LETHBRIDGE – Mayor Chris Spearman says he received unanimous support Oct.19 from the 22 Alberta mid-sized city mayors for a resolution to send two letters; one to the provincial government, and one to the federal government expressing the urgent need for help dealing with a growing drug crisis.
One letter, signed by the 22 mayors, has been sent to the federal Justice Minister calling for more stringent penalties for drug trafficking.
“The drug flow is a huge problem for every city. It’s unfettered drug flow. And secondly, with respect to transportation to safe sobering facilities, either by police, or by social service agencies. In our case it would be the diversion outreach team.”
The latter is a provincial government matter, which Spearman says has been addressed by sending another letter signed by all 22 mid-sized city mayors to the provincial Solicitor General and Minister of Justice. It calls for new legislation to permit lawful intervention, transportation and detention of those addicted to drugs and visibly using illegal drugs in public places to safe sobering facilities.
Another letter was sent by city officials to the Chief Federal Prosecutor in Edmonton, requesting a full-time federal prosecutor in Lethbridge to manage the volume of drug cases in Lethbridge and the surrounding area.
There is however, already a full-time federal prosecutor in Lethbridge, so it’s not clear at this time if the request is for a second prosecutor that would solely deal with drug-related cases only in Lethbridge.
Spearman says he’s aware that Lethbridge also requires the facilities to deal with those who may be transported to a safe centre if specific legislation is drafted and passed by the province.
At the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention in September, Spearman explained that he met with provincial Health Minister Sarah Hoffman to re-emphasize the pressing need for additional detox beds beyond the 8 that are already expected, a safe sobering site, permanent supportive housing and that Lethbridge be included in the provincial drug study that is currently being conducted in Calgary and Edmonton. Another letter outlining the above was also sent to her office.
“If you don’t try, you don’t get. People are saying in the city of Lethbridge where’s the leadership? Well, we’re the city that’s providing the provincial leadership asking for help in the enforcement area. And then we’re advocating for ourselves in terms of the health needs.”
Spearman hopes that the letters with the nearly two dozen provincial mayors have an impact on the ministers.
The next steps he says, are to try and get both Calgary and Edmonton on board to advocate for the same federal penalties and new provincial legislation.
“Both Mayor (Don) Iveson and Mayor (Naheed) Nenshi have told me if their police chiefs are on board, they’re on board too.”
Spearman adds that with both provincial and federal elections on the horizon, it's becoming more urgent to get the requests in, heard and acted upon by both levels of government.
"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen now. This is the time when we have to say 'this government has to support its cities or not...' If we don't get it in this window there will be elections. Who knows what'll happen in terms of the government's return to focus on issues that are important to the people of Alberta and the city of Lethbridge. So we think the window is right, to make sure the formal requests have been made again in writing very clearly...the issue is getting worse, and we need to turn a corner. We need to direct resources to resolve the issues."
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