HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html B.C. Hails Ottawa's Plan For Drug Courts
Pubdate: Fri, 01 Dec 2000
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: The Vancouver Sun 2000
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Chad Skelton and Norm Ovenden, Vancouver Sun
Series: Searching for solutions - Fix on the Downtown Eastside
Also: As of 24 Nov 2000 the draft plan may be found at:


Non-Violent Drug Offenders To Be Treated, Not Jailed.

The federal government plans to set up drug courts in all major
Canadian cities by 2004, Justice Minister Anne McLellan said Thursday.

In one of the first major policy announcements of the Liberals' third
mandate, McLellan committed her government to expanding a two-year-old
pilot project in Toronto that sends non-violent drug offenders into
mandatory treatment instead of to jail.

"They've got to have a will to turn their lives around. But it's a
much more constructive approach and has much higher long-term success
rates than the straight criminal justice system where there's very
little attention paid to the addiction and treatment of it," McLellan
said in an interview.

Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, who released a drug-policy discussion
paper last month that called for drug courts, applauded the minister's

"Drug courts are in almost every U.S. state and they've been very
successful," he said. "This is a wonderful announcement. It's very
good news, not just for Vancouver, but the whole country."

B.C. Attorney-General Graeme Bowbrick, who visited Toronto's drug
court recently, was also encouraged by McLellan's announcement. But he
cautioned such courts would have to be accompanied by more federal
money for drug treatment so that those forced into care do not make it
more difficult for people to get treatment voluntarily.

"It's excellent news as long as there's money attached," Bowbrick
said. "I would like to see Vancouver have the second drug court in the
country. I've made it a high priority."

The Liberals' election platform -- known as Red Book 3 -- promised to
more than double Ottawa's crime-prevention budget by $145 million over
the next four years. Over the same period, the Liberals also committed
$420 million to a national drug strategy to tackle substance abuse.

That strategy would include enhanced drug prevention, improved
treatment and new approaches to enforcement including drug-treatment
courts, the platform stated.

But McLellan's statement Thursday that the government wants to set up
drug courts in all major cities over the next three years is a much
firmer commitment than the government has made in the past.

Bowbrick refused to put a price-tag on how much it would cost to set
up a drug court in Vancouver. But he pointed out that Toronto's court
was given a federal grant of $1.6 million over four years.

"It takes political will to make it happen," he said.

On Thursday, McLellan said that drug-treatment courts would save the
country money in the long run.

"The costs are infinitesimal compared to what you can save if you can
actually treat these people and turn them into productive citizens,"
she said. "Otherwise, they're just going to come back out on the
streets and do the same thing over again."

The Toronto drug court has a dedicated team made up of an assigned
judge, federal Crown prosecutor and defence counsel assisted by social
agencies, treatment experts and employment counsellors.

Addicts who choose treatment over jail must submit to weekly urine
tests and attend therapy sessions.

In Toronto, the drug court only handles offenders charged with federal
drug offences. Bowbrick said he would like a Vancouver court to also
include offenders charged with property crimes committed to feed drug

Specialized drug courts were originally established in 1989 in Florida
by now-U.S. Attorney-General Janet Reno. These courts proved so
effective in combatting recidivism that there now are several hundred
operating across the U.S., directing addicts into treatment,
retraining and a new life.

Drug addiction has taken a heavy toll in Vancouver.

Each year, about 200 addicts die of drug overdoses in the Lower
Mainland. Others are killed by associated health problems such as HIV
infection or hepatitis. Much of the property crime in the city has
been linked to addicts who steal to feed their habit.
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