Tag Archives: possession

Police chiefs call on federal government to decriminalize possession of illicit drugs for personal use

As Canada continues to battle an opioid epidemic, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is calling on federal lawmakers to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal consumption.

CACP’s president, Chief Constable Adam Palmer, said it’s time to rethink how police and governments approach the use and abuse of illegal drugs in order to save lives.

“Arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective. It does not save lives,” Palmer said. “The CACP recognizes substance use and addiction as a public health issue. Being addicted to a controlled substance is not a crime and should not be treated as such.

“We recommend that Canada’s enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system.”

CACP is a non-profit that represents about 1,300 police chiefs from federal, First Nations, provincial, regional, transportation and military police services across the country.

Palmer said that, as an alternative to the criminal model, partnerships could be formed between social services, police, the health care sector and governments to make sure drug users get access to the treatment they need.

Palmer said the focus of police efforts should be on cracking down on drug trafficking and the illegal production and importation of drugs — a task the police are better suited to address.

Palmer said such a shift in policing would require changes at the federal level to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. 

In 2018, the CACP tasked a committee with exploring the impacts on public safety and policing of moving toward decriminalization.

#defundthepolice

That report, delivered this month, concluded that substance abuse is a public health issue and that taking a public health approach to the problem would lead to lower rates of crime, overdoses and blood-borne diseases.

Palmer was asked about the #defundthepolice movement on social media and whether police forces in Canada are willing to see police funding diverted toward social services or health care.

He said that in Vancouver, where he serves as chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department, police are already looking the other way on cases of simple possession in order to focus resources on trafficking and production — so there may not be much money to divert.

Palmer did say he was willing to discuss the notion of redirecting police funding to other initiatives if all affected parties are consulted.

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Halt drug possession charges during pandemic to stem spike in overdose deaths, advocates say

More than 50 human rights, drug and legal policy groups are pushing the federal government to halt criminal charges for simple drug possession as part of its response to COVID-19, arguing the pandemic has led to more dangerous drug use practices and a spike in overdose deaths.

In a letter to Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Justice Minister David Lametti, the organizations say COVID-19 has forced supervised consumption sites and safe needle programs to either close down or reduce their hours.

Additional street-level policing to enforce pandemic public health measures has also increased fears of arrest, causing many drug users to forego safety precautions or consume alone.

“Heightened law enforcement surveillance in the context of the pandemic further hampers their access to vital health services and ability to use drugs safely, while also increasing their risk of arrest and detention,” the letter reads.

“Not surprisingly, some cities are already seeing reports of increasing overdose deaths since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The organizations report the situation is also increasing the risk of HIV and hepatitis C infections among intravenous drug users at a time when Canada is already battling another public health emergency — the opioid crisis.

Between January 2016 and September 2019, there were about 14,700 opioid-related deaths across the country.

Cities reporting spike in overdoses

Many cities, including Toronto, are reporting a rise in suspected overdoses and deaths over March and April of this year, after a widespread shutdown of businesses and support services was imposed in response to the pandemic. 

The groups that signed the letter — which include Amnesty International, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Public Health Association and the Criminal Lawyers’ Association — say the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act gives the federal health minister the authority to issue an exemption for criminal charges “on the basis that it is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest.” 

In  2015, the government granted exemptions for supervised consumption services using that same section of the act. 

The groups say the federal cabinet also could issue a directive.

Harm reduction advocates have been pushing federal officials to decriminalize simple drug possession for years, arguing that such a move would offer major public health advantages while posing few risks to public safety.

“We’ve wanted (the government) to decriminalize simple drug possession more broadly, but we think now there’s even more urgency given the increase in deaths,” said Sandra Ka Hon Chu, director of research and advocacy at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“The fact that people who use drugs are more often in public spaces means they’re more vulnerable to police surveillance, potential harassment or detention. And the last place we want them to be at this point is detention.”

Limiting the spread in jails, prisons

Ka Hon Chu said it would make little sense to put drug users in jail when provincial and federal prisons are taking steps to depopulate to limit the spread of COVID-19 behind bars.

The confined environment in detention – coupled with the fact that many incarcerated people have chronic health conditions – has led many to warn that the virus could spread quickly behind bars and lead to severe symptoms.

People who use drugs, especially those who are homeless or have precarious housing arrangements, are more likely to have the kind of chronic health issues that make them prone to developing severe symptoms if they’re infected with the virus, the groups say.

An expert in the United Nations Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement last month outlining the additional risks that people who use drugs face during the pandemic. It said the COVID-19 crisis requires countries to take “extraordinary measures” to protect their health.

“To prevent unnecessary intake of prisoners and unsafe drug consumption practices, moratoria should be considered on enforcement of laws criminalizing drug use and possession,” the April 16 statement reads.

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Green Party would decriminalize all drug possession if elected

The Green Party would decriminalize all drug possession if elected in October, leader Elizabeth May said Saturday on the campaign trail in Winnipeg.

May said decriminalizing possession of all drugs is necessary to curb the opioid crisis in Canada.

“We must stop treating drug addiction as a criminal issue. This is a national health emergency.”

May delivered the announcement in Manitoba, which is dealing with a major drug problem.

As part of their effort to lower the rate of overdose deaths, the Greens are also committing to declaring a national health emergency, increasing mental health and addiction programs, and funding community organizations. The party said it would also ensure kits with Naloxone, a medication that blocks the effects of opioids, are widely available to treat overdoses.

The issue is personal for the Green leader. Her sister-in-law, entertainer Margot Kidder, died in 2018 after battling drug addiction.

Much of the Green Party’s current support comes from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and Vancouver Island, areas hit hard by the opioid problem, which led to the deaths of nearly 4,000 Canadians in 2017.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says her party would decriminalize drug possession to address the opioid crisis. 0:58

May said her party would consider lifting the decriminalization in the future if the drug crisis subsides. 

Earlier this month, May told CBC News it’s time the federal government declared the opioid crisis a national emergency and decriminalized illicit drugs to prevent deaths.

People on the front lines of the crisis have long said creating a supply of clean drugs and removing the criminal element would cut down on the number of overdose deaths.

On Saturday in Winnipeg, May said health care in Canada must “accommodate, prepare and save lives.”

Weighing in on drug concerns

This year, a Statistics Canada report blamed stagnating life expectancy rates on deadly overdoses.

The Liberals have rejected calls to decriminalize all drugs, sticking instead with the legalization of marijuana — a 2015 campaign promise that was fulfilled last year.

Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have released their 2019 platforms, including on what they would do in the area of illicit drugs and how to reduce death rates.

The NDP’s platform says the party would “commit to working with all levels of government, experts and Canadians to end the criminalization and stigma of drug addiction.”

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NASCAR chairman arrested for DWI, drug possession

NASCAR mogul Brian France was arrested in New York's Hamptons for driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of oxycodone after he was seen blowing through a stop sign, police said.

France, the chairman and CEO of the auto racing behemoth, was arraigned Monday at Sag Harbor Village Justice Court after a night in jail and released on his own recognizance.

Information on a lawyer who could comment on France's behalf was not immediately available, nor was information on his next court date.

NASCAR said in a statement that it takes France's arrest "as a serious matter and will issue a statement after we have all of the facts."

France, 56, was pulled over and arrested about 7:30 p.m. Sunday near the Sag Harbor waterfront. Officers saw indications of intoxication and found the pills during a subsequent search, police said.

TMZ first reported the arrest.

France has led NASCAR since 2003. He's a third-generation leader of the company, which his late grandfather, Bill France Sr., founded in 1948.

France called into a radio show last month to refute a report that his family was looking into selling its racing properties, saying his family was "locked and loaded in its dedication to NASCAR."

France was involved in a 2006 incident in Daytona Beach, Florida, when a police report stated he crashed his Lexus into a tree after entering a restaurant parking lot.

France later told an officer called to his home that he was drinking a soda and "bumped into something."

But a witness called 911 and gave police a statement that claimed she saw France driving at a "very reckless speed," and claimed France's car hit the tree after hitting a parked car.

She said she also watched as France "fell over his own feet" as he got out of his car. Her statement was not attached to the police report, and the Daytona Beach police chief later investigated whether France was given special treatment by authorities.

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City of Vancouver calls for decriminalization of drug possession

With overdose deaths once again on the rise in Vancouver, the city is calling on the federal government to immediately decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs.

Managing director of social policy, Mary Clare Zak, says this is a new position for the city, but it is consistent with Vancouver’s Four Pillars Drug Strategy.

“What we’ve learned from countries, for example like Portugal, is that when you decriminalize then people are feeling like they’re actually safe enough to ask for treatment,” she said.

“People who are dying are more likely to be indoors and struggle with accessing help or assistance because of their illicit drug use.”

Zak says the city also recommends the following actions:

  • Rapidly roll out funding for evidence-based treatment programs.
  • Support the scale up of innovative programs that provide access to safe opioids for those most at risk for overdose.
  • Support the de-stigmatization programs that are co-led by people with lived experience of substance use.
  • Continue to roll out innovative overdose prevention services in areas where users remain isolated.

‘We need to do something’

Vancouver saw 33 overdose deaths in January, which was the city’s highest total since May of last year.

Zak says there has been a steady increase in fatal overdoses since October.

“We need to do something,” Zak said.

“We need to make sure we have a clean drug supply for people who are struggling with addiction and I think decriminalization is a big part of that. It’s about making people safe.”

The federal government is expected to unveil legislation this summer to legalize marijuana, but the federal Liberals do not support decriminalizing other drugs.

“Decriminalizing harder drugs is not a step that Canada is looking at taking at this point,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a town hall meeting in Edmonton last month.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in Vancouver last year that he supports decriminalizing personal possession of all drugs. 

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