Ontario calls on Toronto to drop ‘disastrous’ drug decriminalization request

Ontario calls on Toronto to drop ‘disastrous’ drug decriminalization request

The province’s health minister and solicitor general are urging Toronto to rescind its request to decriminalize simple possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use, calling the proposal “misguided” and “disastrous.”

In a letter to Toronto’s outgoing Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones and the province’s Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said that “under no circumstances” would the provincial government support Toronto Public Health’s decriminalization application, which is currently under review by Health Canada.

“We read with interest recent comments in the media that Toronto Public Health has not received a ‘formal indication’ from the province opposing your misguided request to decriminalize dangerous illegal drugs,” the letter read.

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

The letter went on to suggest that such a policy would “add to crime and public drug use” while failing to support people with addiction.

The city made a request to Health Canada in early 2022 for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That application has come under a microscope in recent weeks after British Columbia opted to scale back its decriminalization pilot.

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of British Columbia’s decision to walk back its decriminalization experiment, Toronto Public Health has not already rescinded its request.”

Last month, B.C. Premier David Eby requested that Health Canada amend an exemption order that was previously granted to the province, asking to recriminalize the use of select drugs in many public spaces.

While adults would still be permitted to use these drugs in private, they could now be arrested for public use.

“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,” the letter, which was penned Wednesday, read.

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

In the letter, Jones and Kerzner also said that “enhanced accountability measures” will be enacted for existing consumption and treatment services sites in the province to “ensure that the safety and wellbeing of the public is protected.”

Premier Doug Ford has previously spoken out against the city’s application, promising to fight it “tooth and nail.”

Speaking to CP24 on Thursday, de Villa said she saw the letter on Wednesday night and is still “processing” it.

“I’ll be honest it was a little bit of a surprise,” she said. “It is unusual to have elected officials communicate directly to a public servant.”

She said her role as the city’s top doctor is to provide “the best possible advice” on important health issues that impact Toronto.

“At the end of the day I will continue to do my job as a physician to provide the advice and then to leave the decision-making to the elected officials,” she said.

In a recently released statement, de Villa defended the application, suggesting that decriminalization is “fundamentally recognizing that addiction is a health issue,” and noted that decriminalization is not the same as legalization.

The federal Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Ya’ara Saks recently said that the city’s application is “dormant” and added that it had not yet reached her desk.

The prime minister’s office has previously said the province of Ontario would be “required to support any request from Toronto.”

In the letter, Jones and Kerzner said they will be “making our opposition clear to the federal government.”

“If Toronto Public Health fails to rescind its misguided application, we will be forced to explore all options available to us,” the letter concluded.

With files from CP24’s Josh Freeman and The Canadian Press

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