Pubdate: Sat, 06 Oct 2007
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 The London Free Press
Author: Terri Theodore, Canadian Press
Cited: Beyond Prohibition Coalition
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)


Critics Call It Everything From Politically Opportunistic to a Threat
to Civil Liberties.

VANCOUVER -- Critics of the Conservative government's anti-drug plan
are calling it everything from naive to politically opportunistic and
a threat to the civil liberties of Canadians.

A coalition of Vancouver health and social groups says prison terms
and attempts to scare users straight won't solve Canada's illegal drug

"You just can't incarcerate your way out of this," former Vancouver
mayor Philip Owen, a member of the Beyond Prohibition Coalition, said
yesterday. "The United States locks down 2.3 million people every night."

Owen, an architect of Vancouver's drug safe-injection site, said at a
news conference the Tory government's adoption of policies similar to
the failed war on drugs in the United States is "uninformed."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has been skeptical of the
safe-injection site's claimed harm-reduction benefits, promised
Thursday to put more drug dealers behind bars and help drug users kick
their habits in the $64-million anti-drug plan.

Another coalition member, former B.C. provincial court judge Jerry
Paradis, said illegal drugs have been used as a political gimmick by
prime ministers for decades. "Stephen Harper has just discovered the
political usefulness of drugs finally and that all of this is
posturing leading up to a federal election,"

The issue is personal for drug addict Dean Wilson, who showed up late
and dishevelled to speak to the media.

He said he's still trying to comprehend what the government is
attempting to do.

"If he came down here and saw what was going on, I think he would
change his mind," Wilson said, pointing out the window to Vancouver's
gritty Downtown Eastside, Ground Zero of the West Coast's drug problem.

"Dead people don't detox. We've got to keep them alive long enough to
make the right decision."

Harper noted during his announcement that two-thirds of the funding
will go to prevention and treatment for addicts and to promotional
campaigns to keep people away from drugs.

The coalition said harm reduction should be the centre of a government
strategy that includes not only treatment but social housing and employment.

On the eve of Harper's announcement, the government announced another
extension of the safe-injection site's special Health Canada licence
to operate, which expires at the end of the year. Supporters had been
worried Ottawa would not renew it.

Ann Livingston from the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users said the
government needs to stop criminalizing drug users. "Unless Canadians
move forward and change our drug policy and our drugs laws, I think
that we're going to be feeling like we're trying to move a mountain
with a teaspoon," she said

Paradis, a provincial judge for 28 years, agreed crime and drugs can
be related but prohibition and not the drugs themselves are at the
root of the crime.

"I've never had a case of a kid who smoked too much marijuana taking a
pickaxe to somebody else's head at a party," he said referring to
what's believed to have been an alcohol-fuelled fight at a Calgary
party where a 17-year-old was killed last weekend.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association opposes the approach for
mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug crimes, calling it a
"significant threat to civil liberties." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake