We at CCSA were deeply saddened by the passing of David Archibald, the inspirational and influential founder of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
Dr. Archibald made crucial contributions to the field of substance abuse. He created a legacy for which we in Canada can all be grateful, and of which we are tremendously proud. Dr. Archibald holds a very warm and special place in the hearts of all of us who have worked in the organization he helped shape and nurture through its early years.
In 1987, Dr. Archibald was asked by Jake Epp, Canada’s health minister at the time, to serve as a one-man task force with responsibility for developing a “national focus” for Canadian efforts to address substance abuse and addictions. The historic Archibald Task Force report led to the establishment of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) in August 1988 with Dr. Archibald as founding chair.
He envisioned an arm’s-length, independent, not-for-profit organization that could pursue a national mandate while being respectful and responsive to federal and provincial mandates—an organization that would not be subject to undue political influence. As articulated by Dr. Archibald himself at that time, “Finding and providing the facts as they are, and not how someone believes or wants them to be, needs to be done without bias and without pressures from politicians and governments.”
Against numerous obstacles and in a highly politicized context, Dr. Archibald was able to achieve all-party support for this vision and make CCSA a reality. Twenty years later, CCSA’s mandate, as laid out in its founding legislation, remains as relevant as it was at the time of the Centre’s origin—testament to the prescience of a man who truly understood the challenges of addressing substance abuse in a political context. He understood the notion of shared accountability and responsibility and the need to build consensus among all stakeholders; he recognized the necessity of having an organization whose leadership would impel the collective to assume and carry out its responsibilities. He understood the need to make decisions from evidence and not ideology or political imperatives; that the collective capacity of the field to respond was dependent on the exchange of knowledge, evidence, experience and best practices; and that substance abuse must remain front and centre in the Canadian consciousness as a health and social issue, and not be seen as a moral deficit or affliction of the weak-willed.
In preparation for our 20th anniversary celebrations in 2008, and through the efforts of his good friend and colleague, Anne MacLennan, former editor of ARF’s international news publication The Journal, CCSA gathered Dr. Archibald’s reflections on the period when CCSA was conceived. These are published under the title, “It was 20 years ago today… an interview with H. David Archibald.”
To all those who knew and worked with Dr. Archibald, we share your sorrow—but also share in the knowledge that he was an extraordinary man who changed the landscape of the substance abuse field. We at CCSA celebrate his legacy and will carry it forward proudly.