Expert Task Force on Substance Use
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About the Expert Task Force on Substance Use
Tragically, too many people have lost their lives to opioid-related overdoses, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to significantly affect Canadians who use drugs or who are in recovery. The Government of Canada is committed to examining all options and evidence to respond to the tragic increase in overdoses and help save lives, while ensuring that communities across the country are safe.
The Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS), announced in 2016, is the federal government's comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy, which uses a public health lens to address substance use issues. In response to the current context, and a number of calls to take this health-focused approach to substance use further, the Minister of Health has established an Expert Task Force on Substance Use (the Task Force).
The Task Force has a mandate to provide Health Canada with independent, expert advice and recommendations on:
- the federal government's drug policy, as outlined in the CDSS, to further strengthen the public health approach to substance use; and,
- potential alternatives to criminal penalties for the simple possession of controlled substances, with the goals of reducing the effects of criminal sanctions on people who use drugs, while maintaining support for community and public safety.
The Task Force will deliver a first report mid-way through the mandate, and a final report approximately four months after its establishment.
The Task Force reports to the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of the Controlled Substances and Cannabis Branch of Health Canada.
Coming together - Engaging stakeholders and Canadians
Health Canada is committed to collaborating with a wide range of partners and stakeholders to inform the path forward on drug policy in Canada, including through consultations. This commitment is reflected in the Task Force's diverse leadership model and membership.
In fulfilling its mandate, the Task Force may consider all relevant information and may consult, as required, with experts and organizations in relevant fields, including people who use drugs and people with lived and living experience, experts in the field of substance use and public health, law enforcement, Indigenous organizations and leadership, organizations representing the views of racialized Canadians, community leaders, and others.
Health Canada selected members to ensure diverse membership with a broad range of knowledge, experience, expertise, and perspectives.
Carol Hopkins (Co-Chair)
Carol Hopkins is the Executive Director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation (a division of the National Native Addictions Partnership Foundation) and is of the Lenape Nation at Moraviantown, ON. Carol was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2018. In 2019, she was recognized with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Western University.
Carol has spent more than 20 years in the field of First Nations addictions and mental health. She has co-chaired national initiatives known for best practice in policy review and development, resulting in the: First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework, the Honouring Our Strengths: A Renewed Framework to Address Substance Use Issues Among First Nations in Canada, the Indigenous Wellness Framework, and the Native Wellness Assessment.
Carol holds both a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Toronto and a degree in sacred Indigenous Knowledge (equivalent to a Ph.D. in western-based education systems).
Kwame McKenzie (Co-Chair)
Kwame McKenzie is the CEO of Wellesley Institute, Director of Health Equity at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, a Full Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a consultant working with the World Health Organization.
Kwame is a member of the National Advisory Council on Poverty, a member of Canada's Expert Advisory Panel on COVID-19 and Mental Health and the Minister of Health's Covid-19 Testing and Tracing Advisory. Kwame is an international expert on the social causes of mental illness, suicide and the development of effective, equitable health systems. He has published over 250 papers, 5 books. His works have been recognised by numerous awards including African Canadian Achievement Award for Science, Dominican of Distinction Award, Don Wasylenski Award for Global Health, CAMH 150 Difference Makers in Mental Health, Harry Jerome Award and the Pioneers for Change Social Impact Award.
Kwame has served as a Human Rights Commissioner for Ontario and Chair of the Research and Evaluation Advisory Committee of Ontario's Basic Income Pilot.
He holds a medical degree from University of Southampton, and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK).
Mike Serr (Co-Chair)
Mike Serr has been serving as a police officer for 30 years in British Columbia. He became the Chief Constable for the Abbotsford Police Department in September 2018.
The majority of Mike's operational experience is in the field of gang and drug suppression. He has worked for the British Columbia Organized Crime Agency, Integrated Gang Task Force, and British Columbia Municipal Undercover Program.
Mike is active locally and nationally in committee work and is currently the Chairperson of the Drug Advisory Committee for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), as well as the Chair of the CACP's Special Purposes Committee on the Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs. He is also the Co-Chair of the British Columbia Drug Overdose Task Groups, has established the Abbotsford Opioid Working Group, is a member of the Advisory Council for Drug Free Kids Canada, the Character Abbotsford, and the Abbotsford Community Development Council.
