More than two years after the Saskatchewan government’s justice minister committed to a drug treatment court in Saskatoon, there is still no timeline for its implementation.
A drug treatment court is a therapeutic alternative to the traditional legal system. It requires participants to plead guilty and undergo a process to address their addictions with the goal of steering people away from incarceration. A drug treatment court already exists in Regina, but the province’s largest city doesn’t have one.
“I was heartened in the early stages to know that the government was starting to talk to community organizations (about a drug treatment court),” said Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark in an interview.
“But I do believe that with the pandemic, it has … become stalled,” Clark said.
The mayor is one of the leaders behind 35 community-based organizations that launched the Safe Community Action Alliance. In October 2019, they issued four recommendations to curb what they deemed “the rising drug-related health and safety crisis” in Saskatoon.
The therapeutic court is one part of an approach that also includes increasing addictions treatment spaces and more coordinated outreach services.
Within days, then-justice minister Don Morgan said a drug treatment court would be implemented “sooner, rather than later” in Saskatoon.
In 2021, Saskatchewan is on track to set a new all-time high for drug overdoses. Meanwhile, Saskatoon doesn’t have the drug court it was promised.
“It is a step that will be important to help to address this, so we’ll continue to underscore the importance of a drug treatment court as part of an overall strategy.”
In a statement this week, justice ministry spokesperson Noel Busse confirmed there is still no expected launch date for the court.
“This work was delayed due to the need for government and partner organizations to respond to the pandemic. We expect discussions to resume on this topic in the near future,” Busse wrote.
Global News requested an interview with current Justice Minister Gordon Wyant, but was referred to Busse’s statement.
“Ministry of Justice and Attorney General officials have been working with the judiciary and Saskatoon’s Community Safety and Well-being Partners group to determine the potential for a drug treatment court in Saskatoon,” he wrote.
There are currently 14 participants in Regina’s drug treatment court. The maximum is 30 people, and referrals are possible for people in other cities, according to the ministry.
A referral to Regina isn’t enough, according to Saskatoon’s mayor.
“We’ve got two pandemics going on,” Clark said.
The COVID-19 pandemic, according to the mayor, has illustrated an urgent need for systems to reduce the likelihood of people getting addicted and incarcerated. Instead, he stated they need better programs and treatments.
Clark said he plans to speak with Saskatchewan’s justice minister about keeping the prospect of a drug treatment court “front and centre” for Saskatoon.