Canada’s National Observer: ‘I thought the world was coming down’: Sen. Patrick Brazeau draws on personal struggle to fight for alcohol warning labels

By Matteo Cimellaro | NewsUrban Indigenous Communities in Ottawa | February 6th 2023

Sen. Patrick Brazeau in his office. Photo by Spencer Colby / Canada’s National Observer

Warning: This story contains distressing details of self-harm

Patrick Brazeau, a non-affiliated senator, is candid about his struggle with alcohol; it informs his reasons for now wanting to be involved in its regulation.

He tells a story of smudging on the bank of the St. Lawrence River in Montreal on March 27, 2020. It was in the early days of pandemic, marked by isolation, distance and fears of the unknown, and Brazeau had helped organize an international Indigenous day of smudging. During his smudge, Brazeau prayed to his late mother, who passed away in 2004 of colon cancer, for help to quit drinking.

“I had come to a point where I was tired, just tired,” he said. During his prayer, he asked: “‘Please give me a sign, any sign, mainly in my prayer, any sign, like a rainbow, like just anything.”

The next day, Brazeau had a few drinks. The day after that, he smudged again and didn’t reach for the bottle; the day after that, the same thing. Since that day, Brazeau has replaced his daily drinks with daily prayers.

“Now that I look at it, why I think I did get my sign, I just didn’t see it, (is) because my sign happened two days after,” Brazeau said, the sentence catching halfway in his throat.

In his role in the Senate, Brazeau is drawing from his own experiences with alcohol to push for warning labels on alcoholic beverages as part of Bill S-254, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act. His next step is to get the bill into committee so experts can testify, then it will head to the House for debate.

Bill S-254 would mandate warning labels on alcoholic beverages that point to the increased cancer risk correlated with alcohol consumption. The idea is not new: warning labels are mandated on both tobacco and cannabis products in Canada.

The bill comes on the heels of a Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction report that stated no amount of alcohol is good for you and that only two drinks per week is low risk. Anything beyond that increases one’s risk for cancer, heart disease and other mental and social harms.

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