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Canada Mandatory Minimum Crime Bill Set to Pass [FEATURE]

The Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been trying for years to pass a harsh drug crime bill that includes mandatory minimum sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants. This year, with the Conservatives now holding an absolute majority in parliament, it looks like the Conservatives will get their wish..

Parliament Hill, Ottawa
"The bill will pass," said Eugene Oscapella, head of the Canadian Drug Policy Foundation, who testified against the bill in parliament last week and who was attacked by Conservatives for doing so. "The government has a clear majority, and under the parliamentary system, MPs will vote like trained seals. Even though I know Conservative MPs who disagree with this, if you spit in the face of the prime minister, you will be out of the caucus."

The Tories rolled out this year's version of their perennial drug bill last month as part of an omnibus anti-crime bill known as Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Ironically, the government's "tough on crime" initiative came just weeks before Statistics Canada reported that the country's homicide rate had declined to levels not seen since 1966. Overall violent crime is down, too.

The omnibus bill runs to 110 pages and brings together nine separate previous proposals to strengthen police and prosecutorial powers aimed at child sex predators, violent offenders, drug traffickers, and "out of control" youthful offenders. In addition to Canada's first mandatory minimum sentences, the package also includes tougher pre-trial custody conditions, restrictions on the use of probation, and lengthier sentences for violent and youthful repeat offenders.

"Since coming into office, our government has accomplished a great deal when it comes to cracking down on crime and better protecting Canadians," said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson as he introduced the omnibus bill last month. "By moving quickly to reintroduce and pass the Safe Streets and Communities Act, we are fulfilling our promise to Canadians by taking action to protect families, stand up for victims and hold criminals accountable."

"Our government remains committed to fighting crime, protecting Canadians and holding offenders accountable," said Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews. "Canadians gave us a strong mandate to improve safety for Canadians where they live, work and raise their families."

Voters may have given the Tories a mandate at the polls, but it's not clear that it was Tory crime policies driving the vote. A Nanos poll earlier this summer had only 2% of respondents selecting "fighting crime" as their highest priority for the Harper government. Instead, respondents were much more concerned about the provision of health care (40%) and reducing the deficit (26%).

Canada's other major political parties, the Liberals and the New Democrats, both oppose the bill, as does a broad swath of civil society. The Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network are among the groups opposing the bill, as are criminal defense attorneys, prisoners' advocates, and critics who point toward falling crime numbers and question whether the country can afford a massive expansion of its prison system.

The government has so far declined to specify projected costs of the bill or reveal its own projections about how much the prison population would increase under the bill.

"We believe the substance of this legislation both to be self-defeating and counterproductive, if the goal is to enhance public safety," vice-chair of the Canadian Bar Association's National Criminal Justice Section Eric Gottardi said last week. "It represents a profound shift in orientation from a system that emphasizes public safety, rehabilitation and reintegration to one that puts vengeance first."

"The Conservatives are completely divorced from the reality of what's going on," said NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies (Vancouver East) during a 10-minute House of Commons speech attacking the bill. "They have branded themselves and wrapped themselves in a cloak of crime and punishment, and as a result they are blind to evidence, they are blind to the costs, they are blind to the fact that we have the lowest crime rate since 1973, they are blind to building safe and healthy communities, they are blind to the horrendous experience of the United States and its war on drugs regime that is now being slowly repealed -- including the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing... because of its catastrophic failure on people and society overall. They are blind to the evidence here in Canada and they are blind to the real impacts of what these bills will have on the lives of people and on communities overall."

The Tories are "only interested in manipulating people, creating fear, division, and creating a 'them and us' scenario," Davies continued. "I believe from the bottom of my heart that this omnibus bill is offensive because it is politically motivated and will have enormous negative impacts."

It's not just progressives, or even Canadians, who are upset by the bill. Crime-fighting conservative Texans have come out against it, citing their own unhappy experience with "lock 'em up and throw away the key" policies. "You will spend billions and billions and billions on locking people up," said Judge John Creuzot of the Dallas County Court. "And there will come a point in time where the public says, 'Enough!' And you'll wind up letting them out."

Still, with the Conservatives holding a solid parliamentary majority, the bill's passage now appears to be all but a done deal. That doesn't mean the fight against it will go away, though -- not before it passes and not after it passes. The lawyers are already gearing up for that second phase of the struggle.

"They are trying to ram this through as quickly as possible, and I don't know what can be done to stop it," said Oscapella. "It will have to be done at the back end, by means of constitutional challenges under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But that will take years."

