Monday, 18 May 2009

Canada’s Push for Mandatory Sentencing of Drug Crimes

One country that appears to be progressing with rational drug laws is Canada. They have a safe injection clinic like our Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC). They have just finished a heroin trial and they are often pushing more sensible cannabis laws. But all is not what it seems. Many of these initiatives that appeared under the previous government are aggressively being challenged by the current conservative, Harper administration
Under Canada's proposed new drug laws, an 18-year-old who shares a joint with a 17-year-old friend could end up in jail. Small-time addicts, who are convicted of pushing drugs near schools, parks, malls or any other prospective youth hangouts, would be automatically imprisoned for two years. And growers caught selling even one plant to a friend would also be incarcerated. -Plan For Minimum, Mandatory Drug Sentences Draws Fire - Canwest News Service
Especially disturbing, is a major bill(C-15) reintroduced to parliament by the ruling government that wants to set mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes. The original bill(C-26) was introduced in 2007 but was dropped prior to the election. This bill effectively removes a judges ability to set an appropriate sentence when faced with extenuating circumstances. As pointed out by several experts, some countries, especially the US, are moving away from mandatory sentencing because it has not proven to be effective in cutting crime. In fact, mandatory sentencing has previously been deemed ineffective by 2 reports commissioned by the government's own Justice Department. This is a worrying trend where governments are commissioning reports then ignoring them if they conflict with their current policies or ideology. There has been much public scrutiny of the proposed mandatory minimum sentences but the government refuses to acknowledge that there is no evidence that the changes will work. In a public hearing, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson continually dodged the question about evidence and in typical form, waffled on until his time was up. This is an old tactic frequently used by conservative politicians who are faced more and more with science and research that rejects their often pseudo-Christian, right wing ideology - Don’t answer the question being asked, answer the question you wished they had asked. Reality, facts and research are a real killjoy sometimes.
Overall Concerns: There is no proof that mandatory minimums are effective and appropriate measures to reduce drug use and crimes related to drugs. Most evidence shows the opposite. C-26 does not address the core issue of why people use drugs. C-26 increases already imbalanced and over-funded enforcement approach to drug use in Canada without reducing crime rates or drug use. Abandons successful measures such as harm reduction and grass roots education programs. Moves toward expensive, failed US style war on drugs that spends tens of billions a year on enforcement and incarceration while crime rates and drug use soar. Leads to greater incarceration rates and greater burden on courts, police, and prisons. The Bill leaves it open for enforcement to go after the low level dealers and marijuana infractions (The selling of one joint or growing one plant could constitute trafficking) . Current waiting lists for drug treatment beds is from months to years, depending on the city and region, Drug Treatment Courts will only serve to put more people on a waiting list. source: Cannabis Facts
Mandatory minimum prison sentences do not work. In this case, it will just fill the prison system with mostly harmless, non violent citizens. The whole idea of enforcing a set term of imprisonment defeats the purpose of going to court and being sentenced appropriately. This type of sentencing is always aimed at the worst type of offender which is usually in the minority and as a result, nets in many people who do not deserve prison. It’s the role of judges to determine sentences, not politicians and this sets a dangerous precedent for the legal system to become a political tool. The lessons from the US should be a stark reminder that mandatory minimum prison sentencing for drug crimes is purely right wing ideology which has been allowed to interfere with a nations legal system.
Plan For Minimum, Mandatory Drug Sentences Draws Fire By Janice Tibbetts Canwest News Service May 2009 OTTAWA — Under Canada's proposed new drug laws, an 18-year-old who shares a joint with a 17-year-old friend could end up in jail. Small-time addicts, who are convicted of pushing drugs near schools, parks, malls or any other prospective youth hangouts, would be automatically imprisoned for two years. And growers caught selling even one plant to a friend would also be incarcerated. The Harper government's bill to impose Canada's first mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crimes — removing discretion for judges to sentence as they see fit — has come under intense scrutiny in public hearings, which began last week. Several witnesses have warned the House of Commons justice committee the proposed legislation will fill jails with drug addicts rather than drug kingpins, who will continue to thrive while small-time dealers are knocked out of commission. The all-party committee will likely get an earful again Monday when it hears from another half dozen opponents, including Ottawa drug policy analyst Eugene Oscapella. "It's a wonderful gift to organized crime," said Oscapella, a lawyer who teaches at University of Ottawa. "We're going to drive some of the smaller players out of the business and they'll be replaced by people who do not respond to law enforcement initiatives." The Conservative government proposes to automatically jail dealers and growers at a time when several American states, most recently New York, have retreated from mandatory minimum sentences, saying they are a glaring symbol of the failed U.S. war on drugs. "We're going in exactly the opposite direction," said New Democrat Libby Davies, MP for Vancouver East, whose party will vote against the bill. The Bloc Quebecois also opposes the legislation, which was originally introduced in late 2007, but died last September when the federal election was called. The bill would pass in the minority Parliament if the official Opposition Liberals decide to support it — and MP Brian Murphy cautioned that "the jury is still out" for his party. "The aim of the bill is laudable, we have to crack down on organized crime and the cash cow for it seems to be drugs," said Murphy. The Liberals, at this stage, would probably push for amendments to narrow the bill's reach, rather than vote against it, he said. The United States experience in the last 25 years has shown that mandatory minimum sentences have flooded jails, with a disproportionate effect on drug addicts, the poor, the young, blacks and other minorities. The U.S. surpasses every other country by far in incarceration rates and, meanwhile, the drug business has flourished. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who appeared at the justice committee to defend his bill, was unable to supply any evidence from other countries that mandatory minimum sentences have made any difference in reducing drug crime. Two studies prepared for the Justice Department, one in 2002 and the other in 2005, say that mandatory minimums do not work. But Nicholson asserted that the proposed legislation is a smart response to a public outcry to crack down on the growing "scourge" of drugs. "I can tell you there is support for this bill from many ordinary Canadians who are quite concerned about drug abuse," said Nicholson, who called for expedited passage of the legislation. Davies has unsuccessfully challenged the government to supply estimates on how many more people would be incarcerated if the law passes, and the anticipated cost for provincial governments, who are responsible for jails housing offenders serving sentences of less than two years. "It's going to clog up the prison system," she warned. Critics also contend the bill is poorly drafted because it is overly broad and unclear. For instance, the proposal to automatically imprison for at least two years anyone caught selling drugs "near a school" or "any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of 18" could mean virtually anywhere in an urban area, says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. "Any place other than those where minors are not permitted could fall under that legislation and thus require a two-year minimum sentence be imposed," Graeme Norton, director of the group's public safety project, told the committee. The proposed legislation would impose one-year mandatory jail time for marijuana dealing, when it is linked to organized crime or a weapon is involved. The sentence would be increased to two years for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine to young people, or pushing drugs near a school or other places frequented by youths. The bill would mean minimum six-month sentences for growing one to 200 marijuana plants to sell, and two years for big-time growers of 500 plants or more. There are already more than two dozen minimum prison terms in the Criminal Code, mainly for murder and offences involving firearms. © Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
Related Articles: Study: Mandatory Minimums Don't Work! - The Rand Corporation Justices Restore Judges’ Control Over Sentencing - New York Times Proposed New Mandatory Sentences For Serious Drug Offences - Schedule Ii Drugs (Cannabis And Marijuana)


