Members of the Saskatoon city council and the board of police commissioners met on Wednesday to further discussions on drug decriminalization for the Bridge City.
No concrete decisions were made, but University of Saskatchewan (USask) public health professor Barb Fornssler says this is an important step, especially for those dealing with drug issues.
“In 2022 we have 137 suspected cases and 24 confirmed (overdoses). We aren’t even in the peak of summer yet. So the faster the better because it will ease pathways to health care,” said Fornssler.
There is still work to be done to this point, as well as the work that still needs to be done to support the decriminalization of the possession and use of small amounts of drugs.
“What that means is we would no longer be criminalizing the use of substances and enacting criminal penalties. We would seek to connect people who may have found substances with health or social service providers,” Fornssler told Global News.
Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper says he is happy with the work shown to this point, but there is still plenty of work that needs to happen, including that of police, in order to bring the talks to fruition.
“A proper drug response to our community needs to be a broad strategy that includes treatment, safe supply and housing on top of decriminalization,” said Cooper.
Fornssler was part of the two-professor team that provided the second report looking at the research providing analysis and feedback on how decriminalization might work for Saskatoon, which is important since every jurisdiction is relatively unique and the subsequent response requires an integrated approach from various stakeholders — essentially, how it would help those who use drugs.
“Our rapid evidence review focused on the effects of decriminalization. Future work is anticipated to consider the evidence on different models of decriminalization, with early evidence from Canada indicating that the process of developing decriminalization of personal possession framework for the city of Saskatoon,” said the report.
“It should be done with the input of People With Lived or Living Experience (PWLLE), health providers, local police services, and community organizations who are providing services in this area of care.”
Mayor Charlie Clark said in the meeting that there isn’t alignment with the provincial government on the issue at this time, a hurdle that may need to be overcome before drug decriminalization comes to fruition in Saskatoon.
Additionally, local law enforcement will be a vital part of this, tasked with differentiating simple possession from the intent to traffic, for example, and pointing people towards services for addictions.
“Actually not charging, that’s not what we are talking about with decriminalization. We are talking about finding pathways to take people from the justice process into a health-care process,” said Cooper.
Cooper adds he would like to keep an eye on other jurisdictions around Canada such as Vancouver and British Columbia to see how their strategies on this matter pan out.
Similar discussions are expected to happen in Regina next week.