BC police forces put together for brand spanking new drug decriminalization legislation

Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr: “As you’ll be able to think about, it is a…

BC police forces put together for brand spanking new drug decriminalization legislation

Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr: “As you’ll be able to think about, it is a seismic shift.”

A person is smoking fentanyl in a park.

One in all his pockets is crammed with extra doses of the drug.

Police strategy and ask him to maneuver alongside as a result of there are children enjoying close by.

The person refuses.

Police have the choice to arrest him and seize his medication, which he says are for private use.

What occurs subsequent?

Nothing, as a result of the situation is a fictional one which Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr used to clarify how such a possible interplay have to be dealt with in another way by officers as soon as B.C.’s new drug decriminalization legislation kicks in Jan. 31.

Individuals in possession of two.5 grams or much less of fentanyl, heroin, morphine, crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine or MDMA can’t be arrested or have their medication seized.

As an alternative, the B.C. authorities says drug customers can be supplied an info card from officers about well being and social helps, together with native therapy and restoration providers, if requested.

“In terms of fentanyl, or any of the [other] medication named, we do not have a instrument — we will’t seize a drug, and there is not any ticketing choices,” Serr informed Glacier Media of the legislation’s limitations for police.

“Actually, until a neighborhood can give you a technical bylaw, our law enforcement officials actually are challenged on how they will ask for compliance and ask the particular person to maneuver alongside.”

The brand new legislation, which applies to folks 18 and older, is the results of a profitable push from the B.C. authorities to have Well being Canada grant the province an exemption from the Managed Medication and Substances Act (CDSA).

The exemption begins Jan. 31 and expires Jan. 31, 2026.

The B.C. authorities is on document saying decriminalization is a important step within the combat in opposition to the poisonous drug disaster, which killed greater than 10,000 folks between January 2016 and October 2022.

Authorities believes the brand new legislation will assist scale back the boundaries and stigma that forestall folks from accessing life-saving helps and providers, saying substance use is a public well being matter, not a prison justice problem. 

BC police forces put together for brand spanking new drug decriminalization legislation
Overdoses and overdose deaths proceed to mount throughout B.C, with 1,827 folks having died between January and October in 2022. Photograph Mike Howell

‘Impacting people and households throughout our communities’

Regardless of a few of the challenges of the legislation, Serr mentioned he absolutely helps the course of presidency, which he believes will scale back demand for unlawful medication and doubtlessly scale back the variety of overdose deaths.

However that optimism comes with a caveat.

Authorities help for well being providers and therapy should be in place for individuals who use medication, he mentioned, noting the Fraser Valley has solely 25 detox beds. As soon as the BC Coroners Service releases its last report on variety of overdose deaths for 2022, Serr believes Abbotsford can have misplaced greater than 100 folks final 12 months.

“Many individuals take a look at this disaster because the marginalized folks they see on the street, however there’s a entire wave of people who find themselves utilizing quietly of their houses and so they’re dying — it is devastating,” he mentioned.

“We’re saying to [health authorities], ‘Over to you,’ relating to drug use. You’ve got obtained the ball, and now please run with it and take this on as a serious precedence as a result of it is impacting people and households throughout our communities.”

Serr was a member of the provincial authorities committee that established 2.5 grams as the edge and supplied steerage for the appliance to Well being Canada. He and different police leaders have been concerned within the rollout of the brand new legislation and coaching.

The two.5-gram threshold was controversial, with the Vancouver Space Community of Drug Customers and different teams saying it ought to have been larger. Serr mentioned analysis carried out on the time confirmed the typical weight of medication seized from people in Vancouver was 1.9 grams and Victoria was 1.3.

“On the finish of the day, we made our advice, different teams made theirs, and the federal government fell on 2.5 grams, which I believe was sort of the pleased medium,” he mentioned, explaining that 2.5 grams usually represents 25 doses.

Public Prosecution Service of Canada

All 240 Abbotsford law enforcement officials can have acquired government-led coaching on the brand new legislation by Jan. 31, mentioned Serr, noting the course is the equal of a 45-minute webinar and explains the rationale for the federal exemption, the aim of the data playing cards and limitations of officers.