Mike has a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from Simon Fraser University.
Natasha Touesnard (Co-Chair) – stepped down April 2021
Natasha Touesnard is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD). Natasha believes in the organization's mission and strives to reduce oppressive societal conditions people who use drugs face by raising their voices throughout the policymaking process. Natasha leads the organizations national work in various aspects including, in research, advocacy for broader access to harm reduction initiatives and for humane drug policy grounded in the voices of people who use drugs.
Prior to this role, she was the Site Coordinator and lead Case Manager at the Open Door Clinic, a family practice and opioid agonist treatment clinic located in Dartmouth, NS. Natasha took great pride in working alongside Dr. David Saunders in the clinic they built together that serves over 300 people in Dartmouth North. Additionally, Natasha alongside of several people who use(d) drugs formed the first drug user group in the Atlantic provinces titled the Halifax Area Network of Drug Using People, where she held the role of Project Coordinator for several years. Natasha also worked at Mainline Needle Exchange, Direction 180 and was the lead Naloxone trainer for mainland Nova Scotia's provincial Take Home Naloxone Pilot Project.
Natasha was the Treasurer of the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs for several years prior to taking the Executive Director position of CAPUD; served on the Board of Directors at Hepatitis Outreach Society of Nova Society (HepNS), is a member of Action Hepatitis Canada, a member of ACORN Canada and served on Nova Scotia's Opioid Use and Overdose Framework's Naloxone Working Group that advised the province business plan for provincial rollout of Take Home Naloxone Program.
Notably, Natasha was a Canadian Delegate at the United Nations 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019 and is a co-Chair of Health Canada's People with Lived and Living Experience Council.
Lastly, Natasha lives by the guiding principle of "Nothing About Us Without Us", is a strong proponent of harm reduction and advocates for respect and holds a commitment to people who use illegal drugs, who face insurmountable challenges due to drug prohibition-based laws and policies.
Areas of Expertise: Drug Use and Drug Use Culture, Harm reduction, Naloxone, Safe Supply, Activism, Social Justice, Human Rights of People who Use Drugs.
Serge Brochu Ph.D. (psychology) has been a professor at the École de criminologie of the Université de Montréal since 1986. After serving in many administrative capacities, including Director of the International Centre for Comparative Criminology, Associate Dean of Management and Human Resources, Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs in the Faculty of Arts and Science, and Associate Vice Rector, Research, Creation and Innovation, he is now Professor Emeritus. He actively participates, through his writings and conferences in Canada and abroad, in the public policy debate on the social and judicial control of drug addiction. Over the course of his career, he has published more than 300 lectures, 146 scientific articles, 67 book chapters and 17 books. His work has earned him recognition as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and as Honorary President of the International Society of Criminology.
Serge Brochu holds a doctorate in Psychology from l'Université de Montréal.
Deirdre Freiheit is President and CEO of Shepherds of Good Hope (SGH) and Shepherds of Good Hope Foundation, located in Ottawa, Ontario. SGH is a dynamic, innovative organization that cares for the needs of adults experiencing homelessness and who live with mental health challenges, substance use disorders and trauma. SGH operates a large homeless shelter, soup kitchen and five supportive housing residences.
Deirdre has been a leader in the not-for-profit sector for almost 30 years, having previously been the Executive Director of the Health Charities Coalition of Canada and CEO of the Canadian Lung Association. She is a former member of the Institute Advisory Board for Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a lay reviewer on the Heart and Stroke Foundation research grant review panels and is a passionate advocate for marginalized populations.
Deirdre is a graduate of Atlantic Business College in New Brunswick.
Gord Garner is the Executive Director of the Community Addictions Peer Support Association. He is a national speaker on addressing stigma and the resulting discrimination towards people who use(d) drugs and trainer on using Person-First Language. He is living well with his own substance use disorder at the time of this writing. He is dedicated to removing the barriers of stigma from across the four pillars, to enable policy writers, academics, researchers and people with experience of substance use disorders active or in remission to take evidence-based actions to improve the lives of all Canadians concerning substance use. His work is informed by his 38 years of active addiction and by those who helped him.
