VPD explains why Vancouver councillor wasn't arrested for handing out free heroin, cocaine

Councillor gave out drugs

Vancouver police have explained why they didn’t arrest city councillor Jean Swanson in July for handing out heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to drug users as part of a protest to push governments to increase the “safe supply” of drugs.

The explanation is contained in a report that went before the Vancouver Police Board Thursday that was in response to a complaint from a citizen about Swanson’s actions on July 14 in the Downtown Eastside.

“While the VPD does not condone drug trafficking and, in fact, does arrest for drug trafficking, it is recognized that the actions of the other protesters were not motivated by profit and were not the actions of organized crime groups, but rather, were grounded in harm reduction and raising awareness to the need for urgent action to the overdose crisis,” the report said.

“Although the VPD did not take any additional enforcement actions in relation to this particular protest, such as making any arrests, that does not preclude any future police actions from being taken in future similar incidents. Given the totality of the circumstances as they relate to this event, including the need to maintain public peace during the protest, officers used their discretion and chose not to take enforcement action.”

The report doesn’t name Swanson but she confirmed that she was the subject of the complaint. The board agreed Thursday with the police’s recommendation to conclude its review of the complaint.

Swanson said the protest was organized by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and the Drug Users Liberation Front. Police acknowledged in their report that the illegal drugs, which Swanson said were obtained via “the dark web,” were not distributed for profit.

“I appreciate that I wasn’t arrested — that’s good,” she said, noting the small samples of drugs were tested and labeled before they were given to users. “I don’t think it would have been right to arrest me because we were handing out safe drugs — not dangerous drugs — and it was a protest.”

Swanson said she participated in the protest to help draw attention to the need for a safe supply of drugs to combat the unprecedented number of drug deaths in Vancouver and across the province.

“Six people a day are dying in B.C. of an overdose, and that’s six people too many and all those deaths are preventable,” she said. “If you go to the liquor store and buy a bottle of vodka, it tells you what the proof of the alcohol is. You take it home and pour it into a glass and know it’s vodka and know it isn’t arsenic or something else.”

Vancouver and the rest of the province remain entrenched in an overdose crisis that saw 1,734 people die last year, with 413 of those deaths recorded in the city. The most recent statistics from the BC Coroners Service showed 286 people died of an overdose in Vancouver between Jan. 1 and July 31 of this year.

Earlier this month, Swanson successfully moved a motion at council to push for a compassion club model that would give drug-using members over the age of 18 access to clean and tested heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

The motion included the stipulation that a club receive its supply from “a legal regulated source that does not benefit organized crime.”

Deputy Police Chief Fiona Wilson told council Thursday that the VPD is on record of supporting a safe supply of drugs, but is opposed to the "dark web" being the source of the drugs.

"The Vancouver Police Department certainly supports the notion of safe supply," Wilson said.

"We've been very open about that. In fact, I believe we were one of the first departments in the country to advocate for safe supply. It's the way that it's rolled out that I think we need to have further discussion on."

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