Canada: ‘Drug overdose claiming lives of many students from India’

Updated on Jan 19, 2023 06:23 PM IST

This issue has come to the forefront amid reports that a gurdwara in the town of Surrey in the Metro Vancouver region in Canada has come across several deaths of such students, particularly those from Punjab in India

The Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib in Surrey, British Columbia. Canada. The gurdwara has helped to repatriate mortal remains of many drug overdose victims to India. (Credit: Narinder Walia)
The Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib in Surrey, British Columbia. Canada. The gurdwara has helped to repatriate mortal remains of many drug overdose victims to India. (Credit: Narinder Walia)

Toronto: The drug overdose problem in the Canadian province of British Columbia may also be claiming the lives of several students from India.

This issue has come to the forefront amid reports that a single gurdwara in the town of Surrey in the Metro Vancouver region has come across several deaths of such students, particularly those from Punjab.

This tragic phenomenon was first reported by the outlet Press Progress, which cited bodies of such young victims being prepared for funerals and the remains being transported back to India by the Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib in Surrey.

The gurdwara’s president Giani Narinder Singh Walia told the Hindustan Times that they had come across six cases of deaths of young students from Punjab due to drug overdoses since November last year. In fact, the gurdwara is in the process of preparing to send the remains of the latest victim back to India on January 24.

The reason they become aware of the cause of death is that victims’ parents often contact the gurdwara for help in making these arrangements and grant them power of attorney. As a result, the gurdwara receives post-mortem reports from the British Columbia Coroner’s Service. The gurdwara has been involved in this manner with regard to the untimely deaths of students over the last two years and there were 16 such cases so far that they were aware of, and the majority of the victims were young men.

Part of the reason behind this tragic phenomenon, he felt, was the “pressure” the students were under. “Their parents have big dreams for them in Canada. Then the face the reality at the ground level of how difficult life can be here and some turn to drugs for relief.”

“They are 18, 19, 20-years-old, facing reality here. They suffer from depression, anxiety, too much pressure,” he said.

There’s an added complication as the matter is rarely raised within the community because of the stigma associated with drug use. Walia said they are planning on addressing the issue by holding a seminar in February. “We have to talk about this openly, if we want to save others,” he said.

That opinion is shared by others, like the South Asian Mental Health Alliance, which tweeted, “These issues are not new. They’ve just been swept under the rug over & over. Please, don’t allow that to happen anymore.”

Drug overdoses have been a big problem in British Colombia in recent years. The provincial government stated that a total of 1,644 lives were lost to toxic drugs between January and September 2022, the largest number ever recorded in the first nine months of a calendar year.

However, race-based data on fatalities is not collected by authorities, so the impact on the Indo-Canadian community can only be gauged through anecdotal information from sources such as the Surrey gurdwara. That, of course, only captures part of the overall crisis leading to those like Walia to call for such information to be generated and released so the quantum of the problem can be understood.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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