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Alberta police chiefs say decriminalization strategy premature, emphasize 'whole of system' approach


The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police (AACP) has outlined what it calls a "whole of system" approach to the decriminalization of the simple possession of illicit drugs, but says it would be premature to implement such a strategy today.

Chief Dale McFee of the Edmonton Police Service unveiled a list of priorities, strategies and tactics Wednesday morning during a panel presentation at the Alberta Recovery Conference hosted in Calgary.

He emphasized the need for prioritizing community safety and addressing the province’s community health crisis before decriminalization could take place.

"There is an addictions crisis in our communities, but there is no single, stand-alone fix," said McFee

"We have to stop trying to ad hoc our way out of this crisis by rushing to ideas like decriminalization, which will actually exacerbate challenges."

Calgary Police Service Chief and AACP President Mark Neufeld also noted that sweeping harm-reduction policies may present additional challenges in rural areas, and says officers are committed to collaboratively working with those communities.

"What can’t be different is the commitment that social agencies, health providers and the judicial system make to solving this wickedly complex issue together. Success will only be fully realized when we truly come together for the greater good of our communities," he said.  

The police chiefs' stance on policy reform for decriminalization was created based on the results of an AACP-commissioned report titled Decriminalization: A Proposed Theory of Change for Improved Community Safety and Wellbeing Outcomes.

The report was authored by researchers of the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance (CSKA), a non-profit group, of which McFee is also the acting chairperson and president. 

The AACP has since outlined the following roadmap to community safety and well-being:


  • Reducing individual & community harms
  • Supporting trauma-informed & culturally appropriate rehabilitation & recovery
  • Prevent the problematic use of illicit substances


  • Developing trauma-informed & culturally appropriate off-ramps
  • Enhanced availability & access to resources (housing, education, mental health & addictions recovery)
  • Supporting healthy parenting & early development
  • Amend legislation, policy & operational protocols
  • Research, monitoring & evaluation.


  • Trauma & health-informed approaches to police interaction with individuals experiencing adverse effects of problem substance use.
  • Decriminalization
  • Diversion
  • Harm reduction (needle exchanges, supervised consumption, safe supply)

AACP's Roadmap to Community Well-Being. (AACP)

The research led by the CSKA was peer-reviewed by six professionals who work in psychology, addiction and mental health, criminology and the judicial system.

Dr. Onawa LaBelle, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Windsor, attested to her lived experience of addiction and recovery, and says her research provides valuable insight into the complexities of decriminalization.

"The paper outlines an evidence-based approach for a roadmap to community well-being that considers not just the individual, but the community they inhabit, emphasizing the need for collaboration between social agencies, health providers and the judicial system," said LaBelle.

"This collaborative approach is critical to addressing the multifaceted and interconnected issues related to addiction and decriminalization."


Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has previewed what she calls a 'record-breaking' $275-million investment in addiction and mental health care ahead of the tabling of the provincial budget next week.

According to Smith, the province's mental health and addiction specific budget was around $87 million a year in 2019, but says funding for the ministry of mental health and addictions will surge if the budget passes.

Further details are expected in the coming days with "key priorities," including an increase in harm reduction programs, supporting more Indigenous partnerships for addictions treatment, and expanding recovery and treatment access.

Smith adds that six recovery communities -- defined as being holistic wellness and treatment centres to help build resiliency connections with community and support groups – will also be built across Alberta.

Centres will open in Edmonton and Calgary, with the Red Deer, Lethbridge and Gunn recovery communities set to open this year.

An additional $75 million will go toward designing three new communities, Smith shared. 

Despite the promise of more funding, small rallies continue to be held in Edmonton and Calgary this week, demanding accountability on the outcomes behind the province's recovery model before additional money is invested in that model of care. 


Alberta and British Columbia are currently the hardest-hit provinces in terms of accidental opioid deaths per capita.

This comes as B.C. takes a harm reduction and decriminalization pilot project approach, with many experts saying neither goes far enough to have a real impact.

The Alberta government has since steered away from harm reduction and more toward a model of recovery and abstinence despite the province’s soaring rate of deaths from opioids.

Alberta's rate of drug poisoning deaths stands at 31.9 per 100,000 people as of November 2022, while B.C. also remains well above pre-pandemic levels at 40.2.

The City of Edmonton's rate is still much higher at 50.5 deaths per 100,000 people. 

In November, 120 people died in Alberta from unintentional opioid poisoning with 45 deaths occurring in Edmonton and 38 in Calgary. 

Nearly 7.000 people died of opioid poisoning in Alberta from 2016 to 2022, according to provincial health data. 

With files from CTV News’s Edmonton’s Adam Lachacz Top Stories

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