Skip to content

Ending decriminalization won’t end ‘our fight’ to ‘save people’ says B.C. United

B.C. United’s Elenore Sturko says there are “other options” to decriminalization
BC United’s Elenore Sturko Thursday reiterated her party’s call to end decriminalization, but government has other options. She added that ending decriminalization would not automatically “flood” the courts with people using drugs, adding other countries have used forms of administrative rather criminal justice as part of a broader response. (Black Press Media file photo)

B.C. United’s Elenore Sturko reiterated her party’s call to end decriminalization following recent testimony by two senior B.C. cops.

But she also stressed that ending decriminalization would not mean the end of dealing with the toxic drug crisis through non-criminal means.

“We would end the (decriminalization) pilot, but there are other options,” she said.

Sturko, MLA for Surrey South and her party’s shadow minister for mental health, addiction, recovery and education, made these comments Thursday (April 18) after hearing the testimony of Fiona Wilson, president of the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, and Dwayne McDonald, commanding officer of E Division Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to a federal committee on Monday (April 15).

Sturko said their comments make it clear the program is not working, especially when it comes to preventing public drug consumption in areas such as hospitals and restaurants.

“So far, we have had no evidence that it is actually helping,” Sturko said. “At this point, it appears that the harms being done, the unintended consequences, are outweighing the benefits.”

Before decriminalization, police in most cases were not charging people anyway when coming across someone using drugs and in possession of 2.5 grams or fewer unless their case involved more serious circumstances like an assault, she said.

“Police have discretion (and) getting rid of the decriminalization pilot does not mean automatically charging people and flooding our court system with people who are using drugs,” she said.

RELATED: Fix public consumption issue while decriminalization continues: B.C. cops

She added that decriminalization is also costly. Money used to monitor decriminalization, including data collection and training of police officer, could “be better spent” on helping people, she said.

“Instead of doubling down and continuing to spend on something that we can see right now is doing more harm than good in our province, let’s re-direct the money that is being dumped into this failed experiment into interventions we know work,” she said.

Bill 34 — the government bill designed to restrict public use in some areas that is currently hung up in the courts — does not include penalties, she said.

Ending decriminalization would restore a deterrent, but evidence from Portugal and Oregon, which recently partially reversed decriminalization, also shows authorities can respond through administrative rather than criminal justice in directing people to life-saving resources, Sturko said.

“The premier has plenty of other options to look at,” she said. “Ending decriminalization would certainly never end our fight to try to save people and that is what people need to keep in mind,” she said.

Sturko added that nobody is forgetting that people are dying of fentanyl.

“We know that this program isn’t stopping them from dying of fentanyl, so we need to invest our resources into things that will work.”

She added that could include additional research into the reason why people dying off toxic drugs become addicted in the first place.

“How did they start using substances? How can we find out people are getting on these pathways and intervene at that level…at the same time, we have to continue to fight against illicit fentanyl on the streets,” she said.

“We want to see medical interventions, we want to be able to see supportive housing that is actually supportive, we want to be able to see complex mental health and addiction care for people, including long-term care where it is necessary.”

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
Read more