Canada

Canada Supreme Court Okays Safe Injection Site [FEATURE]

Rebuffing the Conservative government of Prime Minister, the Canadian Supreme Court Friday ruled unanimously that Vancouver's safe injection site for heroin addicts can stay open. Known as Insite, the Downtown Eastside facility is the only safe injection site in North America.

Vancouver's safe injection site wins a reprieve. (Image: Vancouver Coastal Health)
The Downtown Eastside, centered on the intersection of Main and Hasting, streets, has one of the highest concentrations of injection drug users in the world. An overgrown Skid Row flush with prostitution and destitution, most of its residents live in decaying SRO hotels lining Main Street. Out of 12,000 residents in the area, some 5,000 are estimated to be drug addicts.

At Insite, drug users are provided clean needles and sterilized water with which to mix their drug. Insite does not provide the drugs; users must bring their own. The users inject under medical supervision at one of 12 injecting alcoves.

Insite operates under the auspices of the British Columbia Ministry of Health and the local public health authority, Vancouver Coastal Health. Numerous research reports on Insite have found that it has reduced fatal drug overdoses, reduced HIV and Hepatitis C transmission rates, reduced crime rates in the neighborhood, and increased the number of drug users entering treatment.

It has operated since 2003 under an exemption to Canada's drug laws, but since coming to power, the Harper government has attempted to shut it down, claiming it "enables" drug users. Friday's decision by the Canadian Supreme Court is the final chapter in that effort.

The Harper government argued that the federal drug law took precedence over British Columbia's public health policies. British Columbia and other Insite supporters argued that because Insite is providing a form of health care, its operation is a provincial matter. The federal government's concerns did not outweigh the benefits of Insite, the court said.

"The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for Insite cannot be ignored," the court said. "Insite has been proven to save lives with no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada."

Hundreds of Insite supporters gathered at the facility at dawn and broke out in cheers after the decision was announced. As the news spread, harm reduction, public health, and drug reform groups in Canada and around the world lined up to applaud it.

"We are absolutely delighted that we finally have a clear decision on the legal framework for Insite," said Dr. Patricia Daly, Vancouver Coastal Health Chief Medical Health Officer. "Since 2003, Insite has made a positive impact on thousands of clients, saved lives by preventing overdoses, and provided vital health services to a vulnerable population. Today's ruling allows us to continue the outstanding work Insite, its doctors, nurses, staff and partners provide."

"This represents a victory for science," said Dr. Julio Montaner, Director of the BC Center for Excellence for HIV/AIDS. "Prior attempts from the federal government to stop the activities of Insite have been ruled unconstitutional. We are thankful for the continued and unwavering support from the provincial government that has allowed us to set an example in Canada and the world for how to deal with addiction which is, indeed, a medical condition."

"We applaud today's landmark decision by the Canadian Supreme Court to uphold the human rights of all Canadians by allowing Insite to remain open," said the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, CACTUS Montreal, and Harm Reduction International in a joint statement. "We are heartened the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that criminal laws on drugs must give way to good public health practices and harm reduction."

"This is a victory for science, compassion and public health -- and, given the fiscal benefits of such programs, the Canadian taxpayer. The Supreme Court of Canada recognized that Insite saves lives, and that that should be a guiding principle in deciding drug policy," said Laura Thomas, California deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congratulations to the advocates, drug users, researchers, nurses, and elected officials who have campaigned for Vancouver's supervised injection facility for so long. This is a complete validation of their work."

The Supreme Court of Canada's Insite ruling applies only to Insite. Other Canadian localities seeking to establish safe injection sites must win permission from the federal government. Canadian activists urged them to do so.

"In light of today's Supreme Court decision, jurisdictions Canada-wide should act fearlessly on evidence and make harm reduction services modeled on Insite available to those in need in their locales," said the Canadian groups. "The Minister of Health must respect the court's decision and grant similar exemptions to other sites so that people across Canada will be able to access the public health services they desperately need."

There are 67 safe injection sites operating today, with one in Australia, Insite in Vancouver, and the rest in Europe. There are no safe injection sites operating in the United States, although a move is afoot in San Francisco to get one underway there. The Drug Policy Alliance's Thomas said it is time to start pushing harder.

"For communities in the US which have been hard hit by drug use, it is time to look at the evidence from Canada and start opening supervised injection facilities here," she said. "We look forward to implementing the same desire to save lives in the US."

Vancouver, BC
Canada

Canada Marijuana Arrests Jump Dramatically

New numbers from Statistics Canada show marijuana arrests jumped dramatically last year. According to its annual crime report, pot possession arrests increased 14% last year, and accounted for more than half (54%) of all drug arrests in Canada. That has advocates crying foul.

