Poilievre demands Trudeau reject Toronto’s request for drug decriminalization

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is demanding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reject Toronto’s request for drug decriminalization, blaming a similar policy in British Columbia for causing chaos and further overdose deaths.

Toronto’s request is being made in the form of an exemption to federal drug laws, which would see possession of small amounts of certain illegal drugs decriminalized.

In a letter sent to the prime minister on May 1, Poilievre says a similar exemption in B.C. has “caused chaos in hospitals, playgrounds, parks and public transportation.”

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre speaks in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

“Worse still, your taxpayer-funded hard drug program has allowed these dangerous drugs to be diverted to vulnerable Canadians, including teenagers and children,” he wrote.

In the letter, the opposition demands that Trudeau reverse his support for “legalizing crack, cocaine, heroin, meth and other hard drugs” and that he “reject the City of Toronto’s request.”

“Yesterday, I was trying to get the Prime Minister to commit that he wouldn’t import this wacko idea to Toronto—which is already reeling from his catch and release criminal justice system, car thefts, extortions, carjackings and deadly, violent crime—and he wouldn’t do it,” Poilievre told CP24 on Wednesday.

“We need to put the money into treatment and recovery to bring our loved ones home drug free.”

Poilievre suggested this could include detox and rehabilitation programs, counselling, physical exercise and job training.

On Tuesday, Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa issued a statement clarifying the city’s stance, saying their request is not meant to legalize drugs and would act in tandem with further treatment investments.

“There has been criticism of Toronto’s decriminalization efforts, suggesting we focus on treatment rather than decriminalization,” she wrote. “Decriminalization is fundamentally recognizing that addiction is a health issue – and therefore requires health-based interventions. Decriminalization is not legalization.”

She goes on to say the proposal is based on evidence and has the support of “a wide range of stakeholders,” including Toronto police, individuals with lived experience who use drugs and the organizations that serve them.

Toronto’s request was first made in 2022 and was modified in 2023 to cover young people as well as adults. There is no possession cap as part of the city’s submission, unlike British Columbia, whose exemption was limited to possession of 2.5 grams.

The federal government granted British Columbia an exemption as part of a three-year pilot project in early 2023; however Premier David Eby recently expressed concern about decriminalizing drugs in public spaces such as hospitals and restaurants. He has asked the prime minister to recriminalize the use of those drugs in public spaces as a result.

Poilivre isn’t the only politician questioning decriminalization in light of British Columbia’s pilot program. On Monday, Premier Doug Ford also urged Toronto to drop the application, saying that decriminalization has “turned into a nightmare.”

“I will fight this tooth and nail,” he told reporters at an unrelated news conference in Ottawa. “This is the wrong way to go.”

Toronto officials say they have been closely monitoring the exemption in British Columbia and said that public drug use would remain illegal in the city if the federal government approves its submission.

“We know, we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis,” de Villa wrote in her letter.

“On open public drug use, let me be clear: lighting up a crack pipe on a playground, or injecting drugs on the subway is not acceptable and should not be allowed. Selling or trafficking drugs is illegal. But arresting individuals who are carrying drugs for their own personal use isn’t effective.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health has also come out in favour of decriminalization, noting that more than 2,500 people have died in Ontario each year in the past few years due to a toxic drug supply.

Research, Dr. Kieran Moore suggests, has found that a safer drug supply is part of the solution.

“Decriminalization … allows the justice and enforcement systems to focus their resources on stopping the organizations and individuals profiting from unregulated drug sales rather than on people who use substances whose needs would be better met in the health system,” he wrote in his annual report presented in March 2024.

The province has said it will not be adopting any of Moore’s recommendations.


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