Federal government reverses course on public drug use

Public use of hard drugs will once again be illegal in British Columbia. On Tuesday, Federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks approved B.C.’s request to re-criminalize the public use of illicit drugs, including cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamines. This decision grants police the authority to intervene when witnessing illicit drug use in public areas, such as hospitals, public transit, and parks.

B.C. operates under a federal pilot project where drug users are exempt from arrest and prosecution under the Criminal Code of Canada for personal use of illicit drugs, including using them in public. Concerns from both the public and law enforcement have arisen regarding the increasing public use of hard drugs.

Member of Parliament for Fort McMurray Cold Lake and shadow minister for addictions, Laila Goodridge, expressed concern over the federal government taking 11 days to grant B.C.’s request. “It is clear after today’s announcement, Trudeau’s dangerous experiment of legalizing hard drugs like crack, meth, and fentanyl has failed,” said Goodridge. “Canadians now deserve to know what Trudeau is going to do next, and whether he will impose his dangerous policies elsewhere.”

Minister Saks holds a different view, stating, “This is a health crisis, not a criminal one.” She added, “We want to make sure that those who are using drugs also have safety and have health care services to support them so that we can save lives.”

In 2023, there were a record-high 2,551 drug-related deaths in B.C. During the first quarter of this year, the province reports a slight decline, though uncertainty remains regarding whether it is due to decriminalization.

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