Prince Albert follows Saskatoon by offering drug amnesty

The Prince Albert Police Service says it will join Saskatoon's police force in asking people to surrender drugs without incurring legal consequences.

Public will be asked to turn in drugs that may be tainted

The Prince Albert Police Service says it plans to ask people to surrender drugs they believe may be tainted with fentanyl, in similar move to one made by Saskatoon police Sunday. (CBC)

The Prince Albert Police Service says it will join Saskatoon's police force in asking people to surrender drugs without incurring legal consequences.

The Prince Albert amnesty effort is expected to be announced in the coming days, said Insp. Jason Stonechild on Wednesday.

"We officers always have discretion and we're not going to police in a way that's going to [discourage people] to have public safety and health in mind by calling in and saying, 'Hey my kid has got drugs in their basement; can you come check it out?'" said Stonechild.

The move comes in response to a string of overdoses in Saskatoon that has Saskatchewan's Ministry of Corrections and Policing "very concerned," according to ministry spokesperson Drew Wilby.

Two people have recently died in Saskatoon and four others overdosed, all tied to cocaine recovered in Saskatoon that is believed to have been laced with fentanyl.

Wider scope for amnesty

The Prince Albert program will differ somewhat from the one announced by the Saskatoon Police Service.

First, all drugs are eligible for the program, whereas in Saskatoon it is restricted to cocaine the holder believes may be mixed with fentanyl.

Also, while Saskatoon police asked people to turn in drugs at the front desk of the downtown headquarters, in Prince Albert people are asked to call so that officers can go seize the drugs.

"It's against the law for anybody to transport illegal narcotics in the public. Only a police officer can," said Stonechild.

While police in Prince Albert have only seized fentanyl once so far in 2018, "we have many signs that connect Saskatoon's drug trade with the Prince Albert one," he said. 

Wilby said the ministry's position is that police services can decide on their own whether or not to lay charges.

"We support the police services around the province in their fight against illicit drugs and especially when it comes to fentanyl and other deadly street drugs," Wilby said.

No one had brought drugs to the Saskatoon detachment as of Wednesday morning, according to police.

'It shouldn't be an interrogation'

AIDS Saskatoon, a group that provides support to people living with HIV and hepatitis C, called the initiative "very progressive."

"I think it's a great harm-reduction approach to take to the war on drugs," said executive director Jason Mercredi. 

How police respond when drugs are brought in is key to the initiative's success, he added.

"One of the big things they'll need to do is when people drop off their drugs, let them do just that — drop off their drugs. It shouldn't be an interrogation. It should be a simple 'thank you for turning it in.'"

Drug effects in Saskatoon

On Saturday, Saskatoon police responded to a total of six calls from three different locations around the city about people suffering from overdoses.

A 48-year-old woman and a man died from overdoses. Another woman who was found unresponsive is receiving medical attention.

On Sunday, the Saskatoon Police Service released the street names — "Lil Joe" or "Joe Bro" — and the phone number of the alleged dealer or dealers believed to have sold the tainted cocaine. They also asked people to turn in drugs, saying they would not lay charges against anyone who does.

Three men face trafficking and weapons charges in relation to what police say was the sale of the lethal mixture of cocaine and fentanyl.  

Police have not confirmed whether or not any of the three men in custody are Lil Joe or Joe Bro but say they believe they have the right people.

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said Wednesday that an amnesty initiative for his city "is something I hadn't thought about."

"We may look at that but there's no discussion on that yet," he said. 

with files from Bridget Yard and Stephanie Taylor