Some 58,000 Canadians were arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, and another 18,000 were arrested for marijuana trafficking, also up significantly with a 10% increase over 2009.

Cocaine possession and trafficking arrests actually declined, down 6% and 4%, respectively, but arrests for all other drugs also increased. Arrests for drug possession were up 10% and for drug trafficking up 5%.

The increase in drug arrests comes amidst a decline in arrests for most other criminal offenses. Almost every category of violent crime dropped, with overall violent crime down 3%, while a similar portrait emerged with property crime. Every category of property crimes decreased, with overall property crime down 6%.

The marijuana arrest figures got under the skin of the Vancouver-based Beyond Prohibition Foundation, which laid into the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the uptick, as well as over its medical marijuana policies and its efforts to impose mandatory minimum sentences for cultivating as few as six pot plants.

"What we are seeing is a coordinated effort led by the Conservative government to crack down on simple marijuana possession as part of a multi-billion dollar increase in the war on drugs. At a time when almost every country in the world is recognizing the total and abject failure of the war on drugs, this Conservative government is increasing spending by billions of dollars" said Kirk Tousaw, executive director of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation.

"Mr. Harper continues to talk about how government spending needs to be reduced, and how we can't afford social programs, yet he is pouring billions into the failed drug war," Tousaw continued. "Why? Why did 58,000 Canadians need to be arrested over a plant that more Canadians want legalized than voted for Conservative candidates? Why is Mr. Harper spending billions to arrest Canadians for simple marijuana possession?"

"It's become clear what this government's priorities are," said Jacob Hunter, the foundation's policy director. "A crackdown on simple marijuana possession, mandatory minimum sentences for growing even one marijuana plant, and a dismantling of the medical marijuana program. This is nothing less than a total war on marijuana" said Jacob Hunter, the foundation's policy director.

Canadian marijuana activists, who seemed so close to freeing the weed just a few years ago, have their work cut out for them.

Canada

Insite Activist Threatens Civil Disobedience

Location: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada
If the federal government seeks to permanently shutter Insite, Vancouverites can anticipate a loud and unrelenting outcry from advocates, health care professionals and drug users who support the Downtown Eastside supervised injection site. Closing Insite, "will be seen as a personal affront to the city of Vancouver," said Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users activist Dean Wilson, noting residents in this city, including Mayor Gregor Robertson and at least four former mayors, are generally in favor of harm reduction drug treatment that includes supervised injection.
Publication/Source: 
The Vancouver Courier (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.vancourier.com/Insite+activist+threatens+civil+disobedience/4815699/story.html

Ruling Opens the Door to Legalize Marijuana in Canada

Location: 
Canada
An Ontario judge has struck down key aspects of Canada’s marijuana laws, triggering a 90-day countdown when growing, possessing or smoking pot will become legal.
Publication/Source: 
GlobalPost (MA)
URL: 
http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/canada/110418/pot-medical-marijuana-legal

Proof of Insite's Value in the Numbers, Fatal Overdoses in Vancouver Have Been Reduced 35 Percent

Location: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada
With a Supreme Court of Canada case looming this summer that could decide its future, Vancouver's safe-injection drug site has received an extra shot in the arm from a new report that says it has helped reduce the number of fatal overdoses in the city by 35 per cent. The report, compiled by Canadian scientists from the Urban Health Research Initiative, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and St. Paul's Hospital, goes on to argue that Vancouver's Insite - the country's first safe-injection facility - should be replicated in other North American cities where drug use is a common problem.
Publication/Source: 
The Vancouver Sun (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Proof+Insite+value+numbers/4632903/story.html

Vancouver Safe Injection Site Saves Lives, Report Finds

Drug overdose deaths in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside fell dramatically after a safe injection site opened there, according to a study published online Monday in the British medical journal The Lancet. Fatal drug overdoses declined 35% in the vicinity of the Insite safe injection site in the two years after it opened, compared to only a 9% decline in the rest of the city.

Vancouver's Insite safe injection site on East Hastings Street (Image courtesy Vancouver Coastal Health)
"No one has ever been able to demonstrate a substantial reduction in overdose deaths due to the presence of a safe injection site, but we have done so," said Thomas Kerr of the Urban Health Research Initiative at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and one of the authors of the study.

The study examined 290 drug overdose deaths between 2001 and 2005, 89 of which occurred within 500 meters of the Insite location. Insite opened in 2003. After Insite opened, the overdose death rate within 500 meters dropped from 253.8 per 100,000 to 165.1 per 100,000, a 35% decrease. In the two years prior to Insite opening, 56 neighborhood drug users suffered fatal overdoses; in the two years after, only 33 did.

