OTTAWA – One Liberal MP says he is hopeful the Trudeau government will finally take action, now that Canada’s police chiefs are endorsing the decriminalization of illicit drugs for personal use.
Toronto’s Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has been fighting for decriminalization for years and currently has a private members’ bill on the issue before Parliament.
He says not only does the science prove a health-based approach to dealing with drug addiction works, but this would also help address systemic racism in Canada since minority communities have been hurt by our drug laws.
“Applied in a disproportionally negative way for Black and Indigenous communities,” he says.
Erskine-Smith adds serious drug law reform, including decriminalization, will positively impact conversations around systemic racism in Canada.
A statement from the Federal Ministers of Justice and Health welcomes the recommendations from police and vows to work with other governments and experts for a science-based approach to substance abuse. However, it does not commit to decriminalization.
Erskine-Smith hopes the endorsement from police chiefs will end the political stigma around a health-based approach to drug and addiction issues.
“We know that the evidence calls for decriminalization, public health experts have been calling for it for a long time, and seeing the chiefs of police now stand up in support of that evidence will mean that we are closer to the evidence-based solution that we need to save lives,” Erskine-Smith.
“I don’t think my parliamentary colleagues should be afraid of the politics if our police officers are willing to stand at a microphone and say that they support the decriminalization of drugs for simple possession.”
On Thursday, Canada’s Association of Chiefs of Police announced its support for decriminalization in favour of health-based alternatives.
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer, president of the association, said addiction issues should be handled by the health care system, not the criminal justice one.
He explained decriminalization can result in fines and warnings, and can also include an approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system.
Supervised consumption sites and safe supply were listed in a report as possible elements of decriminalization.