Winnipeg drug decriminalization effort voted down


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Following heated debate and a divided council vote, the City of Winnipeg will not seek federal permission to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Following heated debate and a divided council vote, the City of Winnipeg will not seek federal permission to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs.

Supporters argued that effort, which could have resulted in the exemption applying within city boundaries, would make it easier for those who use substances to seek harm reduction services and treatment. However, council defeated the call in an 8-8 tie vote Thursday, which municipal rules deem a loss.

The divided vote came after an impassioned plea from the protection and community services committee chairwoman to support the appeal to the feds.

DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES The City of Winnipeg will not seek federal permission to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs.

“Criminalization makes it difficult, if not impossible, for people who use drugs to access services, increasing risks and subjecting them to health harms… We have a toxic drug supply in Winnipeg and it’s ravaging our city and people are hurt by it and dying,” said Coun. Sherri Rollins.

The Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry councillor rejected some concerns that by approving the motion, the city would interfere in provincial jurisdiction over health care and addiction services.

“This isn’t about getting our roles confused and taking on health care… It’s finding the priority file that we have before us, whether we want to see it or not, and moving (along) the right path (to address it),” said Rollins.

Rollins joined Coun. Matt Allard, Markus Chambers, Ross Eadie, Cindy Gilroy, John Orlikow, Vivian Santos and Jason Schreyer in favour of the motion.

Mayor Brian Bowman, as well as Couns. Jeff Browaty, Scott Gillingham, Kevin Klein, Brian Mayes, Shawn Nason, Janice Lukes and Devi Sharma voted against it.

Browaty suggested decriminalization would make drugs appear safer, ignoring the danger they pose to those who use them.

“What type of message are we sending to kids, to adults, that small amounts, simple possession are not criminal, (as though) it’s not a problem? We’re talking about addictive, life-destroying illicit drugs,” he said.

During the meeting, Bowman said the idea warrants debate, due to the massive toll drug use has on emergency services and those suffering from addictions.

However, the mayor said he opposed the motion due to a lack of detail about how the change has affected other communities who tried it and how altering Winnipeg’s stance would work with clashing rule in surrounding communities.

“If we were to apply for this exemption and achieve it and it were not to be in place (elsewhere in Manitoba)… If Winnipeg were the only municipality (doing this), how would that practically operate?” Bowman said.

Earlier Thursday, Coun. Kevin Klein raised an alternate motion calling for council to seek a report on placing nasal Narcan spray in all city-owned buildings and transit buses, to make the opioid overdose treatment readily available.

However, Klein later withdrew his motion, citing further discussion with council colleagues.

Meanwhile, council unanimously approved a new set of tax benefits aimed to trigger desirable developments, including affordable housing.

The new tax-increment financing policy aims to support the construction of 1,500 affordable housing units, a need highlighted in recent months as many vulnerable Winnipeggers sought shelter in bus shacks and encampments.

The proposed grants would refund up to 80 per cent of the municipal portion of property taxes for eligible affordable housing projects.

Tax breaks will also be added for: heritage building restoration and rehabilitation projects; economic development initiatives (such as the redevelopment of downtown surface parking lots and brownfield sites); and “transformative developments” worth at least $100 million.

The city will also declare 2022 to 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, an acknowledgment that aims to help preserve, revitalize and promote languages. It matches an earlier proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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