Previous research had shown that Insite reduced behaviors that could lead to blood-borne infections like Hepatitis C and HIV and contributed to public order by getting IV drug use off the streets and into a clinical setting.

It is not that drug overdoses do not occur at Insite; in fact, there have been 2,000 of them at the facility, but no deaths. In addition to providing injection booths and clean syringes, Insite has nurses on staff who can and do revive users who have overdosed.

Despite previously demonstrated benefits of Insite and the strong support of provincial health authorities, Canada's Conservative government has sought repeatedly to shut it down. The Canadian Supreme Court next month will hear the government's appeal of British Columbia courts' rulings that denying injection drug users such a service violates their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that the province has jurisdiction in the case because Insite is providing a health care service, a provincial function.

For the study's authors, the conclusion was obvious: "Safe injection facilities should be considered where injection drug use is prevalent, particularly in areas with high density of overdose."

Vancouver
Canada

Marc Emery Denied Transfer to Canadian Prison

Canadian marijuana legalization activist Marc Emery, currently serving a five-year federal prison sentence in the US, has been denied in his request to finish serving his time in a Canadian prison. His Canadian attorney, Kirk Tousaw, said Friday that Emery received notice that US authorities had denied the request on the grounds of "the seriousness of the offense" and "law enforcement concerns."

Marc Emery leading a rally in Calgary during happier times (image via wikimedia.org)
Emery, the self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot," is serving time for selling marijuana seeds. Emery used the profits from those seed sales to fund legalization campaigns in Canada, the US, and elsewhere. His supporters have long charged that his prosecution was politically motivated.

Emery is currently at the federal holding facility in El Reno, Oklahoma, while awaiting transfer to a medium-security prison in Mississippi. He had previously been held in a minimum-security prison in Georgia. It is unclear why he is being transferred to a higher security prison.

Under a bilateral treaty, Canadian prisoners serving time in the US can apply to serve their sentence in their home country, and vice versa. The guidelines for evaluating prisoner transfer applications are available here.

"This refusal is a terrible affront to the sovereignty of Canada," said Tousaw. "Marc is a target of political persecution that appears to have transcended his conviction and now infects the treaty transfer process. He qualifies under every relevant factor and should have been allowed to serve out his jail term in Canada, close to his wife Jodie and in the country in which all of his activity took place. We call upon Prime Minister Harper and the leaders of the Liberal Party and NDP to stand up for this Canadian hero and demand his immediate repatriation."

Emery's wife, Jodie Emery, said she was "shocked and sickened" by the denial. "He has been punished for speaking out for the rights of tens of millions of cannabis consumers here and in the US and it's truly frightening," she said in a statement. "Canadians who feel Marc has been treated unfairly with an unjust five-year US prison sentence for seeds should punish the Conservatives in the federal election on May 2nd for extraditing Marc in the first place."

Tousaw said the notification of the denial came through unusual channels. Neither he nor Emery's US attorney were notified of the decision, as would usually be the case. Instead, someone in the US government notified the Canadian government, and Emery was notified via a letter from the Canadian consulate.

"This is very unusual and should not have happened," Tousaw said. "It makes me wonder whether the US and Canada are engaged in ongoing dialogue about Marc and lends support to the belief that politics are still influencing the process."

Emery can reapply for a transfer to his homeland in two years. If that doesn't occur, he will remain imprisoned in the US until he does 85% of his sentence.

El Reno, OK
United States

Study Casts Doubts Over Canada's Strategy on Illicit Drug Use

Location: 
Canada
Much like the American approach to drug policy, it's not clear Canadians are getting a whole lot of bang for all the bucks thrown at the illicit drug problem, a new report says. "In the case of the strategy, many programs do not have the means to demonstrate the incremental impact of their activities...Many programs report output information...but the validity of the information remains questionable from an impact measurement perspective," the document says.
Publication/Source: 
CTV Television Network (Canada)
URL: 
http://montreal.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110317/study-drug-use-ottawa-strategy-110317/20110317/?hub=MontrealHome

Tommy Chong Lights Up Canadian New Democratic Party Campaign

Location: 
BC
Canada
Other contenders for B.C.'s NDP leadership race might be making campaign promises and rolling out platforms, but candidate and pot activist Dana Larsen is bringing out actor and comedian Tommy Chong. The celebrity marijuana user — one half of the former movie duo Cheech and Chong — has publicly endorsed Larsen for the leadership.
Publication/Source: 
CBC Radio-Canda (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/03/07/bc-larsen-ndp-tommy-chong.html

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