The City of Cold Lake would like to see stricter consequences for those convicted of drug-related offences.
After receiving a letter from the Alberta Mid-sized City Mayors' Caucus, the city discussed their thoughts on supporting the organization in their efforts in relation to drugs and drug addiction.
According to Andrew Serba, general manager of strategic initiatives, council had the opportunity to support the caucus regarding two separate drug-related issues.
The first involves lobbying the federal government to create stricter penalties for those arrested and convicted with drug trafficking offences.
The caucus also wants to lobby the provincial government, but in a different way. They're hoping the Government of Alberta will consider creating legislation that would allow the police and municipally-designated agencies the ability to detain people for up to 24 hours so they can be transported to a safe sobering facility.
“In the case of the request of the provincial government, it raises several questions regarding proper diagnosis, safety and training that may be required, and the types and locations of facilities that people would be taken to. In this case, administration is recommending that council pass a motion to recommend the group conduct further research before the lobbying is undertaken,” noted Serba.
According to Mayor Craig Copeland, the mayor of Lethbridge had presented the concern to the caucus, specifically because of some concerns they're having in their own city.
Locally, this isn't so much of an issue, Copeland said.
“We don’t have one of those safe injection sites that places like Lethbridge have," he detailed.
Coun. Bob Buckle noted how he could understand from a cost-saving perspective how this could be beneficial, but felt there were some things that needed clarification.
“They’re kind of commingling them (drugs and alcohol) together, which is problematic to me. You’re talking about alcohol and dealing with someone who is intoxicated and finding another place to take them to be supervised until they’re sober, I could see where in large urban areas that would be a cost saver for their police department. I can see them wanting to move in that direction, I’m not willing to attach that to the drug aspect of it,” he said. “Right now, when they find someone drunk on the street, they take them to a cell block... all of those costs just to take them to the cell block and release them in the morning when they’re sober, if that can be done somewhere else at a more effective cost, that would make sense.”
For Coun. Jurgen Grau, saving a few dollars isn't enough of a reason to hold someone at a facility.
“That cause isn’t quite noble enough for me to be detaining people quite honestly. If there was some sort of program around it, I could understand that."
Although council wasn't on board with lobbying the province until they had further information, they did agree to support a letter to the federal government.
“I don’t have a problem of looking at not having a revolving door policy for when people are having their trials. I don’t have a problem with extending or having something in place for a longer term for anyone charged with it,” expressed Coun. Vicky Lefebvre.
Coun. Chris Vining agreed with Lefebvre that there wasn't much debate that something needed to change in relation to drug trafficking convictions and sentences.
He said it's something that "just involves reviewing where we're at, especially now with the legalization of what would be considered soft on the drug scale."
Councillors agreed to postpone supporting the caucus' letter to the province.
“I think there are a lot of questions about this. My advice to council is to lobby the government on such a piece of legislation, further understanding and vision of where people want to go with this and the end target is needed before we sign the letter,” said CAO Kevin Nagoya.
Vining explained how in larger municipalities that offer safe injection site services, this could be an issues.
"It’s both the blessing and the curse. Instead of people being spread out across a 12 or 20 block radius in various places, basically what you’re doing is bringing the concentration to one block area,” he expressed. “That’s the issue. Everybody is now coming to one spot, as opposed to being spread out."
He added, although he can understand the city's push for change, "there are still a lot of voluntary measures and community groups that also offer those services."
Council will request further information from the organization about the provincial initiative before moving forward.