thumb-2023-05-014-danielle-smith-drug-users This article is more than 1 year old

Danielle Smith’s Chief-of-Staff: Governments Should Not Listen to ‘Addicts’ About Drug Treatment Policies Because They’re ‘High’

Marshall Smith said consulting drug users “makes about as much sense as engaging a stakeholder of drunk drivers to write new traffic laws”

The architect of UCP leader Danielle Smith’s controversial policies on drugs made inflammatory statements about people who use drugs and suggested governments should not consult “addicts” on treatment options because they are “high.”

Marshall Smith, who serves as the Premier of Alberta’s Chief-of-Staff, has credited his appointment to his central role in designing the province’s policy on drugs.

In a press conference this week, UCP Leader Danielle Smith unveiled plans to introduce the “Compassionate Intervention Act,” controversial legislation that would force drug users into involuntary treatment programs.

“We must assertively drive forward with these plans,” the UCP leader said.

Despite being an unelected political staffer, Smith’s views and influence on the UCP’s policy on drugs has largely escaped scrutiny.

The Canada Strong and Free Network describes Smith as a “national leader in the addiction recovery movement” and is connected to numerous businesses and organizations within the so-called “recovery” industry.

In 2015, while serving as Director of Corporate Development and Community Relations of Cedars at Cobble Hill, Smith appeared as a guest on a podcast hosted by Giuseppe Ganci, the Director of Community Development at Last Door Recovery Society and Chair of the Alberta Recovery Conference.

On the Talk Recovery Radio episode, Smith tells Ganci that he believes drug use is becoming “normalized” by “people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“The cheap and easy way to do this is just make drug use normal — make using drugs part of an everyday lifestyle,” Smith said. “I think we’re going way far into a public health model, and moving away from a personal health model.”

Smith added that the government needs to “be more assertive in helping people who do not have the ability to make good decisions for themselves.”

“Municipal governments want to engage the homeless and engage the people who are going to be using the services, and I’m quick to remind political leaders — and I meet with them all the time — that you’re talking to the wrong people,” Smith said.

“It’s great to say that you’re engaging the addicts on the street, but the reality is that they’re high.”

“Engaging people who are addicted to drugs, and who are actively high, in a policy conversation about what to do about the addiction problem, makes about as much sense as engaging a stakeholder of drunk drivers to write new traffic laws — it’s just nonsensical.”

In a statement to PressProgress, Premier’s Office spokesperson Colin Aitchison said Smith’s comments had been taken “out-of-context.”

“Mr. Smith has never said that he does not believe that people should not be consulted on treatment options,” Aitchison said. “What he said was, drug policy makers should not be consulting people on policy while they are high.”

Rebecca Haines-Saah, an Associate Professor of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary, said Smith’s comments reflect a “paternalistic view.”

“The idea that people are intoxicated, don’t have any critical thought or have nothing to contribute is a really, I think, depressing paternalistic view of human agency and what people have to contribute,” Haines-Saah told PressProgress.

Smith, who credits himself with creating the “Alberta model,” went on to describe his own “personal health model” as a “holistic approach to the individual.”

“We have to be more assertive in moving people along that continuum of care,” Smith said.

Smith added that in a perfect world, it would be great if drug users could be loaded onto buses and whisked away to treatment — but he fears this isn’t the case.

“Nothing would make me happier than to pull up the buses down at Hastings and Main, and fill them up and whisk folks off to a treatment center where they could be swaddled with the best doctors in the best care,” Smith said.

Ganci of Last Door replied, “well, if you’re listening and you’ve got some money in your pocket and you’d like to try an experiment, please make a donation too and we’ll have a bus go down there.”

Haines-Saah says that Smith’s statements echo the UCP’s actions relating to drug policy over the last few years.

“Some folks here have called it death by 1,000 paper cuts, but it is actually quite more substantive than that in terms of deliberate moves to kind of dismantle anything not recovery and abstinence-based since the UCP took power,” Haines-Saah added.

“People like this have a very big stake in rejecting the solutions and interventions proposed by people using substances. And I think this is a great misstep.”

In the podcast, Smith characterizes supporters of harm reduction as being in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies.

“No longer does the term prevention mean talking to people about not using drugs. Prevention now means how do we get, you know, our drugs into people’s hands, because if Johnny had Suboxone, or if Johnny was on methadone, he may still be alive today, or if Johnny had a take-home Naloxone kit or whatever,” said Smith.

“And, and so it frustrates the situation because people … have no idea that that woman is on the payroll of the pharmaceutical company.”

The Premier’s Office denies Smith ever said “people who believe in ‘harm reduction’ are being paid by the pharamaceutical industry.” Aitchison suggested Smith simply meant “professional harm reduction advocates often receive grants from the pharmaceutical industry.”

Haines-Saah noted “harm reduction struggles for funding” and suggested political figures like Smith and Pierre Poilievre are misrepresenting the issues.

“I think they do understand public health, but they deliberately misrepresent it because to understand what a public health approach is, means you have to engage with equity and social justice and redistribution of power, and these folks are not interested in that.”

Haines-Saah added that while Smith spoke about how drug use is being normalized, in her view, what is being normalized is the deaths of those who use drugs.

“If we’re going to talk about normalizing drug use, I think the point right now is, are we normalizing death? It’s okay to just let people die?” said Saah.

“It’s incredibly disingenuous, to say the least, to just say it’s a problem that we’re normalizing drug use. Stop normalizing poverty and trauma and structural violence against people.”


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Rumneek Johal
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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