David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Don't Forget About Christine Mitchell

Brandon Sun, June 7, 2021 – David McConkey

We have now had an official refusal to release details of the investigation into the 2019 death of Christine Mitchell. So should we citizens just forget about it and move on?

No. Please don’t forget Mitchell.

As I wrote in 2019, the whole community shares in the ultimate responsibility for her drug overdose death.

Why? Because all of us play a part in allowing the War on Drugs to continue. And, ironically, the War on Drugs has flooded our society with dangerous drugs, incentivized criminals to promote addiction and stigmatized those who become addicted.

In an Oct. 10, 2019 interview with the Brandon Sun about the Mitchell case, Mayor Rick Chrest reflected on something else. Well-meaning folks, the mayor said, may well be reluctant to help those with addictions. Because anyone helping others would then find themselves “on the periphery of illicit activity.”  

At some point, Canada should launch a Portugal-style national commission to look into drug decriminalization and legalization. Twenty years ago, such a commission led the Portuguese to decriminalize drugs. This is not going to happen soon in Canada. The Trudeau government, like Harper before, has opposed this direction.

But we can do much right now, as outlined in a report last year by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. For starters, their report recommends decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs.

“Merely arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective,” the police chiefs state. And their report notes that – on an informal basis – police have already decriminalized much drug possession in Canada.

Now, back to the Mitchell case. In 2014, Mitchell moved into the residence of a prominent Brandon individual. (His name is well known. I won’t repeat it here because I want this to be about Mitchell.) For the next five years, Mitchell had illegal drugs delivered to her home. One of those deliveries was fatal. On July 11, 2019, Mitchell, aged 30, died of an overdose of “purple heroin.”

Mitchell was one of more than 4,000 Canadians who died in 2019 of an overdose. This was recognized then as a national public health emergency. When the pandemic struck, it made the overdose crisis worse. Overdose deaths in Manitoba, for example, almost doubled: to more than one every day.

The police chiefs point out that decriminalization by itself is not enough. Those with addictions are still using dangerous drugs. A better approach is to also help those with addictions get treatment. As well, there are two ways to increase the safety of the drugs being used.

One way to increase safety is to set up safe drug consumption sites. These are places where people can consume illegal drugs in a supervised atmosphere. As I have noted in previous columns, both the provincial NDP and the Conservatives have in effect told us that they know that the sites are a good idea. But neither political party has implemented the concept because each appears afraid the public would not approve.

Safe drug consumption sites have now become the norm. Except in Manitoba, they are in every province from Quebec to B.C. So setting up sites here would bring Manitoba into line with other provinces outside Atlantic Canada.

Another way to increase safety is to provide pharmaceutical-grade medications to those who are addicted. Supported by the police chiefs among others, this is called legal safe supply.

Last summer, both the pandemic and overdose death numbers were exploding. Federal health minister Patty Hajdu advocated safe supply to her provincial counterparts. She urged provincial governments to provide those who use drugs with “a safer, pharmaceutical-grade alternative” to toxic street drugs.

As long as we citizens acquiesce in the War on Drugs, we share in the responsibility of overdose deaths. But instead, we can support our police and our municipal and provincial leaders in advancing decriminalization, treatment programs, safe drug consumption sites and legal safe supply. We can assure our leaders that we are OK with these measures. As well, we can encourage the federal government to establish a Portugal-style drug exploratory commission.  

Overdose statistics and proposals for drug safety can seem like dreary news and arcane jargon. But remembering Christine Mitchell as an individual puts a face on the statistics and policy debates. Don’t forget: this is about the life and death of real people.

Tackling this issue requires compassion, open discussion and a willingness to consider new perspectives. Mayor Chrest expressed this sentiment in his 2019 Sun interview.

“I hope,” the mayor said, that the Mitchell case “brings to light the need for more dialogue surrounding addictions and the stigma attached to it.” 

* * * *
See also: 

Reflections on the War on Drugs

Review – The War on Drugs: A Failed Experiment

End the War on Drugs and Find a Better Solution

Drug Policies Require More Humility, Less Virtue Signaling

War on Drugs No Easy Battle

Drug Decriminalization is Coming to Canada



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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Some Reviewed Books:

The War on Drugs:
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Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now


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Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
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Extraordinary Canadians:
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Extraordinary Canadians Nellie Mcclung

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The Greatest Show on Earth:
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