On January 10th, 2020, Jennifer York found her 26-year-old son, Grant, had passed away from a fentanyl overdose. Grant had used cocaine laced with the opioid. Three other men had also passed away the same day in Brantford from fentanyl.
“I laid with him in bed. I held him. I promised him that I would do everything in my power to make sure that justice was served.”Jennifer York
York is now advocating for more stringent laws and sentences for dealers of the opioid. Fentanyl use and related deaths have become an epidemic within Brantford.
York describes her son as extremely smart, but quite shy. “He didn’t talk a lot, but he would come out with random wit when you least expected it,” she says through tears. “He became the most amazing young man. He didn’t even smoke marijuana. He used to. It had been two years, but he had stopped. He didn’t want any of that in his body. He wanted to be completely focussed.”
York admits, Grant was offered drugs quite frequently by friends, but as far as she was aware, he always turned them down. “For whatever reason, I’m guessing curiosity. He decided to try it when it was offered to him again.”
“My office is right next to his bedroom,” York says while explaining her last day with Grant. “Typically, he works from 5 PM to closing, which is around 10 PM. All day I sat in that room beside him and didn’t know. Around 4:30 PM, I started to get anxious and thought I’d give him ten more minutes. At 4:40 PM, I went into his room, and he was sitting propped up in bed. He had a cigarette unlit in one hand and a lighter in the other hand. He didn’t even have time to light his smoke. I started yelling, ‘wake up, Grant, wake up,’ and he would not wake up.”
Over the past five months, York has been taking small steps to meet her goal. In addition to creating a ribbon for International Fentanyl Awareness in memory of lives lost, she has also met with local officials from all levels of government.
“I’m a fighter. I don’t back down. I told each one of them at our meeting, I’m not going away, so please work with me. They were all in agreement.”Jennifer York
York is proposing all cab drivers within the City of Brantford to be obligated to report drug houses when they become aware of them. She is also asking the provincial government to increase the accessibility of strip tests that indicate fentanyl within any substance and provide them free of charge.
Along with a group of other grieving parents, York is also lobbying the federal government to introduce a law in her son’s name. A petition to the Justice Minister of Canada is requesting anyone convicted of selling fentanyl to receive an automatic ten-year sentence and any fentanyl-related death to be considered murder.
“I have seen through my group so many gut-wrenching stories of parents finding their children dead from something they did not ask for,” York says. “Over 14 thousand people in Canada from 2016 to 2019 died from opioid overdoses. Ninety-four percent of that was not asked for. That’s murder.”
To date, more than 1600 people have signed York’s petition calling for stricter laws for dealers of fentanyl. The petition is available at change.org.