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B.C. premier, Canadian police chiefs support decriminalization of personal drug possession

Last Updated Nov 26, 2020 at 12:10 pm PDT


Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said addiction issues should be handled by the health care system

Decriminalization can include approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system, says VPD chief

Supervised consumption sites and safe supply listed in the report as possible elements of decriminalization

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Premier John Horgan supports the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in calling for the decriminalization of possession of illicit drugs for personal use.

The association has released a new report, “Decriminalization for Simple Possession of Illicit Drugs: Exploring Impacts on Public Safety & Policing,” as B.C. recorded a record number of overdose fatalities in May.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer, president of the association, said Thursday that addiction issues should be handled by the health care system, not the criminal justice one.

He added decriminalization can result in fines and warnings, but also include a healthcare approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system.

“Bottom line is, addiction issues should best be handled by a health care system, not a criminal justice system,” Palmer said.

Supervised consumption sites and safe supply listed in the report as possible elements of decriminalization, which evidence suggests is as an effective way to reduce the public health and safety harms associated with substance use.

According to the report, people who experience substance use disorder face repercussions, including criminal records, stigma, risk of overdose, and the transmission of blood-borne diseases.

The aim of the police chiefs is to decrease potential harms by removing mandatory criminal sanctions, often replacing them with responses that promote access to harm reduction and treatment services.

“We must adopt new and innovative approaches if we are going to disrupt the current trend of drug overdoses impacting communities across Canada. Merely arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective. Research from other countries who have boldly chosen to take a health-, rather than an enforcement-based approach to problematic drug use have demonstrated positive results,” says the report.


“Anything that we can do to reduce the dependence and to free up law enforcement to do other things, I support,” Horgan said.

“I firmly believe we have been, here in British Columbia, in a public health emergency for over five years when it comes to opioid overdoses. We have put in place new resources, we have a standalone ministry of mental health and addictions, we’ve been making investments in communities. We’ve been doing our level best to reduce dependency to create opportunities for those who have moments of clarity within their addiction to be helped, that when they reach out, we want to be there for them,” he added.

“But this fundamental question that Adam Palmer, the Vancouver Police Department chief and head of the national chiefs, outlined today, it’s where I believe we need to go,” Horgan said.

He pointed out that decriminalization and other changes are largely Criminal Code issues and will require the federal government to lead.

“I’ve made it clear to the prime minister where British Columbia stands. We will stand with the federal government in any way to do what we can to help people who are in distress,” Horgan said.

A special committee of the police chiefs recommends a national task force be created, with health and justice officials, to research Canadian drug policy reform, specifically reforms to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act related to simple possession, and recommend alternatives to criminal sanctions that promote a health-based diversionary approach.

“Enforcement resources and strategies will continue to be targeted at organized crime groups and individuals who import, produce or distribute illegal drugs throughout our communities,” says the report.

“Frontline officers will always play a critical role in any diversion model. Frequently, they are the point of first contact and the ones who will assist individuals into pathways of care. Finding pathways to care presents the opportunity of reducing the demand for drugs in our communities, as well as the crime associated with problematic substance use.”

In May, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry renewed her call for the decriminalization of people who use illegal drugs.

According to the province, there were 170 suspected overdose-related fatalities in May. The previous record was 161 deaths in a month, set in December 2016.

Read the full report here: