Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Police have launched a crackdown on a compassion club in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with a stated goal of providing a safe – but unsanctioned – drug supply in the midst of the city’s ongoing overdose crisis.

The Vancouver Police Department announced Thursday that officers have arrested two people after executing search warrants at the Drug User Liberation Front office on Hastings Street, as well as two homes on the city’s east side.

Authorities did not reference the seizure of any drugs in the announcement.

In a news release, police acknowledged DULF’s harm-reduction efforts while also stating that the organization has “publicly admitted to trafficking controlled substances such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines.”

“We understand the magnitude of the ongoing overdose crisis and the impact drug toxicity deaths have in communities throughout the province,” Insp. Phil Heard of the VPD’s Organized Crime Section said in a statement.

“While DULF’s actions were intended to reduce the harms caused by toxic drugs, we have always warned that anyone who violates the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act could face enforcement and criminal charges. This group has knowingly operated illegally in the Downtown Eastside and we have now taken action to stop it.”

CTV News has reached out to the Drug User Liberation Front, as well as co-founders Jeremy Kalicum and Eris Nyx, for a response to the police investigation.

According to DULF, the organization has been selling tested drugs at cost for over a year. Speaking to media in January, Kalicum said a review of the compassion club program had seen promising results – including fewer overdoses, reduced drug use among some clients, and zero associated deaths.

“Decriminalization as a response to overdoses is a drop in the bucket,” Kalicum told CTV News at the time.

B.C. continues to record a staggering number of deaths from toxic drugs, including 174 in August, according to the latest data from coroners.

While that amounts to approximately 5.6 deaths per day on average, the B.C. Coroners Service said it was the lowest monthly total recorded since June 2022. The deadliest month of 2023 so far was April, when 235 fatal overdoses were recorded.

In its news release, the Vancouver Police Department noted that it has “worked collaboratively with health and community partners for decades to support innovative approaches to drug policy,” which included supporting the launch of the Insite supervised consumption service in 2003.

“While we support progressive drug policy and believe harm reduction strategies reduce the number of lives lost due to drug toxicity, we are steadfast in our insistence that all strategies be fully compliant with the law,” said Heard. “Anyone who ignores the law or fails to obtain proper legal exemptions should expect to be the subject of enforcement action.”

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

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