Board of police commissioners passes motion for research on decriminalizing simple drug possession

Thursday's meeting concluded with a discussion around decriminalizing simple possession of drugs.

Community consultation is already underway: police chief

The Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners met on Thursday; among their topics of discussion was the decriminalization of simple drug possession. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC)

Saskatoon's board of police commissioners passed a motion Thursday asking for research on decriminalizing some drug possession.

The board addressed a variety of subjects at the meeting, but concluded with discussion about the possibility of decriminalizing "simple" possession of drugs. 

Commissioner Kearny Healy initially brought the motion forward when the board previously met in June. It passed with no opposition Thursday.

Healy asked the police service to investigate what options were available to reduce the number of criminal possession charges police issue in Saskatoon.

"I think the motion speaks for itself. It's simply a motion for an investigation by the police, and to report back to us, when the time is appropriate, when the police have finished doing their research into these topics," Healy told the board on Thursday. 

He said he would like to see police work toward finding a solution that's useful and brings the city to what he said could be a much better situation for Saskatoon. 

Two members of the public spoke in favour of the motion at the meeting.

Marie Agioritis, from Moms Stop the Harm, submitted a report. She said one of her sons is recovering from a substance abuse disorder while another died from an overdose six years ago. 

She said any efforts to take workloads away from first responders would bring opportunities to shift spending to areas that need it, like mental health services or finding other options outside of holding cells for people caught with a small amount of drugs. 

"The current model is not getting the results and a study of other options is warranted," she said. 

"We have researchers ready at the [University of Saskatchewan] already looking for information that can help expand on that which I've stated."

Daniel Hearn, host of a livestream talk show called Hard Knox Talks, also spoke to the board on Thursday. 

A recovering substance abuser, he said he was addicted to escaping and wasn't afraid of prosecution.

He pointed out that decriminalization is not the solution to the addiction crisis he sees gripping Saskatchewan currently, but said it is a "soft start" to finding the solution. 

"Do you think that taking a person's personal supply is reducing the harm in our communities? I don't," he said. 

"When the police took my dope that just triggered my dope-fiend behaviour. Now I'm stealing to get my fix. I'm desperate and lashing out at my friends or my loved ones." 

Saskatoon Police Service Chief Troy Cooper agreed decriminalization is something that needs to be looked into and said the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is also prioritizing the issue.

Cooper noted police in Saskatoon already have someone lined up to start the research process into what options are available on the decriminalization front. 

But he said the association made it clear community engagement and understanding in what decriminalization is, was very crucial to the process.

"If we do something in the name of decriminalization that is not supported by the community there is going to be loss of trust in police," Cooper said on Thursday.

"The consultation, a valuable component of it, that important first step, is occurring."

Cooper said he'd like any report that gets submitted to the board of police commissioners to include some kind of partnership with people in health services, which he said would establish a support network before any drug possession decriminalization happens.