Police chiefs call for alternatives to criminal sanctions for simple drug possession
VANCOUVER -- The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is calling for the decriminalization of simple possession of illicit drugs.
The CACP is advocating for a health-based approach instead of criminal sanctions and says evidence from health leaders suggests a public health-based approach is an effective way to reduce harm in the community.
"The bottom line is that addiction issues should be best handled through a health-care system and not through a criminal justice system," CACP president and Vancouver police chief Adam Palmer said Thursday.
The CACP says enforcement will still be required to stop putting illegal drugs on the street.
"If you arrest somebody right now for possession of any kind of a drug, that's a very short-term action that doesn't provide any sort of solution," Palmer said. "Whereas if we have somebody and we can get them into a pathway of treatment, get them proper supports, then you have longer-term benefits."
The organization is also calling for a national task force to research drug policy reform, which it said should include the departments of justice, health and public safety, as well as the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.
Palmer added he believes the "tide is turning" on drug enforcement and people are starting to realize that health-care is a better solution for these issues.
During his weekly media availability Thursday, B.C. Premier John Horgan voiced his support for the idea.
"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," he said.
"We're in the midst of a global pandemic when it comes to COVID-19. In British Columbia, that is further complicated by an overdose crisis which saw last month the highest monthly number of deaths that we've seen in a good long time."
May was an especially deadly month for drug users in British Columbia. A report from the coroners service found 170 people died in May 2020, an average of nearly six people a day.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has previously called for the government to decriminalize drug possession for personal use.
The 49-page report released in April 2019 recommended "immediate provincial action" and called for the decriminalization of people who possess controlled substances for personal use.