Ryan Painter, a Greater Victoria School Board trustee, is buckling down on a petition to the federal government to change policy around personal posession of illicit drugs. (Black Press Media file photo)

Ryan Painter, a Greater Victoria School Board trustee, is buckling down on a petition to the federal government to change policy around personal posession of illicit drugs. (Black Press Media file photo)

Greater Victoria School Board trustee pushes petition for decriminalization of illicit drugs

Ryan Painter’s mental health advocacy informs call for federal policy change

A Greater Victoria School District Trustee is buckling down on the call for federal decriminalization of the personal possession of illicit drugs.

SD61 Trustee Ryan Painter says a recent council decision in Vancouver is an encouraging sign for Victoria, which has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, with 115 people dead from illicit drug overdoses in Victoria between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2020. In 2019, Victoria had 118 illicit drug toxicity deaths.

Painter’s appeal joins calls from Island groups Moms Stop the Harm and South Island Community Overdose Response Network for decriminalization, a step activists say will help in the fight to end overdose deaths.

“The way that we currently criminalize drug possession is not a harm reduction approach to supporting people with substance use disorder,” he said. “As a mental health advocate, I understand that criminalizing people doesn’t solve the problem.”

READ ALSO: Victoria advocate hopes to break down barriers perpetuated by ‘toxic masculinity’

Painter launched a men’s mental health initiative in 2019 that encourages men and boys to express their emotions, and says bottling them can have harmful effects – including addiction.

“[People] are turning to harmful substances to try to self medicate or…manage or mitigate their own mental health challenges. And a lot of those instances are built up over a lifetime event or a result of trauma.”

Painter created the petition months ago, but he hopes the recent Vancouver council vote in favour of decriminalization will bolster the call for policy change.

His petition needs at least 500 signatures to be certified in the House of Commons. He believes the federal government can help the province take stronger action.

“I think our task in 2021, along with getting a COVID vaccine is going to be getting this under control,” he said. “It’s time that we took some really bold, progressive action on solving this crisis because what we’ve done, to date, isn’t working.”

The parliamentary petition is online at petitions.ourcommons.ca and closes Dec. 12.

READ ALSO: Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession


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