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Representatives from the civic, provincial and federal levels of government announced today they will be working together on a task force to combat drug trafficking and addiction. 

Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman, Provincial health minister Cameron Friesen and Winnipeg Centre Member of Parliament Robert-Falcon Ouellette announced the creation of the Illicit Drug Task Force at the Manitoba Legislative Building today. The task force will determine practical short and long-term recommendations to combat the use and distribution of illicit drugs such as methamphetamine, opioids, cocaine and hallucinogens, according to a provincial news release. 

It will be co-chaired by deputy minister of Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living Karen Herd and City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer Michael Jack.  

"Different levels of government are taking various initiatives, some of which are very positive," Bowman said. "But if we need to be more effective with our current resources and additional resources because we are losing people right now in our community."

"This is not unique to Winnipeg or Manitoba, and I am not interested in having a task force just to have one, it is to compel further action and that is the intent of this initiative for everyone involved."

The co-chairs, in consultation with the oversight committee, will determine members of a working group, which the province says will focus on four main areas: 

•    identify areas to improve existing programming relating to the prevention, treatment and deterrence of illicit drug use;
•    identify areas to improve enforcement, such as looking at practices employed in other jurisdictions, and explore Criminal Code changes that could further deter and combat the illicit drug trade;
•    seek advice from experts including health professionals, social service providers, law enforcement officials, first responders and the legal and academic community; and
•    provide recommendations on how government can better communicate with the community, the business sector and vulnerable populations on the dangers of illicit drug use.

Friesen says the cost of this task force will be split between the three levels of government, but that's not something they are concerned with right now. 

"The bigger cost is the cost this is having in people's lives and in our systems," Friesen said. "No one is kicking the can down the road. We have said very clearly that this group must be tasked with opportunities that we can contemplate in the near-term and the longer-term." 

Ouellette says he and fellow Winnipeg MP Doug Eyolfson will discuss this task force with their colleagues in the federal government to try and get further resources. 

"Our role is to go back to Ottawa and to speak out," Ouellette said. "We are not afraid to speak our minds, sometimes ruffling feathers in order to get what we need to get for the people of Manitoba." 

The task force is expected to produce and publicly release a report in June 2019.