Charles Gauthier is the current President and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, leading this organization since 1992. He also still presently serves on the board of the International Downtown Association. He is a dedicated, life-long non-profit society professional, focused on building strategic partnerships and collaborating with like-minded individuals to further mutual goals. Previous to this role, Charles served as the Community Economic Development Officer and Business Improvement Area Coordinator for the Summerland Economic Development Commission, and as the Economic Development Officer and General Manager for the Eastman Regional Development Corporation. Additionally, as a member of various local associations, he previously served on the Board of the International Downtown Association and Canadian Society of Association Executives, British Columbia. Charles was the recipient of Business in Vancouver's prestigious "40 Under 40 Achievement Award" (1996) and the Downtown Vancouver Association's President's Award (2009).
Charles has a Bachelor of Arts (Political Studies) and a Master of City Planning degree from the University of Manitoba.
Cheyenne Johnson is Saulteaux (Ojibwe) and mixed Settler ancestry. She is a displaced status member of the Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty 4 Reserve (Valley River) in western Manitoba. She is a Registered Nurse who works in addiction and substance use care in Vancouver. She is currently the Co-Interim Executive Director at British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and is the founding Director of the BCCSU's Addiction Nursing Fellowship Program. She is passionate about providing public education to reduce stigma and improve the addiction system of care in BC. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the School of Nursing at University of British Columbia and actively collaborates with interdisciplinary clinicians, educators and researchers across Canada. She is currently Board of Director at the Association for Multidisciplinary Education and Research in Substance Use and Addiction. Cheyenne is the committee Co-Chair at Provincial Opioid Addiction Treatment Support Program. She has co-authored many articles related to addiction medicine and addiction nursing.
Cheyenne Johnson obtained her Master of Public Health from Simon Fraser University.
Harold R. Johnson
Semi-retired from the Northern Alcohol Strategy Saskatchewan, Harold Johnson now acts as that agency's elder, advisor and ambassador. He was a Provincial Crown Prosecutor for ten years and private practice before that. Before a twenty-year career in law, he worked in heavy industry, beginning as a marine engineer in the Canadian Navy, then as a heavy equipment operator, miner, logger, commercial fisher, trapper, mechanic, and firefighter across northern and western Canada. Harold is the published author of five works of fiction and five non-fiction books. He will publish a fiction book in October 2021 and a non-fiction book in January 2022. His book Firewater: How alcohol is killing my people (and yours) was nominated for a Governor General's award in 2016.
Harold has a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Saskatchewan and a Master's Degree in Law from Harvard University, where he graduated in 1996.
Damon Johnston is the current Chair of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Mental Health Association for the last eight years. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1966 to 1968. He is a member of the Fort William First Nation in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Damon has been serving as President of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg since 2007. He was a member of the Illicit Drug Task Force in Winnipeg, established by the federal, provincial and municipal governments. Damon's role as an Indigenous community leader in Winnipeg provides him the opportunity to be well versed in a variety of public consultation and advisory processes. He is currently on the Advisory Committee to the Health Transformation Initiative launched by the Government of Manitoba.
Damon graduated in 1970 from Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ontario, with a Diploma in Administrative Management.
El Jones is a spoken word poet, an educator, journalist, and a community activist living in African Nova Scotia. She was the fifth Poet Laureate of Halifax. In 2016, El was a recipient of the Burnley "Rocky" Jones human rights award for her community work and work in prison justice. She is a co-founder of the Black Power Hour, a live radio show with incarcerated people on CKDU that creates space for people inside to share their creative work and discuss contemporary social and political issues. She is a board member of East Coast Prison Justice Society and of Wellness Within which advocates for the health of women, Trans, and non-binary people who are criminalized. El served as the 15th Nancy's Chair of Women's Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University for the 2017-2019 term. El is a two-time Atlantic Journalism gold award winner for her work with the Halifax Examiner. El would like to pay tribute to the many nameless and unrecognized women whose work makes it possible for her to be here today.
El is completing her PhD at Queen's University in Cultural Studies and is an assistant professor in the department of Political and Canadian Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.
