It is with the utmost devastation and greatest sadness that we say goodbye to one of our own: Randy Roberts. Randy passed in January 2022 and left all of us who knew him with a big hole in our hearts and tears in our eyes. He was an amazing advocate and such a strong voice for People Who Use Drugs, advocating for change around the board but most of all, he wanted the deaths to stop!
Randy started the Brantford Substance User Network (BSUN) and did amazing things for his community and others around Ontario. He did work with Member’s of Parliament, Councillor’s, his Public Health Unit and his local HIV/AIDS Service Organization to ensure fair and equitable treatment of People Who Use Drugs in his region, advocating for better health outcomes for People Who Use Drugs, Harm Reduction, Safer Supply, more adequate services, increased numbers of community health centres and harm reduction services plus the Decriminalization of drug use.
Randy also worked with Public Health Ontario to help found The Ontario Network of People Who Use Drugs. This is where I met Randy and became his friend and colleague. We worked so hard to help people and Randy was the voice of reason. Me and Randy usually had the same perspective on issues, and I appreciated his comradery as well as his ability to side with everyone all at the same time. Any arguments or issues that arose because of the work would shortly be quelled by Randy’s words of wisdom and any pettiness was met with “C’mon guys, people are dying, and we don’t have time to waste” or “as we sit here wasting time people are dying” and it would bring our group back to reality and ground us in the reasons we started the work in the first place. Randy worked hard to make sure we got registered as a non-profit and got our website going, that way we could reach the most amount of people possible.
Randy was such a caring person and wanted to see everyone succeed. He worked with folks to get them housing, access to healthcare, appointments for OAT or Safer Supply, OW and ODSP, Harm Reduction Supplies and Services, clean clothes, things to keep people warm who were out in the cold, the list goes on and on. He ran a Needle Exchange out of his own house, so folks in his complex would have fresh tools and access to Naloxone. Randy did spot checks around his complex in order to help or save people who were experiencing drug poisonings or overdoses. Randy would stay up all night helping people - I would call him when I needed someone to virtually spot me in the middle of the night and I wish I was there for him when he needed it.
Randy’s death is going to leave a big gaping hole in services for the folks he served in his community, and region. His advocacy spanned Ontario and impacted all of Canada. We have lost one of our loudest soldiers and for all the lives he has touched over the many years he has done this work; I can’t begin to do his efforts' justice here. His loving, caring, empathetic nature will be dearly missed by all and remembered as we push forward and do the work to make the change he wanted to see happen. He was tenacious and full of energy and love and will be sadly missed each time we meet without him or think about him, but he would have wanted us to use this to push harder and make more of an impact on this world as People Who Use Drugs!
One of our last meetings with Randy included a discussion about a memorial page for our website, but we never thought "Randy Roberts" would be our first name on that list and that’s what hurts the most for me. Conversations about death that seemed so far removed from us in that moment, now seem too eerie. Randy was such a beacon of hope and change and wanted nothing more than to see People Who Use Drugs succeed in our goals, hopes, and dreams.
As I finish off, I want to leave us all with a quote from an article that Randy pulled out to post on his Facebook page - his final post. It shows where his head was at in his final days and gives us a look into his mindset and why he did the work he did. It reads: "Just as we do for the COVID-19 public-health emergency, we should all be doing everything in our power, for as long as it takes, to reduce drug-poisoning deaths until they are no longer a daily threat to the lives of people who use drugs." - The Globe and Mail.
To another one lost way too soon to failed policy, stigma, and the inadequacies we face in healthcare and social services. We love and respect you Randy for all you have done for us and our communities, you will be sorely missed by the entire Drug User and Allied communities and your loss will be felt throughout the country, but we will finish what you started, and your work will NOT be done in vain, it will carry on just as your name will, as we take your memory with us throughout our own journeys into making change. I love and miss you, forever and always Randy!!!!
With Love and Light,