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Officials propose ways to crack down on meth

Perth County officials will soon recommend the provincial government back a plan to increase the minimum sentence for production of methamphetamine, fund programs to treat users of the drug and make it easier for police to inspect dwellings believed to house clandestine labs.

At a December meeting, The Perth County Task Force on Crystal Meth came up with five tentative proposals to offer a province-wide working group dealing with the meth trade, North Perth mayor Ed Hollinger said in an interview last week. The group hopes the tactics will block the expansion of the meth trade, which over the past few years has spread from Canada's prairie provinces to Ontario.

Hollinger is one of several mayors from towns in the county to sit on the Perth County task force. Perth County medical officer of health Dr. Rosana Pellizzari and Stratford mayor Dan Mathieson co-chair the group, which has held public education and discussion forums since September.

Their recommendations will be forwarded to a province-wide working group created last August to examine the meth trade and consider ways to halt its spread.

"These recommendations are ones that we think (could be) put in force as easy as possible," Hollinger said.

They are as follows:

-Training and equipment for first responders, including fire departments, ambulance services and police forces. Hollinger said that "(Meth) is a very dangerous product and they need to be fully equipped to accommodate any occasion where they might be called to a place to investigate;"

-Community education through school programs and public information campaigns. Landlords should also be made aware of their rights, Mayor Hollinger said. "They are having a great deal of difficulty in dealing with people (producing meth) in their facilities. Whether it's a vacated farm house they rent or an apartment they can't get the people out of;"

-A five-year minimum sentence for anyone caught producing or trafficking meth. "We're finding a number of individuals have been caught with (meth) and are out of jail very quick," Hollinger said. This proposal adds to a move last August by the federal government, in which maximum sentences for producing or distributing meth were upped from 10 years to life imprisonment;

-Services to treat meth addicts. "Presently there's no means of treatment that exists, either with our health unit or hospitals, for this type of drug addiction," Hollinger said;

-Greater powers for police in dealing with drug-related crimes.

"We think that the police programs could be enhanced by the province in relation to drug-induced crimes, in relation to the disadvantage police have in trying to maintain or get a search warrant," Hollinger said.

"Even if they know the product is being produced, it's very difficult for them to get a search warrant to get into the premises."

Hollinger said the group will reconvene late this month or early in February to put a price tag on the proposed changes. He added that British Columbia has allocated about $7 million to enact similar proposals, including $2 million for treatment programs.

The provincial government wants the province-wide working group, of which Dr. Pellizzari and Perth County OPP inspector Daniel Rioux are members, to finish its work by spring, Hollinger said.

Hollinger, meanwhile, said the province must quickly take action on the meth problem.

"I think it's very difficult to stop the spread of this unfortunate drug," he said. "But to slow it down with some programs, I think we have the ability to do that, but we've got to act fast and that's what the province has to do."

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