News Hit:

Conservatives respond to Liberal bill to legalize possession of hard drugs

On Feb. 26, Liberal Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced a bill that would see the possession of hard drugs legalized across the country.

“For the first time in 40 years, according to Statistics Canada, our life expectancy has stalled, and Statistics Canada attributes that to the opioid crisis,” he said when presenting the private member’s bill in the house, calling the problem a “national public health crisis.”

Bill C-235, or the Ending of the Stigma of Substance Use Act, previously introduced as Bill C-460 in June 2019, would remove the possession offence completely from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, “not for trafficking or producing but for people who need our help,” said the MP for Beaches - East York. He argued that patients should be treated as patients, “not as criminals”, and said that the bill’s focus was “fundamentally to end stigma”.

This comes two and half months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the media that he wasn’t convinced decriminalizing hard drugs was a “panacea” to the ongoing opioid crisis. In December, he said that possible government responses to the crisis “haven't yet been fully deployed”.

Yesterday (March 3), the Conservative opposition responded to the private member’s bill with a strongly worded statement.

“Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are looking to legalize hard drugs like heroin, crack cocaine, and crystal meth,” wrote John Brassard, Opposition Whip and MP for Barrie - Innisfil, and Bob Saroya, MP for Markham - Unionville.

“These drugs are extremely dangerous; they tear families and our communities apart and do lasting damage to people who use them. They should remain illegal.”

The statement goes on to accuse the Liberal government of denying “their secret plan to legalize hard drugs”, pointing to Trudeau’s statements in December.

“Canadians are rightly concerned about Liberal policies that would make it easier to use hard drugs like heroin, crack cocaine and meth. These policies will do nothing to help Canadians struggling with addiction on their path to recovery and will exacerbate the opioid crisis tearing apart our communities,” it continued.

While the opioid crisis was not an election issue, the Liberal platform did address it, calling it, “the greatest public health emergency since the AIDS epidemic”. In the platform, the party committed to investing in programs that would help provinces and territories expand services for drug users, including by creating more access to rehab beds and scaling up consumption sites. There was no mention of decriminalization, but it did say that drug treatment, rather than jail, would be the default option for first-time non-violent offenders charged with simple possession.

As for the Conservative platform, it promised a focus on recovery, and included no mention of expanding services such as consumption sites.

The latest statistics from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that between January 2016 and June 2019, nearly 14,000 Canadians have died by overdose, with over 17,000 hospitalizations due to opioid-related poisonings occurring during the same time. The majority of these deaths were in British Columbia, where more than 5,000 lives have been lost to the overdose crisis since 2016.

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.