Mae Katt is a member of Temagami First Nation and a Primary Health Care Nurse Practitioner. Her diverse nursing career includes mental health and substance use, adolescent health, maternal/child health and community health. She has a strong health policy and research background in community development, youth suicide, early psychosis, cancer care, health human resources and acquired brain injury.
She is a member of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) COVID-19 Task Team advising leadership on pandemic planning and responses. Mae has spent 4 years on the NAN Health Transformation Advisory Council that focuses on improving health care for northern Ojibway, Cree and Oji-Cree members in 49 remote & rural First Nations. She has been providing primary health care at the Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School for 18 years.
Mae holds an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing, Master of Education (Curriculum Specialty) and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from Trent University.
Robert Kucheran was raised in Port Arthur, (now Thunder Bay) Ontario. He left home at 16 years of age to play hockey in the Ontario Hockey League where he played for the Oshawa Generals for 5 years. After the OHL, he attended York University on a hockey scholarship. He became a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) in April 1985 working as a summer student at the Port Arthur Ship Building Company in Thunder Bay. After graduation, he became the Business Manager of Local 1671 in Thunder Bay. During this time, he was elected Secretary to the local building trades. He was also a Director with the Superior North Apprenticeship Board.
In 2000, Robert and his family located to Caledonia, Ontario when he took the position as Organizer with Local 205 Hamilton. He was appointed General President's Representative in the fall of that same year. As GPR, he attended the Harvard University Trade Union Program in 2001. He was appointed General Vice President in 2005 and in 2009, was elected to that position in 2014 and 2019. He sits on the General Executive Board of the IUPAT. He is a trustee to the IUPAT, Finishing Trades Institute, the Labor Management Cooperation Initiative, the IUPAT Industry Pension Fund, and the IUPAT Industry Pension Fund Canada. In 2012, he was elected as the Chairman of the Executive Board for the Canada's Building Trades and remains in that position today.
Robert earned a Diploma in International Business at Confederation College in 1992.
Currently living in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal, Quebec), Frankie Lambert (he/they) is a 24-year-old Haitian transnational adoptee. He is currently working as a communications officer for the AQPSUD (Association Québécoise pour la promotion de la santé des personnes utilisatrices de drogues [Quebec association for the promotion of the health of drug users]). A provincial organization, which, in accordance with the philosophy of harm reduction and empowerment, brings together people who use drugs and who aspire to promote their health, prevent sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, and improve their living conditions. Frankie also contributed to the editorial board of the UPHNS (Urgent Public Health Need Sites) blog, a pan-Canadian project that promotes the exchange of knowledge, resources and information on harm reduction and overdose prevention in UPHNSs and emergency shelters set up in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Lastly, Frankie is also part of the Defund the SVPM Coalition, and the activist group Black Lives Matters. As a drug user, Frankie lives by the philosophy of harm reduction and transformative justice.
Anne Elizabeth Lapointe
Anne Elizabeth Lapointe is the Executive Director of the Maison Jean Lapointe and of the Addiction Prevention Center.
Ms. Lapointe has 20 years of experience in the field of addictions including 15 years in prevention. She has contributed to the development and evaluation of the Maison Jean Lapointe and the CQLD's prevention programs. These programs reach 100,000 young people yearly in Quebec. Ms. Lapointe is actively involved in the community and sits on several round tables and expert committees. She has given countless conferences pertaining to her field of expertise and continues to share her knowledge within the community. Her proficiencies include behavioral addictions, such as problem gambling as well as prevention and treatment of all addictions. Ms. Lapointe holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications, a Diploma in Management, a Certificate and a Graduate Diploma in Addiction and Ethics.
Shaohua Lu is an addiction forensic psychiatrist with over 20 years of experience in clinical psychiatry. He is currently a member of the Prescription Review Panel at the College of Surgeons and Physicians of BC. Shaohua is a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia where he helped to develop the addiction psychiatry and chronic pain management program. He continues to teach residents and medical students.
Shaohua has been a consulting psychiatrist in the Vancouver General Hospital and the BCOSI clinic, a federal program that assesses and treats Canadian Armed Forces Veterans and RCMP officers. He has worked extensively with patients with complex medical psychiatric and addiction needs.
