DRUG POLICY

Drug Policy

aidslaw.ca/drugpolicy

Drug Policy

Overview

In Canada and other countries, drug use and dependence are treated largely as criminal law concerns, rather than as public health issues — and people who use drugs are vilified and subjected to routine and often horrific human rights abuses.

Yet extensive evidence shows that doing the reverse would be more productive. The overreliance on criminal law enforcement (a.k.a. “the war on drugs”) is not only ineffective, it is hugely wasteful, carrying enormous financial costs and taking a terrible human toll on individual people who use drugs and their families and loved ones. Furthermore, criminalizing and incarcerating people for drug use, and denying access to effective health services, only fuels the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C (HCV). Instead, all available evidence indicates that dealing with drugs as a public health issue, and protecting and promoting the human rights of people who use drugs, is necessary and effective.

We’re committed to reducing the harms associated with drugs and the harms caused by harsh, misguided drug laws. Instead of prohibition and punishment, drug policy must be grounded in sound public health evidence, and in the principle of the universality of human rights — rights to which all people are equally entitled, including people who use drugs.

We advocate for:

  • increased access to harm reduction and other evidence-based health services, such as needle and syringe programs, supervised consumption services, and drug dependence treatment;
  • justice system reforms that respect the human rights and promote the health of people who use drugs, and reduce their chances of incarceration;
  • including harm reduction and evidence-informed, human rights–based drug prevention and treatment programs as a key element of effective drug policy; and
  • international standards on drug dependence treatment that are consistent with human rights norms.

Civil Society Statement to the National Opioid Summit

Canada is in the midst of an opioid overdose crisis. This statement outlines concerns that civil society organizations have about the emerging federal, provincial and territorial response to this crisis and proposes a collaborative way forward to end the crisis.  

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RESPECT FOR COMMUNITIES ACT: The Case for Repeal

The so-called Respect for Communities Act was passed in 2015 in the last Parliament, with the clear goal of impeding the expansion of supervised consumption services (SCS). The Act is an affront to the extensive scientific evidence of the need for such health services and their benefits — including connecting people to other health care […]

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An Injection of Reason: Critical Analysis of the Respect for Communities Act (Q&A)

The Respect for Communities Act undermines the rights of people who use drugs to access life-saving and health-protecting services. Read more about supervised consumption services in Canada and internationally, and their positive impact on individuals and communities.

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Open Letter on the Extrajudicial Killing of People Who Use Drugs in the Philippines

“Since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte, more than 3000 people in the Philippines have been executed without due process for allegedly selling or using drugs. President Duterte has publically and repeatedly incited law enforcement and the general public to commit these murders and other acts of vigilante violence. Duterte’s political rhetoric is becoming increasingly […]

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Review of Canada’s Compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

“The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network submits this briefing to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in advance of its review of the periodic report of Canada, held during its 65th session from 24 October to 18 November 2016. “In this submission, the Legal Network sets out its concerns about Canada’s […]

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Canadian civil society groups call for immediate action to opioid overdose crisis

On International Overdose Awareness Day, over 70 Canadian civil society organizations have endorsed an urgent call to action addressed to all levels of government, urging politicians to immediately implement five recommendations that will serve as initial steps of a nationwide crisis response to reduce opioid overdose fatalities and injuries across the country. Call to Action: ACTION […]

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ACTION = LIFE: Call for an Immediate Response to National Crisis of Opioid Overdose Deaths

Canada is experiencing an overwhelming opioid overdose crisis. Over the past several years Canada has seen an alarming increase in reported opioid-related fatalities and injuries. Overdose deaths are preventable if the right measures are taken. As we approach International Overdose Awareness Day, held on August 31, the undersigned organizations call on you, as the Prime […]

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International Assistance Review: an opportunity for Canada to stand up for human rights abroad

When International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau took up her post in November 2015, she was tasked with leading Canada’s efforts to “provide humanitarian assistance to help reduce poverty and inequality in the world” and refocusing Canada’s development assistance “on helping the poorest and most vulnerable.” This renewed focus on marginalized communities must underlie the current […]

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Submission to Global Affairs Canada: Human Rights Priorities for Canadian International Assistance

“The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network welcomes this opportunity to provide our perspectives on the government’s priorities for establishing an international assistance policy and funding framework. When International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau took up her post in November 2015, she was tasked with leading Canada’s efforts to ‘provide humanitarian assistance to help reduce poverty and inequality in the world’ and […]

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Turning Point: Annual Report 2015–2016

Highlights of our work in Canada and around the world from April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016.

