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Crime

Saskatoon to receive drug treatment court: Sask. justice minister

WATCH ABOVE: The Saskatchewan government is working toward a drug court in Saskatoon.

Amid calls for a drug treatment court in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan said changes are coming “sooner, rather than later.”

Courts in Regina and Moose Jaw allow for the alternative court option, which is tailored for people whose criminal activity is motivated by addiction rather than monetary gain. Participants must plead guilty and undergo a therapeutic process that usually lasts one year.

READ MORE: Saskatoon leaders want drug court, more drop-in spaces amid addictions crisis

“This is not a silver bullet, but this is a tool that we think would be an effective addition to the other things that we’re doing as well,” Morgan told Global News.

On Oct. 11, 35 organizations in Saskatoon called for a drug treatment court as one way to address what they called “the rising drug-related health and safety crisis” in the city. Emergency personnel in Saskatoon cited an increase in opioid and crystal meth use.

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For the last year or two, Morgan said the Saskatchewan government has been analyzing the program as it would apply to Saskatoon and elsewhere.

At any given time, roughly 30 people are taking the voluntary program in Regina — but not everyone graduates. In the last eight or nine years, about 90 people have successfully finished the program, Morgan said.

The justice minister would not commit to a timeline for the court’s implementation in Saskatoon, other than to say it will happen “sooner, rather than later.”

READ MORE: A woman’s journey through meth addiction

Drug court proceedings are not meant for people who have committed serious, violent offences. Participants follow bail conditions, including drug testing. They must also make regular court appearances while undergoing drug treatment and counselling.

Additional costs would not be “a massive amount of money,” Morgan said, explaining additional space and staffing would be required.

Defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle expects the program to pay off in the long-term, suggesting “warehousing people in custody” is likely more costly than setting up an additional court system.

“We’ve often said that you can’t arrest yourself out of a mental health problem or an addiction problem. We see the same people back in court regularly,” Pfefferle said.

He estimated around half of his clients would meet the criteria set out for drug treatment court, while Legal Aid Saskatchewan’s clientele would likely be even more suitable.

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READ MORE: Drug court graduate to be reunited with grandchildren living in care

Ian Wagner, the president-elect of the Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association, sees drug treatment court as a way for people to be actively involved with the system rather than working against it.

He also stated it can be a more onerous process than a typical criminal court proceeding.

“It is more labour-intensive for the person who’s been charged, but it makes them invest in their treatment and in their programming,” Wagner said.

When it comes to fentanyl use, Wagner said “it’s just a matter of time” before Saskatoon sees the level of overdoses experienced in larger centres. Getting people into programs would improve lives and save lives, he said.

“Just focusing on the punishment aspect is not going to reduce crime,” Wagner said.

Saskatchewan provides two other types of therapeutic courts: domestic violence court and mental health court. Both are available in Saskatoon.