Canada passes law granting immunity for drug possession to those who call 911 to report an overdose

By Amy Chen

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which grants immunity for drug possession to those who call 911 to report an overdose, became law without much fanfare last week after the legislation received royal assent[1]

“Canadians need to take care of each other, especially the vulnerable among us,” Ron McKinnon, the MP for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, told parliament as he introduced the private members bill. “This bill means that when lives are at stake, people can take action without fear of penalty.”

“Hopefully, they will pick up the phone and save someone’s son or daughter,” the Liberal MP said. “People will live who might otherwise have died.”

The bill received unanimous approval in both houses of parliament.

“Fear of criminal charges should not be a barrier to calling 911,” Todd Doherty , the MP for Cariboo—Prince George, said. “Police departments are already aware of this stigma and have attempted to mitigate the perception of fear.”

“The Vancouver Police Department is known to have policies about police attendance when it comes to an overdose,” the opposition Conservative MP added. “They do not normally attend the calls involving a non-fatal drug overdose unless B.C. Emergency Health Services advises that its assistance is required.”

“Bill C-224 is about saving lives.” Wayne Stetski, the MP for Kootenay—Columbia, said. “ More lives could be saved if users and witnesses did not hesitate to seek emergency assistance for overdoses.”

“The bill will also not in any way diminish our efforts to fight organized crime or to support communities affected by gang-related violence,” the NDP MP added. “Bill C-224 simply removes a barrier to medical help reaching a person who is overdosing in time to save them.”

The bill received widespread support from physicians and first responders.

“The best way to encourage people who have overdosed or witnessed an overdose to seek help from 911 is to provide protection from charges of possession,” Dr. Meredith MacKenzie, a physician with Street Health Centre, Kingston Community Health Centres, said. “Early evidence in the U.S.A. indicates that 88% of people who overdose on opioids are more likely to call 911 after establishment of good Samaritan law and being made aware of its existence.”

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