A re-elected United Conservative Party government would pass legislation to force addicts who are a danger to themselves or others into treatment, leader Danielle Smith announced from Calgary on Monday.
The Compassionate Intervention Act would be the first involuntary treatment law in Canada to specifically target addiction.
Smith said the Act would allow a family member, doctor, psychologist, or police officer to make a petition to a specially appointed non-criminal judge to issue a treatment order.
“This step would be a last resort in order to save lives and to prevent the overdose deaths, assaults, and attacks happening in Alberta as a result of drug use,” she said.
Treatment orders would vary, but could include evidence-based medication treatment, outpatient counselling, medical detox, inpatient addiction treatment, or attendance in an inpatient treatment program.
The UCP would also build over 700 new publicly funded treatment beds across 11 new recovery communities. Four of these communities will be built in partnership with First Nations including Kainai Nation, the Enoch Cree Nation, the Siksika Nation, and the Tsuut’ina Nation.
Another five new 75-bed mental wellness centres would be built, adding a total of 375 inpatient mental health beds across the province.
Smith was flanked by families and individuals touched by addiction as she made the comprehensive mental health and addictions announcement. Recovered addict Abi Plesa said her family “saved her life” after she fell into addiction for six years at just 12 years old.
“I truly believed I wasn’t going to make it past 16 years of age,” she said.
“I hated anyone or anything that stood between myself and my drug use, and I was a danger to myself and others living in a world of darkness without a way out.”
At age 16, her parents obtained a court order to place her into detox before she entered a treatment centre. Plesa said her parents were “scared for my life” and had no other choice. The final intervention worked and gave her the tools and support to recover, she said.
“Without (my family) making the decision to intervene, I believe I would be dead,” she said.
“Because of their actions and because of the hope that others had for me, I’m here today, standing before you, forever grateful, and alive.”
Asked by True North what her response is to those who call forced treatment “inhumane,” Plesa said she didn’t want anything to get in the way of her drug use while she was an addict.
“Addiction — it’s a disease, it’s a brain disease,” she explained, adding that she needed intervention to become “sane” again.
“I was extremely grateful… to be given that opportunity.”
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said the act is “another example” of Smith making an announcement without consulting with frontline workers. She said the UCP’s plan to invest in more recovery and eliminate the accommodation fee is excellent, but that she’s heard from “other folks” struggling with addiction that forced treatment doesn’t work.
“The recovery is good, but the idea of force recovery, rarely, rarely succeeds,” she said in response to a question from True North on Monday.
The announcement is the second tier in the UCP’s pitch to address public safety amid record levels of violent criminal activity.
Last week, Smith announced the Safe Streets Action Plan, which would implement bracelet monitoring of dangerous offenders out on bail and deploy sheriffs to monitor them. The UCP would also add 100 more patrol officers on city streets, continue to deploy sheriffs alongside Calgary and Edmonton police officers to address public disorder, create new anti-fentanyl and illegal-gun trafficking teams, and increase funding for internet child exploitation and gang suppression units.
In an announcement last month, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley promised to hire 150 more police officers and pair them with the hiring of 150 social workers, mental health workers, addictions counsellors and more. The announcement came even as several NDP candidates have a lengthy history of espousing defund the police rhetoric.