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Ford asks Trudeau to put pause on new safe supply sites and review existing ones

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford is asking that the federal government put the brakes on any approvals for new safe supply sites for drug users in Ontario and conduct a review of existing sites.

"In Ontario, due to Health Canada’s siloed approval process, the province is completely in the dark about where these federally approved sites are operating and the quantity of controlled and illegal substances they dispense. This is frankly unacceptable, given its adverse effects on our communities," Ford wrote in a letter sent to the prime minster on Thursday.

"For that reason, I’m calling on the federal government to immediately stop approving new sites and conduct a formal review of existing ones in the province."

Ford is also asking that the federal government require provincial support as a precondition for safe supply sites.

Many public health officials – including Ontario's chief medical officer of health – have advocated for safe supply programs as a way of providing people living with drug addiction a safer alternative that results in fewer opioid-related deaths and infections. The approach involves looking at drug addiction as a health issue rather than a vice.

The programs have become especially timely amid an opioid crisis which has seen street drugs laced with unpredictable amounts of powerful and potentially deadly substances.

However safer drug supply programs have also become a political hot potato, with some politicians balking at the idea, and saying government should focus on treatment programs rather than providing safer drugs and spaces for drug users.

Ford cited the example of British Columbia, which recently asked the federal government to pull back on some parts of a plan to decriminalize simple possession of hard drugs, as an example of a place where the safe supply approach has not worked.

His comments come in tandem with federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who also recently penned a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking that he reject Toronto's request to decriminalize simple possession of hard drugs.

In his letter to Trudeau Thursday, Ford reiterated that his government does not support Toronto Public Health's request to the federal government to decriminalize simple possession of hard drugs.

"As we’ve already indicated to Toronto Public Health, we do not, and never will, support their application to decriminalize illegal drugs," Ford wrote. "Please consider this our formal confirmation to the federal government that we are 100 per cent opposed to their proposal."

The federal government said Friday that it is rejecting Toronto's request.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, told CP24 Thursday that the request to the federal government for an exemption order to decriminalize simple possession of hard drugs represents her best medical advice for public health.

“At the end of the day I will continue to do my job as a physician to provide the advice and then to leave the decision-making to the elected officials,” she said.

She has said previously that the request is about "fundamentally recognizing that addiction is a health issue."

In a separate letter Friday, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow urged all three levels of government to work together on points of agreement to combat the opioid crisis.

She said the approach should include a 24/7 Crisis Centre; expanding access to evidence-based treatment for substance use; supportive housing to address complex needs; and other measures.

"I believe this approach, with a strong focus on expanded treatment options, can significantly reduce the devastating impact of the drug toxicity epidemic in Toronto and across Ontario," Chow wrote.

She also said "we all agree more treatment is vital."

Chow has previously said she thinks the debate about decriminalization is irrelevant without proper housing and treatment supports in place for people addicted to drugs.

-With files from CP24's Codi Wilson  

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