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Rights + Justice

Drug Compassion Club Organizers Face Criminal Charges. What Now?

Jeremy Kalicum and Eris Nyx have been charged with trafficking. They’re fundraising for a long legal battle.

Jen St. Denis 11 Jun 2024The Tyee

Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues. Find her on X @JenStDen.

Lawyers for Eris Nyx and Jeremy Kalicum, the founders of a compassion club supplying tested heroin, meth and cocaine to users, say they were shocked prosecutors laid drug trafficking charges against the two while a related case is before the courts.

DULF — the Drug Users Liberation Front — had applied to Health Canada for an exemption from Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to run the compassion club.

The request was denied and DULF is challenging the decision in Federal Court.

“We also were surprised that, given our clients’ life-saving efforts, there would be a public interest in prosecuting such efforts,” said Stephanie Dickson, lawyer for Nyx and Kalicum.

Since 2020, Nyx and Kalicum have held protest events and supplied tested heroin, cocaine and meth to drug users, despite the risk of arrest for breaking Canada’s controlled substances laws.

The pair ordered the drugs from sellers on the dark web, then tested them before distributing them to a small group of people who are addicted and at high risk of death from illicit toxic drugs.

Nyx and Kalicum previously told The Tyee they were driven to start the compassion club after losing friends and neighbours, and after responding to dozens of overdoses.

They said they bought drugs from suppliers on the dark web because there was no legal source for prescription-grade heroin in Canada.

While a few hundred participants of an experimental program operating out of Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic continue to receive prescription heroin, that program has never been permitted to expand.

Nyx and Kalicum were arrested in October by Vancouver police and released on conditions that prevented them from continuing to operate the compassion club.

At the same time, a challenge was proceeding through Federal Court. DULF argued that Health Canada had improperly denied their request for an exemption from Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to run the compassion club. An exemption had previously been granted to allow Canada’s first safe injection site, Insite, to operate.

The case was heard in Federal Court in March, but DULF and their lawyers are still waiting for a decision.

Tim Dickson, who is also on DULF’s legal team, said lawyers are asking the Federal Court to order Health Canada to issue an exemption.

“If the Federal Court were to agree and were to make that order, then the result is that the conduct with which Ms. Nyx and Mr. Kalicum are charged should have been covered by an exemption,” Dickson said.

Nyx and Kalicum have been a focus of an intense backlash against safe supply programs.

Elenore Sturko, BC United’s shadow minister for mental health and addictions until she defected to the B.C. Conservatives, and federal Conservative MP Laila Goodridge have repeatedly painted Nyx and Kalicum as criminals. Both Sturko and Goodridge have said they welcome the charges and were impatient that it took so long.

Neither Nyx, 33, nor Kalicum, 28, has been charged with any other crime in British Columbia. Nyx has worked in homeless shelters and has done overdose prevention work in supportive housing. As a university student in Nanaimo, Kalicum supported an overdose prevention site and later worked as a drug checker.

“If you consider what this was about, what this is motivated by, which is entirely about saving lives, helping people avoid serious injury and death — by people who are living in that area of the city, who are living and working there, whose friends are down there, who see the crisis up close,” said Tim Dickson.

“Their motives are so proper in this case, and to hear those calls for incarceration is very disturbing.”

Supporters of DULF are now raising funds for what everyone involved in the case assumes will be a lengthy legal battle.

While some supporters have said that criminal charges are an important step in a legal battle to challenge the constitutionality of Canada’s drug laws, Stephanie Dickson says the criminal charges were definitely not what Nyx, Kalicum or their legal team wanted.

“It’s our clients’ individual liberty... at stake here, and the blunt instrument of the criminal law is not something we were hoping for them to navigate,” Dickson said.

“Our hope was that the charges would not be approved.”

Nyx and Kalicum’s first court appearance is scheduled for July 2.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Politics

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