O.P.P officers guard 55 kilograms of cocaine during a press conference in Barrie, Ont., on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. Federal prosecutors are being instructed to criminally prosecute only the most serious drug possession offences and to find alternatives outside the criminal justice system for the rest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

O.P.P officers guard 55 kilograms of cocaine during a press conference in Barrie, Ont., on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. Federal prosecutors are being instructed to criminally prosecute only the most serious drug possession offences and to find alternatives outside the criminal justice system for the rest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Liberals move toward changing federal drug policy as opioid deaths spike

Feds launched a national consultation on supervised-consumption sites this week

The Liberal government is taking steps toward promised changes to federal drug policy, while looking at how to reduce opioid-related deaths during the pandemic.

The federal government launched a national consultation on supervised-consumption sites this week, saying they would be seeking comments from a variety of Canadians, including those who operate the sites — and those who use them.

“The evidence shows us that supervised-consumption sites and services save lives and can provide people who use drugs with access to health and social services and treatment,” federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement Thursday.

“As we see the COVID-19 outbreak worsening the situation for Canadians struggling with substance use disorders, it is more important than ever to ensure support is available. The feedback we are gathering from communities across Canada will help us to better understand how we can continue to help Canadians and save lives.”

The federal government also announced Thursday it was committing $582,000 in funding for a new Toronto project to offer a safe supply of opioids to reduce overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Canada also granted a federal exemption to a Toronto health-care centre to operate an overdose-prevention site at a COVID-19 isolation shelter until late September.

Separately, federal prosecutors are now being instructed to criminally prosecute only the most serious drug possession offences and to find alternatives outside the criminal justice system for the rest.

That directive is contained in a new guideline issued by the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, who is independent from the federal Justice Department.

“The approach set out in this guideline directs prosecutors to focus upon the most serious cases raising public safety concerns for prosecution and to otherwise pursue suitable alternative measures and diversion from the criminal justice system for simple possession cases,” the guideline states.

READ MORE: Federal prosecutors receive new guidelines against prosecuting minor drug offences

In all instances, the guideline says alternatives to prosecution should be considered if the possession offence involves a person enrolled in a drug treatment court program or an addiction treatment program supervised by a health professional.

The same applies in cases that involve a violation of bail conditions and can be addressed adequately by a judicial referral hearing, as well as cases where the offender’s conduct can be dealt with by an approved alternative measure, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous restorative justice responses.

The guideline says criminal prosecution for possession of a controlled substance “should generally be reserved for the most serious manifestations of the offence.” It says cases would be considered serious if a person caught in possession of an illegal drug was engaged in conduct that could endanger the health or safety of others.

The guideline specifies six types of conduct that would generally warrant criminal prosecution:

— Conduct that poses a risk to the safety or well-being of children or youth, such as being in possession of an illicit drug in the vicinity of places frequented by youths or being a person in a position of trust or statutory authority with respect to children.

— Conduct that puts the health or safety of others at risk, such as driving or preparing to drive while impaired, supervising another person driving, operating machinery, possessing a weapon or performing an activity that poses a risk to public health or safety.

— Conduct that “poses a heightened risk” to a community’s efforts to combat illegal substance use, an issue that often arises in isolated and remote communities.

— Conduct where there’s “a factually grounded basis to associate it” with another drug offence, including cultivation, production, harvesting, trafficking or importation of a controlled substance.

— Conduct in breach of rules in “a regulated setting” such as jail or prison.

— Conduct committed by a peace officer or public officer that is relevant to the discharge of their duties.

— The purpose of the guideline is to articulate “a principled prosecutorial litigation approach to the well-documented realities about the health impact of substance use while acknowledging that certain drug use may present particular public safety concerns.”

That seems consistent with the federal Liberal government’s approach to illegal drugs as being more a public health issue than a criminal one.

In their first mandate, the Liberals legalized the recreational use of cannabis. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected calls to decriminalize possession of other harder drugs, despite a resolution passed at the last Liberal convention calling for such an approach.

Instead, the Liberal platform in last fall’s election promised to make drug treatment court the default option for first-time non-violent offenders charged exclusively with simple possession. It also promised to help drug users get quick access to treatment.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Drugsopioids

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sign
The Stettler Pheasant Festival reflects on community impact

The festival has seen people visit from all over western Canada and into the United States

lite
Every year, the Maruk family puts up an amazing Christmas lights show

Display to run nightly starting around 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.

The Government of Alberta has identified 1,828 new cases and 15 new COVID-19-related deaths, which brings the provincial death toll to 590. (File photo)
Alberta identifies 1,828 new COVID-19 cases on Friday

Central zone has 1,251 active cases

Alberta RCMP. Black Press file photo.
Alberta RCMP enforces safe, sober driving this holiday season

‘Please plan ahead and find a safe means of transportation to and from your holiday destinations’

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta now has 17,743 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Judge finds former Alberta Mountie not guilty of sexually assaulting colleague

Jason Andrew Tress, who is 34, was stationed in the northern Alberta community of Faust at the time of the alleged assault

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Alberta set to retire coal power by 2023, ahead of 2030 provincial deadline

In 2014, 55 per cent of Alberta’s electricity was produced from 18 coal-fired generators

Montreal Alouettes’ Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Study finds Canada a ‘laggard’ on homophobia in sports

Among females, 44 per cent of Canadians who’ve come out to teammates reported being victimized

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Lacombe Police and RCMP have charged four people and seized three loaded guns and a small amount of methamphetamine following a traffic stop on Dec. 2. (Photo contributed)
Lacombe Police and RCMP arrest four people after joint investigation

The operation resulted in multiple loaded weapons seized and 116 charges

Longtime central Alberta politician Judy Gordon has passed away. Photo courtesy of the City of Lacombe
Former Lacombe Mayor Judy Gordon passes away

Gordon also served as MLA for Lacombe-Stettler before retiring from politics in 2010

Most Read