The Liberal government used its first foray into the global anti-narcotics arena this week to signal a clear shift away from the war-on-drugs philosophy, promising more safe-injection sites, promoting “harm reduction” and touting its plan to legalize marijuana.
The speech by Hilary Geller [see the text below], an assistant deputy minister of health, caused a stir at the generally staid Commission on Narcotic Drugs conference in Vienna, observers said.
The audience of government and non-governmental organization officials from around the world “erupted in applause” mid-way through the address and gave a prolonged ovation at the end, said Jason Nickerson, an Ottawa-based researcher who is attending the meeting.
The talk not only contrasted with the Harper government’s international stance on drugs, but stood out from the cautious pronouncements most other nations made, said the Bruyère Research Institute scientist, who favours more liberal policies.
“There are some countries here that are coming out and saying important, progressive things,” he said. “But it’s certainly not as explicit as what Canada is saying.”
A Conservative opposition critic had a different reaction, sounding the alarm about Geller’s prediction of more government-sanctioned injection sites – where opioid users can use illicit intravenous drugs under a nurse’s supervision.
While the Supreme Court of Canada ruled such sites legal, the Conservatives passed legislation requiring extensive public consultations and other measures before they could be set up, said Rob Nicholson, the party’s justice critic.
“Drugs that are used at these injection sites, mostly heroin, are dangerous and addictive and they kill Canadians,” said the former justice minister. “I disagree with the idea they are safe. There’s nothing safe about taking heroin.”
Nicholson also stressed that the Conservatives invested hundreds of millions of dollars in drug-abuse treatment and prevention.
Still, the Harper government was generally tough on the issue, implementing mandatory-minimum jail sentences for some trafficking offences and beefing up police narcotics enforcement.
On the world stage, it opposed having international conventions embrace harm reduction, programs that focus on preventing the side effects of illegal drug use — like HIV infection — rather than prosecution.
That put the Conservative government in league with some of the world’s most authoritarian states, said Richard Elliott, head of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
Under Harper, Canada also failed to condemn the death penalty for drug offences, enforced regularly by nations like Iran and Indonesia, he said.
Geller stressed this week her government opposes capital punishment “in all cases.”
Her stance generally marked a “180-degree” shift, said Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.
“It was very moving for the Canadians in the room, people who have been working on this issue for 10 years in a context where Canada has been more aligned with China and Russia and Pakistan.”
The Vienna conference is a precursor to the UN General Assembly’s special session on drugs this year, which will consider a possible overhaul of international narcotics treaties and their law and order approach.
‘It was very moving for the Canadians in the room, people who have been working on this issue for 10 years in a context where Canada has been more aligned with China and Russia and Pakistan’
Geller said Canada remains committed to combating illicit drug activities, but believes a comprehensive public-health approach is needed, including prevention and treatment.
Harm reduction is “critical,” she said, referring to needle-exchange programs and safe injection sites, as in Vancouver and as requested by advocates in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
“With one long-standing supervised injection site already operating in Canada, we have recently approved a second, and anticipate that there will be others in future,” said Geller.
She also defended the government’s plan to “legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to” marijuana. The current approach is not working, with high rates of pot use among young people, thousands of Canadians earning criminal records for non-violent offences and organized crime reaping huge profits, said Geller.
A day earlier, another UN body had chided Canada for its cannabis intentions, which it said violated the international Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Tom Blackwell | March 16, 2016
The text of Geller's remarks to Commission on Narcotic Drugs conference in Vienna :__________________
Mister Chairman, Heads of State and Government, Ministers and distinguished delegates.
Canada is very pleased to participate in this special segment, as members of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs work together to prepare for UNGASS.
Canada views UNGASS 2016 as an opportunity to reflect on our progress, as well as to engage in discussions on the many new and continuing challenges posed by illicit drug-related activities and by the social harms that they cause.
Recognizing the vast array of challenges involved in drug control, Canada believes that we should focus our domestic and international efforts on priority areas that provide the greatest opportunities for improvement.
First, we believe that a strong emphasis should be placed on a comprehensive public health approach. This includes addressing the problematic use of drugs through the implementation of prevention initiatives, providing treatment and care, supporting recovery and reducing harms associated with drug use.
In our view, harm reduction is critical. Canada supports the use of evidence-based harm reduction measures such as needle exchange programs and supervised injection sites. With one long* standing supervised injection site already operating in Canada, we have recently approved a second, and anticipate that there will be others in the future.
In addition, earlier this year, in response to a devastating increase in overdoses related to illicitly produced fentanyl, Canada has begun the process to remove naloxone from prescription status thereby enabling wider access to this Iife-saving drug, to assist in the immediate treatment of opioid overdoses wherever they occur.
The Government has also recently invested in a new prescription drug abuse strategy building on the work of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, and including all those with a role to play in tackling this complex issue.
Finally, a public health approach also includes ensuring access to essential medicines. There is wide acknowledgement in the international community that lack of access is a serious issue in many countries and that more needs to be done to ensure that patients do not have to endure needless pain and suffering. As a physician who worked for many years in Africa, Canada's new Minister of Health understands that improving the availability of essential medicines will require both national action to address such barriers as well as international support for those efforts.
A second priority area where Canada believes we should focus our collective efforts is on ensuring appropriate legislation and regulation to establish international and domestic frameworks for the control of new psychoactive substances. Given the rapid rate at which they are appearing on the illicit market, such substances pose a significant risk to public health and safety. Ensuring appropriate controls is challenging. Canada therefore supports proactive measures to address this issue, emphasizing the need for strengthened national control measures, tailored to each member states individual circumstances, international coordination and efficient processes to control the most prevalent, persistent and harmful of these substances at the international level.
