Since early in the Reagan administration, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has held hemispheric annual conferences of DEA agents and top narcotics officers from participating countries. This year, for the first time, the International Drug Enforcement Conference is being held in Canada on May 8 through May 11, and for the first time, it will be met by organized opposition.
In a bi-national organizing effort, the Alliance of Canadian Reform Organizations, the criminology department at the University of Ottawa, NORML-Canada, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition created the International Drug Enforcement Counter-Symposium: A Canadian Response to US Drug Policy Hegemony. The theme of the event is seeking alternatives to US-sponsored drug prohibition.
That the events should take place in Montreal is especially timely. The newly-elected Canadian government of Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper is embracing US-style drug and criminal justice policy notions. The Harper government has said it will not reintroduce the Liberals' marijuana decriminalization bill, that it wants to more harshly punish marijuana growers, and that it is seeking to impose mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain serious offenses, including some drug crimes.
While the DEA and its allies are meeting behind closed doors by invitation only, the counter-symposium is free and all are welcome. Even those attending the DEA conference are welcome, organizers took pains to note.
The counter-symposium will feature a prestigious roll call of leading scholars and activists from across the hemisphere, as well as Eastern Europe, including Argentine Judge Martin Vazquez Acuna, Canadian New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament Libby Davies, and British Columbia Provincial Court Judge Jerry Paradis.
All are strong anti-prohibitionists. As Paradis wrote recently: "Prohibition diminishes judges by requiring them to shut their minds off from the irrationality of what they are required to do. It diminishes the lawyers on both sides ,the prosecutors, by forcing them to pursue people and issues that they know full well belong in the field of health care; and defense counsel, by forcing them to play silly charter-of-rights games instead of dealing with real issues. And it diminishes the police by forcing them to see drug users as prey, not worthy of serious second thought."
Attendees will also include the International Anti-Prohibitionist League's Dr. Marie Andree Bertrand, and instructor Lionel Prevost, both of the criminology faculty at the University of Montreal, Dr. Diane Riley, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, and Dr. Balaz Denes, executive director of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Association.
Law enforcement and the legal profession will also be represented, with LEAP members former police Chief Jerry Cameron and Terry Nelson, a former Border Patrol and Department of Homeland Security counter-narcotics officer, as well as attorneys Eugene Oscapella, executive director of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy and Kirk Tousaw, acting director of the BC Civil Liberties Association Drug Policy Project.
In addition to a full day of sessions, the event will also include a noon rally. Many of the speakers will stick around to address drug policy issues at the University of Ottawa the following day.