MEDIA STATEMENT: Bill C-216

A Statement on Bill C-216

Bill C-216, being advanced by MP Gord Johns, is expected to come up for vote on June 1 and we urge MPs to vote to move the bill to committee stage

For immediate release

The following can be attributed to the HIV Legal Network

May 25, 2022 Bill C-216, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and to enact the Expungement of Certain Drug-related Convictions Act and the National Strategy on Substance Use Act, is now before Parliament and rightly receiving considerable attention.

The HIV Legal Network supports this Bill, which moves the needle away from the criminalization of drugs and the people who use them. Our assessment of Bill C-216 is that, as presented, it is a promising proposal that goes further than any other federal bill to date. Bill C-216 would repeal section 4 of the CDSA, for which we have been calling — alongside more than 180 civil society and other organizations across Canada. This would effectively decriminalize simple drug possession in this country, which would be a welcome step.

Importantly, Bill C-216 would also establish a free process to apply to the Parole Board of Canada to order an expungement of a conviction for simple drug possession, meaning that the person convicted of the offence is deemed never to have been charged with and convicted of that offence. This is important to alleviate the stigma and discrimination that people who use drugs in this country often face.

Lastly, Bill C-216 would task the Minister of Health with developing a national strategy on substance use that involves consultation with representatives of key stakeholders, including people who use drugs, harm reduction workers, and advocacy organizations, among others, and require that the strategy include measures to “address the harms associated with the criminalization of substance use,” to “ensure low-barrier access to a safe supply of medically regulated substances” as well as to “universal access to recovery, treatment and harm reduction services,” and to “reduce stigma associated with substance use.” We support such a strategy provided that it centres and prioritizes lived and living experience and the incredible expertise of people who use drugs in Canada. We are encouraged to see the Bill requires the Minister to report on this national strategy within one year of Bill C-216 coming into force, and to further report on the strategy’s implementation the following year.

Implementation and accountability are critical. We can all agree that words don’t save lives.

But Bill C-216 must go further. Specifically, the bill does not repeal section 8 of the Cannabis Act, which makes it a crime to possess cannabis through the unregulated, “illicit” market, and it also does not decriminalize necessity trafficking, defined as the sale of drugs to others for subsistence, to support personal drug use costs, or to provide a safe supply. We believe the bill would be strengthened by the addition of these provisions, which also have widespread support.

Finally, under Bill C-216, a person must apply for an expungement — it is not automatic, as it should be — and it is unclear whether an expungement will be granted if other criminalized activities are a factor. This, too, should be addressed to strengthen the bill.

Drug use should not be criminalized, nor should the people who use them. Bill C-216 promises a welcome step towards a more rational and just drug policy. We urge MPs to vote to move the bill to committee stage on June 1, 2022, where it will have the opportunity to be reviewed, studied, and even further strengthened.

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Learn more about a civil society platform on the future of drug decriminalization in Canada, by reading Decriminalization Done Right: A Rights-Based Path for Drug Policy. It is now endorsed by more than 100 organizations Canada-wide.

About the HIV Legal Network

The HIV Legal Network (www.hivlegalnetwork.ca), formerly the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, promotes the human rights of people living with, at risk of, or affected by HIV or AIDS, through research and analysis, litigation and other advocacy, public education, and community mobilization.

Contact

Janet Butler-McPhee, Co-Executive Director

HIV Legal Network

Telephone: +1 647-295-0861

Email: jbutler@hivlegalnetwork.ca

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