On Monday, January 24th, Edmonton City Council will have the opportunity to take a first step towards a public health approach to the drug poisoning epidemic that will not only save lives but reduce crime, theft, and burglaries throughout our city.
I believe very strongly that by decriminalizing personal possession we can begin to look at a number of other social issues (poverty, mental health, addiction) without criminalizing those who possess small amounts of drugs or are themselves addicted. It is also a way for us to tackle the police budget and direct policing services to more efficient and better things than functionally policing the poor and criminalizing persons of colour or minorities the populations most disadvantaged by these laws. I support the decriminalization of these substances and a motion at Council to pursue an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The City of Edmonton has a role to play on this issue and to advocate with other levels of government for better drug policies. We’ve already seen how successful this type of policy making can be when we decriminalize personal possession of cannabis. We can join countries around the world who are taking a progressive stance on drug use and the decriminalization of drugs, especially in a province that is seeing an explosion of drug related deaths and overdoses.
The core of our public health crisis is the unregulated, highly toxic drug supply. One of the most hideous things about drug addiction is that in order to increase profit drug suppliers are increasingly diluting their drugs with other substances and stronger forms of opioids (i.e. fentanyl). The supply of drugs is as much a public health crisis as the usage of drugs and we should do everything to ensure that if someone chooses to use drugs that they have access to a safe supply and can also use their drugs in a safe environment, arguably under supervision. I absolutely support any initiative that would ensure the safety of the drug supply if it would also ensure that we see fewer overdoses and fewer deaths as a result of toxic drugs entering the supply chain.
The evidence is clear to me that Supervised Consumption Services safe lives. The City of Edmonton should be a leader in its advocacy with the provincial government to ensure that we reverse the draconian decisions of the UCP government when it comes to SCSs and expand services where possible. We should make every effort to ensure that all residents of the city who need these services can access them, without judgment, especially when we are seeing significant opioid related overdoses and deaths because of unsupervised drug use. We should also ensure that our communities are educated, supportive and involved in the development of these sites so that we can build broad support for their services. Building accessible and inclusive communities includes the provision of services offered by SCSs.
I have a close family member who works in front line harm reduction and I have heard the stories of their work. I am amazed at the impacts of the life-saving and life-changing services they provide. Our community has a collective responsibility to ensure that all residents of our city are safe. As long as we criminalize personal possession, allow an unsafe drug supply to increase overdoses and deaths, and continue to have a provincial government that ignores evidence, this crisis will continue. The City of Edmonton should be there to support citizens who need help, and we can do that.
We must work with urban indigenous communities to find solutions to drug poisoning deaths and other substance use issues. Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted because of the legacy of colonization and the impacts of systemic racism. We know first nations people in Alberta are significantly more likely to die of drug poisoning than non first-nations neighbours and this cannot be overlooked.
I’m strongly committed to supporting the unhoused and other protective measures so individuals and families can receive support and help prevent addictions and unrelated harms. We build resilient children by supporting early childhood learning, reducing poverty, trauma, and adverse childhood experiences that increase the risk of drug related harm. I’ve fought for universal interventions that build resilient families and communities and I will continue to do so.
First, I would like us to hear about the Toronto experience, partnership and path forward. Next, we can direct administration to co-create an Edmonton approach.
The effect of this action would be to prepare Edmonton to follow the same path as Toronto to work with Health Canada and Medical Professionals to take action on the drug poisoning emergency. This application to Health Canada would exempt people in Edmonton for minor possession and trafficking of drugs.
That Administration provide report to Committee on what would be required to pursue a section 56(1) exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and include information as to how the City of Toronto has initiated this process. (Due Date Q1)