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Conservatives say they are seeking a more compassionate approach to drug users




OTTAWA – The Federal Conservative Party is signaling that it will not oppose Liberal justice reforms to divert simple drug possession acts from the criminal justice system, saying Canadians struggling with drug addiction deserve “needed help” .

It’s a significant change for a party that, when it was last in power, introduced mandatory minimum sentences for simple drug possession offenses – a policy that was later deemed “cruel and unusual” as well as unconstitutional. by the courts.

Rob Moore, the Conservatives’ shadow minister for justice, told the Star on Thursday that the party supports “measures to ensure that those struggling with addiction receive the help they need”.

However, on the move to the basis of party order and law, Moore said anyone who benefits or enables drug addiction Canadians deserves “the full weight of the law.”

“We also need a government that highlights the dangers posed by hard drugs and substances and provides the education available to warn people about the dangers of substance abuse,” Moore said in a statement.

The long-awaited Liberal Justice Reform Act, introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday, would abolish mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses and require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to criminal charges for offenses. simple possession.

For example, the police may issue warnings to drug users, or divert them from the criminal justice system to treatment plans.

The bill fails to decriminalize simple drug possession, a policy backed by police chiefs. But the Liberals presented the reforms as an attempt to address the over-representation of Black and Indigenous people in prisons. According to the John Howard Association of Canada, indigenous prisoners accounted for more than 25 percent of the total prison population in 2020

The Conservatives ‘implicit approval of the Liberals’ plan to divert drug offenders from prison comes amid a worsening opioid crisis across the country. Between 2016 and June 2020, Health Canada reported 17,602 apparent deaths from overdose regarding opioid use and projects the number of deaths will continue to rise in the coming months.

It also comes after Canada’s Public Prosecution Service instructed federal prosecutors to focus on possession issues involving public safety concerns, diverting less serious cases from the criminal justice system.

“We are seeking a more compassionate approach,” a conservative source told the Star about drug users in the criminal justice system. The source was not authorized to speak publicly and Star agreed to protect their identities.

The source warned that the Conservative parliamentary group has not yet had a discussion on the specifics of the Liberals’ criminal justice reforms and so the party is not prepared to take a public position at this time.

Last month, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told reporters he believed drug offenders deserved treatment rather than harsh sentences – but avoided a question about decriminalization, instead saying he was not in favor of further legalization. of drugs.

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“It is not appropriate to have very serious penalties for Canadians who have drug problems,” O’Toole told a news conference in January.

“But at the same time, we need to educate Canadians because there is a risk of substances, drugs and it is the role of politicians to talk about the dangers to the well-being of Canadians.”

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