Media Statement
May 1, 2024

As Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, I want to address the recent developments in British Columbia regarding their proposed modification to their federal exemption for the simple possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. The aim, as I understand it, is to equip law enforcement with additional measures to address public drug use. There has been criticism of Toronto’s decriminalization efforts, suggesting we focus on treatment rather than decriminalization. Decriminalization is fundamentally recognizing that addiction is a health issue – and therefore requires health-based interventions. Decriminalization is not legalization.

Toronto, like many other areas, grapples with the intertwined challenges of untreated addiction, mental illnesses and homelessness – a triple crisis demanding solutions from the whole of society and all levels of government. Drug addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue. Our city urgently needs more publicly funded treatment options and accessible mental health supports, as well as affordable housing, all of which are severely lacking.

We have never seen this toxic a drug supply, this level of homelessness and this level of mental health crises in our history and like other Toronto residents, I see this on our streets and in our communities every single day. And we know we cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. On open public drug use, let me be clear: lighting up a crack pipe on a playground or injecting drugs on the subway is not acceptable and should not be allowed. Selling or trafficking drugs is illegal. But arresting individuals who are carrying drugs for their own personal use isn’t effective.

Reducing the harms associated with drug use and ensuring ALL pathways to a range of treatment options are available is paramount and, as outlined in our five-year plan – Our Health, Our City – requires the collaboration and commitment of many partners.

Our application for an exemption to the federal law that criminalizes the possession of drugs for personal use was developed in collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders, including individuals with lived experience who use drugs, organizations who serve them and the Toronto Police Service.

The model is evidence-informed and aims to reduce harms associated with drug use, promote and provide pathways to treatment and does not sacrifice public safety. This is only ONE tool that is necessary to address the crises we are currently facing.

As Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, my role is to bring forward and implement population health interventions that improve health – and reduce harms harm – for every Toronto resident, no matter the issue. Our goal is to cultivate a city where everyone can thrive. To achieve this, we remain committed to partnering with community groups, governmental agencies and stakeholders at all levels to implement effective, sustainable solutions.

Dr. Eileen de Villa
Toronto Medical Officer of Health

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, addresses the decriminalization of drugs for personal use in a video.

Media Relations
Toronto Public Health