New Brunswick abinet minister Sherry Wilson says the media have misportrayed the bill she had planned on introducing that would force people with severe drug addiction into rehab.John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A New Brunswick cabinet minister is pledging to bring back a bill to force people with serious drug addictions into rehab and blames the media for spreading false information about how it would work.

Sherry Wilson, the minister responsible for addictions and mental health services, told reporters at the legislature the move last week to shelve the bill was only temporary and that it would be re-introduced as soon as her Progressive Conservative government wins the next provincial election, scheduled for the fall.

“We want to make sure we have everything lined up,” she said on Wednesday. “We wanted to take a deep dive, look at other jurisdictions and copy some of their successes because there have been a lot of successes in other areas.”

Pressed for examples, Wilson named only one – Alberta – as a model of success.

The western province led by the United Conservative government of Danielle Smith stated its intention last year to introduce forced treatment for adults but has only begun putting the plan in place.

In the legislation Alberta has proposed, a close relative or an official such as a doctor, nurse or child protection officer could petition the courts for a mandatory treatment order of a person who is a chronic drug abuser and won’t go to rehab.

However, Alberta has had an involuntary treatment law for young people for 18 years. Parents or legal guardians can petition the courts to have young people put in care for drug and alcohol disorders.

“This bill is so important because we’re talking about the most vulnerable people in society,” Wilson, the MLA for Moncton Southwest, said. “Leaving them on the street, well, we’ve already lost people. And losing one, one victim to substance use disorder, is one too many.”

New Brunswick’s announcement last weekof a delay came only a day after the province’s psychiatric association criticized the idea behind a “compassionate intervention act,” warning that forced treatment for people with substance abuse disorders would lead to more overdoses and deaths once they are discharged. The president of the association, Mylène Poirier, said most places that allow forced drug treatment have poor human rights records, such as Mexico.

But Wilson said her government’s decision to put off introducing the bill had been made before she’d received the association’s open letter. She said criticisms from doctors and other health professionals wasn’t the reason for the delay. Nor is she worried about the legality of the bill or whether it could possibly violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The hold up, she said, had more to do with getting the program set up right.

“We want to engage with other groups and we want to hear what they have to say, absolutely, but we wanted to make sure we had the right resources for the people who need it. We’re still looking at what we need for people who need the help the most.”

Public Safety Minister Kris Austin first talked about the idea to reporters last September, and the Higgs Progressive Conservative government stated its intention to introduce what it called the “compassionate intervention act,” mimicking the proposed Alberta law, in the throne speech in October.

Asked by a reporter who her government had consulted with on the bill so far, Wilson named several organizations she had visited over the past year, including Ridgewood Addiction Services in Saint John, the Restigouche Hospital Centre in Campbellton, the Village of Hope in Upper Tracey, and Harvest House Atlantic and the Josh Project, both in Moncton.

She blamed reporters for getting the story wrong.

“Some of the things I’ve read in the paper, some of the things I’ve seen, is not what this bill’s about. You will see what the bill will be when I bring it forward in the fall. And hopefully I’ll be here to do that.”

She said she took the psychiatric association’s letter seriously but added that the group might have been misled.

“A lot of the information that’s been out there is not what this bill’s about,” she said. “What I’ve seen in the media and from the opposition is that we’ll drag people in off the street. And that’s not what this is about.”

By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 10, 2024 at 11:08

This item reprinted with permission from   The Daily Gleaner   Fredericton, New Brunswick

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