Release: Rights Groups Urge BC Government to End Harmful and Discriminatory Involuntary Drug Testing of Parents
July 10, 2023 – For immediate release
Vancouver, unceded Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) homelands – West Coast LEAF and Parents Advocating Collectively for Kin (PACK) are calling on the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) to end the harmful and discriminatory practice of involuntary drug testing of parents engaged with the family policing system, also known as the child welfare system.
Involuntary drug testing does not accurately evaluate drug use and cannot properly assess parenting capacity or child safety. It stigmatizes, discriminates against, and punishes parents, and reflects MCFD’s punitive framework for policing families.
In an open letter signed by West Coast LEAF, PACK BC, Pivot Legal Society, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, Coalition of Substance Users of the North, and the Centre for Family Equity, rights groups and individuals are urging Premier David Eby and the Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean to end involuntary drug testing of parents engaged with the family policing system. The letter calls on the BC government to root out the culture of risk and surveillance at MCFD, which disproportionally discriminates against poor and racialized families.
“Involuntary drug testing doesn’t accurately or compassionately assess drug use, child safety, or parenting abilities,” says Suyu He, interim manager of community outreach at West Coast LEAF. “By stripping parents of their dignity and agency, MCFD’s drug testing policy harms families and perpetuates the traumatic cycle of needlessly removing children from their homes and loved ones.”
Drug tests are notoriously plagued by false positives and cannot accurately assess whether a positive test translates to child abuse, neglect, or harm. By using involuntary drug testing, MCFD is directly negating their commitments to prevention-oriented policies, opting instead for punitive measures. Parents who have experienced involuntary drug testing describe their experiences as intrusive, inaccessible, and excessive.
“Urine drug testing is inherently classist. How many middle- and upper-class parents are tested in comparison to lower-income parents, very few,” says Keri Guelke, PACK administrator/respite worker. “We’ve seen it time and time again – abstinence-only policies don’t work. Harm reduction works. Supporting parents works.”
MCFD must immediately end the practice of involuntary drug testing and instead use a wholistic approach to supporting families and protecting children. Policies that impact parents who use substances should be developed in collaboration with them, informed by their lived experience. West Coast LEAF and PACK, along with the signatories, call on the BC government to invest in and implement family supports that respect the autonomy and dignity of all parents, and end involuntary drug testing immediately.
Kait Woodman, interim manager of communications
West Coast LEAF
604-684-8772, ext. 226
About West Coast LEAF
West Coast LEAF is a non-profit organization formed in 1985, the year the equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into force. West Coast LEAF’s mandate is to use the law to create an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination in BC. In collaboration with community, we use litigation, law reform, and public legal education to make change. For more information, visit westcoastleaf.org.
Parents Advocating Collectively for Kin (PACK) is an alliance of people who reside in the
province of British Columbia. PACK’s members have unique expertise as individuals who use or have used currently illicit drugs working alongside our impassioned dedicated allies. PACK is committed to addressing these dangerous standards by facilitating the development of programs, providing services and resources related to the safety and well-being of mothers/birthing parents and their children, particularly those who face risk related to MCFD engagement. For more information, visit packbc.org.