By Kalinowski, Tim on March 3, 2020.
Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer was in Lethbridge on Monday to announce the formation of a new drug treatment court in the city as well as to make the announcement for the funding of four additional officers to join the Lethbridge region’s ALERT unit to help fight organized drug crime.
“Lethbridge will be the first community outside of Calgary and Edmonton to have a drug treatment court,” announced Schweitzer, “and that is really exciting news for us. With the meth issues we are having, in addition to the opioid crisis that we have in the province of Alberta, ensuring we have treatment options for those going through the criminal justice system is key.”
Schweitzer was joined by Associate Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Jason Luan in making his announcement.
“Our government believes in a fair, firm and compassionate approach in fighting with addiction,” Luan added. “We believe in Albertans and their abilities to recover (from addiction).”
The drug treatment court will give those charged with criminal offences due to their drug addictions the choice between seeking treatment or receiving jail sentences. Those who agree to this alternative measure will receive access to treatment and recovery, be subjected to regular drug testing, and must come before the court regularly to give an update on their treatment and recovery progress.
According to Schweitzer, the drug treatment court should be up and running in Lethbridge fairly shortly.
“We already have the beginnings of a drug treatment court here,” he said. “The restorative justice initiatives that were started here last year will be some of the foundational work; so we are not starting from zero. We are going to be building on what’s here already in the City of Lethbridge – so hopefully by the end of 2020 into 2021 we will have the formal drug treatment court up and operational.”
With a shortage of treatment beds already in southern Alberta, both ministers were asked where will the courts send those who choose to seek treatment once they have agreed to the alternative measure? Luan did not confirm any new treatment beds as yet for the Lethbridge region in his response, but confirmed there were more beds to come province-wide soon on top of those already rolled out.
“We are rapidly increasing with our 4,000 (treatment-bed) target last September when the premier made the announcement at the National Recovery Conference,” stated Luan. “Up until now, we have accomplished 3,000 of that 4,000 target. I think we will probably exceed that. But those 3,000 we just created, they are province-wide. It doesn’t matter where they are located, they are co-ordinated so people can go to any part of that (provincial network).”
Luan also would not confirm whether or not his government would continue to support supervised consumption services in Lethbridge going forward.
“Those specific site-related issues, we’re going to have to delay for some time and work out what is best for each community,” he explained. “Once people have a chance to look at the (SCS panel report), and think about it, and then we can come together to talk about what’s the real solution. But make no mistake, we are going to be focused on recovery, focused on how to get people well. That will never change.”
On top of the drug treatment court announcement, Schweitzer did confirm the four new officers will be added to ALERT in the Lethbridge region as soon as possible. This announcement was welcomed by Lethbridge Police Service Chief Scott Woods.
“We’re excited to have it on both fronts: the ALERT announcement and obviously the drug treatment court,” confirmed Woods. “But from the ALERT side, any time we can get more resources to help with what is going on in the city and the (region)…. We can take as much help as we can get to deal with some of the issues we have been dealing with here for a long period of time.”
Mayor Chris Spearman said he, too, was pleased with both announcements.
“I think (the ALERT announcement) is a step in the right direction,” stated Spearman. “We had asked for additional resources for a SCAN office, but Minister Schweitzer said instead he would rather provide services through ALERT; so we’ll certainly give that a try to shut down the drug activity and shut down drug houses in the city, and work in a co-ordinated way on a regional basis with all the law enforcement organizations in the area.”
Spearman said the establishment of a drug treatment court was a much needed legal mechanism to help fight drug crime in the city.
“We’re happy to be part of that,” he said. “It’s great to have an opportunity for people to escape addiction and receive an alternative to traditional justice. We want to make sure we have the services to support that, of course. And make sure people can be referred successfully into treatment.”
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter