Thank you to everyone who participated in the #DecriminalizeNow campaign for the Toronto by-election. The campaign has ended.
The criminalization of simple drug possession in cities across Ontario is costing lives. Toronto is no exception.
On May 15, RNAO wrote to candidates in Toronto’s 2023 by-election for mayor asking them to sign a pledge to support decriminalizing simple drug possession in Toronto.
Find out below which candidates signed the pledge.
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. Preliminary data from the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario suggests that there were 506 opioid toxicity deaths in Toronto in 2022. While the number of deaths in 2022 are lower than the previous two years, the number of deaths is 71 per cent higher than 2019, 172 per cent higher than 2016 and 269 per cent higher than 2015.
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.
WHAT IS DECRIMINALIZING SIMPLE POSSESSION?
“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. The Vancouver motion triggered a three-year British Columbia-wide exemption under CDSA, which started Jan. 31, 2023.
In January 2022, Toronto Public Health submitted a request for exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow for the possession of drugs for personal use in Toronto. That request, submitted over the signatures of Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, the (former) city manager and the (former) chief of police, was based on extensive public consultations and supported by a broad range of civil society organizations.
RNAO supports Toronto Public Health’s call for decriminalization. Substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal one. We support a harm reduction approach that includes decriminalizing simple drug possession (see RNAO’s political action bulletin for RNAO’s harm reduction strategy). And, we believe that the next mayor of Toronto needs to show leadership on this issue.
Join us, call on candidates for mayor of Toronto to sign RNAO’s pledge. Contact candidates by email and twitter and urge them to #DecriminalizeNow.
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.
|Name||Pledge signed||Twitter handle|
|Allan, Gru Jesseemail@example.com||@Gru4Mayor|
|Chevalier Romero, Danny|
|Gong, Xiao Huafirstname.lastname@example.org||@Gong4Mayor|
|Singh, Partap Dua|
|Yan, Nathalie Xian Yi|