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Alberta bill allows parents force kids into detox

CTV.ca News Staff, April 17, 2005

A law was passed in Alberta giving parents the power to force their drug-addicted teenaged children into detox.

In the Alberta Legislature on Thursday, MLAs voted unanimously in favour of Bill 202 -- the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act.

After an assessment by drug counsellors, moms and dads can apply to have their addicted kids placed in a five-day detoxification program, in hopes of getting them to agree in the end to pursue further drug treatment.

After a child turns 18, it then becomes up to the individual whether or not to seek long term treatment.

"This will enable parents to grab their children and hopefully get them out of danger, at least for a short period of time," Edmonton mother Audrey Bjornstad told CTV News.

Bjornstad was one of the parents who lobbied hard for the bill, after watching her son spiral into a crystal methamphetamine addiction -- the drug of choice for many teens today.

"We had no way to rescue him because he denied his addiction and we could not get him into treatment without his own consent. So as parents, we were stuck," she said.

Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski introduced the private member's bill. She said she created it after hearing the horror stories of parents with crystal meth-addicted children.

She was frustrated at the fact that minors with serious addictions couldn't be forced to get treatment, unless they were ordered by a court after being arrested.

That was the case with Bjornstad's son, who only sobered up after breaking the law and spending time in a jail cell.

But while some call the new bill a life-saving measure, others say it's a violation of civil liberties.

"When you can take a person and have them confined, on an ex- party application without any notice to them -- that strikes me as fundamentally wrong," Alberta Civil Liberties Association's Stephen Jenuth told CTV News.

The bill itself, buried under a morass of other legislature business, almost didn't make it to a final vote before the session ended.

But pleas from the public, and from the leader of the opposition, made it a priority. And MLAs abandoned their debate of the new budget to vote on the private member's bill.

Andrew Morton began using drugs at the age of 12, starting with marijuana and eventually graduating to heroin and crystal meth.

Now a peer counsellor with the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre, Morton told CTV News that it was intervention that saved his life.

But he added if something like Bill 202 existed when he was a teen, he would have gotten help sooner.

"Does it infringe on their rights? Yeah," he told CTV News. "But we have kids that we bury."

With a report from CTV's Sarah Galashan