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New International Report Calls for “Principled Non-Compliance” with Antiquated UN Drug Control Treaties

As an increasing number of jurisdictions consider whether and how to legalize and regulate access to cannabis, tensions are growing between these initiatives and countries’ obligations under the UN drug control conventions. A groundbreaking new report produced by a coalition of legal and drug policy experts offers strategies for countries exploring regulatory approaches to cannabis […]

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Canada Can’t Wait: The Time for Prison-Based Needle and Syringe Programs Is Now

“We, the undersigned, represent many different communities and interests. But today we speak with one voice, firmly committed to health and human rights, in support of desperately needed prison-based needle and syringe programs (PNSPs) in Canada. The time for PNSPs is now. In Canada, people in prison face far greater risk of HIV and hepatitis […]

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Nearly 250 Organizations Across Canada Call for Prison-Based Needle and Syringe Programs

Close to 250 Canadian organizations have signed a statement urging federal and provincial governments to immediately implement prisonbased needle and syringe programs (PNSPs) in institutions across the country. Representing the views of a broad cross-section of Canadian civil society, the statement highlights the overwhelming scientific, empirical and human rights rationale for Canada’s governments to act […]

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Cannabis Regulation and the UN Drug Treaties: Strategies for reform

As jurisdictions enact reforms creating legal access to cannabis for purposes other than exclusively “medical and scientific,” tensions surrounding the existing UN drug treaties and evolving law and practice in Member States continue to grow. How might governments and the UN system address these growing tensions in ways that acknowledge the policy shifts underway and […]

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Consensus crumbling: report from the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs

By Richard Elliott, Executive Director April 29, 2016 It was a surreal exercise that unfolded at the UN in New York last week — a pretend consensus, and a terrible dereliction of duty by some of the world’s governments. And yet, paradoxically, I left the event at the end of the week feeling profoundly encouraged. […]

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UNGASS 2016: Recommendations to Canada for Promoting Smart Policy on Drugs

In February 2016, the National UNGASS Working Group (supported by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network) delivered a brief to Canada’s federal government, outlining 10 priority recommendations to inform the ongoing negotiations at the UN in the lead-up to the UNGASS in April. This will include negotiations at the upcoming session […]

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Canadian Civil Society Calls for Federal Action on Global Drug Policy

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 […]

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Health and Human Rights Coalition Applauds Supreme Court Decision in Drug-Sentencing Case

As a coalition of interveners in the Supreme Court of Canada case, R. v. Lloyd, we applaud the Court for recognizing that a mandatory minimum sentence (MMS) for certain drug offences is not only harsh and damaging, but also unconstitutional. We hope that this decision is one more step towards ending Canada’s harmful, punitive approach […]

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Canada on drugs at the UN: Standing up for a long-overdue policy shift

By Richard Elliott The applause persisted until the chair of the session eventually gavelled it to an end. The occasion? Canada’s statement last month at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, where countries were negotiating the text of a declaration to be adopted next week at the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on […]

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Brief to the Toronto Board of Health regarding Supervised Injection Services in Toronto

“The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, HALCO and ARCH appreciate the opportunity to comment on the (March 7, 2016) Report from the Medical Officer of Health to the Toronto Board of Health on the integration of supervised injection services into existing clinical health services and to draw the Board’s attention to certain elements which are particularly […]

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Diplomacy or denialism? International statement highlights problems with world drug policy meetings

March 14, 2016 This week, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) is convening in Vienna to prepare for the highly anticipated UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the “world drug problem,” which will take place next month (April 19–21) in New York. The last UNGASS on drugs was in 1998, under the banner of […]