Shaohua had served on the Board of Director for the Doctors of BC, Canadian Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine, and the Pacific Rim College of Psychiatrist. He had served on various policy and administrative committees at Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. Shaohua chaired the 2009 BC Medical Association's addiction care policy paper Stepping Forward, which supported a full spectrum care for individuals with addiction. He has published in peer reviewed journals on addictions, PTSD and other research projects.
Shaohua completed his addiction psychiatric fellowship at Harvard University.
Donald MacPherson is the Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition based at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. Formerly, he was North America's first Drug Policy Coordinator at the City of Vancouver where he worked for 22 years and is the author of Vancouver's ground-breaking Four Pillars Drug Strategy in 2001.
His publications include the books Raise Shit! Social Action, Saving Lives (2009) and More Harm than Good: Drug Policy in Canada (2016). In 2007, he received the Kaiser Foundation National Award of Excellence in Public Policy in Canada. In 2009 he was awarded the Richard Dennis Drug Peace Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Drug Policy Reform by the Drug Policy Alliance in the US.
In 2019, Donald was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BC Centre on Substance Use and an Honorary Degree from Adler University in Chicago/Vancouver for his contribution to social justice in the field of drug policy.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. He also holds a status appointment at the Centre for Criminology and Sociological Studies. Trained as a criminologist, his research focuses on racial and other forms of inequity in the context of law, criminal justice and social policy. His recent work has examined the history of North American drug policy and its contemporary impacts on Black and other racialized populations. Cannabis continues to be a key focus of this work.
Akwasi's peer-reviewed research on race, cannabis use and cannabis law enforcement has been published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, and the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice. He also writes widely on these topics for popular outlets and is a frequent media commentator. He is an Affiliate Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Direct or Research for the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, and Racial Equity Lead at the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation.
Akwasi holds Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in criminology from the University of Toronto, and a B.A. from Carleton University.
Hawkfeather Peterson (pronouns are they/them) lives and works in British Columbia. They are the current President of the BCYADWS (BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors) and the Regional Peer Coordinator of the Northern Health Authority in BC. Hawkfeather has worked with a passionate focus directed towards protecting the rights of mothers and birthing parents who are substance users. They work directly with the Provincial Perinatal Substance Use Project and BC's Women and Children's Hospitals Overdose Task Force. Hawkfeather also serves as a Frontline VCH (Vancouver Coastal Health) Outreach Worker in their home community.
For over a decade, Hawkfeather has worked with multiple levels of governments and various organizations. All of this work comes from the lens of a person with living experience as a substance user and with loving dedication to supporting their beautiful community of drug users.
Dan Werb is a scientist with the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital. He holds assistant professor appointments at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto and in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at the University of California San Diego. For the last 6 years, he is also the Executive Director of the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation at MAP, which conducts extensive epidemiologic, implementation and policy research on addictions and drug policy, and works closely with governments, affected communities and civil society to guide effective and evidence-based policy responses to substance use.
Dan has published over 85 studies on issues related to addictions, drug policy, and HIV, with a focus on preventing the transition of street youth into injection drug use, as well as on identifying the impact of policy and public health interventions on marginalized drug-using populations.
Dan is the recipient of a Trailblazer Award in 2017 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and was named by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as one of 13 young Canadians changing our country for Canada's 150th anniversary celebration.
Dan received his Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from the University of British Columbia.
The Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy Consultations
The Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS) aims to protect the health and safety of all Canadians by minimizing harms from substance use for individuals, families and communities. This strategy is based on four pillars - prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement - and covers a broad range of substances, including alcohol, opioids, cannabis, and other drugs.
In September 2018, Health Canada led a national consultation to seek input from Canadians on the CDSS. As part of the consultation, participants were invited to anonymously share their stories on how substance use has affected their lives or the lives of people they know. The 2019 report, What We Heard: Strengthening Canada's Approach to Substance Use Issues, summarizes the feedback received from the consultation.
The Government of Canada will use the feedback from this consultation, and the advice received from the Expert Task Force on Substance Use, to help inform next steps on the CDSS and to support a public health approach to substance use.
Task Force Secretariat (Health Canada)
Health Canada Media Relations Team
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