Earlier in May, the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners held a meeting to discuss decriminalization of drugs in the province in order to address the overdose crisis. Since 2019, there have been at least 575 deaths linked to illicit drug overdose in the province.
According to police commissioner Kearney Healy, street drugs are becoming more dangerous, while the number of overdose-related deaths has spiked in Saskatchewan in recent years.
“They’re actually creating drugs now that Naloxone doesn’t help,” Healy said, referring to the medication used to block the effect of opioids. “And there’s no way for any of the people to know whether or not what they’re consuming is a safe drug, or isn’t a safe drug.”
At the meeting, police commissioners discussed decriminalization, after receiving a letter from a member of the public who made a request to consider it under a federal exemption for prohibited substances in certain circumstances.
This request also aligns with the call for drug reform from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police last year, which endorsed the decriminalization of personal possession of drugs and also urged police agencies to recognize substance abuse and addiction as a public health issue.
“It’s not just simply a one-step process towards decriminalization,” said Troy Cooper, the chief of the Saskatoon Police Service. Furthermore, Cooper said his force focuses on more serious drug-trade offences and officers only consider possession charges when there are other, more serious factors involved. He said that a framework needs to be in place to ensure a healthcare response is possible before any changes take place.
In addition, Healy added that decriminalization would help ensure health authorities could provide a safe supply of drugs without placing the individual at risk of facing criminal charges. He also mentioned that the number of opioid deaths in the province is “alarming”, and called for the board to support decriminalization “to get a handle on the opioid crisis.”
In his interview with CBC News, Brent Penner, a police commissioner who also represents the Downtown Business Improvement District and Mayor Charlie Clark, said the commissioners were hesitant to take a stand on the issue without receiving more information on potential consequences for Saskatoon as a whole.
“This is a big topic,” Clark said. “I don’t think we’ve quite had a chance to hear from some local perspectives in order to just come out and have a position.”
Commissioners agreed to table the motion until further conversations about what type of insight and information needs to be collected before it takes an official stance. Comprised of city councillors and civilians, the board has seven commissioners, and is scheduled to meet again on June 17 for further discussions.