Open letter to Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart, Justice Minister Marian Horne and Steve Nordick, minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corp.:
The Yukon New Democratic Party caucus recently hosted a public forum on the Task Force on Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk report co-authored by Dr. Bruce Beaton and Chief James Allen.
Almost 100 people attended the event to share their views on how we more forward.
When implemented, the 12 recommendations in this report will profoundly change how we care for the acutely intoxicated at risk.
There was wide agreement among those in attendance that this is a health issue Ã not a justice issue. They also agreed we need to abandon archaic attitudes and make legal and other changes if we are serious about reducing harm, increasing public safety and using public funds responsibly.
We invited a cross-section of individuals and organizations Ã from nurses, to doctors, to outreach workers Ã those who deal regularly with the acutely intoxicated. They are the real “experts”; their opinions and experience are important, and must be recognized, if we hope to prevent future tragedies.
We asked people at the forum to rank the 12 recommendations on a priority basis.
Overwhelmingly, they called for the creation of a 24-hour accessible shelter near a sobering centre/detoxification facility.
Secondly, they wanted to see all acutely intoxicated persons at risk treated with compassion, respect and dignity in a nonjudgmental manner.
And, thirdly, they wanted to see a sobering centre in downtown Whitehorse, where the acutely intoxicated at risk can be taken when they are detained.
Since Beaton and Allen presented their report to the minister of Health and Social Services on December 31, the Yukon public has been waiting patiently for a response from this government. They do not want to see this report shelved and forgotten.
At present, your government has committed to spending $3.5 million to build a “secure assessment centre” at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. That decision was made well before the task force presented its findings and recommendations. It is not what the coauthors recommended.
Addiction is a disease, and societal expectations today mean we cannot continue to treat the acutely intoxicated at risk like criminals. As the report says, “Historically, management of an acutely intoxicated person at risk has been singularly the responsibility of law enforcement. The time has come to share that responsibility between law enforcement and health care.”
The frontline professionals, those who work for nongovernment organizations and a large segment of the general public believe the time has come to make the systemic and attitudinal changes recommended in the Beaton/Allen report. The longer we delay acting, the longer we prolong the suffering and the higher the costs to society.
The Yukon New Democratic Party takes the report, and its recommendations, very seriously. One of the party’s founding principles is that every member of society deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion.
Other Canadian jurisdictions have been providing the kind of care to the acutely intoxicated recommended in the report for years. It is time Yukon did as well. An NDP government will work with other levels of government, nongovernment organizations, community members and business owners to give life to the recommended changes.
Liz Hanson, leader, Yukon New Democratic Party