File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman speaks to media after the reading of the throne speech at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg.

Prairie police chiefs call on Ottawa for help as meth-fuelled crime skyrockets

OTTAWA — Police chiefs say methamphetamine is fuelling a crime wave in some of Western Canada’s biggest cities as use of the highly addictive drug skyrockets across the Prairies.

Calgary’s interim police Chief Steve Barlow told a House of Commons health committee Tuesday that the city’s crime rate is going through the roof as the price of meth drops.

“When I look at the tools on an officer’s belt, there isn’t a single one to help a person in the throes of addiction,” Barlow said. “We will not arrest our way out of this problem.”

Meth is behind some recent violent and unprovoked attacks, Barlow said. On one occasion, he said a woman stabbed three random people in 20 minutes. In another, a senior sitting on a downtown bench was stabbed multiple times.

A woman was left paralyzed last month after she was pushed into the path of an oncoming transit train. The suspect is believed to have been high on meth, Barlow said.

The drug is also motivating residential break-ins, car theft and other property crimes.

It’s driven by a rise in the amount of meth on the street and a dramatic drop in the addictive drug’s cost — to about $50 a gram now from about $150 in 2015. That means one hit of meth costs about $5.

Officers are worn out and more resources are needed to address the root causes of addiction and to help people get clean, Barlow told the committee.

He predicts 2018 will see a record number of meth seizures in his city — more than 1,769 — which is 130 per cent above the five-year average.

Winnipeg’s police Chief Danny Smyth told the committee his officers have seized more than 20 kilograms of meth this year — nearly double what was seized in 2017.

Barlow and Smyth said the meth on their streets is being smuggled into British Columbia from Mexico.

Drug-related crime, in turn, is causing a big backlog in responses to calls for service in Winnipeg, because officers are tied up in health-care facilities with meth users, Smyth said.

“It prevents us from getting into the community and doing proactive work.”

Numbers from Winnipeg’s health authority show a 1,200 per cent increase in people going to hospitals because of methamphetamine — up from 12 in April 2013 to 218 this past April.

Documents obtained by the Manitoba NDP under freedom-of-information legislation also show a rise in communicable diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and syphilis which are associated with intravenous drug use.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman told the committee Ottawa must include meth in a national strategy on illicit drugs, strengthen border protection and provide more resources for mental health.

“Meth doesn’t distinguish between the area of the city in which you reside, your family’s income,” he said. “Addictions and mental health really know no bounds and we are seeing that here in the city of Winnipeg.”

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