Toronto Real Estate said...

All the bills and rights are one thing, but in reality, I don't think anyone should be scared of jail time just for sharing a joint. Watch this video:

I don't think neither of these ways are very good, too many laws and rights are a little too strict but letting everyone do whatever they want makes the police look a little lame. Anyways, great article,

take care, Julie

editor said...

THIS man was clean,after four days in the dtes of vancouver with our current drug laws,it dosen't take long to end up like this.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Julie.

It doesn't seem right to have thousands of people breaking the law in public but what are the alternatives when politicians ignore the overwhelming evidence that current drug laws are ridiculous and keep bowing to pressure from the US?

The US prosecuter in the video probably summed it up by saying Canada should make a decision and stick to it ... either legalise it or make it illegal. Every country that tries to implement a rational drug policy is visited by US heavies to "talk" them out it and usually applies some threat. This forces many countries like Canada, The Netherlands etc. to keep their drug laws but turn a blind eye to it or like Australia, class it as a scientific trial e.g. Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC).

There would be a lot more calm if the US kept their noses out of everyone's business. Instead of concentrating on their own insatiable hunger for drugs, they blame everyone else for supplying the drugs.

Thanks for visiting.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Editor for the video.

Very, very disturbing indeed.

And you're right, blame the drug laws and drug policy.

This man needs help!