The United Conversative Party’s leader Danielle Smith, flanked by candidates Mike Ellis and Nicholas Milliken, announced that party’s election promise to introduce a bill to bring involuntary drug treatment to Albertans if elected.
Called the Compassionate Intervention Act, it would allow for family members, doctors, psychologists, or police officers to petition a judge in a non-criminal proceeding to involuntarily detain an individual in a recovery program.
Smith said that this would be used to ensure that individuals using drugs who are a danger to themselves or others, to be sent to recovery programs instead of jails.
“Far too often this addiction crisis has led to social disorder and out-of-control violence that has seemed to have gotten worse,” said Smith.
“It is the number one job of a government to ensure that people are safe when they walk down the street. They shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders in their own communities.”
She said that under the act, a judge would be the final arbiter as to whether an order to have an individual placed into treatment would be granted.
The treatment orders under the proposed plan could vary depending on need and could include the province’s opioid agonist treatment (also known as methadone treatment), outpatient counselling, medical detox, inpatient addiction treatment, or attendance in an in-patient treatment program.
The party promised that individuals subject to an order would be given compassionate and appropriate care.
“I think when a person gets to this point, there really is only two pathways: There’s jail, there’s treatment, and there’s continued addiction and possibly death,” said Smith.
Currently, in Alberta individuals can be given a community treatment order (CTO) under the Mental Health Act, which is designed to help patients comply with treatment orders to avoid involuntary hospitalization and re-hospitalization.
Under a CTO, two licensed medical professionals together, one of whom must be a psychiatrist, may issue a CTO. The CTO does not go before a judge and does not include the categories of individuals who can request judicial intervention as under the UCP’s proposed plan.
Individuals under the age of 18 are subject to the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act (PCADA), which allows for guardians of a child—as defined by the act—to apply for court-ordered involuntary placement into a drug treatment program. That act allows for individuals subject to involuntary treatment to ask the courts for a review of the order, and to speak to a lawyer.
Smith did not directly respond to a question asked by LWC whether individuals who are referred to a judicial review process for non-criminal involuntary treatment under the UCP’s plan would be able to challenge that process either by themselves or with the assistance of a lawyer.
“We’ve got to restore individual agency. We’ve got to restore the ability for them to be able to make decisions in their own interest to preserve their life. That’s what this is about,” she said.
In response to a question about whether or not such a program would be an attack on personal freedoms and under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, she said that individuals using drugs have lost their ability to make decisions in their own interest, and have lost individual agency.
“I feel very confident that we would be doing being totally compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for life, liberty and security,” Smith said.
The UCP said that their goal would be to continue to support voluntary treatment, but that the community safety aspect of drug use had required community intervention.
Program described as compassionate by Smith, but campaigned on by fear
Smith spoke directly to the fears of Albertans as to why the program should exist, saying that no one should be thrown onto LRT tracks, punched, kicked, spit on, or “heaven forbid, stabbed.”
“Albertans want and deserve safety and they want members of their communities to be well,” she said.
“We stand for achieving life-saving services on demand when they are needed. We stand for partnerships with First Nations and walking this journey together. We stand for a parent’s right to save the life of their child. We stand for safe streets and accountability. We stand for safe and drug free transit and we stand for a functioning justice system.”
Speaking at Monday’s event, several speakers talked about their own anecdotal experiences with involuntary treatment.
Deseré Pressey spoke about her family’s experience, saying that her family had been torn apart by addiction.
“I felt absolutely terrified and lost while navigating the mental health system. The band-aid short term quick fix solutions only aggravated the situation—my daughter’s literally dying in front of my eyes,” she said.
“No matter how dark it got, including the suicide attempts, and multiple overdoses, my girls were still convinced that they were in control of their drug use and simply weren’t ready to stop yet. The disease of addiction had completely hijacked their minds.”
Smith lambasted the Alberta NDP for what she said was their plan to distribute hard drugs to addicts, what she claimed was a mirror of what was occurring in British Columbia.
“Rachel Notley has gone on the record saying she supports safe supply. That’s what it means is it means using taxpayer dollars to give hard drugs to individuals,” Smith said.
She said that going before a judge to get an involuntary treatment order under the PCADA allowed them to live.
Smith also introduced Earl Theissen, Executive Director for Oxford House, who said he was pleased to support the announcement.
“I’ve been in long term-recovery for 15 years, after I spent seven years homeless on the streets in Calgary and 20 in addiction. I would not be here today if it were not for the intervention and support of a Provincial Court judge,” he said.
“For me this Compassionate Intervention Act means hope. Hope for families and communities bearing the impact of addiction.”
He said that had the act existed, he may not be currently having to raise his sister’s daughter, after she lost her life to an overdose.
“I’m a dad again when nobody should expect to be. She left behind a one-year-old baby and a teenage son when she was in trouble with addiction, and we had no way to intervene. If this act had been in place then she may still be alive today,” Theissen said.
Jeremy Nixon, then Minister for Community, Seniors, and Housing, previously announced in January that Oxford House would be a recipient of $1.8 million in government funding to support their work to support the organization’s creation of pre-treatment spaces.
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley responded to Smith’s comments on Monday afternoon, lambasting her comments about the NDP’s plan as lies.
“We have not ever talked about safe supply, that’s something that the UCP has made up,” Notley said.
She said that the NDP has supported the supervised consumption sites where there has been community buy-in for said sites, and has supported a legal pharmaceutical replacement therapy for addicted individuals when those replacement medicines are prescribed by doctors.