Congress of Aboriginal Peoples glad to see start of discussion on drug decriminalization in Saskatoon

·2 min read
Kim Beaudin, the national vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, says he's pleased the discussion around drug decriminalization has at least started in Saskatoon, after the topic came up at the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners earlier this week.  (Congress of Aboriginal Peoples - image credit)
Kim Beaudin, the national vice-chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, says he's pleased the discussion around drug decriminalization has at least started in Saskatoon, after the topic came up at the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners earlier this week. (Congress of Aboriginal Peoples - image credit)

A group that wants to see an end to mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences says it's pleased to see a conversation start in Saskatoon about drug decriminalization.

Earlier this week, the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners discussed the decriminalization of drugs as a way to address the province's overdose crisis.

A leader with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples says ending minimum sentences could also address a judicial crisis.

"They impact Indigenous people, no question," said Kim Beaudin, the national vice-chief of the organization, which represents Indigenous people who live off-reserve.

"It's Indigenous people that pay the price when it comes to mandatory minimums in regards to drug charges."

Often, when Indigenous people are charged and convicted of offences like simple drug possession, they end up being "roped into" the justice system, says Beaudin. He says an entirely different perspective is needed.

"It's a health crisis, and we need to look at it that way as opposed to a criminal issue," said Beaudin, adding the tough-on-crime approach to drugs has failed.

Beaudin said if there is a conversation about drug decriminalization happening in Saskatoon, there also needs to be a conversation about support taking place as well, as those who use drugs also need avenues to get help when desired.

"We need to address it long-term," he said.

While the police commissioners' board started the discussion around drug decriminalization, it did not take an official stance. A motion to have the board officially support the idea was tabled.

At the Thursday meeting, Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper stressed that if the city did seriously consider asking the federal government for an exemption allowing decriminalization, a new framework — based on a public health response — would have to be established.

"It requires that replacement," he stressed at the meeting.

"It requires some of those other programs and supports as well, rather than just simply making something lawful that was previously unlawful. So it's not just simply a one-step process to decriminalization."

The police commissioner who brought forward the motion calling for the board's support said during the meeting he would be willing to table the request.

It's important to have conversations with members of the police service, health stakeholders and the community at large, said Kearney Healy.

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