Decriminalization: Why a Whole-of-System Approach is Crucial to Improving Community Safety and Wellbeing Outcomes

Room – Bannerman Walker Room – 11:00 am to 12:30 pm. February 22nd, 2023, Hyatt Regency Centre, Calgary Alberta


  • Alberta Association of Cheifs of Police
  • Chief Dale McFee
  • Dr Janos Botschner
  • Dr Julian Somers
  • Cal Corley
Recovery Capital Conference


Alberta Assoication of Cheif of Police

Chief Dale McFee – The societal, economic, and human costs of problematic substance use in Canada weighs heavily on many. In recent months, there have been growing calls to implement specific solutions to the harms resulting from criminalizing people who use substances. These have generated considerable debate in Canadian society. This discourse has two notable features: a restricted framing of the problem that does not typically consider evidence for a wider set of policy options; and advocating responses to the crises associated with problematic substance use that limit consideration of ways to generate immediate and longer-term benefits for individuals and communities. The issues embedded within ‘decriminalization’ are complex, multifaceted and interconnected, and can be worsened by interventions that are restricted in their scope. Effective responses to such complex problems require ‘whole-of-system’ approaches informed by research evidence and a diversity of perspectives, including lived experience. Community partners, leaders and policymakers will benefit from a deepened understanding of the potential role of decriminalization as one part of system-wide efforts that have the potential to achieve important societal goals, including helping to address a range of inequities and reducing secondary crime associated with problematic substance use. Drawing on relevant research, this panel will present and discuss:• A framework for policy reform involving decriminalization and a proposed approach to change in which decriminalization is a component of an integrated, whole-of-system, framework for improving social, health, and economic outcomes; and• The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police’s (AACP) posture and next steps in this regard.

Dr. Janos Botschner is a social scientist specializing in community safety and wellbeing, with expertise in applied research and evaluation, program and policy development and implementation, and human service system enhancements. He has a joint doctorate in applied social and developmental psychology and has held graduate and adjunct faculty appointments at the University of Guelph and at Wilfrid Laurier University. He was a member of the editorial board of the Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health from 2003 to 2012, is a past section chair of the Canadian Psychological Association, and has served on local and regional Human Services Justice Coordinating Committees and Justice Advisory Groups. From 2009-10, Janos served as an expert member of the Collaborative Working Group on Mental Health and Addictions for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. He has over two decades of leadership experience in the broader public sector, including as founding director of a community-based research institute and chief researcher with a large branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Dr. Julian Somers is a clinical psychologist and professor of health sciences. His work focuses on social policies and clinical practices that reduce homelessness and crime involving people who are substance dependent and mentally ill. Dr. Somers trained and specialized in the field of addiction and wrote some of the first papers addressing harm reduction, relapse prevention, and the effectiveness of brief interventions. He led the first Canadian outcome studies on Drug Treatment Court, Community Court, and other practices designed to divert people from the justice system. He completed clinical training at the University of Washington, Seattle’s Harbourview Hospital, and British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital. He was the Director of the UBC Psychology Clinic, President of the BC Psychological Association, and founding Director of the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction. He began his academic career in the UBC Faculty of Medicine and is currently a Full Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. The Somers Research Group is internationally recognized for initiatives involving large-scale randomized trials, multi-site interventions, and population-level studies described in over 150 publications. Dr. Somers has also created advanced information systems for public health surveillance and to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and services. Dr. Somers has authored and co-authored numerous peer-reviewed papers on related topics.

Cal is the CEO of the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance. He is a former Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP. From 2008 – 2014, he was head of the Canadian Police College and during that time served as the RCMP’s Senior Envoy to Mexico and the Americas. He has extensive experience in both operations and executive management, serving in such areas as community policing, major crime, drug enforcement, national security, criminal intelligence, strategic planning, human resources, and leading major organization-wide reform initiatives. He also served at the Privy Council Office and at Public Safety Canada.

Click on a button for more details

Alberta model

a $600 CACCF Value