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As the B.C. NDP government petitions the federal Liberal government to recriminalize public drug use due to the overdose epidemic, Conservative politicians raised the alarm on Toronto’s ongoing application to decriminalize hard drugs in the city.

The City of Toronto has had a pending application to decriminalize hard drugs in Toronto since 2022. The plan was updated in 2023 to decriminalize hard drugs for children too.

A letter that prefaced “Toronto’s Model of Decriminalizing Drugs for Personal Use” to the government and signed by city officials said, “We are confident that the right model of decriminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use will lead to a safer environment for everyone,”

The letter explains their collective conclusion to decriminalize all drugs for all ages comes after convening with experts and listening to past and present drug users, and those impacted by addiction.

“As you know, the evidence demonstrates that criminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use leads to discrimination and stigma, and contributes to people hiding their drug use from their physicians, friends, family, colleagues, and community,” the letter said. “Being criminalized has negative mental and physical health impacts, and a criminal record can prevent access to meaningful employment, secure housing, and full access to the social determinants of health, including fair treatment in healthcare settings.”

The program requests that policing and justice system resources be used on drug traffickers rather than drug users.”

“The City of Toronto needs to get with the program, wake up to reality, and immediately withdraw this application,” Columnist Anthony Furey told True North.

“The evidence shows that the more of these policies we introduce, the more collateral damage we see in our communities, and the more we see people tragically dying of drug overdoses, it’s not the right direction the numbers are in.”

Furey is concerned with the city’s inclusion of minors in the decriminalization plan.

“Many law enforcement authorities have told me that they know what will immediately happen is that the drug dealers will conscript minors even more into their system,” he said. “This will only drag young people into the illegal drug nexus further.”

He believes the drug addiction and overdose crisis is multifaceted but the recent emphasis on harm reduction policies over addiction treatment is only making things worse.

“We’ve done the experiment. We’ve been doing it for 20 years. The first drug injection site opened in Vancouver over 20 years ago,” he said.“We’ve now learned a lot, and it’s time to go in a different direction and prioritize treatment.”

In the decriminalization plan, policymakers assure the public that “decriminalization will be accompanied by a full continuum of downstream mental health, harm reduction, and treatment services.”

City officials list several health and treatment services they hope to have in place before decriminalization is implemented.

“At least one location in the downtown core offering 24/7 health and social supports, to serve as an effective alternative to emergency departments…four crisis response services for Toronto residents staffed by health and social service providers and peers…and supervised consumption services in collaboration with acute care hospitals.”

But Furey thinks addiction treatment is not being prioritized in Toronto’s approach to the crisis.

“The system currently doesn’t have a mindset that prioritizes treatment. It has a mindset that prioritizes enabling and being reluctant to discourage the person from drug use and help them move on with their lives,” he said.

He said the City of Toronto’s “The Brave App” is an example of the city’s lack of attention to rehabilitation in its drug policies.

The app is intended for drug users to notify a “non-judgmental” community-based rescue team when they are using drugs, if they do not respond after a certain amount of time, the team can send emergency help to their location in case the user is overdosing.

“At no point in this app anywhere in all its modules…(are there) prompts for treatment. So we have an engagement with a drug user, and we don’t want them to die of an overdose, which I support that basic idea, but at no point in our engagement with them do we mention the idea of treatment,” Furey said.