TORONTO, April 18, 2016 — One hundred Canadian civil society organizations are calling on the Canadian federal government to champion progressive and evidence-based drug policy positions at this week’s world forum on drugs. Spearheaded by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC), this civil society groundswell is asking federal Health Minister Dr. Jane Philpott to adopt and promote a series of 10 recommendations in her role as head of the Canadian delegation at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs. The recommendations range from scaling up support for harm reduction to decriminalizing possession of drugs for personal use.
Meeting from April 19–21, UNGASS will gather the global community to discuss issues related to drug policy for the first time in nearly 20 years. In 1998, proclaiming the goal of a “drug-free world,” the General Assembly adopted a declaration and a plan of action overwhelmingly re-emphasizing prohibition and law enforcement as the supposed means to this end. Since then, the “war on drugs” has systematically devastated communities, violated human rights and undermined public health, without bringing an end to — or even a substantial reduction in — the use of drugs, problematic or otherwise.
This week’s UNGASS comes in response to a growing global demand for rethinking drug policy, and for an honest, transparent debate about what’s working and what needs to change. UNGASS could be an important landmark in the development of a new international approach to drug policy — one based on evidence, and principles of human rights and public health, rather than prohibition and punishment. Furthermore, these positions are of direct domestic relevance. Recently, Canada’s new federal government has signaled important new directions for domestic drug policy, and on Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada expressed its disapproval of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences.
“After a long silence, Canada could once again take a position of principled global leadership on drug policy,” says Donald MacPherson, executive director of CDPC. At the recent Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna — a preamble to UNGASS — Canada delivered a powerful and ground-breaking statement, espousing several progressive drug policy positions, and declaring, on a world stage, the government’s willingness to move forward with cannabis legalization, despite complications posed by the UN drug control treaties. “UNGASS is an opportunity for the Health Minister to go even further in her statements, to push back against harmful drug policies and promote the health and human rights of all.”
Because of interference from the most hawkish states, the final outcome document emerging from UNGASS will almost certainly be a disappointing failure. However, strenuous advocacy on the part of principled states, such as Canada, could ensure that significant statements of position could be entered into the record. Such statements would contribute to a global political momentum toward ultimately shifting international drug policy and treaties to respect human rights and promote public health.
“Despite overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of life-saving harm reduction measures, and despite the unconscionable ongoing practice of using the death penalty in some countries to punish drug offences in violation of international law, neither of these issues is likely to merit a mention in the outcome document adopted by the UN General Assembly,” says Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “We have met with Minister Philpott several times, urging her to ensure that Canada joins others in raising these issues at UNGASS.”
Canada must seek to re-establish itself at the UN as a principled voice for human rights and for constructive, progressive thinking on global problems. Its leadership on drug policy issues would not only carry significant weight at the world forum, but would also encourage more tentative states to engage in discussions about the urgent need to shift our approach to drugs, and better protect human rights, public health and public safety.
Read the statement: http://www.aidslaw.ca/site/canadian-civil-society-calls-for-federal-action-on-global-drug-policy/.