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Conservative politician wants a “bounty system” to pay people who turn in fentanyl dealers

Rick Peterson is vying to fill the Alberta seat vacated by former party leader Rona Ambrose

by Rachel Browne
Aug 15 2017, 2:17pm

A Conservative politician wants to institute a “bounty system” that would pay people to turn in fentanyl dealers or importers to law enforcement.

“The area where we thought that we would have the most direct effect was very simple: discouraging the dealers. It’s a supply and demand situation. If you can choke off the supply, then it’s going to be less prevalent on the streets,” Rick Peterson, who came in third last in the Conservative Party leadership race earlier this year, told VICE News in a phone interview. Peterson is running in a by-election for the Alberta seat vacated by former federal party leader Rona Ambrose.

It’s a stark contrast to the emphasis on harm reduction methods.

Peterson says while details around how much the bounty would be and how exactly the process would work still needs to be ironed out, it’s a harsh measure he says will help stem the mounting number of opioid overdose deaths across the country.

“We would just simply like to say, ‘listen, if you know people who are importing fentanyl into Canada, let us know and there will be a reward if that tip allows us to find these people and prosecute them successfully,” Peterson explained.

It’s a stark contrast to the emphasis on harm reduction methods, such as safe injection sites and the legalization of recreational cannabis, being pursued by the ruling Liberals, but not so surprising for a member of a party that supported mandatory minimum criminal sentences for drug offences and has pushed back against progressive drug policies.

“I never heard anybody call for the decriminalization of fentanyl.”

Peterson says the bounty system idea came about based on his “informal calls and conversations” with police and “people on the streets.”

“During the course of the leadership race, I lived in Vancouver, and [spoke with] people working on the Downtown Eastside — ground zero for all drug related mental health issues and people,” he explained. “And people who work on the ground, they said, ‘listen, anything you can do to stop the supply coming in because it’s spilling over into recreational drug users right now and it’s just horrific.’”

Peterson is running in Sturgeon River—Parkland, in Alberta, one of the most safely Conservative seats in the country. Whoever wins the Conservative Party nomination will almost certainly win the seat.

Though a number of public health experts, including in British Columbia, have called for measures such as drug decriminalization as a way to deal with the opioid crisis, Peterson said such a thing never came up in his discussions. A wide range of addictions expert, including in Alberta, and frontline workers have repeatedly criticized tough-on-drugs tactics as harmful and ineffective.

“I never heard anybody call for the decriminalization of fentanyl,” he said. “We’re dealing with fentanyl here.”

Peterson said he hopes to bring up the bounty idea at the Conservative party’s policy convention next August, where members will decide on the agenda the party will campaign on during the next federal election.

Alberta recently struck a special commission with $30 million to deal with the crisis.

“It would be something that I would vigorously put forth if I’m elected as an MP.”

The opioid crisis has hit Alberta particularly hard, with more than 113 people dying of fentanyl alone during the first three months of 2017. The drug killed 363 people across the province in 2016, which saw more than opioid-related deaths across Canada. Alberta recently struck a special commission with $30 million to deal with the crisis.

A number of Crime Stoppers groups in Ontario started a pilot project offering a $1,000 bounty for information that leads to a drug seizure. The group has paid out at least two rewards over the last year, based on tips that resulted in small seizures.