Niagara Regional Council votes in support of a federal drug decriminalization task force

CKTB - NEWS - Opioids

A Niagara Regional Council discussion on supporting the decriminalization of illicit drugs became quite divisive.

The motion by St. Catharines Councillor Laura Ip called for the federal government to be urged to form a taskforce to do more research on the subject and to scale up harm reduction efforts.

The motion would only push for the study on the decriminalization of personal drug possession, not distribution.

Niagara Falls Councillor Peter Nicholson said he could not support the motion because he believed it sent the wrong message to young people.

Fort Erie Councillor Tom Insinna said he conducted an informal, randomized survey of some of his constituents showing they were not in favour.

But Councillor Ip explained the idea has the support of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and many medical officers of health.

Niagara Falls councillor Bob Gale supported the motion, but said more supports need to be in place for smaller communities.

Weighing in on the issue, Niagara's Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji said support programs would need to be scaled up. "Having health promotion programs in place, having addiction treatment programs in place,  having harm reduction services in place. I would say that we have many of those services in place but not quite to the same level that we need them to be in place. Particularly in the drug addiction services - there needs to be more provincial funding for that." Hirji also pointed out 'decriminalization' does not make drug possession legal and there could still be penalties, but users would not be facing the prospect of jail time. He said that may allow users to seek help and addictions services.

Wainfleet Mayor Kevin Gibson, a former RCMP officer, spoke in favour of decriminalization but pointed out it is a complex issue. "Decriminalization is really intended for a person who gets caught, occasional user, who gets caught and doesn't end up with a criminal record. And by one mistake in their life, they're not affected for the rest of their life. That's really the intent of decriminalizing it here. As some of the other speakers have said, hard core use? No. Multiple use - multiple times being caught? No. It's not intended for that." Eventually he said although he is in support of the idea, he could not support the motion last night, saying it was an improper time for it to go forward.

Ultimately the motion to urge the federal government to conduct more research and convene a taskforce was approved by a vote of 16 - 13. (Yes: Butters, Campion, Darte, Easton, Edgar, Gale, Heit, Huson, Ip, Jordan, Redekop, Rigby, Sendzik, Steele, Ugulini, Wittiveen    No: Bylsma, Diodati, Disero, Fertich, Foster, Gibson, Greenwood, Insinna, Junkin, Nicolson, Villella, Whalen, Zalepa)