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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, arrives to make an announcement at the Chinese Cultural Centre in Calgary on April 14.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says it would be the “last resort” to force people with severe drug addictions into involuntary treatment but her government is still exploring legislation that would broaden the circumstances for such interventions.

The United Conservative Party government has faced intense criticism since The Globe and Mail revealed last week that the province is contemplating a law that would give police, family members or legal guardians sweeping rights to refer adults and youth into treatment against their will. The UCP has referred to it as the Compassionate Intervention Act.

On Monday, Ms. Smith said her government wants to try “every other option first” but that, in severe cases, ordering people into drug treatment would help reduce risks for that individual and others they may be putting in harm’s way. She spoke about people who are overdosing multiple times daily or receiving acute care frequently as a result of substance use.

“If we’re watching them slowly die on the street because of these decisions, do we have an obligation as a society to help them get their individual agency back so that they can make decisions again, so that they are clean and they can make decisions to maintain a life of recovery? That’s what we are actively consulting on,” the Premier said in her first public comments on the act.

Ms. Smith said the government is looking at evidence from across the globe on involuntary treatment and is paying particular attention to what is being done in Portugal. She said more consultation is needed to determine how long the involuntary programs would run and when someone should be ordered into treatment.

Portugal decriminalized drugs two decades ago but, by law, people caught in possession of personal amounts of illicit drugs (including non-medical marijuana) can still be penalized by regional panels that can refer individuals to drug-treatment programs or impose other sanctions. The UCP has, so far, not announced plans for decriminalization.

In Alberta, the existing Mental Health Act already allows for involuntary detainment in extreme cases, but Ms. Smith said the window to place someone into treatment is not long enough. Since 2006, Alberta has allowed parents or legal guardians of young people to petition courts to place them into involuntary treatment, which, if granted, can extend to a maximum of 15 days.

The Premier said that despite drug-overdose deaths trending downward, there are far too many people overdosing on a regular basis. More than 1,600 Albertans died from unintentional drug poisonings last year alone.

“We just have all recognized that the crystal meth and the fentanyl and the carfentanil are a lot more serious a problem, that is becoming really, really difficult to overcome,” Ms. Smith said.

“We just want to stop the deaths. That’s what this is about. We’ve had a number of different things that have been tried over the years and it’s not working. So we’ve got to try something else. And hopefully, we’ll get guidance looking at international evidence so that we know where that line is.”

The government has also reviewed existing laws in Australia, Massachusetts and Washington State, according to documents obtained by The Globe.

These records suggest drug users could be forced into treatment after committing non-violent criminal or statutory offences “primarily as a result of a substance use disorder,” or by referral if they are believed to be “at risk of serious harm to themselves or others” because of drug use. They would then come before an administrative panel, and potentially a separate Indigenous-focused panel.

Critics of involuntary treatment have rebuked the Alberta government over the potential Compassionate Intervention Act, saying it would threaten people’s Charter-protected rights and could increase the likelihood of relapse and overdose.

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