Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer arrives for a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 8, 2017. Canada's police chiefs are calling for decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs as the best way to battle substance abuse and addiction. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

Canadian police leaders call for public health approach for illicit drug use

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) recommended on Thursday that police agencies across the country recognize substance abuse and addiction as a public health issue, and that the federal government decriminalize the personal possession of illicit drugs.

The CACP is proposing increased access to health care, treatment and social services on a local, regional and provincial level to divert people struggling with substance abuse and addiction. away from the criminal justice system. 

“Canada continues to grapple with the Fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives,” Chief Constable Adam Palmer, the CACP President, said. “We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focussed approach that requires partnerships between police, healthcare and all levels of government.”

The CACP was founded in 1905 in Toronto and represents about 1,300 police leaders from federal, First Nations, provincial, regional, municipal, transportation and military police services across Canada. 

In March 2018, they created a special purpose committee to study the decriminalization of illicit drugs and its impact on society. 

Diversion opportunities would help the individuals using the drugs and lower property crime, repeat offenses, and the demand for drugs in communities, the CACP said in a statement. 

They also said that enforcement efforts must be committed to combating organized crime and disrupting the supply of harmful substances entering communities. 

Canada’s opioid crisis has been an issue in communities for a while now. Data from Dec. 2019 showed that almost 14,000 people have been killed by opioids over the last three and a half years. 

In response to the recommendations from the CACP, Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement that they welcomed the endorsement of a holistic approach. 

“We appreciate efforts made by law enforcement officers to consider alternative options to criminal charges for simple possession of illicit drugs in appropriate cases, and recognize the importance of reducing barriers to treatment, as well as integrated partnerships between law enforcement and health and social services,” they said in a statement emailed to Radio Canada International.

The statement added that by working with substance abuse efforts, service providers, first responders, law enforcement and people with lived experiences, the government remains committed to advancing evidence-based responses to help reverse the trend of opioid overdoses and other substance abuse harms in Canada. 

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