Thirdly, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sound data and information. Canada supports evidence-based policy and program design that is informed by reliable data, thorough analysis, rigorous evaluation, sound science and the sharing of best practices. Canada also supports the development of improved, broadened metrics to better evaluate our success in ameliorating drug control and addressing problematic substance use, and which also take into account the harms associated with illicit drug activities, such as their impact on health, peace and security, development and human rights. We acknowledge that this may require some member states, including ourselves, to rethink how information and data are collected and prioritized.
Lastly, and above all, Canada believes that any drug policy should be rooted in the recognition of and respect for human rights and that sanctions for crime, including drug-related crime, should be proportionate to the nature of the offence. In this regard, Canada opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases, everywhere
Mr. Chair, members of the Commission will likely be aware that Canada has committed to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to marijuana. The Government of Canada in its electoral platform stated that that the current national approach is not working. Canadian youth use marijuana at rates among the highest in the world. Thousands of Canadians are dealing with the consequences of having criminal records for non-violent drug offences every year while organized crime is reaping the benefits of billions of dollars in profits from the illegal marijuana trade. And, finally, most Canadians no longer believe that marijuana should be subject to harsh criminal sanctions, and support the Government's commitment to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.
Canada recognizes that this is both a serious and a complex undertaking. The Government remains committed to strong international cooperation to combat the world drug problem and wherever possible, will seek to align its objectives for a new marijuana regime with the objectives of the international drug control framework and the spirit of the Conventions. We will keep these shared objectives front and center as Canada's Ministers of Justice, Public Safety and Health move forward to establish a task force to consult with experts, our provinces and territories, and Canadians leading to the design and implementation of a new regime.
Mr. Chair, we recognize that in order to further progress on global drug control issues, there must be an ongoing commitment to international cooperation. This includes stronger co llaboration between UN agencies which deal with different aspects of the world drug problem, including the UNODC, the INCB, the WHO and UNAIDS, as well as civil society organizations and the scientific community.
In closing, Mr. Chair, Canada will continue to do its part in advancing the international drug policy agenda. We look forward to finalizing the text of the UNGASS outcome document here in this session of the CND, and we look forward to fruitful and informative discussions at UNGASS. You can be assured of Canada's full support and engagement in this process.
Further good news on the Canada, drug policy and harm reduction front:
Health Canada gives Insite, Vancouver safe-injection site, 4-year exemption
Health Canada has granted a four-year exemption to Vancouver’s Insite that will allow the safe-injection program to continue operating.
In a statement, the Vancouver Coastal Health announced on Thursday that it had received the multi-year permission.
It is the first time since 2011 that Insite, which is located in the city’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, has received an exemption lasting longer than a year.
"We are encouraged by Health Canada’s willingness to voluntarily move to a multi-year exemption for Insite,” said B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake in the statement.
"It reflects an understanding of the tremendous value the facility has, and signals that Insite is an important part of health services within the Vancouver community in the eyes of the federal government."
Insite previously operated for nearly five years under a special exemption granted by the Liberal government between 2003 and 2008. But the Conservative leadership that followed refused to renew the exemption past July 2008. A constitutional challenge was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. And in 2011, it ruled against the Conservative government's decisions to withdraw Insite's exemption.
This is also the first time Insite has applied for an exemption since the Respect for the Communities Act came into law last June. The law was written by the Conservative government after the Supreme Court of Canada ruling. It forces safe-injection sites to meet requirements including consultation with community members, public health officials and local police forces, as well as provincial and territorial health ministers. Applicants also have to provide information on local crime rates and public nuisances.
"In practical terms, these new requirements make it onerous for Insite and other supervised injection services to obtain an exemption," said the statement.
"VCH is hopeful the federal government will review and change the legislation developed under the previous government."
More than two million injections have been carried out since Insite opened more than a decade ago. It is visited by between 600 to 800 clients a day, and there have been no deaths from overdoses during its run.
And Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer at Vancouver Coastal Health, said with overdose deaths on the rise in Vancouver and the presence of fentanyl in the city's illegal drug market, Insite is essential.
"Supervised injection services, like those provided at Insite and the Dr. Peter Centre, are needed now more than ever because they save lives and reduce the harm of drug use for people who are actively addicted to injectable drugs," Daly said in the statement.
The Dr. Peter Centre, near Vancouver's West End, was granted a two-year exemption to provide supervised injection services by Health Canada in January.
B.C. health officials are also considering offering the services in community health clinics in response to a spike in fentanyl overdoses.
In addition to providing clean needles and a safe zone for drug users, Insite offers other health care services, such as care for infections and tuberculosis, vaccinations, mental health treatment and addiction counsellors.
The facility also has a detox facility called Onsite.
In the statement, Vancouver Coastal Health said it plans to seek further exemptions to incorporate supervised injection into other health care services for those suffering from addiction.
The news that Insite has been granted a four-year exemption comes just days after Toronto's medical officer of health recommended that the city move ahead with its plans for three supervised drug-injection sites.
March 17, 2016
I can't really express just how proud I am of this apparent sea change in Canada. If the Trudeau government actually does these things they say I might break a life long commitment to never voting for or contributing to the Liberals (on account of them being way too conservative for a commie pinko anarchist freak like me). Beelzebub bless their blackened with the grime of politics little hearts! <3 <3
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