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The UNGASS Outcome Document: Diplomacy Or Denialism? — Civil Society Statement

“We, the undersigned civil society organisations, representing drug policy expertise and affected communities worldwide, express our serious concerns about the preparations and draft Outcome Document for the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the ‘world drug problem’ in April 2016.” Related Publication Promoting Smart Policy on Drugs: Brief to the Minister of Health

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Promoting Smart Policy on Drugs: Brief to the Minister of Health

“The UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) in April 2016 is a significant opportunity for Canada

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Tuberculosis, Stigma and Drug Control: A case from Russia

By Mikhail Golichenko, Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network February 4, 2016 In December 2015, I attended a judicial workshop on human rights and tuberculosis (TB) organized by the University of Chicago Center in Delhi. It was a great gathering of civil society activists, judges, lawyers and medical practitioners from more than ten countries including […]

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Six Ways Canada Can Adopt Prison-Based Needle and Syringe Programs Now: Report

TORONTO, February 3, 2016 — A research study has concluded that prison-based needle and syringe programs (PNSPs), which provide sterile injection equipment to prisoners who inject drugs and help prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV), are indisputably feasible in Canada and should be implemented in Canadian prisons without delay. Report: On […]

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Canada: Drug policy and economic, social, and cultural rights — Submission to the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

“Canada is a party to the three main UN drug control conventions, which aim to control illicit drugs by reducing supply and demand, in particular through requiring States Parties to adopt varying degrees of prohibitions and sanctions on a range of designated controlled substances, while also providing some degree of (often contested) flexibility for States […]

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R. v. Lloyd: A coalition condemns mandatory minimum sentencing at the Supreme Court

By Mclean Ayearst, legal research volunteer and former Legal Network intern January 13, 2016 The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is part of a coalition which is intervening at the Supreme Court in the case of R. v. Lloyd, the latest challenge to Canada’s harsh and damaging drug laws. In R. v. Lloyd, the Supreme Court […]

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Factum of the Interveners at the Supreme Court of Canada: R. v. Lloyd

“Globally, prisons disproportionately incarcerate people from marginalized communities, who, in turn, are disproportionately affected by conditions such as drug dependence, HIV, and hepatitis C virus. … Section 5(3)(a)(i)(D) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (the “MMS Provision”) mandates that the persons to whom it applies serve a one year prison sentence, whatever their health condition. The […]

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Canada’s New Government Must Take Action on HIV

Toronto, November 30, 2015 — In a briefing paper released to parliamentarians in advance of World AIDS Day (December 1), the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is calling on the new federal government to take decisive steps to address the HIV epidemic, both in Canada and abroad. Laying out five key areas and recommending associated actions, […]

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Action Required: five key HIV-related issues facing Canada’s federal government

It is time for Canada to re-commit to the global project of ending HIV, including by basing our response on sound scientific evidence and fundamental human rights principles.

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Letter to Government of Ontario Requesting Ontario Overdose Coordinator and Action Plan

“The Government of Ontario has taken some important steps on the issue of opioid overdose, including the provision of naloxone to select HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C programs. However, further action on overdose prevention and intervention is urgently needed to build on these initial steps.”

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Updates from Russia: Intervening at the European Court of Human Rights and recent successes

November 2, 2015 The HIV epidemic in Russia and Eastern Europe is home to the world’s most rapidly expanding epidemic. Taken together, Russia and Ukraine account for over 85 percent of the people living with HIV in the region. In this critical context, the Legal Network continues to work with its partners on the ground […]

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Up for Vote: A New Vision on Drug Policy

October 19, 2015 The following blog post was written jointly by Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and Donald MacPherson, Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. How encouraging that the state of our outdated and ineffective drug policy is getting some attention during this federal election. Finally, after decades of […]

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An open letter to the foreign participants of the 5th Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference

“We, activists and representatives of the key populations affected by HIV and non-governmental organizations working in the field of combating the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) and other countries, with this open letter would like to express our concern in anticipation of your expected participation in the 5th Eastern Europe and […]

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Major Federal Parties Promise to Reform Canadian Drug Policy

TORONTO, October 13, 2015 — Three major federal political parties have come out in support of reforming Canadian drug policy. If elected, they would address Canada’s “drug problem” through sound evidence-based measures that reduce harm and protect public safety, rather than the misinformed and punitive approach that currently dominates the country’s policy.

