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The criminalization of simple drug possession in cities across Ontario is costing lives.

On Oct. 3, RNAO wrote to mayoral candidates in 21 municipalities asking them to sign a pledge to support decriminalizing simple drug possession in Ontario. 

Find out below whether candidates for mayor in your area signed the pledge. We hope this will inform your vote ahead of municipal elections taking place on Oct. 24. Learn what else you can do to support this campaign.


The issue: The overdose crisis

Accidental opioid-related overdose has been a growing public health crisis for more than two decades. The crisis escalated dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, preliminary data from Public Health Ontario showed that 2,880 people died in Ontario from an opioid-related overdose – an 85 per cent increase over pre-pandemic levels. 

Decriminalizing simple possession of drugs is an effective way of preventing overdose deaths. Continued criminalization of drug possession stigmatizes substance use and people who use certain substances. This stigma creates barriers to health care and forces people to use alone – factors that increase the risk of death from overdose. 

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police have endorsed decriminalizing simple possession as a response to the overdose crisis.

Decriminalization bar chart



“Decriminalizing simple possession” means eliminating criminal sanctions for possession of an amount of controlled drugs clearly intended for personal use. 

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) is a federal law that makes the possession of certain controlled substances a criminal act. The CDSA provides a process for creating exemptions to criminal possession – for example, if an exemption would be in the public interest.

Decriminalization at the municipal level is not a new idea. In June 2021, Ontario’s Big City Mayors called for drug decriminalization to address the growing opioid epidemic. The city councils of Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver have passed motions urging the federal government to decriminalize simple drug possession in their jurisdictions, as have several other municipalities and regional boards of health. The Vancouver motion triggered a three-year British Columbia-wide exemption under CDSA, starting Jan. 31, 2023.

RNAO believes that substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal problem. We support a harm reduction approach that includes decriminalizing simple drug possession. See RNAO’s political action bulletin for RNAO’s full harm reduction strategy.


Overdose crisis AA

Action Alert: End the overdose crisis, premier

Ontarioʼs opioid overdose crisis has been worsening, year by year, for a long time, and it has escalated dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take action

The pledge: Find your mayoral candidates

Find your mayoral candidates in your municipality below to see whether they have signed the pledge.

A checkmark checkmark icon indicates they signed.

An X x mark icon indicates they didn’t sign by the Oct. 17 deadline.

A blank indicates they were not reachable.


Patrick Brown 

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Vidya Sagar Gautam

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Nikki Kaur

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Prabh Kaur Mand

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Tony Moracci 

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 Certified list of candidates


Kathryn McGarry

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Randy Carter

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Cody Botelho

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Certified list of candidates 


Daniel Jeffery

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Norman Robert Miles

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Josh Morgan

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Carlos Murray

Johanne Nichols

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Khalil Ramal

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Certified list of candidates 


Avraham Arrobas

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Darren Atkinson

Chloe-Marie Brown

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Drew Buckingham

Elvira Caputolan

Kevin Clarke

Sarah Climenhaga

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Phillip D'Cruze

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Cory Deville

Alexey Efimovskikh

Isabella Gamk

Arjun Gupta

Peter Handjis

Robert Hatton

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Monowar Hossain

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Khadijah Jamal

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Kris Langenfeld

John Letonja

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Tony Luk

Gil Penalosa

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Stephen Punwasi

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D!ONNE Renée

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Kyle Schwartz

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Sandeep Srivastava

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Reginald Tull

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Certified list of candidates 


What do I do if my municipality is not listed?

  • Download a copy of the pledge and the template letter.
  • Visit your municipality’s website to find contact information for your mayoral candidates. 
  • Send them the pledge and letter. If you are an RNAO member, please state this.  

My municipality is listed, but the mayoral candidates have not yet signed the pledge. What do I do?

  • Download a copy of the template letter.
  • Using the contact information provided, send your mayoral candidates the pledge and letter to encourage them to sign before the Oct. 17 deadline.


Ontarians: call on your mayoral candidates to join RNAO’s #DecriminalizeNow campaign.

Share on social media

Let RNAO and your followers know you support decriminalizing personal drug possession. On Twitter, tag @RNAO and use #DecriminalizeNow.

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In Focus: RNAO Mental Health and Addiction Best Practices Program

Mental health and wellbeing are essential to everyday health. Pre-pandemic data suggested that each year, one in five Canadians experienced a mental health concern, highlighting a crisis in Canada. Since the pandemic began, 50 per cent of Canadians have reported worsening mental health, with increases in stress levels, depression, anxiety and, higher rates of substance use and associated deaths related to opioid toxicity.

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Issue: Opioid overdose crisis

For a decade, Canadians have been dying at an increasing rate from opioid overdoses. Between January 2016 and March 2022, more than 30,800 Canadians died from an opioid overdose. Ontario is not immune to this tragedy. In 2021, preliminary data from Public Health Ontario showed that 2,880 lives were lost — an average of eight people per day.

Read more