HALIFAX — A call by police chiefs for Ottawa to closely vet people who import pill presses that may be used to encapsulate opioids will be carefully considered by federal officials, the minister of organized crime reduction said Wednesday.
Bill Blair, who is also the minister of border security, made the comments in Halifax, as the former police chief told the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police he sees his recent appointment to as an acknowledgment that Ottawa is willing to listen to the concerns of law enforcement.
Police say raids of drug labs have shown that presses, encapsulators, stamps and dyes are widely used in producing counterfeit pills.
In a resolution passed earlier this week, the association said the federal government did not go far enough when it introduced changes that made it illegal to import unregistered presses.
The resolution calls for comprehensive scrutiny of people and businesses importing pill presses and encapsulators, including a requirement to spell out the equipment's intended use. The chiefs also want controls over domestic sales of imported presses.
The association said the illicit use of presses has helped increase the supply of street drugs containing synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, contributing to a crisis of overdose deaths.
Blair said the government takes the advice of the police chiefs very seriously, and is willing to look at all measures that could reduce harm caused by opioids.
"Let me assure the police chiefs — we are quite prepared to look at any measure," said Blair during a news conference following his address to the conference.
"I've been involved on both sides of those resolutions, formerly as a member and president of the (Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police). Those resolutions we know are thoughtful and important. I will tell you tell you that I believe the government will listen very carefully to the advice."
According to figures published in June, there were 3,987 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2017, the vast majority of which were unintentional. Almost-three quarters of accidental opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues, compared to 55 per cent the previous year.
Changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act last year introduced a registration requirement to import pill presses. But the chiefs said tightening these provisions further would help police.
"In our efforts to disrupt this illegal market we were frustrated with the ease at which these devices could be purchased and imported,'' the chiefs said in a background document made public Tuesday.
"Counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and its analogues continue to make their way to the illicit drug markets across Canada."
During his address at to conference, Blair noted that it has been a challenge in the past ensuring that the Ottawa was considering the concerns put forth by the association of police chiefs.
"I want to assure you all — we're listening," he told a ballroom filled with people.
"The job I have been given is to not just bring my experience into government, but to bring yours. Not just my voice, but your voice. I want to promise you here today that your voice will always be an important one to be an our government."
The Canadian Press