Manitoba

Winnipeg city councillor making another pitch for decriminalizing small amounts of drugs

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Sherri Rollins is asking her Winnipeg city council colleagues to throw their support behind other groups who want to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.

2nd motion from Sherri Rollins asks council to support other groups asking for decriminalization

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge–East Fort Garry) is trying again to get Winnipeg council behind the idea of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A Winnipeg city councillor is once again asking her council colleagues to throw their support behind the decriminalization of small amounts of illegal drugs.

On Thursday, Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) made her second motion on the subject, after an earlier motion didn't move forward.

Her new motion is "just as ambitious, but I do think it is a different policy take," Rollins said in an interview Friday.

"My point is to make sure that it actually gets through the council."

Earlier this year, Rollins and Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) introduced a motion that asked council to work with the federal government to start the process of exploring decriminalization within city limits.

It ended in a rare tie vote at city council in February, meaning the motion was not approved.

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) was among those who voted against the motion in February.

This time around, Mayes helped author the motion, and seconded it.

"I rarely get buyers' remorse after I vote on something, but that one got under my skin," Mayes said in an interview on Friday. "I wish I would have said something to amend the previous draft."

Coun. Brian Mayes said he had 'buyers' remorse' after voting against the initial decriminalization motion. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC )

The new motion specifically states council should support suggestions from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police on how to handle decriminalization. Those suggestions include wraparound services, like supervised consumption sites, and concerted efforts to create a safe drug supply. 

The motion also cites a 2019 document that explores an Indigenous perspective on harm reduction.

The new motion asks council to put its support for those two documents on the public record, and send a letter to Ottawa stating that support.

It also asks the provincial and federal governments to financially support the policies in the documents.

Emphasis on support: Mayes

Mayes said he was surprised to learn police chiefs supported the idea.

He also said the new motion is different from the first, since it asks Ottawa to support decriminalization nationally, not just within Winnipeg.

"I always thought that was a poor way to approach criminal law," he said.

The new motion emphasizes the importance of a system to support people going through addictions, Mayes said.

"This talks about if you're going to decriminalize, you have to have the consumption sites. You have to have some plan for treatment," he said.

"It's not all municipal responsibility. The motion is good, saying it should also be provincial and federal."

The new motion also states council would support any grassroots organization in Winnipeg that wants to see decriminalization. 

"It basically says we're going to be behind you," said Rollins.

"I don't care to do something that is just really performative. I want it to have some sort of meaning for Winnipeggers — especially Winnipeggers that are on the front line of the drug-poisoning crisis."

The motion will go to city council's executive policy committee in May.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a senior reporter for CBC News, based in Regina. She's a multimedia journalist who has also worked for CBC in Winnipeg and Sudbury. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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