Federal government rejects Toronto’s request for drug decriminalization

The federal government has rejected a request from Toronto to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use after an increasingly bitter public spat over the city’s ask.

On Friday afternoon, Health Canada issued a statement confirming the request had been refused, something the Ontario provincial government asked the federal body to do on Thursday.

Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Ya’ara Saks turned down the bid roughly two years after it was first filed.

“Today, Minister Saks has refused the request, as proposed from Toronto Public Health, to decriminalize personal possession of controlled drugs and substances for people in Toronto,” the statement read.

“She has determined that it does not adequately protect public health and maintain public safety. This includes concerns with feasibility and ability for law enforcement to implement the proposed model, protection of youth, and lack of support from key players including the Province of Ontario.”

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Health Canada said it “remains committed to addressing substance use and addiction as a health issue,” and would partner with other levels of government to reduce harm.

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Ontario warned Toronto Public Health on Thursday to drop its decriminalization application and said there were “no circumstances” it would support it.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones and Solicitor General Michael Kerzner wrote a letter to de Villa on Thursday that said the province is “100 per cent opposed” to Toronto’s more than two-year-old application.

The letter followed Premier Doug Ford’s pledge to fight the decriminalization request “tooth and nail.”

In a statement of her own, Toronto’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa reiterated her stance that “decriminalization is one evidence-informed policy tool” to make it easier for people to seek help.

She said the federal government’s decision to turn down her request has only heightened the need to invest in “other available evidence-based interventions” in the city.

“Toronto Public Health remains a ready and willing partner to explore collaborative approaches on this important and urgent health issue,” De Villa said.

Toronto had applied for decriminalization at the beginning of 2022, suggesting it would help it fight a growing number of opioid overdose deaths.

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Opioids, predominantly fentanyl, have ripped across Canada over the past decade, killing thousands every year. In Toronto, more than 500 people die from drug toxicity each year.

Ontario said the results of a “disastrous” pilot program in British Columbia prove that a decriminalization approach does not work.

“Instead, it encourages dangerous behaviour in public spaces, victimizes innocent people and undermines law enforcement’s ability to protect our communities,” Jones and Kerzner wrote.

The B.C. government recently received federal approval to recriminalize public drug possession, a major climb down for the first-of-its-kind pilot in Canada.

Ford reacted to the federal government’s rejection of Toronto’s request on social media with one word: “Good.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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