her push to have safe consumption sites in Manitoba. She reiterated that she has visited several in the country and no one using these sites had died from an overdose, she said.
In addition, people who go to safe consumption sites are more likely to seek out treatment.
In other comments to the media, Goertzen said Manitoba isn’t moving to decriminalize small amounts. Instead, the government is pushing to cut off the illegal drug supply while offering treatment options for users.
A day to recognize those who are grieving is good, said Antoinette Gravel-Ouellette, chair for the Brandon and Area Overdose Awareness, but echoed Smith’s sentiment that they need to stop deaths from happening.
The group had a vigil on Sunday to mark the 407 people who died from substance poisoning last year, adding it’s still a shock to herself and the public to see how many have died.
“It’s fantastic that the bill got passed, but I was at that vigil and people came by asking if these 407 were all of Canada and they were shocked to hear it was just for Manitoba and just last year,” she said. “I have to ask, you are OK with bereaved mothers, but you are not OK with stopping people from dying?”
It’s a slow and frustrating process in the province and across the country, she said. This isn’t a justice issue, but rather a public health issue, and the country cannot police its way out of this. Gravel-Ouellette said she has been watching decriminalization efforts in British Columbia, but wants the federal government to work with their own experts and do more directly rather than leave it to individual provinces to decide what to do about substance use.
The hope Bill 217 and the federal Bill C-216 would pass was shared by the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network, said co-ordinator Solange Machado.
Bill C-216, a private member’s bill tabled by NDP mental health and harm reduction critic Gord Johns, who is MP for Courtenay-Alberni in B.C., as meant decriminalize simple possession, provide a pathway for people convicted of simple possession and create a national policy to create a safer supply of drugs.
However, the bill was defeated in a vote Wednesday in the House of Commons.
Machado agreed that having the bill for a day of bereavement is good to see, but real laws and regulations have to change as well if anyone wants to see positive changes.
“It’s good to recognize the day and it will make people feel that they are not alone,” she said. “But then again, it would be good to have the stats to go along with that so people will know what they are supporting on that day.”
On B.C.’s decriminalization, Machado said she and the network want to see how the laws are developed. She wants to know what happens to someone if they are caught above the decriminalized amount. Her hope is the laws don’t create more legal problems for people if they are found with more than the decriminalized amount.
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