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Election 2015: Bill C-2 and supervised consumption services — Canada’s major federal parties respond

This is the sixth and last in a series of blog posts being published by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network ahead of Election Day on October 19, 2015. Recently, we sent a questionnaire to the five major federal parties, asking their position on key questions related to HIV and human rights. Four out of five […]

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Election 2015: Prisoners’ right to health — Canada’s major federal parties respond

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts being published by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network ahead of Election Day on October 19, 2015. Recently, we sent a questionnaire to the five major federal parties, asking their position on key questions related to HIV and human rights. Four out of five parties responded. […]

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Election 2015: Keeping HIV and Human Rights on the Agenda

On October 19, 2015, Canada’s voters have an opportunity to decide what kind of government they want — one that has regard for evidence and upholds health and human rights for all, or one that perpetuates outmoded and ill-informed policies

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Cannabis policy

By any measure, cannabis prohibition in Canada has failed to meet the stated objective of reducing demand. Despite extensive enforcement efforts, cannabis remains the most frequently used illegal drug in Canada; among youth, it is the second-most-used psychoactive substance, after alcohol. Compared to other jurisdictions, rates of use among Canadian youth are high, and a significant illegal market in cannabis production and […]

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Drug policy and harm reduction

Harm reduction reflects widespread consensus among a range of government officials, health care professionals, police and law enforcement agencies, academics and nongovernmental organizations. Yet in 2007, the Government of Canada removed harm reduction as an official element of Canada’s federal drug strategy and implemented a more punitive approach to drug policy. Once a relative leader in progressive drug policy, Canada has also […]

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Drug policy and overdose prevention and response

Across Canada, far too many people are dying from drug overdoses. This public health emergency can affect anyone, including those using prescription opioids medically or non-medically, as well as people who use drugs purchased on the illegal and unregulated market.

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Russian Drug Policy as a Distorting Reflection of the UN Drug Conventions — Submission to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, May 2015

This paper is drafted by members of the Russian Civil Society Mechanism for Monitoring of Drug Policy Reforms in Russia, with technical assistance of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and in response to the letter of April 16, 2015 from Nathalie Prouvez, OHCHR Chief of […]

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Remembering Peter Collins, 1961–2015

August 17, 2015 The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is remembering Peter (Pete) Collins, an activist for the health and human rights of people in prison. Pete passed away from cancer on August 13, 2015, in Bath Institution near Kingston, Ontario, having been denied compassionate release by the Parole Board of Canada despite many appeals. Pete […]

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Overcoming our Addiction to Repression

In this video, the Honourable Louise Arbour condemns the devastating “war on drugs” and calls for a human rights-based approach to drug policy.

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Update: R v. Smith – Supreme Court sensibly strikes down arbitrary restrictions in Canada’s regulations on medical cannabis

June 11, 2015   The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Canadian AIDS Society and HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO) welcome the decision today in the case of R v. Smith, in which the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided that patients with a legal authorization to use cannabis as medicine are entitled to consume […]

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Statement Condemning the Passage of Bill C-2, the So-called Respect for Communities Act

“We, the undersigned, firmly believe that today’s anticipated Senate passage of Bill C-2, the so-called Respect for Communities Act, undermines the rights of people who use drugs to access life-saving and health-protecting services.”

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Drug policy and human rights: the Canadian context — Submission to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

“Canada is a party to the three main UN drug control conventions, which aim to control illicit drugs by reducing supply and demand, in particular through requiring States Parties to adopt varying degrees of prohibitions and sanctions on a range of designated controlled substances, while also providing some degree of (often contested) flexibility for States […]

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Blocking health services unconscionable: Bill C-2 vote today

As Bill C-2 comes up for a final vote in the House of Commons, organizations across Canada voice their support for life-saving supervised consumption services for people who use drugs. [Click here to read the Statement to Canadian Parliamentarians Opposing Bill C-2.]

