Peers, Partnerships and Power

A Person-Centered Approach to BC's Overdose-Poisoning Epidemic

People who use drugs (PWUD) are central to BC’s response to the poisoning epidemic. Some are first responders, witnessing drug use among their peers and administering life-saving naloxone when needed. Others are educators, teaching about harm reduction and sharing their first-hand knowledge. Many more are advocates for systems reform, calling attention to the fundamental inequities that undercut their rights to safe housing, a liveable income, social supports, and appropriate healthcare. PWUD are the voices we need to hear and to heed to stop the epidemic and save lives.

This webinar discusses ways to share power and partner with people who use drugs to affect change and ameliorate the impact of the poisoning epidemic. CMHA BC is joined by Mel MacDonald from Seasons House, Charlene Burmeister from Coalition of Substance Users of the North, Sally Maguet from the Compassion, Inclusion and Engagement project, Paige Phillips from SOLID and Shane Calder from AIDS Vancouver Island. Each panelist contributes their insights on how to overcome stigma and opposition to build equitable partnerships between peers and organizations, and implement harm reduction initiatives that create safer communities for everyone.  

Download a copy of the PowerPoint slides





Melanie MacDonald

Seasons House Emergency Shelter



Melanie MacDonald has been the Executive Director for Seasons House Emergency Shelter for almost 9 years. Prior to this, she worked in the anti-violence field at the Quesnel Women’s Resource Centre. Melanie was raised in Quesnel, and although she moved and travelled to different communities in her youth, has set roots back in her home town.

In the midst of an unprecedented Public Health Emergency, Melanie works tirelessly in her community with her staff, community stakeholders and PEERs to build solutions where people are alive, valued, and free from systemic discrimination and societal stigma. Part of this work includes providing People with Lived Experience (PEERS) opportunities to share their voice and expertise; as well as employment opportunities that recognize their unique individual strengths.

Charlene Burmeister

Coalition of Substance Users of the North


Charlene Burmeister is the Provincial Peer Coordinator for CIE. She has over 10+ years of experience in peer engagement and leadership. Charlene is the Founder and President of the Coalition of Substance Users of the North (CSUN) and a long-running member of the Peer Engagement and Evaluation Project (PEEP) through the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). Charlene has contributed to provincial documents, such as the BCCDC Peer Payment Standards and Peer Engagement Best Practices.

Sally Maguet

Compassion, Inclusion and Engagement Project, PHSA


Sally is the owner and principle consultant for Context Evaluation Consulting in Vancouver, BC. She has designed, implemented and reported on evaluations of complex, system oriented initiatives in a variety of health programs and services including Mental Health and Substance Use, Harm Reduction, Indigenous and Environmental Health. Working collaboratively and in partnership with service users, service providers and decision makers, Sally uses evaluation as a tool to inform and guide research and planning to improve health services and outcomes on a provincial and national scale.

Paige Phillips


Paige is the Health Education Coordinator at SOLID, where she organizes cannabis, art therapy and health education groups for people who use(d) illicit drugs, and facilitates cultural safety training for healthcare providers in hospitals. She is also an active research assistant, currently on projects like; Drug Checking, Reducing Stigma and Creating Culturally Safe Care in Primary Care, and working in the iPac team to create a set of guidelines with a palliative approach to care for people who use substances or who are experiencing homelessness.

In her role as a Peer Navigator, Paige assists people to attain identification of all forms, get onto PWD, find housing and attend appointments with physicians, lawyers or probation officers. She also co-facilitates Street College in partnership with AIDS Vancouver Island. The program engages people who use(d) illicit drugs in an educational process that confronts stigma, increases self-awareness and supports, and builds skills in peer support, advocacy, prevention and leadership.

Shane Calder

AIDS Vancouver Island

  Shane works for AIDS Vancouver Island and has done so for 11 years. He is currently in the position of Coordinator of Client Education and Engagement, where he organizes programming and events for the clients of AVI’s harm reduction services. A local activist and curmudgeon, Shane co-sponsors the Street College program, which is a long running educational and engagement program for people seeking to learn in a group setting. Focused primarily on the production of solidarity and the end of the drug war, Shane works both locally and beyond to promote the inclusion of people who use drugs, as well as mounting public opposition to the war on drugs


Peers, Partnerships and Power
Peers, Partnerships and Power
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