Clerk of the Committee
Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons Ottawa ON K1A 0A6 Canada
May 6th, 2022
Dear Jean-François Pagé,
Please find our submission to your Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. With Bill C-5 being referred to your committee we wanted to show our support for the recent submissions from our colleagues at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC), HIV Legal Network and the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation (CDPE) detailing evidence why a diversion model will not adequately address systemic racism and improve public safety, and providing recommendations for the committee to consider.
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.
PAN endorses the work of the CDPC policy platform, called Decriminalization Done Right: A Rights-Based Path for Drug Policy, which supports a human rights and health-centered approach to drug policy that included decriminalization of personal possession. The key findings and their recommendations we have set out below:
Decriminalization Done Right: A Rights-Based Path to Drug Policy
– In June 2021, the Federal Expert Task Force on Substance Use recommended full decriminalization, scaling up safer supply, and implementing a single regulatory framework for all substances.
– Criminalization has led to increased drug potency and toxicity, hampered efforts to scale up safe supply programs, and contributed to a drug poisoning crisis that has resulted in 26,690 deaths nationwide between January 2016 and March 2022.
– Criminalization has resulted in catastrophic harm: deadly stigma and discrimination; epidemics of preventable illness and death; poverty; homelessness; and systematic and egregious violations of human rights.
– Criminalization has reinforced sexism, racism, and colonialism, undermined communities! well-being and safety, and wasted inordinate sums of public money.
– Keeping oversight of drugs within the criminal justice system, as is the case in a diversion model, will continue to fuel these harms.
– Decriminalizing personal drug possession, and necessity trafficking, defined as possessing, selling, and sharing safer supply or substances to support personal use or for subsistence, are fundamental, necessary steps towards a more rational , just, and evidence-based drug policy. It is a change that is long overdue.
– The civil society platform published in December 2021 recommended full decriminalization of both simple drug possession and the sharing and selling of drugs for necessity trafficking by repealing Section 4 and amending Section 5 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).
– This will remove criminal sanctions and all associated penalties associated with personal possession and necessity trafficking (including administrative penalties such as fines and health assessments, confiscation of substances and medical supplies, restrictions and curfews, drug treatment courts, and coerced or involuntary treatment).
– The Liberal party has presented Bill C-5 which has completed its second reading and has been referred to the committee for analysis and expert review.
– Bill C-5 Section 10 still proposes a diversion model for personal possession, which will maintain punitive criminal sanctions, contrary to the bill’s intent.
– Decriminalization is a series of policies that remove criminal penalties related to possession or sharing of substances.
– Diversion still retains criminal penalties related to possession or sharing of sub- stances but provides options to avoid these penalties through fines or orders to health and social supports such as health assessments, inpatient or tertiary treatment, and mental health services.
– In a diversion model, services are offered as a condition of diversion from criminal punishment, and are therefore involuntary or coercive.
– Any services that are offered to individuals must be completely voluntary, with their informed consent, and culturally appropriate.
– The civil society platform does not recommend drug treatment courts (DTCs) or any form of treatment that is a coercive alternative to criminal penalties.
– Studies by the federal Department of Justice have revealed that DTCs are ineffective and in some circumstances directly harmful to participants and their families.
– Multiple human rights concerns are raised by DTCs, including coercion, intrusive judicial supervision, and the potential for sanctions (including jail time) for drug use, breach of conditions, or missed treatment sessions, urine tests, or court appearances.
– The intent of Bill C-5 is to ensure fairer and more effective responses to criminalized activities by addressing systemic issues related to existing sentencing policies, including racism and disproportionate representation of Indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and
Strengthening BC’s collective action on HIV, hepatitis C, and harm reduction.
other marginalized communities in the criminal justice system.
– To address the above stated goal, the civil society platform recommends that Bill C-5 be amended to include fully repealing Section 4 and amending Section 5 of the CDSA .
– The civil society platform does not recommend introducing the diversion measures referenced in Bill C-5 Section 10.
– It also recommends that Bill C-5 and any decriminalization policy that is introduced include measures to protect against “net widening” or “up-charging”, whereby charges are laid for trafficking or possession for the purposes of trafficking in place of simple possession.
– When and if a policy of decriminalization has been properly implemented where- by personal possession and necessity trafficking become fully decriminalized, it will still be necessary to combat residual stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs via committed enforcement of human rights legislation and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and investment into non-coercive, voluntary policies, programs, and services that protect and promote people’s health and human rights, including health, education, housing, and social ser- vices that support people who use drugs, have been released from prison or are incarcerated due to conviction for drug-related offences.
– We call on the Government of Canada to adopt an anti-racist, anti-colonial, human rights-based approach to drug policy that does not rely on criminal, administrative, and medical interventions that maintain the goal of dissuading drug use, and under which people who use drugs and marginalized communities continue to be coerced and oppressed.
– This includes not passing Bill C-5 in its current form where it relies upon administrative and medical interventions through a diversion model. We urge the commit tee to explore the benefits of a full decriminalization model, as described in the civil society decriminalization platform.
– The CDPC, alongside 20 others, have additional requests for the government’s consideration as noted in the civil society decriminalization platform (linked above) and they would be happy to present upon the platform in front of your committee.
J. Evin Jones, PAN Executive Director