By C. Gwendolyn Landolt National Vice President
REAL Women of Canada
Canada’s policy on drugs, established in 1992 is based on three pillars: enforcement by the police, prevention through education, and treatment and rehabilitation of addicts.
This policy was in accordance with the three UN treaties on drugs which Canada ratified and which require the prohibition of illicit drug use.
In 2001, federal Auditor-General Sheila Fraser reviewed Canada’s drug policy and found that there was a fundamental failure of leadership and coordination in implementing this policy. She specifically referred to sparse information and lack of resources and enforcement. She also noted that there had been a steady decline in this policy’s funding over the last few years.
This lack of enforcement and funding resulted in the police frequently failing to lay charges for possession, and the courts giving lenient penalties for illicit drug use. Also, the courts treated the cultivation of marijuana as only a minor offence and rarely handed out jail sentences and awarded fines that amounted to no more than a “slap on the wrist”.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime reported in July 2007 thatCanada now has the highest proportion of marijuana users in the industrialized world, reaching 16.8% for those between 15 and 64 years of age.Canada’s high rate of marijuana use, however, can be attributed in large part to the elevated use of marijuana in theprovince ofQuebec, where use is 12% higher than elsewhere in the country.
Harm Reduction Policies
Canada’s three-pillar drug policy of enforcement, education and treatment has been further undermined by the advocates of a more permissive drug policy, who are attempting to shift Canada’s policy to that of “harm reduction”. Harm reduction is based on the proposition that drug use is hard to stop and that individuals will continue to use drugs anyway, so society should live with the non-medical use of drugs and treat it only as a life style choice. That is, these advocates support societal accommodation to illicit drug use rather than stopping it.
Harm reduction advocates have cautiously devised drug strategies to infiltrate and become a part of the current official drug policy, while not totally dismantling the system. These strategies, which solicit police support and cooperation, according to the advocates, will eventually lead to drug policy reform and a permissive approach to illicit drug use in Canada.
The strategies which harm reduction advocates promote, include decriminalizing marijuana; reducing and eliminating penalties for drug offences; providing government supervised drug injection sites; and establishing needle exchange programmes.
Former Liberal Government Supported Harm Reduction Policies
Advocates for harm reduction were successful in inducing the former Liberal government to implement their strategies. For example, the Liberals introduced legislation in 2003, and re-introduced it in a new Parliament in November 2004, to decriminalize marijuana by allowing possession of up to 15 grams (approximately 20 “joints”). This legislation did not pass because the Conservative party formed the government in January 2006. Needle exchanges, which, in effect, are really needle distribution centres, because relatively few needles are actually “exchanged”, were established acrossCanadathroughout the 1980s and 1990s. A so-called “pilot” drug injection site was also established inVancouverin 2003 and penalties for drug use, in practice, have been reduced.
Claims by Harm Reduction Advocates
Harm reduction advocates do not openly acknowledge that their real objective is to introduce permissive drug policies. Instead, they claim that their policies will reduce drug deaths, the transmission of blood borne diseases (AIDS, Hepatitis C) and crime. They regularly produce their so-called “scientific” papers, which are designed to falsely show a success. In reality, just the opposite has occurred: drug deaths have increased, and both disease and crime have soared. The needle exchanges and theVancouverdrug injection sites have become “honey-pots” or meeting points for drug users and dealers since these locations are “no-go” areas for police. This has resulted in the demise of businesses in the area because of the increase of drug related crime.
More than three dozen European cities, such asBerlin,Stockholm,London, andOslo, have signed a declaration against safe injection sites because they have learned from bitter experience that such “solutions” lead only to increased drug problems and crime.
A Positive Drug Policy for Canada
Swedenhas had remarkable success with curtailing illicit drug use by employing a programme of compulsory drug treatment for addicts. As a result, according to the 2006 report of the UN Office of Drugs andCrime,Swedenhas amongEurope’s lowest crime, disease, medical and social problems stemming from drug addiction.
Canadashould establish more drug courts (currently, they are available inToronto,Vancouver,Edmonton,WinnipegandRegina) to ensure that addicts undergo treatment and rehabilitation as an alternative to a conviction and court record. The drug courts allow the offence to be suspended if the offender agrees to take treatment and be monitored through regular urinalysis and counselling. Those who complete the program drug free receive a suspended sentence or a conditional discharge. Those who fail are required to return to the regular court system for sentencing.
It is also crucial that many more detox and treatment centres be established in order to accommodate the real needs of drug addicts inCanada.
July 25, 2007