Canada looks to USA for drug policy hints
Peter O’Neil, Vancouver Sun
Published: Tuesday, December 12, 2006
OTTAWA – Conservative cabinet ministers and their aides are consulting with “keen” U.S. government officials on a new national drug strategy for Canada, according to internal documents obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
“There have been various senior-level meetings between U.S. officials and ministers/ministers’ offices,” states a summary of a June 16, 2006 meeting on the Tory drug initiative, involving bureaucrats at nine federal departments and agencies.
“U.S. officials have been keen to discuss drug issues with the current government.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2006 election platform promised a new drug strategy that would include a national youth awareness strategy.
Harper also called for mandatory minimum sentences and large fines for serious drug offenders, including marijuana growing operators and “producers and dealers of crystal meth and crack.”
The Tory government has since come under criticism for taking a tough, U.S.-style approach to drug crime while downplaying the so-called “harm reduction” approach that led to the 2003 establishment of the supervised injection site for Vancouver’s drug addicts.
The five-page summary, obtained through the Access to Information Act, noted that John Walters, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, and a frequent critic of Canadian drug policy under the Liberals – was planning to visit Canada this autumn.
“The meeting was postponed for scheduling reasons. It’s anticipated the meeting will take place early in the new year,” said Rodney Moore, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
The Canadian national drug strategy will be launched in the fall or winter, the documents note, after which Canadian diplomats “will need to do outreach with the U.S. and our like-minded countries.”
The strategy will focus on “a few key priority areas that the current government could focus and build on,” such as “clandestine labs, marihuana grow operations, synthetic drugs,” the document states. “Another key element of the proposed national strategy is the national awareness campaign for youth.”
The document also cites government plans to toughen laws for drug-impaired driving. Justice Minister Vic Toews has tabled legislation on that matter.
Mike Storeshaw, a spokesman for Toews, said he couldn’t speculate on when the strategy will be announced.
Storeshaw said the Canada-U.S. meetings make sense given the concerns shared by both countries about cross-border crime. “Obviously ministers interact with their counterparts internationally. Americans are important counterparts especially when it comes to drug crime,” he said. “Drugs are one of the prime motivators for crime, particularly cross-border crime.”
Neil Boyd, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, said U.S. interest in Canada’s drug plans is no surprise.
“The Harper government favours a U.S.-style approach to drug problems, which is to lock more people up and don’t treat it as a health problem, treat it as a criminal law problem of morality,” Boyd said. "That’s very much at odds with what’s going on in Europe and there’s really no good evidence to suggest that it’s going to be terribly useful."
New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies, whose Vancouver East riding includes the supervised injection facility in the Downtown Eastside, said the Harper government appears to be “taking orders” from the American. “We have made-in-Canada policies that are working,” she said. “Why isn’t [Harper] looking to Europe and the successes they’ve had there?”
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Â© The Vancouver Sun 2006