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Drug decriminalization talks ramp up in Saskatoon: ‘We have the chance to take a leadership role’

Drug decriminalization talks ramp up in Saskatoon: ‘We have the chance to take a leadership role’

Members of the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissions met late last week to discuss drug decriminalization for Saskatoon.

The talks featured members of the Saskatoon police service, city council and the public, as well as a University of Saskatchewan (USask) public health professor.

There were two reports presented in the Thursday four-hour-long meeting with members discussing the work that has been done to this point as well as the work that still needs 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,” Dr. Barb Fornssler explained to Global News.


Click to play video: 'Drug decriminalization one part of an overall drug strategy: SPS'







Drug decriminalization one part of an overall drug strategy: SPS


Drug decriminalization one part of an overall drug strategy: SPS

One report presented by superintendent Patrick Nogier and police chief Troy Cooper suggested it’s a complex issue and would involve changes in police procedures.

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Cooper says he is happy with the work shown to this point, but there is still plenty of work that needs to happen, including that of police, in order to bring the talks to fruition.

“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.

Fornssler was part of the two-professor team that provided the second report looking at the research aimed to provide analysis and feedback on how decriminalization might work for Saskatoon, which is important since every jurisdiction is relatively unique and the subsequent response requires an integrated approach from various stakeholders, essentially how it would help addicts.

“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,” said 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.”


Click to play video: 'Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark with a city council update'







Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark with a city council update


Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark with a city council update

Talks got to the point of discussing the services in place throughout the province including drug treatment courts. There are currently two Drug Treatment Courts (DTC) in the Province of Saskatchewan. Regina’s DTC began operating in 2006. Moose Jaw established its court in 2009. Drug Treatment Courts operate on the premise of established eligibility criteria that evaluate a number of factors including the type of offenses, offender’s willingness to participate, drug testing, multi-phased treatment plans, and moral recognition therapy.

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“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 added.

The commission discussed in length how to establish a solid foundation for the DTC to succeed, the STC has identified community agencies as essential stakeholders such as provincial Courts, the Ministry of Justice, federal and provincial prosecutions, Saskatchewan Health Authority, Saskatoon Police Service and/or RCMP and Social Services.

It’s important that municipal leaders and the police force have a good understanding of the plan they are working on putting in place, the report notes.

“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 said. “That includes the general public.”

Fornssler says this action could help pave the way for other municipalities across Canada and even North America to follow suit.

“We do have an opportunity to take a leadership role and set our agenda for our municipality instead of waiting for the federal government to address the issue,” said Fornssler.

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“There hasn’t been much done as of late in Ottawa on the matter.”

Members of the commission voted to bring the talks back to the table come fall, where a decision could be potentially made, and were urged in the meeting to implement action sooner than later.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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