Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver

Operations during COVID-19

Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver

On March 18, 2020, British Columbia declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. Like all other courts in the province, the Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver (“DTCV”), which operates out of Provincial Court at 222 Main Street, suspended all in-person operations immediately. Fortunately, our dedicated treatment team, comprised of Vancouver Coastal Health counsellors and Corrections BC probation officers, jumped into action and quickly developed virtual treatment alternatives to replace the comprehensive in-person treatment previously in place. Zoom group sessions were developed, with tablets being provided to participants who did not have video-capable devices, and reporting and counselling sessions were done by phone. Our treatment team worked tirelessly to stay connected to participants and to help them continue to engage with their recoveries during this unprecedented time.

In our court-supervised treatment program, participant interaction with the DTCV judge is critical and the loss of this connection, loss of court supervision generally, and changes to services delivery were all difficult for our participants initially, many of whom are among the most marginalized in the province. In the first month of the pandemic, one of our participants passed away from overdose.

On May 19, 2020, DTCV became one of the first courts to re-open in Vancouver for remote operations. We conducted weekly court check-ins by phone instead of in-person and Zoom treatment sessions and phone reporting continued. We adapted our graduation requirements to allow for graduations without the usual clean urine screen requirements, as we were not able to conduct urine testing at the Treatment Centre for health and safety reasons during this time. The team held its pre-court meetings by phone to start, and we later transitioned to MS Teams. In these earlier days of the pandemic, it seemed that there were constant changes to our service delivery and to our operations. Crown, defence, the DTCV judge, our court clerks, and the treatment team had to continuously adapt and show flexibility as we modified everything we had done in the program for the last 20 years.

Today, we are operating in a COVID-compliant manner and are using a variety of technologies to ensure we maintain program integrity and connect with our participants in the best way possible. We use a combination of phone, in-person, and MS Teams for court appearances and team meetings. Urine testing is now being done at our dedicated Treatment Centre in accordance with health and safety protocols, our All-Star list is back up and running, and phase progression through the program has resumed. We have been able to accept new participants into the program, conduct sentencing and discharge hearings, and celebrate graduations. We even have a virtual spinning wheel that we use to select prizewinners for those participants who have shown perfect program compliance!

Overall, operating in DTCV during the last 10 months has brought with it many challenges, much uncertainty, and, frankly, pure exhaustion — but it has also brought about positive change and taught us many lessons that will stay with us long after the pandemic. Most importantly, it has shown us the resiliency and dedication of our participants, who have courageously continued to battle substance misuse during the COVID-19 pandemic and during a worsening opioid crisis. Their hard work is truly inspiring and supporting them on their journeys has kept us all united during an otherwise difficult and isolating time. The Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver has the same heart and soul as it always has — it just looks a little different now!