The Canadian Police Association is questioning recent comments by B.C.’s addictions minister that decriminalization of small quantities of illicit drugs will allow police to focus on drug dealers.
Association president Tom Stamatakis tweeted on June 28 that provincial Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcomson misrepresented the police chiefs’ stance, arguing the current proposal won’t reduce crime-related drug use.
Stamatakis further accused the minister of politicizing the issue in her response to Skeena MLA Ellis Ross on B.C.’s approach to decriminalization.
Too bad Minister misrepresenting "police chief's" stance; "decriminalization" as currently proposed won't reduce crime related to drug use. Politicizing this serious issue not helpful🤦🏻♂️ B.C. MLA says illicit drug decriminalization sends wrong message https://t.co/es584KkkOJ
— Tom Stamatakis (@StamatakisCPA) June 28, 2022
Ross, a former Haisla Chief Councillor, believes decriminalization could make policing drug traffickers more difficult. He urged for a larger conversation, stronger wording and messaging, around the harm caused by illicit drugs.
Malcolmson responded with her comments in an interview with the Terrace Standard, which the association is disagreeing with.
“Police chiefs called for decriminalization. Arguably, we would not be here were it not for the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs and the B.C. police chiefs that called for decriminalization. This is a long-standing call. This isn’t a new idea,” she said.
“It allows more police focus on the drug dealers. It removes some of the petty crime and dangerous re-criminalization of people when their personal supplies are confiscated and need to be replaced.”
Both national and provincial police chiefs’ organizations have voiced support for B.C.’s decriminalization efforts. The CPA is a national advocacy organization representing 60,000 law enforcement personnel.
The BC Association of Chiefs of Police welcomed the decriminalization of personal illicit drugs as “a way to reduce stigma and encourage pathways to health” in a May 31 media release.
The BCACP welcomes the announcement today by the Minister of Mental Health & Addictions and the province on the decriminalization of personal illicit drugs. We support this announcement as a way to reduce stigma and encourage pathways to health. pic.twitter.com/OuwesFDcqs
— BC Association of Chiefs of Police (@BCPoliceChiefs) May 31, 2022
The 2.5-gram threshold approved by Health Canada is also supported by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which lauded investments in strengthening community infrastructure in a June 1 media release.
The group stated decriminalization on a trial basis in B.C. is “an excellent way to offer an immediate solution to an urgent opioid crisis, where it has been felt the most.”
But Stamatakis said the notion of decriminalizing simple possession alone is not going to have a positive impact on crime and is “just ridiculous.”
Stamatakis told the Terrace Standard that police also wanted to see a significant investment in prevention, treatments and more education.
“You’re decriminalizing simple possession, but people who have a substance use issue are still needing to commit the crimes… to be able to fund their drug use issues.”
Stamatakis also agrees with Ross that the terminology around illicit drugs could suggest a safe way to consume them, which should be examined, especially around youth. B.C. should engage with First Nations leaders such as Ross, who knows the consequences of illicit drug use from experiences within his own community, he added.
In a June 30 written response, Malcolmson said decriminalizing substances is a “critical step in B.C.’s fight against the toxic drug crisis” that will break down barriers preventing people from getting life-saving services.
“Our government is using every tool possible to respond to this public health emergency, including more treatment beds, prevention and harm reduction services, prescribed safer supply, and decriminalization,” she said.
Malcolmson said decriminalization would make people feel safer in reaching out for support and hasn’t led to increased substance use at a population level in other jurisdictions (outside of Canada) that have decriminalized.
It is part of B.C.’s plan to transform mental health and substance use services through investments that the ministry said include expansion across the full spectrum of treatment, recovery and harm reduction measures, like safe supply.
Stamatakis argues personal substance use in B.C. has been de facto decriminalized for at least 10 years. Police working to connect drug users with help are still confronted by a lack of resources. He doesn’t see the province being much more prepared to handle the crisis by January 2023, when decriminalization goes into effect.
Stamatakis also argues that mental health, addictions and other services for people living with addictions are “a hodgepodge of funded services” that aren’t being evaluated as to whether or not they are working.
“You’ve got a government here that’s made a major public policy decision. Our training institutions across the province are significantly underfunded. They can’t even keep up with the demands for training that exists today,” he said.
“Most of our police services are under-resourced. So how are you going to facilitate or enable the delivery of this information and training in that context?”
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