Toronto wants all drugs exempt for adults and youth in decriminalization request

FILE-An interim injection site has opened inside Toronto Public Health’s offices at Dundas and Victoria St. in Toronto on Monday, August 21, 2017. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says the province will continue to fund overdose-prevention sites but will change their name and focus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston


The City of Toronto is requesting an exemption of all personal use drugs for young people and adults to Health Canada.

The request was an updated submission to a Jan. 2022 request under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, asking the government to go a step further than British Columbia’s exemption.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) wants Health Canada to exempt all drugs for personal use and also protect young people from criminalization, as a response to the city’s drug toxicity crisis.  

The previous decriminalization request had not been updated in 14 months. 

TPH does not believe substance abuse is a criminal justice issue but believes decriminalization will save costs for the criminal justice system, create greater access and connection for health care and supports for people who use drugs, and reduce preventable deaths.

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“Decriminalization will help reduce the barriers and stigma that prevent people from accessing life-saving supports and services,” TPH says in a news release issued on Friday. 

According to TPH, Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw and Toronto City Manager Paul Johnson have signed the updated submission, along with Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. 

“In 2021, 591 people died due to an overdose in Toronto. Fear of criminalization is one of the reasons people may hesitate to access the help they need,“ de Villa said in the statement. 

“The goal of decriminalization is to reduce the mental, physical and social harms associated with criminalizing people for possessing drugs for their personal use, and it has the potential to meaningfully improve the health and wellbeing of all Torontonians,” she continued.

This update was provided after a year of consultation with experts in mental health and substance use, community health, criminal justice and law enforcement, harm reduction and people with lived and living experience of drug use.

TPH also gathered personal stories from family, friends, first responders and frontline harm reduction workers and working groups, including members of African, Caribbean and Black and Indigenous communities. 



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