By Rachel Browne - VICE World News,

The Liberal government’s newly proposed criminal justice reform legislation fails to address inequities around addiction treatment and will reinforce harms associated with drug criminalization, drug policy experts and harm reduction advocates say.

On Thursday, the Liberal government tabled Bill C-22 that would, if passed, repeal mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences and encourage police and prosecutors to pursue alternatives to simple drug possession charges, including diverting people facing charges to addiction treatment programs. 

For people caught with small amounts of illicit drugs, the law would give police officers the option to just let the person go, issue a warning, or give them the option to voluntarily be referred to an “agency or other service provider in the community that may assist the individual.” Courts would also be given greater ability to use conditional sentencing—allowing people to serve sentences in the community if they abide by certain requirements—when the case involves someone who is not a violent offender.

For people caught with small amounts of illicit drugs, the law would give police officers the option to just let the person go, issue a warning, or give them the option to voluntarily be referred to an “agency or other service provider in the community that may assist the individual.” Courts would also be given greater ability to use conditional sentencing—allowing people to serve sentences in the community if they abide by certain requirements—when the case involves someone who is not a violent offender.

While experts are heartened the bill would remove mandatory minimum criminal sentences for certain drug crimes, they say scrapping drug possession offences altogether is what’s urgently needed to help address the worsening overdose crisis and help mitigate the potential for violence during interactions with police.