Pubdate: Wed, 21 Nov 2007
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2007 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Terry Pedwell, Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Critic Says It Won't Work

OTTAWA -- The federal Conservatives hope legislation introduced 
Tuesday will eventually crack down on drug dealers and change the 
lives of addicts who want to go clean.

But at least one critic predicts the bill -- if it passes -- will 
only increase violent crime between rival drug gangs and overload 
Canada's prison population.

The proposed changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act 
would, for the first time, impose mandatory minimum prison sentences 
on anyone convicted of trafficking illegal drugs.

"Drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our 
communities must face tougher penalties, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said.

"This is why our government is moving to impose mandatory jail time 
for serious drug offences that involve organized crime, violence or youth.

Among the proposed amendments, the Tories want to impose two-year 
mandatory prison sentences on people convicted of trafficking hard 
drugs such as cocaine and heroin, or those who run large marijuana 
grow operations of at least 500 plants.

If passed, the legislation would also see mandatory jail sentences of 
one year for selling marijuana as part of an organized criminal gang 
or when a weapon or violence is involved.

The legislation would also impose tougher penalties for trafficking 
GHB and flunitrazepam, commonly known as date-rape drugs.

"We're sending the message that people . . . we are serious about 
serious time for that kind of serious crime, said Public Safety 
Minister Stockwell Day.

"Our communities should not become battle grounds for drug-related violence.

However, that's just what Canadians will get with mandatory prison 
sentences, predicts Craig Jones, director of the John Howard Society.

"What happens when you crack down on crime, particularly drug crime, 
is that you provoke turf wars between rival gangs of traffickers, 
Jones said from Kingston, Ont.

"When traffickers enter into stronger competition with each other, 
they don't go to the courts, they don't call out the lawyers, they 
get out their guns and shoot each other up.

Jones blames drug prohibition for Canada's drug-violence problem, 
suggesting that legalization and regulation of street drugs would 
reduce crime in the same way that the lifting of prohibition against 
alcohol did decades ago.

The crackdown proposed by the Tories will also lead to the need for 
more prisons and exorbitant spending of tax dollars on incarceration, 
Jones predicted.

"This is a prison growth strategy, he said.

There is one way some convicts can avoid mandatory sentences under 
the proposed legislation. It allows for exceptions if offenders 
successfully complete a court-imposed drug treatment program.

However, only those convicted of non-violent offences and not 
involved in organized crime would qualify.

The Drug Treatment Court program offers a mix of social service 
support, judicial supervision and incentives for cutting down on drug 
use. Offenders who complete the program could have their sentences 
reduced or suspended.

Many drug addicts turn to crime to feed their habits, said Ottawa 
Police Chief Vernon White.

If they face mandatory jail time, some of those addicts may choose 
treatment programs to avoid going to prison, which will reduce the 
crime rate, White predicted.

"A lot of the addicts we deal with are involved in criminal 
behaviour. On average, a number of them will be committing four to 
eight crimes per day.

"So just to drive one of those people into drug treatment will 
immediately become a crime prevention tool that most of us don't understand.

The drug treatment program isn't easy, said one graduate who would 
only give his first name.

After 26 years of abusing alcohol and drugs, Joe found himself in 
prison, and voluntarily approached Ottawa's drug treatment program 
determined to change the course of his life.

"I'll make no bones about it, it's not an easy program, said Joe. 
"All I had to do was what I was told (and) I've been clean for 16 months.

"I never, ever in my life of abusing even imagined that I could 
remain clean for any amount of time.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake