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'It's going to be a waste of money': Front line workers, experts critical of proposed new legislation

The names and faces of fourteen former clients have been posted on the wall in memoriam at Ensemble, the province's only overdose prevention site.

Now, some of the downtown Moncton harm prevention centre’s current clients could be the target of a proposed new legislature from Kris Austin, New Brunswick's Public Safety Minister.

Austin recently suggested some drug users could be forced into treatment against their will.

A statement from Austin's office sent to CTV News on Monday stated;

“The objective of the legislation is to help, in extreme cases, those individuals who are struggling with addiction and unable to meet their own basic needs. In order to help them, an intervention is required, one that includes a compassionate approach. The purpose of legislation would be to set out the parameters on how that intervention takes place.”

Recovering substance user Rebecca Riley has been using Ensemble’s services for about a year.

“This is a place where a lot of active drug users go to congregate and use in a safe environment,” said Riley. “Ensemble has actually saved hundreds of lives because before Ensemble, people were using by themselves. Didn’t have access to Narcan. So, on a regular basis this place does save lives.”

Riley strongly believes any type of forced treatment is simply not going to work.

“An addict needs to want to get clean and want recovery before they're actually able to benefit from that treatment. It's going to be a waste of money if you're forcing addicts into treatment,” said Riley.

Debby Warren, Ensemble’s executive director, says you can't force people into treatment when there isn't enough outreach services. She said there are currently only 10 detox beds in Moncton.

“Truly, people don’t understand the issue and the depth of the issue,” said Warren.

Warren believes any sort of a mandatory treatment is a misinformed idea.

“You're asking law enforcement officers to do something that is not their role as law enforcement officers. This is a social and health issue,” said Warren.

Around 2,000 people use Ensemble’s services according to Warren and she said the clients endure a “hellish” life.

“Every four days a New Brunswicker is dying because of substance use,” said Warren.

A group of experts in the field have written an open letter to Austin, three other ministers and Premier Blaine Higgs to express their opposition and condemnation of the government's proposed legislation.

Saint Mary’s University Associate Professor of Criminology Jamie Livingston co-wrote the letter and said the plan infringes on people's human rights.

“It's not effective in improving public safety. It's not effective for reducing crime. It doesn't improve treatment outcomes. It also doesn't improve people's quality of life,” said Livingston.

Livingston went on to say using the police to round people up for non-criminal matters, like people who have substance use issues, is a direct infringement of the charter of rights and freedoms.

“So there's no doubt that this is a legal infringement that will, if enacted, be challenged in the courts as being unconstitutional and being an egregious violation of people's human rights,” he said. “We feel, when we look at the evidence, that's there very little evidence to support this. There's quite a bit of evidence to suggest it's harmful and dangerous.”

The group is calling on the provincial government to abandon the plan and instead pursue a different approach.

Austin's office confirmed to CTV News the minister has received the open letter.

“The minister appreciates the feedback saying there will be lots of time to talk, and that he, along with the department, will take into consideration all feedback and best practices from other jurisdictions,” read the statement to CTV News.

The legislation is now in the conceptual stages.

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