Decriminalization won't be part of opioid fight, PM tells Edmonton town hall

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will not decriminalize possession of opioids to help fight a national overdose crisis that has killed thousands of Canadians.

Prime minister also faced a question about pipelines during the two-hour town hall

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took questions at a town hall at MacEwan University in Edmonton Thursday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will not decriminalize possession of opioids to help fight a national overdose crisis that has killed thousands of Canadians. 

Trudeau was asked about the issue during a town hall at MacEwan University in Edmonton Thursday by Petra Schulz, who lost her 25-year-old son Danny to a fentanyl overdose in 2014.

"Can you commit to a national strategy and a significant investment that is equal to what was spent on H1N1, for example, on a per-patient, per-person basis?" Schulz asked.

"And will you commit to exploring decriminalization as one way to make sure we see substance use as a health issue and not a criminal matter?"

Trudeau defended his government's record on combating the opioid crisis by noting the work that has been done on approving safe injection sites and providing "millions and millions" of dollars to provincial governments and communities that are directly affected by the issue.

Trudeau said his government is not moving forward on decriminalizing any drugs beyond marijuana. The government is aiming to legalize marijuana by July of this year.

"It's not part of the plan," he said. "There are many steps we can and have taken.

"Decriminalizing harder drugs is not a step that Canada is looking at taking at this point."

National interest

Trudeau also faced a question about what his government was doing about getting pipelines built. The issue is very much in the news this week with the battle between Alberta and B.C. over Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Trudeau said the federal government decides what projects are in the national interest,

"There's people out there who would make you believe that there's a choice to be made," he said. "It's either the economy or the environment. But Canadians know they both have to go together."

Trudeau said the differential between world oil prices and what Alberta gets for its crude oil in the United States is hurting the Canadian and Alberta economies.

He said the Kinder Morgan project is a way to get crude to new markets. He said that has to go along with a world-class plan to protect oceans and a plan to reduce emissions and fight climate change.

"We are doing all those three things together because we know that is the only way forward and that is what Canadians expect," Trudeau said.

Following the town hall, Trudeau was scheduled to make remarks to a Liberal gathering at a downtown Edmonton hotel. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried his hand at a game called pickleball during a visit to a community centre in Edmonton Thursday. (Terry Reith/CBC )

Earlier in the day, Trudeau played a racket sport called pickleball at the Mill Woods Senior and Multicultural Centre in southeast Edmonton.

He also visited a nearby drainage project with Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Edmonton Centre Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault.

Trudeau has hosted town halls this month in Lower Sackville, N.S., London, Ont., Hamilton, Ont., Quebec City and Winnipeg.

His last town hall is Friday in Nanaimo, B.C.