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As overdose deaths hit a grim new report, officers push Ottawa to cease treating habit as against the law | CBC Radio


As British Columbia marks one other tragic milestone in overdose deaths, strain is rising on the federal authorities to decriminalize private possession of medication, together with opioids.

The province introduced a report variety of folks in B.C. have died to this point this 12 months from overdoses — 201 in October alone.

“Simply put, we’re failing,” stated B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe. She’s been echoing calls from officers in Toronto and MPs from throughout the nation and throughout get together traces to start out treating habit to medication like fentanyl as an pressing well being drawback, somewhat than a prison offence.

B.C., Vancouver and Toronto are formally asking the federal authorities to exempt them from the regulation as a way to allow decriminalization of small-scale possession. They’re wording it extra as a requirement than a plea.

WATCH: Toronto Mayor John Tory calls for giant adjustments to Canada’s illicit drug coverage

‘The establishment is just not working,’ says Toronto Mayor John Tory

Toronto Mayor John Tory joins Power & Politics to debate the Toronto Board of Health voting in favour of decriminalizing the possession of small quantities of unlawful medication. 1:44

The establishment is just not working,” stated Toronto Mayor John Tory. “And in cities all throughout this nation, actually tons of of individuals are dying, typically alone and in alleys the place they should not be.

“And they have not (bought) a authorized drawback, not an ethical drawback. They have a well being drawback.”

Decriminalization of so-called exhausting medication is an official coverage of the Liberal Party, endorsed again in 2018 at its conference in Halifax.

At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — nonetheless coping with his authorities’s promise to legalize marijuana — wasn’t focused on tackling one other politically dangerous change to federal drug legal guidelines.

“On that individual problem, as I’ve stated, it is not a part of our plans,” Trudeau informed reporters again then.

It now seems the federal authorities’s reluctance is waning.

“We are taking a look at these proposals very, very critically,” stated Carolyn Bennett, the primary ever federal minister of psychological well being and addictions.

In an interview airing this weekend on CBC’s The House, Bennett spoke about how her father, a police officer, lived by way of the Prohibition period in Canada after the First World War, and the way that have shapes her personal pondering.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett says the federal government is contemplating a number of approaches to the overdose disaster — together with decriminalization of small-scale possession. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“And I feel till the day he died at 93, he felt Prohibition by no means labored and that this was a well being drawback,” she stated.

“I feel we have come by way of generations of eager about how the prison justice system is getting used for what’s a well being drawback.”

Still, Bennett — who’s a medical physician — is not setting a timeline for a choice as a result of she stated she believes decriminalization alone is not the reply to the opioid epidemic.

Other choices are additionally being thought of, she stated — together with the concept of building a protected provide of opioids to provide addicts an various to the more and more poisonous fentanyl now on the streets. The federal authorities can be taking a look at establishing extra protected injection websites and making counselling extra obtainable.

“There have been different proposals of a extra collective method to getting protected provide to the folks utilizing medication. This is about dignity and saving lives, and we’re ready to actually study all of those revolutionary approaches,” she informed The House.

16:31Is it time to decriminalize medication?

Drug overdose deaths are spiking in Canada. Advocates talk about calls for for change to Canada’s drug legal guidelines and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett particulars the federal authorities’s response. 16:31

‘No boundaries’ to decriminalization: B.C. minister

Just a couple of weeks into her new job, Bennett went to Vancouver to tour together with her provincial counterpart Sheila Malcolmson the downtown east aspect space that is grow to be an emblem of the lives destroyed by fentanyl habit.

“I really feel she shares our authorities’s feeling of urgency,” Malcolmson informed reporters this week. “And to this point, no boundaries have been recognized by Health Canada workers to a speedy processing and approval of our decriminalization.”

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson: “I really feel [Bennett] shares our authorities’s feeling of urgency.” (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Decriminalization is additionally supported by many consultants.

Don MacPherson is government director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition at Simon Fraser University. He was a part of a activity drive appointed by earlier federal well being minister Patty Hajdu to advise her on drug coverage. He stated charging folks with easy possession, and seizing their medication, is not sensible.

“There’s mountains of proof that present it is a dangerous factor. It’s dangerous, it hurts folks and there’s not likely an upside to it,” he informed The House.

“So the duty drive … got here pretty shortly to the conclusion that the federal authorities ought to instantly begin work on placing ahead a plan to decriminalize easy possession of medication throughout the board.”

The activity drive submitted its report simply earlier than the election and has since adopted up with Bennett and the brand new Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos. MacPherson stated they’ve but to listen to something again.

MPs increase the alarm

Decriminalization can be on the minds of many MPs.

Yukon MP Brendan Hanley — who was the territory’s medical officer of well being earlier than working for the Liberals this 12 months — rose within the Commons Tuesday to acknowledge that Yukon had Canada’s highest fee of opioid deaths. 

“Safe provide, supervised consumption, higher entry to remedy, efficient prevention and decriminalization are all approaches that may assist forestall extra deaths,” he stated.

Green Party MP Mike Morrice was on his toes a day earlier, after entrance line employees in his using of Waterloo responded to 42 suspected overdoses in simply three days.

“So far this 12 months, we’ve got misplaced 120 group members to a poisoned drug provide. Each one was a preventable dying,” he informed the Commons.

“Even the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police [has] joined calls to decriminalize easy possession of illicit medication. They have really helpful eradicating obligatory prison sanctions, changing them with hurt discount and remedy companies. When will the federal government transfer ahead with decriminalization and save lives?”

Bennett stated the federal government is working as shortly as it might on the decriminalization requests. It’s not clear if the federal government is ready to grant exemptions with out being particularly requested by different ranges of presidency.

Bennett stated there are different elements to think about.

“Decriminalization by itself, with a poisonous drug provide, is not going to save the lives that we want (to),” she informed The House.

“And so it implies that we even have to look at the opposite proposals which can be coming round about how we make it possible for, for folks utilizing medication, that there’s a safer provide.”

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