The Toronto Public Health Commission took a stand on Monday urging the federal government to decriminalize all drugs for personal use. The medical authorities of the most populous city in the country hope to set in motion a movement of national stature.
The commission decided to endorse this case after being presented with a report from the municipality’s director of public health. Dr. Eileen de Villa stresses that drug use must be addressed as a public health issue, not a crime issue.
“The only way to change federal laws is to provoke a national discussion,” said committee chair Joe Mihevc before an amended version of the recommendations was passed unanimously.
“We will be the first to do it, but we can not stay alone,” he said.
Dr. De Villa says she is not aware of other public health commissions that have adopted such a position in Canada.
Toronto will send a letter to the federal government informing them of its recommendation. She will also send Ms. de Villa’s report to all Ontario Commissions, to the ten largest cities in Canada, and to the Ontario Public Health Association, among others, “for their information and support”.
“Humans have always used drugs in one way or another. The potential risks associated with any of these drugs are compounded when people are in a position to produce, obtain and consume these drugs illegally, “says Dr. De Villa.
She explains that she developed this report in response to the opioid crisis that began in British Columbia before spreading to other provinces.
In response to this statement from the Toronto authorities, a spokesperson for Health Canada pointed out that the federal agency is already addressing this issue from a public health perspective.
“We realize that decriminalization, as part of a comprehensive approach to drug use, seems to work in places like Portugal, but more studies would be needed because the circumstances are very different in Canada,” explained Maryse Durette.
According to Health Canada, some 4,000 Canadians have died from an apparent opioid overdose in 2017. The City of Toronto had 303 cases – a 63 per cent increase over the previous year.