By the Canadian Association of Social Workers
Social workers across Canada are working tirelessly to address the ongoing and devastating opioid crisis, often impeded by the continued criminalization of substance use throughout Canada. Since their expansion in 2012, mandatory minimum sentences have deepened the opioid crisis, while contributing to the near doubling of federally incarcerated Indigenous people in Canada. Moreover, the continued use of mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related charges contradicts commitments made by this government to uphold and implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which call for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing. The alternative to criminalization of substance use is a public health approach based on the principles of social justice, human rights, and equity, accompanied by equitable access to evidence-informed treatment and addressing the underlying determinants of health.