Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau confirmed on Tuesday that the Liberals are not considering decriminalizing drugs.
“We’re not looking at full decriminalization at all right now,” Trudeau told Global National’s Dawna Friesen in an interview in Vancouver, B.C., which has been ground zero for the overdose crisis in Canada.
Trudeau was asked whether he would be open to decriminalization in the context of the opioid overdose crisis that has resulted in thousands of deaths.
“There are other things that we are doing that (are) having a big impact and we’re going to make decisions based on science,” Trudeau said, pointing to the Liberal government’s actions on safe consumption sites and other harm reduction methods.
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Trudeau has repeatedly resisted calls from drug policy and health experts to decriminalize drug possession as a way to help curb rising overdose death rates and reduce the stigma associated with drug use and addiction.
“We have demonstrated that we are moving forward on an evidence-based process which involves more funding for frontline workers, more addiction treatments, more supports for communities,” Trudeau said in the interview with Global News.
This stands in contrast to members of the national Liberal caucus who put forward a resolution at the party’s national convention in 2018 to “re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations” rather than criminal ones.
Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith has long called on the government to decriminalize drug possession, pointing to the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal. Just before the House of Commons adjourned earlier this year, Erskine-Smith tabled a bill that proposed the decriminalization of possession of small quantities of illicit drugs.
A number of health authorities have also urged governments to pursue drug decriminalization as a response to the opioid crisis.
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In April, B.C. chief health officer called on the province to decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of drugs as a “fundamental underpinning and necessary step” to dealing with rising overdose rates.
In July 2018, Toronto’s board of health called on the federal government to decriminalize all drugs.
“The potential harms associated with any of these drugs is worsened when people are pushed into a position where they have to produce, obtain and consume those drugs illegally,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, the medical officer of health, told reporters.
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The Green Party would decriminalize drug possession if elected, though Leader Elizabeth May said this week the decriminalization policy could be reversed if the opioid crisis subsides.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he supported drug decriminalization during his leadership bid in 2017, and the party’s current platform pledges to “end the criminalization and stigma of drug addiction.”
The Conservative Party has not yet released its platform and has repeatedly said it will not decriminalize. Rather, the party calls for further criminalization of drugs. This week, Leader Andrew Scheer slammed the Liberal’s approach to the opioid crisis as “terrible,” specifically for allowing more supervised consumption sites to open.
More than 11,000 people in Canada have died of opioid overdoses since 2016.
Last week, a new number from Public Health Ontario showed that nearly 1,500 people in the province died of an opioid overdose in 2018, a jump of nearly 20 per cent from 2017.