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What’s New in Canada? Zombies and a Major Crisis, Apparently

I’m not Canada’s biggest fan right now, mostly because life has gotten unreasonably expensive, complicated, and exhausting.

Still, I was in a good mood when I came back from France. I worked a lot over the past few months, including through the summer, so I was slightly less stressed out about money than during the pandemic. I stuffed my backpack with essentials, from jam and cookies to shampoo and skincare, to deal with greedflation in Canada. Finally, not only Ottawa didn’t burn down over the summer but fall is usually a lovely time of the year with warm days and cooler nights.

As far as I could see, barring unforeseeable circumstances, we would survive the next few months.

On the evening I arrived, I started a load of laundry then I walked to CIBC to deposit two cheques a client had mailed when I was in France. Marking the June and July invoices as paid wasn’t at the top of my to-do list, I just needed to stretch my legs after the long trip.

It wasn’t that late, probably around 7 p.m. It was after banking hours but the small vestibule with two ATMs was open as usual.

This is where I met my first zombie.

She wasn’t an actual zombie, mind you. Canada’s national capital isn’t even on the list of Canadian cities most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse, probably because we would die first, waiting for the federal government to agree on a plan in both official languages. In fact, Ottawa is so boring that the fun yearly Zombie Walk was cancelled years ago.

No, by “zombie”, I mean opiate addict.

She was in a corner of the vestibule, hidden behind a Walmart shopping cart full of nothing you’d buy in a supermarket unless you had gone through checkout ten years earlier and had left everything rotting outside for a decade.

I knew for sure she hadn’t just finished shopping at the Walmart across the parking lot and that she wasn’t waiting for her ride inside the bank for whatever reason.

The small glass pipe on the tiled floor beside her was a pretty big clue.

She quickly grabbed it and kept it tight in her clasped hand when she saw me. I pretended I didn’t notice, I nodded at her just as if she had been another ATM user and I deposited my cheque as fast as possible as she was starting to have an argument with herself.

The opioid crisis has arrived in Ottawa. Spikes in opioid ODs were reported all summer long and the crisis is a growing concern (… about fucking time!) nationwide. Just last week, an entire family died of overdoses.

Obviously, the crisis didn’t develop overnight. I’ve been seeing these signs for a while, which is a pretty good sign Canadians don’t just get high on pot.

I realize that the word “zombie” is stigmatizing. People living with addiction are individuals from all walks of life with a personality, a story that often includes years of substance abuse and calls for help, and hopefully a brighter future—and meanwhile, they find relief in lethal drugs with zero quality control. This is a public health emergency that requires more resources and by “resources”, I don’t mean a tougher law-enforcement response.

Until recently, it was easy enough to pretend the fentanyl crisis, mental health issues and homelessness were a downtown Ottawa issue—blame the (full) shelters concentrated around the Byward Market. In suburbia, the gainfully employed middle class could keep on working from home and enjoying a parallel universe life where the biggest issues are gas prices and school bus driver shortage. Getting to suburbia is tough—Ottawa isn’t very walkable and the OCTranspo bus service is nicknamed “no-see transpo” for a reason.

Well, over the past two weeks, I saw plenty of people wandering around suburbia acting erratically, zombie-walking across traffic, passed out on a bench, panhandling at street lights or chasing nothing, not to mention needles on parking lots.

I stumbled upon someone shooting up in broad daylight in front of the Tim Hortons at the corner of the street.

I’m more careful these days. I don’t live a sheltered life and I’m reasonably street-smart but people who are high or drunk scare me because they are unpredictable.

I hope it will be an eye-opener for all of us.

It’s not that I want homeless people, people with addictions or with mental health issues kicked off of my neighbourhood, jailed or in more trouble. I just want them to get well and live a better life.

So what can we do as a society to support that?

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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