Experts warn against New Brunswick proposal to force drug treatment

A group of experts is sounding the alarm over a proposal from the New Brunswick government that could result in forced treatment for drug addicts.

“We write to express our opposition and condemnation of your government’s plan to pursue legislation that will infringe on people’s liberty rights by involuntarily apprehending and forcibly confining people who use drugs in New Brunswick,” said experts from fields including health, criminology and law. write in an open letter.

Experts say in the letter to Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs and four of his ministers that the plan is not supported by any scientific evidence and represents an unjustifiable violation of Charter rights.

Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said in recent media interviews that the government is considering legislation that would allow police to force drug users into treatment in “extreme” cases.

Austin was not available for an interview Monday, but his office said in an email that it had received the experts’ letter and appreciated their comments.

“The goal of the legislation is to help, in extreme cases, people struggling with addiction and unable to meet their own basic needs,” a statement from his office said.

“In order to help them, an intervention is needed, which includes a compassionate approach. The aim of the legislation would be to set the parameters for how this intervention takes place.

The plan was first released in a Facebook post on August 30 by Progressive Conservative MP Michelle Conroy following a “crime reduction meeting” with Austin and a team from the Department of Security public. A slide from the meeting indicated that the government’s proposal for a “Humanitarian Intervention Act” would be presented by the end of October.

Jamie Livingston, co-author of the letter and associate professor of criminology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, called the government’s proposal misguided.

“Not only is the proposed legislation ineffective, harmful and violates people’s rights, but ultimately it will take resources away from measures that we know work,” he said in an interview.

Livingston pointed to Alberta’s ruling United Conservative Party, which has floated a similar proposal for legislation to allow mandatory drug treatment. The proposed law in Alberta would allow a family member, doctor, psychologist or police officer to ask a judge to issue a treatment order.

If passed, Livingston said, the laws in Alberta and New Brunswick would give police the power to round up people who use drugs and bring them to treatment centers.

“Ultimately what this is about is the police arrest and involuntary detention of people who are using drugs for non-criminal reasons, which the evidence shows is ineffective, but also very harmful and contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he declared. said.

Such processing centers, if implemented, he noted, would siphon resources from other regions, which is particularly difficult in a province like New Brunswick, where people already have no no access to voluntary services.

The Department of Health funds, through regional health authorities, a total of 79 beds for medical withdrawal detoxification purposes, said spokesperson Sean Hatchard. The wait time for clients to access a detox bed varies from five to 27 days depending on the priority and severity of each situation, he explained.

Livingston said people use drugs as a coping mechanism for other issues they are facing and usually have a history of trauma.

“I think this bill is specifically aimed at people who are on the streets, who are homeless, who are living in poverty and in very serious situations that are actually a direct product of the government’s inability to find accessible and affordable housing, equitable access to health services, equitable access to substance abuse treatment and harm reduction services,” he said.

“It’s the accumulation of policies that has left people in a truly dire situation and crisis. »

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