By Richard Elliott / HIV Legal Network

Today, the HIV Legal Network welcomes some of the amendments in Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Bill C-22 repeals mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offences, increases the availability of conditional sentences, and provides alternatives to criminal charges for people in possession of drugs for personal use. These are all positive. But the bill falls short by failing to simply repeal the criminal prohibition on personal drug possession, even while it acknowledges that drug use is a health issue and that criminalization causes harm and contributes to stigma.

For more than two decades, the HIV Legal Network (formerly the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network) has called on federal policymakers to treat drug use as a health issue, not a law enforcement one. We have consistently called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences as harmful on fiscal, public health, and human rights grounds. Mandating minimum prison terms guarantees unfair and harsh sentences in the case of drug offences — disproportionately affecting Black and Indigenous communities, people living in poverty, and people who are dependent on drugs. As we argued in the cases of R. v. Lloyd and R. v. Sharma, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences is also unconstitutional.