Senior police officers say B.C. is not better off after drug decriminalization

Click to play video: 'B.C. drug decriminalization under fire again'
B.C. drug decriminalization under fire again
More controversy surrounding the B.C. government's drug decriminalization pilot program, following comments from two of the province's top cops. Aaron McArthur reports – Apr 16, 2024

There is more controversy surrounding the B.C. government’s drug decriminalization pilot program after comments from two of the most senior police officers in the province.

Vancouver police’s deputy chief Fiona Wilson told Ottawa’s Standing Committee on Health that police are finding their hands tied when it comes to problematic drug use unless it’s in one of the areas specifically excluded from decriminalization rules.

“We now have nine exceptions to the exemption, but the reality is there are still other circumstances where the public have significant concerns about problematic drug use and when that happens, if it’s not in a place that’s an exception to the exemption, there is nothing police can do,” Wilson said.

The BC Association of Chiefs of Police was in support of decriminalization when it was launched as a pilot program but said the program was launched without enough consultation with police agencies, raising serious concerns about the lack of limitations on drug use in public or semi-private settings.

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“We have been raising this issue since before decriminalization. What has happened is exactly what we predicted would happen,” Wilson said.

When asked by the committee if B.C. was better off after decriminalization, the RCMP and VPD officers agreed.

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“I don’t agree,” Wilson said.

“I agree. I don’t agree,” Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP, Dwayne McDonald, said.

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Premier David Eby said decriminalization is only one tool that is helping to keep people alive, saying the government tried to legislate exclusions to where drugs should be consumed but an injunction from the courts has prevented it from being implemented.

“In terms of the implementation of this entire project, we did it with the support of the chiefs of police and with all-party support, but I think all of us recognize that the program needs to respond and evolve to the concerns of British Columbians and what we’re seeing in the community,” Eby said.

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The opposition says decriminalization has been a failed experiment.

“Look at what’s happening in Oregon. In Oregon they realized to their horror that the decriminalization experiment was a disaster, and if the NDP had just paid attention to what was going on with our neighbours to the south we wouldn’t be in the position we are today,” opposition leader Kevin Falcon said.

Eby said the government is examining ways to enforce where drug use can be prohibited.

“We hear from addiction doctors about the importance of prescribed alternatives to their practice and supporting people that are trying to deal with addiction to keep them alive so that they can get into treatment,” he said.

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