Canada’s police leaders recommend adopting a public health-led diversionary approach to illicit substance use

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The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) has recommended that all police agencies across the country recognize substance abuse and addiction as a public health issue to help reduce drug overdoses and is endorsing the decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs.  

“Canada continues to grapple with the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives,” said Chief Constable Adam Palmer, who is president of the the CACP. “We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focussed approach that requires partnerships between police, health care and all levels of government. “

The CACP proposes increased access to healthcare, treatment and social services to divert people struggling with substance use or addiction away from the criminal justice system. This would apply to individuals in possession of small or predetermined amounts of illicit drugs for personal consumption. 

These health-care and social supports need to exist on a local, provincial and national level, said the CACP. The CACP asserts that diversion opportunities would improve the health and safety outcomes for individuals who use drugs, while also reducing property crime and repeat offences and the demand for drugs in communities.

Enforcement and judicial efforts must continue to be committed to combatting organized crime and disrupting the supply of harmful substances coming into our communities by targeting drug trafficking and the illegal production and importation of drugs.

“While law enforcement continues to be required to stop those putting poisoned and illegal substances on our streets, the traditional role of frontline policing has fundamentally shifted to harm reduction when interacting with people experiencing addiction or mental health issues. Frequently, our officers are the point of first contact and the ones who will assist individuals in accessing appropriate services and pathways of care,” Palmer said.

The CACP is calling for the creation of a national task force to research drug policy reform. Specifically, the CACP is looking for reform to section. 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act related to simple possession and is recommending alternatives to criminal sanctions that promote a health-based diversionary approach.

In March 2018, the CACP created a scommittee to study the decriminalization of illicit drugs and its impact on public safety. Today’s recommendations flow from the findings of the committee.

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