Two of the co-founders of Vancouver’s Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), were arrested by Vancouver Police on October 25 for operating a regulated heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine compassion club in plain sight. They were released the same evening without charge.
The next morning, Vancouver Police Department issued a press release that worked to play both sides. While VPD understands “the magnitude of the ongoing overdose crisis and the impact drug toxicity deaths have in communities throughout the province,” they warned that anyone “who ignores the law or fails to obtain proper legal exemptions should expect to be the subject of enforcement action.”
DULF’s preliminary program evaluation, conducted by researchers at the BC Centre on Substance Use, shows significant promise for the non-medicalized compassion club model they have adopted — with no evidence-supported drawbacks. The data are consistent with medicalized safe supply pilots operating across Canada, which show reduced risk of overdose, varied health benefits and reduced reliance on subsistence crime among participants.
In response to the criminalization of DULF, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) issued a statement on October 26, reaffirming that “life-saving harm reduction measures originated from the courageous actions of drug users fighting against the routine persecution and abandonment of their peers … You can jail a revolutionary, but you cannot jail a revolution.”
An open letter is in progress by national organizations representing people who use drugs and drug policy reform advocates. The letter is printed here in full for the purpose of adding more signatories: if you or your organization are not yet represented on it, please fill out the form.
RE: Vancouver Police Press Release, “VPD executes search warrants in Downtown Eastside drug investigation”
Vancouver Police Department, City of Vancouver and Province of British Columbia:
The signatories of this letter condemn the criminalization of community-regulated safe drug supply distribution in Vancouver on October 25, 2023, executed through search warrants, arrests and interrogations by Vancouver Police Department.
Unregulated drug toxicity is the leading cause of death in BC for persons aged 10 to 59, accounting for more deaths than homicides, suicides, accidents and natural diseases combined. In this urgent context, the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) operates a compassion club to save lives and reduce the harms of the unregulated drug market.
DULF has been public about its activities since its first safe supply action on April 14, 2021. Its second action in July 2021 was conducted in plain sight of a Vancouver Police Department station with officers in attendance. In 2022, the City of Vancouver issued a business license to DULF. That year, the Province of BC initiated a $200,000 grant through Vancouver Coastal Health to help cover DULF’s overhead costs.
DULF was transparent in its application for a Controlled Drugs and Substances Act exemption to the Government of Canada, publishing both its application and the Government’s denial of the exemption for public examination.
DULF has conducted formal evaluation of its compassion club in partnership with qualified researchers at the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU). The data show the program is keeping people alive and in better health, with lower reliance on criminal activity. The removal of funding not only hinders DULF’s compassion club, it closes down a critical overdose prevention site – an outcome with legal precedent to be reversed.
The statement issued by Vancouver Police on October 26, 2023 is an apparent attempt to distance governments and police from the active and passive roles that each have played in DULF’s activities while political backlash builds against safe supply more broadly.
International reporting on DULF includes articles in Time Magazine and The Guardian. It is inconceivable that any institution operating in drug policy or enforcement could have remained unaware that DULF operates a compassion club.
If political institutions took issue with the activities DULF carries out with a clear aim to minimize harms to its community while more than 2,000 people were killed each year in BC by policy inaction, they had ample opportunity to respond when DULF distributed regulated drugs in front of a Vancouver Police station in 2021, requested a business license from the City of Vancouver, and approached Vancouver Coastal Health for funding.
Given the transparency with which DULF has operated, it is fair to conclude that these institutions are disingenuously betraying people who are at risk of death while a seven-year unmitigated public health emergency persists.
In solidarity with DULF, the signatories of this letter demand that Vancouver Police, the City of Vancouver, and the Province of BC:
- Immediately cease criminalizing community-regulated safe supply in BC;
- Restore DULF funding cut by Vancouver Coastal Health;
- Formalize a commitment to create a framework to uphold and protect community-regulated safe supply in BC.
Can you help grow the signatory list of this open letter? Please share it with organizations in your network!