Pubdate: Wed, 15 Nov 2000
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2000 The Province
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste. #1, Vancouver, BC V6C 3N3 Canada
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Adrienne Tanner


Honest reply on form sends department into a tizzy

Canadian immigration officials are divided on whether casual pot smokers 
should be allowed to immigrate to Canada.

The debate was ignited this year by a prospective immigrant who admitted on 
health forms to smoking marijuana approximately once every three months.

The applicant's frank answer sent e-mails flying between the immigration 
department's legal advisor and two medical health officers.

Details of the exchange were obtained by Vancouver immigration policy 
expert Richard Kurland through access to information.

Dr. Neil Heywood, director of immigration health services, said his 
colleagues do not agree.

"The 'doves' feel that the occasional use of recreational marijuana does 
not represent substance abuse," he said.

"The 'hawks' feel that this disclosure requires investigation."

Heywood said the applicant's admission raises other, non-medical questions; 
"namely that the possession (and use) of marijuana is illegal under the 
Criminal Code of Canada."

Another medical officer, Dr. George Giovinazzo must clarify the medical 
definition of substance abuse.

"Marijuana use recreationally is legal in places such as the Netherlands.

"As you are well aware, there is a difference between 'at risk' 
behaviour...and substance abuse or dependence."

Canada Immigration spokeswoman, Danielle Sarazin, said Canada has for years 
asked applicants if they have ever been addicted to drugs or alcohol or 
taken a drug illegally.

"There is no policy per se," she said.

Admitting to the use of an illegal substance doesn't automatically render a 
person inadmissable, she said.

"Immigration officers have to make their decision based on the facts. "It's 
on a case-by-case basis."

If a medical officer suspects drug use has led to a medical condition that 
could cause excessive demands on Canada's health-care system, he or she 
could demand further testing.

Vancouver Immigration lawyer Catherine Sas said she hopes the medical 
officers conclude a toke every three months does not constitute a dependency.

An overly rigid interpretation could tempt otherwise honest immigrants to 
lie on their medical-health forms.

"I don't think the average person would think that using marijuana four 
times a year would constitute a serious health risk or serious criminal 
behaviour," Sas said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom