Ontario wants no part of “failed decriminalization experiment”

Ontario’s health minister is warning Toronto to rescind its request from the federal government to decriminalize drug possession.

On the heels of British Columbia walking away from its decriminalization pilot project, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones issued a letter of warning to Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s chief medical officer, telling her to drop her request for decriminalization. 

“While our government has already been perfectly clear on multiple occasions, please consider this as formal as possible: Ontario is 100% opposed to your proposal,” the letter reads.

“Under no circumstances will our government ever support your request, which would only add to crime and public drug use while doing nothing to support people struggling with addiction. We will also be making our opposition clear to the federal government.”

Jones began reviewing existing drug consumption sites following a fatal shooting outside of one facility in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood and now plans to introduce “enhanced accountability measures” to “ensure that the safety and wellbeing of the public is protected.”

In the letter, also signed by provincial Solicitor-General Micheal Kerzner, Jones told de Villa that if she doesn’t rescind the application, the Ontario government will “be forced to explore all options available to us.”

Kerzner said that the letter was a response to Toronto Public Health claiming that it had received no “formal” notice of opposition to Toronto’s “misguided request to decriminalize dangerous illegal drugs.” 

Toronto’s initial proposal was submitted to Health Canada two years ago and was updated in March of this year. 

Premier Doug Ford and Michael Tibollo, his associate minister for mental health and addictions, have voiced strong opposition to it recently, in the wake of B.C. requesting Ottawa reverse its exemption.

The federal government agreed to walk back the exemption allowing drug use in public spaces, just one year into the pilot project’s planned three-year run.

“We are frankly surprised that, in the aftermath of British Columbia’s decision to walk back its decriminalization experiment, Toronto Public Health has not already rescinded its request,” the Ontario ministers’ letter reads.

“The recent disastrous examples of British Columbia and other jurisdictions that have attempted this experiment are just the latest examples that show decriminalization does not work. Instead, it encourages dangerous behaviour in public spaces, victimizes innocent people and undermines law enforcement’s ability to protect our communities.”

Ottawa agreed to B.C.’s request to roll back parts of its decriminalization project last week, only 15 months into the three-year pilot project, following opposition from mayors and hospital personnel.  

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre announced his party’s plan to pass the Safe Hospitals Act on Wednesday to protect staff and patients from harm caused by illicit drug use inside hospitals.

The proposed bill aims to protect doctors, nurses and patients from violence and abuse. For example in British Columbia, the province’s nursing union reported open drug use and weapons within hospitals.

The act would create an aggravating factor for sentencing anyone who brings an illegal and unauthorized weapon into a hospital. 

“Enough is enough,” said Poilevre, speaking to reporters in B.C. “Common sense Conservatives will not allow this devastation and experiment to play out in other Canadian communities. Canadians deserve a government that will keep hard drugs out of hospitals and will protect staff and patients.”

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