NDP allows alcoholics respect

When it comes to getting drunk, the Yukon is still stuck in the gold rush, says Elizabeth Hanson. And the NDP leader wants to change that. On Thursday, Hanson tabled a booze-fueled private members bill.

When it comes to getting drunk, the Yukon is still stuck in the gold rush, says Elizabeth Hanson.

And the NDP leader wants to change that.

On Thursday, Hanson tabled a booze-fueled private members bill.

Cribbed from Manitoba’s Intoxicated Persons Detention Act, the bill aims to decriminalize drunkenness and lessen the role of the RCMP.

Manitoba’s act has been in place for more than 20 years.

And the Yukon needs to make similar changes immediately, said Hanson.

Currently, the RCMP detain acutely intoxicated persons under the Liquor Act.

“And that model, which treats the acutely intoxicated as a public nuisance – a pariah – is no longer morally, legally or ethically justifiable,” said Hanson in the house on Thursday.

Drinking isn’t a crime, she said.

“And we need to change the legislation.”

Hanson’s new bill, called the Acutely Intoxicated Persons (Care and Protection) Act, moves away from the notion drunks should be tossed in jail.

“Our way of thinking has changed,” said Hanson.

“Now we talk about caring for and protecting our most vulnerable, not necessarily making them criminals.”

The new act would allow outreach workers, paramedics, peace officers, and any other person who’s been regulated to do so, to take the acutely intoxicated into custody.

But custody does not necessarily mean jail.

“If there is a detoxification centre in the community, the peace officer may take the person to a detoxification centre and deliver him into the custody of the person in charge of the detoxification centre,” says Hanson’s new act.

Trouble is, Whitehorse doesn’t have a medical detox.

In December, longtime Yukon doctor Bruce Beaton and Champagne/Ashihik Chief James Allen gave the government a 32-page report, titled Task Force on Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk.

The report had 12 recommendations.

One of the recommendations was to write new legislation, like Hanson is suggesting, to do away with our reliance on the Liquor Act.

“This legislation should be consistent with current human rights standards and should allow for … basic medical care while under detention,” said their report.

Another recommendation was to build a medical detox.

And a third, complimentary recommendation was to build a shelter in close proximity to the detox, so the acutely intoxicated would have a place to spend the night.

Another recommendation was to build the detox and shelter downtown, close to the clients it would serve.

Just days after receiving this report, the government announced plans to include a secure assessment centre at the new jail, up in Takhini.

This centre will replace the RCMP’s drunk tank.

It will not be a medical detox.

And there will not be a shelter built nearby.

“Before the ink was even dry on the report, they announced this add-on to the jail,” said Hanson.

The secure assessment centre was in the works long before the report came out.

And Beaton and Allen were not in favour of continuing to throw the acutely intoxicated in jail.

“This plan has several disadvantages,” they wrote in their report.

“First and foremost, WCC is a jail … and detention there will be viewed as punishment.

“Secondly, their location in Takhini is not central, nor part of either the social community or the treatment community.”

“It is still the intent of the government to explore the creation of a sobering centre in the downtown core,” said Justice Minister Marian Horne in the house on Thursday.

But there is no money in the budget to even start planning such a centre.

“The task force recommendations are now being examined and acted upon, taking into consideration other related areas of work,” said Horne.

“This is a work in progress, Mr. Speaker. This is being handled.”

Hanson is hoping that new legislation, to change how the acutely intoxicated are treated, will start the ball rolling.

“This is just one of 12 recommendations to help push the discussion forward,” she said.

“It’s a concrete sign we’re changing our way of thinking about the acutely intoxicated.

“Because how we now respond to the acutely intoxicated is wrong.”

In Winnipeg, where this legislation has existed for more than two decades, outreach workers bring the acutely intoxicated to a sobering centre downtown.

In the same building, around the corner and through a door, there’s a shelter.

Through another door is a medical detox, for those who decide they want to try turning their lives around.

“This approach is not only saving lives,” said Hanson in the house.

“It is also saving taxpayers.

“They are way ahead of us,” she said.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com