Drug decriminalization talks intensify in Saskatoon

May 17, 2022

Members of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissions held a meeting in April to discuss drug decriminalization for Saskatoon. Attendees of the meeting included members of the Saskatoon police service, city council, and the public, as well as a University of Saskatchewan (USask) public health professor.

The meeting involved the presentation of two reports, with members discussing the work that has been done to this point, as well as the work that will need to be done to support the decriminalization of small amounts of drug possession and use.

“What that means is we would no longer be criminalizing the use of substances and enacting criminal penalties. We would seek to connect people who may have found substances with health or social service providers,” said Dr. Barb Fornssler in her interview with Global News.

Furthermore, according to the report presented by superintendent Patrick Nogier and Saskatoon police chief Troy Cooper, drug decriminalization is a complex issue and would involve changes in police procedures.

“A proper drug response to our community needs to be a broad strategy that includes treatment, safe supply and housing on top of decriminalization,” said Cooper. In addition, Cooper added that he is happy with the work demonstrated, but that there is still plenty of work to be done, including that of police, in order to produce results.

Dr. Fornssler was part of the two-professor team that provided the second report containing research aimed to provide analysis and feedback on how decriminalization might work for Saskatoon. According to the report, since every jurisdiction in Saskatoon is relatively unique, the implementation of decriminalization would require an integrated approach from various stakeholders.

“Our rapid evidence review focused on the effects of decriminalization. Future work is anticipated to consider the evidence on different models of decriminalization, with early evidence from Canada indicating that the process of developing decriminalization of personal possession framework for the city of Saskatoon,” reads the report.

“It should be done with the input of People With Lived or Living Experience (PWLLE), health providers, local police services, and community organizations who are providing services in this area of care.”

Moreover, the services in place throughout Saskatchewan, including drug treatment courts, were discussed at the meeting. Currently, there are two Drug Treatment Courts (DTC) in the province—in Regina and Moose Jaw.

“Currently, Saskatoon does not have a Drug Treatment Court (DTC). However, the Saskatoon tribal council (STC) is currently in the process of proposing a DTC for the City. The proposal looks to involve representatives from justice, treatment, education, and other community agencies as part of a collaborative approach to offer evidence-based solutions,” the report states.

“I think that our step is to widen the circle, so to speak, to invite others into the conversation and have a greater dialogue on how do we solve the problem,” Saskatoon Board of Commission Vice-Chair Kearney Healy told Global News. “That includes the general public.”

Members of the commission voted to hold talks again in the fall to potentially reach a decision, and were urged to take action.