by Stephen Dafoe
On Feb. 26, Liberal Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced Bill C-236: An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (evidence-based diversion measures). Erskine-Smith had previously introduced it as Bill (C-460) before the election, but the Bill died on the Orders of Papers.
Erskine-Smith said his Bill was put forth because of the thousands of Canadians who have died from the opioid crisis. “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. It is a national public health crisis,” Erskine-Smith said in presenting the Bill in the House Feb. 26.
Erskine-Smith Bill would not delete the possession offense for producers and traffickers of drugs but would delete possession completely from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for people who Erskine-Smith says need help.
“We should treat patients as patients and not as criminals,” he said. “The Bill’s focus is fundamentally to end stigma.”
Erskine-Smith contends that decriminalization in other countries has increased people seeking treatment by 60 per cent.
In a media release Tuesday, the Conservative Party of Canada criticized the Private Member’s Bill, which they mistakenly identified in the release as Bill C-235.
Conservative Deputy Opposition Whip, John Brassard, and Bob Saroya, Member of Parliament for Markham – Unionville charged the Liberals of denying a secret plan to legalize hard drugs during the election.
“Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are looking to legalize hard drugs like heroin, crack cocaine and crystal meth,” the two MPs said in a shared media statement. “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 Conservatives say last week’s Private Members Bill is not the first time the Liberals have opened the door to legalizing hard drugs.
“At the Liberal Party’s last policy convention, Liberal members overwhelmingly supported a call to decriminalize all illicit drug use in Canada; and just last year, Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Health put forward a recommendation calling on the federal government to decriminalize the possession of dangerous hard drugs,” the statement says.
“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.”
In presenting the Bill in the House of Commons on Feb. 26, Erskine-Smith said in the context of the opioid crisis, Canadians need to treat drug use as a health issue if they want to save lives.
“I will not shy away from advocating for decriminalization, but I am aware that early on in this Parliament, I have this opportunity to introduce a bill that will be debated and voted on. In the context of the opioid crisis that has taken so many lives, I want to ensure that a measure is passed that will improve our laws and will help Canadians in need,” Erskine-Smith said.
The MP said while his Private Member’s Bill would not decriminalize drugs, it would ensure there would be an evidence-based diversion framework, as well as a principles-based framework that is built on public health principles in Canada’s national drug strategy.
“The bill is also built on the successful model of the Youth Criminal Justice Act at home,” Erskine-Smith said. “It would require police and prosecutors to ensure, before they move forward with charges, that they consider whether it is sufficient to give a warning or to refer an individual in need to a public health agency and provider.”
Conservative MPs Brassard and Saroya say their party will remain steadfast in fighting the Bill.
“While the Trudeau Liberals are focused on making dangerous drugs more accessible to Canadians, Canada’s Conservatives will remain focused on helping Canadians struggling with addiction through recovery and prevention.”