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 amid 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.
Speaking at a news conference, Insp. Phil Heard of the VPD’s Organized Crime Section acknowledged DULF’s harm-reduction efforts while also stating that the organization has “publicly admitted to trafficking controlled substances, including 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, including here in Vancouver,” said Heard.
“While DULF’s actions were intended to reduce the harms caused by toxic illicit drug supply, we have always warned that anyone who violates the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act should expect to face enforcement and criminal charges. This group was knowingly illegally trafficking in drugs. As a result, we took action to stop it.”
Authorities said they seized a variety of suspected drugs during the search, including possible heroin and cocaine, but could not provide the quantities of any of them.
Asked whether police were concerned the seizure could result in drug users who rely on the compassion club’s services taking more dangerous substances, Heard said “absolutely.”
“That’s definitely, like, an unintended consequence that we don’t want to see. That’s not something we’re ever trying to achieve. We fully support safe supply,” he added. “But it has to be legal.”
CTV News has reached out to the Drug User Liberation Front, including co-founders Jeremy Kalicum and Eris Nyx, for a response to the police investigation. Nyx declined to comment.
Authorities have not publicly identified either of the individuals arrested, who were both subsequently released without charges. Heard said the VPD’s investigation is ongoing, and that police are considering recommending charges related to drug trafficking.
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 a 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.
The department also described itself as a “leading advocate” for prescribed safe supply and for decriminalization of drugs for personal consumption.
“While we support progressive drug policy and believe harm reduction strategies do reduce the number of lives lost due to drug toxicity, we are steadfast in our insistence that all strategies deployed must 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.”