Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jul 2020
Source: StarPhoenix, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2020 The StarPhoenix
Author: Thia James


Criminalization of simple drug possession has had 'devastating
effect,' says AIDS Saskatoon director

A Saskatoon police spokeswoman said city police generally lay drug
possession charges as a result of an investigation into something else.

Criminalization of possession of illicit drugs for personal use has
had a "devastating effect," says the AIDS Saskatoon's executive director.

Jason Mercredi said he fully supports a call by the Canadian
Association of Chiefs of Police on the federal government to
decriminalize simple possession of illicit drugs for personal use. The
CACP made the call last week after issuing its findings in a report.

The Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police has said its members
stand behind this call.

Mercredi said criminalizing personal use possession clogs up the court
system with people who are victimized by dealers. When people are
arrested for possessing small amounts of drugs, taxpayer dollars are
spent to send the case through the court system, and then on
incarceration, where people aren't getting better or accessing
supports, he said.

"I think the chiefs of police are showing their wisdom and they're
experts in their field, and if they say that the feds should do that,
I believe the feds should be wholly backing it, it shouldn't be a
controversial issue. It's about connecting people with services,
saving people's lives, but also stopping wasting taxpayer dollars on
the current system," he said. Article content continued

Mercredi said he spoke last week with a Halifax-based friend who
advocates for safe drug use about how the stigma around drug use makes
people less likely to turn to family or community for support because
it's viewed as a justice issue rather than a health issue. He said the
CACP's call furthers that point.

A Saskatoon police spokeswoman said city police generally lay drug
possession charges as a result of an investigation into something
else. Investigations by the drug unit focus on distributors, not
buyers, Alyson Edwards said.

Most possession charges occur during patrol responses to calls for
service, she said. For example, an officer conducting a traffic stop
who has grounds for arrest will conduct a search of the person; if the
search uncovered a small amount of an illicit drug that they can see
would be for personal use - based on the amount and the way it's
packaged - a possession charge may be laid.

If possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use is
decriminalized by the federal government, Edwards said police won't
know how such a change would affect police work until they see the
exact legislative change is. Police would still keep statistics
related to drug possession, but under a different type of law, she

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, at a
Tuesday media conference said the province has made progress on mental
health and substance use disorder as a clinical and medical issue and
there are multiple initiatives to deal with it at the provincial and
community levels.

For people with substance use disorders, the focus should be on
partnerships that create pathways to harm reduction or recovery,
Shahab said, adding that in his experience, mental health and
addictions services and police work closely.

Last week, police released longer-term statistics showing that
methamphetamine has become more common in Saskatoon. Medavie Health
Services West said its paramedics responded 94 overdose calls over the
week of July 6 to 13.

Mercredi said he's been seeing more meth on the streets and more
overdoses. In May, AIDS Saskatoon distributed more Naloxone kits than
in all of 2019; it tripled that number in June, and is now on pace to
surpass it again in July.

"You've got to imagine these numbers of what's actually happening in
the community, it's pretty dire," he said. "The need for the safe
consumption site is obvious at this point. We need to open the site as
soon as possible. It's not even a question."

An announcement regarding how members of the public can support the
safe consumption site is expected next week.

City police have created a Community Mobilization Unit to be on the
front lines around the safe consumption site when it opens. Police
said the eight-person unit was deployed for the first time at the
beginning of the month and the officers will spend much of their time
on foot in the Pleasant Hill area.

AIDS Saskatoon provided the unit's officers with training, including
about the effects of HIV and Hepatitis C, the harm reduction
philosophy, cultural considerations, relationship building and crisis
de-escalation. Mercredi praised the Saskatoon police for working to do
policing in a different, "community minded" way.

AIDS Saskatoon also provides funding to the Okihcitawak Patrol Group,
which conducts needle pickups in the area, among its other duties.

"We think we need all stakeholders at the table if we're actually
going to get a handle on this addictions crisis and this overdose
crisis that we're seeing in Saskatoon," Mercredi said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt