Pandemic has worsened effects of discrimination and stigmatization of drug users, groups say
Five organizations have asked the City of Montreal to follow the example of Toronto and Vancouver in calling on the federal government to decriminalize simple possession of drugs for personal use under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC 1996, c 19.
The Association des intervenants en dépendance du Québec, the Association québécoise pour la promotion de la santé des utilisateurs et utilisatrices de drogue, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Table des organismes communautaires montréalais de lutte contre le SIDA, and the HIV Legal Network immediately and unanimously urged Montreal to embark on concrete efforts toward the decriminalization of this offense, considering that the city is facing an unprecedented number of deaths due to overdose.
Richard Elliott, executive director of the HIV Legal Network, said that the federal health minister can effectively decriminalize simple drug possession through the grant of a nation-wide exemption from this offence under s. 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. “There is no need, nor any excuse, for delay, particularly amid unprecedented overdose death,” said Elliott.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the effects of discrimination against and stigmatization of drug users and has resulted in recent measures that have exacerbated existing challenges connected with the national overdose crisis, such as through the reduction of access to services and through the imposition of curfew, the organizations said in a news release.
The need for reform of Canada’s traditional, repressive and onerous drug policies, through its war on drugs over the past six decades, is more obvious than ever, the organizations said, urging Montreal to work with other concerned government bodies to improve access to harm reduction services and to immediately follow the lead of Vancouver in requesting a city-wide exemption from the federal government to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The war on drugs has directly led to repressive measures, Sandra Wesley, president of the Table des organismes communautaires montréalais de lutte contre le SIDA, said in the release; “They have had a direct impact on the health, safety, and lives of those who take drugs by cutting them off from their community, from care, and from services.”
Vancouver and Toronto’s Board of Health have already called on Canada to take immediate and tangible steps to decriminalize drug possession. The federal government should prioritize recognizing and supporting human rights, protecting the health and safety of drug users and saving lives when taking steps toward decriminalization, the five organizations said.
Stakeholders, members of the scientific community, national associations, government agencies, and individuals with lived experience all support this effort, the news release said.
“The recognition and support of human rights, the preservation of the health and safety of those who use drugs and, ultimately, saving lives are the top priorities of this urgent call for change.”