‘We just disagree’: Premier at odds with B.C.’s top doctor on drug legalization

Click to play video: 'B.C. premier and Dr. Bonnie Henry disagree on drug legalization'
B.C. premier and Dr. Bonnie Henry disagree on drug legalization
The debate over the legalization of illicit drugs is heating up again, with a fundamental disagreement between the province's top health officer and the premier. Paul Johnson reports – Jun 6, 2024

B.C.’s premier says he disagrees with the province’s top doctor when it comes to the legalization of illicit drugs.

The comments came after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry testified at a federal parliamentary standing committee on health on May 30.

The committee has been hearing from experts on Canada’s drug crisis since last year, and has heard from dozens of people so far.

Click to play video: 'B.C. recriminalizes drug use in public spaces'
B.C. recriminalizes drug use in public spaces

Last Thursday, Henry was pressed for her position on drug legalization by fellow doctor and Cumberland-Colchester Conservative MP Stephen Ellis.

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“I support legalization and regulation of drugs to minimize harms,” Henry answered.

“I think what has gotten us into the situation we are in is prohibition and we have seen that in many different situations over time, we saw that with alcohol prohibition, we see this with cannabis, and I think legalization and regulation minimizes harms.”

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Henry’s office confirmed Thursday that the statement reflected her position and that it was not new.

Henry believes that legalized and regulated illicit drugs are a necessary option to meet drug users where they are in order to keep them alive, a spokesperson confirmed.

Henry’s position has faced swift political response, including from newly-minted BC Conservative MLA Elenore Sturko who called for the provincial health officer to be fired.

“Conservatives in B.C. are absolutely against the legalization of drugs in British Columbia, we will not be legalizing drugs in B.C. I don’t think it’s surprising to hear Dr. Henry say she supports legalizing drugs in B.C. because she’s said it before,” Sturko said.

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B.C. Premier David Eby, however, appeared to agree with his Conservative rival on this particular issue.

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“We are not headed in that direction, we are not going to do that. I’ve been very clear about that,” Eby said.

That statement reflects an evolved position from Eby’s pre-politics days.

In 2009, while executive director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Eby wrote that the organization was in favour of the legalization and regulation of all illicit drugs.

While Eby’s position has changed and puts him at odds with his provincial health officer, he said Henry still has his confidence.

“What I really want to underline is that Bonnie Henry and I agree on 90 per cent of issues, but some of them we just don’t agree and that’s OK,” Eby said.

“She is there to provide her best advice as a public health official to government, but government is there to decide about which initiatives get put in place, and I have huge confidence in her and her work, we just disagree about this.”

On Thursday, the BC Coroners Service revealed 182 people died in from toxic drugs in April, a 24-per cent drop over the same month last year, and down from 192 people in March of this year.

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