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Brian Thiessen, chair of the Calgary Police Commission, says although he would like the law enforcement to focus more energy on the crisis, it’s a broad health-care issue and they only play a small role.Todd Korol

Brian Thiessen chairs the Calgary Police Commission, the civilian organization that oversees the city's police force. He joined the board about a year and a half ago, as the number of deaths tied to opioid overdoses was exploding in Alberta. Mr. Thiessen explained to The Globe and Mail why he supports supervised drug consumption sites and labelling the fentanyl issue a crisis.

What do you think the CPS should do to address opioid deaths?

The Calgary Police Service and its chief Roger Chaffin have made a point of referring to it as the fentanyl crisis. We should start calling it a crisis, which is what it is. People are not aware of the urgency of the problem. It sounds like a small thing but I think it is important.

The federal, provincial and municipal levels of government all need to be involved and co-ordinate on the fentanyl crisis. I'd like to see the provincial level of government dedicate resources to the health-care industry, to emergency response, to fund [the overdose antidote] naloxone and have naloxone distributed in a more comprehensive manner.

How about locally?

I'd like the city to start talking about it with more of a sense of urgency. One of the things I raised with city council is that they should be thinking about some of the things Vancouver is doing. Vancouver recently voted in a 0.5-per-cent property-tax increase to fund safe-injection sites and is working with the province on the homelessness issue, on housing and on treatment of addiction. Those options should be on the table in Calgary.

We need to treat people who are suffering from addiction to fentanyl. When we elect to not do those things, when we elect not to consider options such as safe injection sites, we are effectively saying to the police services, "This is your issue." Police services are not designed to handle a major health crisis such as fentanyl addiction.

What is the commission asking CPS to do, even within those constraints?

We would like the force to focus energy on the issue, to advocate on behalf of funding, to do everything they can to assist those that are suffering from these addictions. [But] it is really not a police service area. It is not within their mandate. They are not equipped to handle this issue. It is a broad health-care issue and they are only a small part of it.

It would be naive to ask the service to just deal with the issue. "You've got this much funding, go and deal with the fentanyl crisis." They are putting a huge amount of resources [into this], they have a drug unit, they are making arrests. If we're also asking them to solve the demand issue, we're setting them up to fail.

Who is pushing to call street use of fentanyl a crisis – the force or the commission?

When we speak with the Calgary Police Service, [fentanyl] is a fundamental concern of the service and the chief. They are subject-matter experts and when the chief told me it is a priority and a crisis, I did my own research and he has convinced me. I think it is important for the Calgary Police Commission to support the Calgary Police Service when they are taking a stance on important issues like this.

Are you still working to convince the force to support supervised sites?

They have to look at it objectively as the enforcement agency and whether they are effective. They understand there are members of city council that won't be for it. I think it is very astute for the chief not to be an advocate for safe injection sites. We, as the civilian oversight body, have a broader role that we can take. I think it is more appropriate for the commission to advocate for safe injection sites than the chief. I don't think I need to convince the chief about safe injection sites. He has always been open to good ideas.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Overdose deaths in B.C. are at an all time high with 60% of cases involving fentanyl. We look at how that compares to other causes of deaths on a national scale

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