Letter to Minister Bennet re: BC Application for a s 56(1) Exemption

Update: Response received April 7, 2022. Scroll down to read.

March 1, 2022

The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
Associate Minister of Health
Sent via email: [email protected]


Dear Minister Bennett:

Today, the member organizations of PAN* write to urge you to grant the province of BC’s application for a section 56(1) exemption, to protect all BC residents from the application of section 4(1) of the CDSA. We also submit that the thresholds contained within the province’s application are the absolute minium of what should be included in the exemption and should not be reduced.

When people find a safer or less toxic supply of drugs, they may wish to make larger purchases. Buying in bulk, is often the most cost effective. Smaller thresholds would disadvantage people in rural or more remote areas, who may need to travel to stock up.

Smaller threshold(s) would further disadvantage people based on their income / finances, where they live and the access they have to a safer supply. They run counter to the intention and purpose of the exemption being sought, namely, to reduce the significant harms associated with the criminalization of people who use substances.

The toxic illicit drug supply claimed the lives of at least 2,224 British Columbians in 2021, making it the worst year on record and no signs of any way abating. It is essential that the federal government fully commit to addressing substance use as the public health emergency it is, rather than a criminal justice issue. We urgeyou to grant the application and to decriminalize simple drug possession in BC.


J. Evin Jones
Executive Director

CC. The Honourable Sheila Malcolmson, M.L.A, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Province of British Columbia

*PAN leads an inspired, strong, and effective community-based response to HIV, hepatitis C, and harm reduction. As a proactive provincial network of over 40 community-based and allied organizations, our work in BC and with partners across the country includes advocacy, policy change, capacity building, leadership training, research and evaluation.


Response received April 7, 2022 (via email)


Dear J. Evin Jones,

Thank you for your correspondence dated March 1, 2022, addressed to the Minister of Mental Health and Additions, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, in which you express your support for the subsection 56(1) exemption request from the province of British Columbia regarding the decriminalization of the personal possession of small amounts of certain controlled substances. I have been asked to respond to you directly.

First, I would like to thank you and the member organizations of PAN for your continued work in the field of HIV, Hepatitis C, and harm reduction.

The toll that the overdose crisis is having across Canada is devastating. The Government of Canada is committed to examining all options and evidence to respond to the tragic increase in overdoses and to help save lives, while also ensuring the safety of communities across the country. Each request for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is carefully and thoroughly reviewed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations, including evidence of potential benefits and risks or harms to the health and safety of Canadians.

The exemption request received from the province of British Columbia is currently under review. While it is not Health Canada’s practice to discuss the specifics of exemption requests under review, I appreciate receiving your insights on BC’s proposed threshold.

The Government of Canada will continue to work with jurisdictions across Canada on options to address the overdose crisis that respond to local and regional needs and help people who use substances get the support they need. Thank you for taking the time to share your organization’s views on this important matter.



Jennifer Saxe
Director General
Controlled Substances Directorate
Health Canada