Alberta will have Canada's first law to seize children from addicted parents

Oct. 20, 2005
By Jim MacDonald

RED DEER, Alta. (CP) - Alberta is preparing a new law that will allow the province to seize children from parents who are either reckless addicts or involved in the illegal drug trade.

"It will give government the power to rescue, defend and shelter these children," Premier Ralph Klein said Thursday. "These children are being exposed to activities and toxic chemicals that put their lives at risk."

Klein said Alberta will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce such legislation. The premier said he expects the law will be able to withstand any legal challenge.

"I don't know who would challenge it other than the bad guys, you know the people who have an interest in feeding drugs to children," he said.

The premier also said the province will follow through next summer with a law that will force young drug addicts into detox.

Police and health officials have seen an increase in last few years in the use of crystal methamphetamine, a cheap, highly addictive drug that causes liver and kidney damage. Users struggle with disturbed sleep, violent and paranoid behaviour, depression, irritability and nervousness.

Although Alberta's drug treatment agency recently opened a dozen detox beds in both Edmonton and Calgary, these beds are for voluntary patients.

So funding is needed to open detox beds for young people who will be held against their will, said Marilyn Mitchell, with the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission.

"The legislation calls for those young people to be confined for five days," said Mitchell. "During that period they need to be confined and assessed and supported through their withdrawal from the drug."

Mitchell said those beds are expected to be in place by next summer to meet the deadline set by Klein.

An anti-crystal meth campaign began earlier this month with hard-hitting television ads that show users vomiting, fighting and breaking out in sores.

As well, school children will learn more about the highly addictive drug in their classrooms, said Klein.

"I want to educate kids about the dangers of crystal meth and prevent them from trying it even once," Klein told about 500 people attending his annual premier's dinner.

"Crystal meth is one of the most addictive drugs out there and it's one of the hardest addictions to treat.

Klein also said a new task force, led by his wife Colleen, will lead the attack on crystal meth.

"It's killing our youth. It is absolutely deadly," she said. "With other drugs the brain loses a lot of cells, but this one here leaves an actual hole in the brain."

"We've got to do something for the young ones who haven't even thought about it yet. No human being should be putting fertilizer, iodine and Drano all mixed together with a little ephedrine into their system."

Committee members will include a cross-section of people, including doctors, police, young people and aboriginals.

Mitchell says the province needs a strategy that can be used for the next designer drug that becomes the drug of choice with teens.

"We need to build a system of collaboration and co-ordination that allows us to take on any substance as it comes down," she said.

Klein said he wants to punish those who put crystal meth on Alberta streets and will be vigilant to ensure the federal government follows through with stiffer penalties for repeat offenders.

The western provinces have been working together to crack down on crystal meth, including the makeshift labs that produce it.

"We already know that meth produced in one province is often sold in a neighbouring province, so we need to work together."

The intensified fight against "the scourge of crystal meth" is one of the key items on a to-do list that Klein says his government has given itself two years to complete.

Other items on the "work order" include ensuring that Alberta's water resources are managed wisely and making sure the province has an adequate workforce to sustain its rapid economic growth.

Protecting the environment is also high on the government's list, Klein said. He expressed concern about the growing environmental damage related to crystal meth.

"I'm told that for each pound of the drug that is produced, five to six pounds of hazardous waste are created. Often, they're just dumped in ditches."

There are cases in the United States where farm land and waterways have been contaminated and livestock poisoned from the wastes dumped from meth labs, he said.

"I want this stuff out of our province."