Legal responsibility can be mentioned within the coaching, with Serr saying officers have considerations with returning medication to an individual who could then overdose and doubtlessly set off an investigation of the officer by the Unbiased Investigations Workplace.

There’s additionally considerations organized crime will exploit the legislation, with sellers holding solely 2.5 grams of medication on them whereas dealing, with the remainder of their stash hidden at one other location.

“Somebody can have 25 packages and say it is for private use, but when we’ve got proof by way of observations and rating sheets that they are trafficking medication…we will nonetheless seize these medication and cost the particular person for possession for the needs of trafficking,” Serr mentioned.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada issued a directive in August 2020 to federal legal professionals to keep away from prosecuting easy drug possession circumstances until there are extenuating circumstances.

Abbotsford, Vancouver and different police forces have been on document for years that they’ve taken a de facto decriminalization strategy to private drug use, with Serr saying the variety of arrests for easy possession within the province “have gone down considerably to virtually zero.”

‘Fewer smaller seizures’ of medication

Sgt. Steve Addison, a Vancouver Police Division media relations officer, reiterated that time in an electronic mail to Glacier Media, saying “in that sense, decriminalization of small quantities of medication for private use is not going to impression the way in which we function.”

As an alternative, Addison mentioned, Vancouver officers will proceed to focus on violent and arranged crime teams “that produce and visitors the dangerous road medication that proceed to gasoline the overdose disaster.”

The BC Coroners Service’s most up-to-date statistics present 484 folks died in Vancouver between January and October of 2022. In 2021, 623 whole deaths have been recorded in Vancouver, with one other 463 in 2020.

“Though we don’t presently arrest folks for private possession, and haven’t carried out so for years with out aggravating circumstances, there are occasions when our officers do find small quantities of medication through the course of their duties and are legally required to grab them for destruction,” Addison mentioned.

“The CDSA exemption will undoubtedly lead to fewer small seizures as our officers will now not be required to grab and destroy medication weighing lower than 2.5 grams.”

Employees Sgt. Kris Clark, an RCMP E Division media relations officer, mentioned in an electronic mail that the nationwide power is working intently with different legislation enforcement businesses, the ministries of Psychological Well being and Addictions and Public Security and Solicitor Normal to develop a spread of coaching assets for officers.

“We have to make sure that law enforcement officials from all legislation enforcement businesses all through B.C. have clear and constant steerage, coaching and the helps they should carry out their duties with respect to decriminalization,” mentioned Clark, noting a second part of the coaching can be launched within the spring.

Clark mentioned the coaching entails understanding how the exemption intersects with present legal guidelines and steerage, together with the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, bail circumstances to deal with overdoses, prosecution of drug possession offences and the brand new evidence-based diversion measure (Invoice C-5) carried out final 12 months.

“As a police company, our function is to redirect individuals who possess small quantities of sure unlawful medication away from the prison justice system and in the direction of well being and social providers,” Clark mentioned.

Greater than 10,000 folks in B.C. have died of an overdose between January 2016 and October 2022. File picture Dan Toulgoet

‘This can be a seismic shift’

For Serr, who famous the BC Affiliation of Chiefs of Police helps decriminalization, the times forward underneath the brand new legislation can be new and unpredictable floor for police forces, together with his officers having combined emotions on the way it will play out.

“As you’ll be able to think about, it is a seismic shift,” he mentioned. “Our members, on one hand, are very empathetic to seeing the devastation of drug overdoses and the deaths. However they’re additionally very empathetic to the neighborhood who is actually annoyed with open drug use, with discarded drug paraphernalia. We get lots of complaints about these points.”

Added Serr: “Law enforcement officials in my company are cautiously watching how this rolls out, involved on the impression to our neighborhood, involved that they could not be capable to handle a few of the neighborhood considerations. However on the identical time, they do wish to attempt to assist help people who find themselves dying in our neighborhood at unprecedented numbers.”

Does Serr assume the exemption will make a distinction?

“I do. However I believe it’ll take a number of years for this method to be managed in an efficient, acceptable means. However what we have been doing, fairly frankly, wasn’t making a distinction. I imply, 23,000 folks in Canada died [between January 2016 and March 2021]. The numbers are staggering, so we’ve got to attempt one thing completely different.”

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