OCT 2019

Safety and the Well-Being of Our Community

It is clear we have a growing crisis in our community. People are dying from drug-related violence and from overdoses. Families are being torn apart. Emergency responders are being stretched thin. Neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly stressed. I see the damage this is having on our community, and more and more people are asking me what we are going to do about it.

We know dangerous and addictive drugs—such as crystal meth and opioids—are at the heart of this crisis, and that the cycle of pain, trauma, and addictions is gripping too many people.

A couple of weekends ago on a ride-along, I saw this firsthand when we were first on the scene to an overdose death. Seeing the toll it is taking on people, confronting this suffering, and hearing from our first responders that these calls are becoming all too regular—this was all a very eye-opening and powerful experience. It is a night I will never forget—coming face to face with the devastation of a young life taken too early and the pain of family members, friends, and children who were impacted.

These are preventable deaths happening right here in our community, and we have to work together to stop them. Everyone deserves to feel safe and to be safe in our city.

This week I called a media conference with different community partners to update the public on these issues. As I said to the media: the time for action is now. The number of people using these drugs is on the rise, and this is not something that we can take lightly.

To address this, we have been working hard to build a partnership between the City and Fire Department, Police, the Health Authority, Indigenous leaders, front-line workers and agencies, the education sector, and the business community to create a coordinated response. We have an unprecedented level of collaboration and agreement in our community on how to move forward.

The Crystal Meth and Opioid Crisis

Crystal meth has been an issue in our community for many years, but recently we’ve reached a tipping point, and this is something that has grown worse since opioids have hit our streets. This is a health crisis that is leading to crime.

People high on crystal meth are often violent and unpredictable, and the Saskatoon Police Service is responding to more and more calls to manage this. On top of this, emergency rooms are managing these cases, EMS responders are going to more overdoses, people are continuing to fall through the cracks, and the strain these drugs are having on families is so very real. Crystal meth is underlying so much of the violence and community break down in Saskatoon.   

To fix this, the Safe Community Action Alliance—a growing coalition of institutions and agencies that works toward the well-being of Saskatoon—identified crystal meth as one of their key areas to address. Lots of different groups have a role to play and are already doing important work, but no one group can do it alone. Collaboration is key.

The SCAA did a huge amount of research to figure out where gaps in service exist and what sort of interventions can have the greatest impact. They worked with service agencies, people with lived experience, youth, and data supplied from the SCAA members to come up with a list of recommendations for action. This has been a long process, but it has gotten us some significant results. The people of Saskatoon can be very proud of the level of collaboration and the incredible hard work by talented and caring people to tackle this issue.

The Path Forward

The SCAA presented their findings and 24 recommendations to leaders from the City, Police, the Tribal Council, CUMFI, the Health Authority, and educational institutions, and we unanimously endorsed the plan and recommendations. We now have an unprecedented level of collaboration and agreement in our community on how we need to proceed.

The SCAA’s full report and recommendations will be released in the coming weeks, but there are a few preliminary highlights that we can move on:

  1. Establish a drug court in Saskatoon: Regina has one already and it has been effective for helping break people out of the cycle of addictions and incarceration and into treatment.
  2. Create crystal meth and fentanyl specific treatment options: Right now most people going into treatment are entering 28 day programs designed for alcohol, and it isn’t working. 
  3. Create more 24/7 safe places for youth: There is a gap that exists in our community, and we need to ensure that young people have safe spaces away from the appeal of drugs and gangs.
  4. Establish a more coordinated system of outreach services: Right now there are multiple service providers providing outreach services during the day, but there are very few services during the night. With some coordination, the hope is to have these services provided throughout the day. This would help to free up police officers so they can address the safety related calls and have outreach services focused on the mental health and addictions issues.

I’ve been in touch with Premier Moe and different provincial cabinet ministers to advocate on these issues and we are in conversations about how to work together. The Province is a major player, and we need to work with them in order to see action.  

I do not want to claim that this work will be easy, but we have so many strengths in Saskatoon to address the devastation that drugs are causing. With this plan from the SCAA and a consensus amongst so many important players, what was previously an insurmountable problem is now much more manageable. This gives me hope.

My thanks to everyone involved in this work. This has been underway for a while now, and this speaks to both the complexity of these challenges and to the commitment that people have for seeing progress in this area.

Our community, neighbourhoods, families, and youth are relying on us. We have the roadmap, now we just need to put this plan to action.

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