Decriminalization of drugs | Federal government rejects Toronto’s request

(Ottawa) Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Ya’ara Saks has rejected Toronto’s request to decriminalize drug possession, citing concerns about public safety.


Posted at 6:51 p.m.

Updated at 8:20 p.m.

Laura Osman and Anja Karadeglija

The Canadian Press

The decision was announced Friday, after weeks of immense political pressure from opposition Conservatives and the Ontario government to deny Toronto’s request.

The proposal was for decriminalization to be coupled with a series of more direct public health responses to the overdose crisis.

The City of Toronto sent its proposal to Health Canada in January 2022 and, after further consultations, updated its submission in March 2023. On April 26, Ontario asked Health Canada to modify the exemption allowing the decriminalization of small quantities of drugs like heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Mme Saks said in a statement that it determined Toronto’s plan did not adequately protect public health and maintain public safety.

One of his concerns is the lack of support from the provincial government, which has fiercely opposed the idea.

On Thursday, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones and Solicitor General Michael Kerzner insisted that the province was “100% opposed” to the request.

They say the results of a “disastrous” pilot program in British Columbia prove that decriminalization doesn’t work.

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PHOTO CHRIS YOUNG, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Sylvia Jones, Ontario Minister of Health

“It encourages dangerous behavior in public spaces, victimizes innocent people, and undermines the ability of law enforcement to protect our cities,” they wrote in a joint letter.

The offices of Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, said Friday they are now turning to other forms of support.

In response to a request for comment, Ms.’s officeme Chow shared a letter the mayor sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford dated Friday.

She points out that overdoses kill 2,500 Ontarians each year, including 500 in Toronto, while wait times for treatment can be up to a year. The letter calls on all three levels of government to work together, including expanding access to treatment.

“Shared commitment and responsibility for increased treatment requires a collaborative pilot program focused on a comprehensive approach including primary care, supportive housing, harm reduction and partnerships with emergency services,” writes Mme Chow in the letter.

A statement from Mme de Villa sent by Ontario Public Health indicates that she supports M’s approachme Chow.

“Decriminalization is an evidence-based policy tool to help remove barriers to care. “Increasing funding and access to a wide range of treatment options, which is the responsibility of the province, is another necessary tool to combat the overdose epidemic,” the press release states.

Read “Hard drugs in Canada: Should they be decriminalized? »

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