Jagmeet Singh says he's witnessed the devastation of British Columbia's opioid overdose epidemic and it breaks his heart.
The federal New Democrat Party leader said he visited an overdose prevention site in Vancouver this week where he saw people struggling with addiction and learned how to administer the overdose-busting medication Naloxone.
Singh told about two thousand delegates attending the B.C. NDP convention on Saturday that Canada's drug laws should reflect that drug addiction is a social justice issue and not a criminal justice matter. He called on the federal government to declare opioid addiction a national crisis.
Singh drew a standing ovation when he said the New Democrats would decriminalize personal possession of all drugs, not just marijuana.
"I saw that people's lives are being destroyed while the federal government does little or nothing and it breaks my heart," he said. "I saw with my own eyes the devastation of the opioid crisis."
Singh said addiction is rooted in issues of poverty and mental health.
"To me poverty, mental health and addictions don't sound like criminal justice problems," he said. "They sound to me like a social justice problem. That's why I'm calling for the decriminalization of all personal possession offences when it comes to drugs to make a difference in the lives of people and actually bring real change."
Singh, elected NDP leader last month, said the federal New Democrats must become the party that represents the lives and hopes of Canadians.
"We get it," he said. "We are the party that hears the stories of people, the struggles. We must again be the party that inspires Canadians. That makes their hearts beat faster."
Earlier, B.C. Premier John Horgan told delegates the provincial party is celebrating forming government after 16 years of Liberal administrations, but serious decisions about the Site C dam and Kinder Morgan pipeline are ahead.