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Statement to Canadian Parliamentarians Opposing Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

“We strongly oppose Bill C-2 and ask our elected representatives to reject it and, instead of creating barriers, increase access to evidence-based prevention, harm reduction and treatment services in Canada. Our communities deserve better.”

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ADVOCACY ACTION: Take action against Bill C-2, and put our communities first!

Today, Members of Parliament are expected to vote on Bill C-2, the so-called Respect for Communities Act. This bill attacks the human rights of people who use drugs, impeding their access to life-saving harm reduction services. If it becomes law, Bill C-2 would create an onerous, unreasonable process for health authorities and community agencies seeking […]

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Commission on Narcotic Drugs 2015 (Vienna): joint panel on public health and drug control

At the 58th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, 9–17 March, 2015, Vienna, Austria

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Video: Putting human rights into human hands in Russian-speaking countries

Russia has the world’s fastest-growing HIV epidemic, driven by injection-drug use, and fuelled by discrimination, criminalization and horrific human rights abuses. This video — produced by the Levi Strauss Foundation’s HIV Advocates program — lays out the work of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network in Russia and other Russian-speaking countries. Our goal, as Senior Policy […]

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Video: Empowering through networks in Russian-speaking countries

How does a researcher at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network in Toronto defend the human rights of a person who uses drugs in Russia? Through indispensable partner organizations and the initiative of people who use drugs empowered to stand up for their own rights. In this video produced by the Open Society Foundations, Senior Policy […]

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An Injection of Reason: Critical Analysis of Bill C-2

Bill C-2 (An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) undermines the rights of people who use drugs to access lifesaving and health-protecting services. 

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Promoting Smart Policy on Drugs: Brief to the Canadian delegation to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

“The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network are participating in the civil society processes preparing for the upcoming 57th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), and the High-Level Segment that will immediately precede it, in Vienna in March 2014. We urge the Canadian delegation to emphasize the following […]

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Judging the epidemic: A judicial handbook on HIV, human rights and the law

Judging the epidemic has been prepared as a resource to help judges, magistrates, arbitrators and other judicial officers throughout the world adjudicate cases involving HIV-related issues. This handbook may also be used by judicial trainers and ministries of justice to deliver educational programmes to judges and magistrates on legal issues related to HIV and human […]

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Brief to the Toronto Board of Health regarding Supervised Injection Services in Toronto

A comment on the Toronto Board of Health’s study of supervised injection services, drawing the Board’s attention to certain elements which are particularly relevant from the perspective of public health and human rights, including relevant Canadian and international law and practice.

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Drug consumption rooms: Evidence and practice

This briefing paper provides a short summary of the background, history and objectives of drug consumption rooms (DCRs), and analyses available evidence regarding their impact. The second part of the briefing paper consists of an overview of the various DCRs in different countries, with a particular focus on the concepts used to develop these facilities […]

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Impaired Judgment: Assessing the Appropriateness of Drug Treatment Courts as a Response to Drug Use in Canada

The purpose of this report is to critically examine drug treatment courts (DTCs) in Canada using the available evidence, which includes process and outcome evaluations of existing DTCs, grey literature and academic research. Our assessment is also informed by interviews with a number of key informants who interact with DTCs in various ways.

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Women and HIV – “Women in Prison, HIV and Hepatitis C”

This is one in a series of four info sheets on the human rights of women living with or vulnerable to HIV in Canada.

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Prison needle and syringe programs: policy brief

This document presents evidence and recommendations in support of implementing prison-based needle and syringe programs in Canada.

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Clean Switch: The Case for Prison Needle and Syringe Programs in Canada

Harm reduction measures aimed at preventing HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission in prisons are neither new nor groundbreaking in Canada. Prison systems have implemented, to varying degrees, forms of harm reduction such as condoms, bleach and methadone maintenance treatment. However, as of September 2008, no Canadian jurisdiction had established a prison-based needle and […]

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