Carolyn Bennett talks harm reduction

During yesterday’s Question Period, Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett asked a question about drug policy in this country.

Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul’s, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, this week, the 52nd session of the committee on narcotic drugs convenes in Vienna. It must deal with the recent world drug report, which stated:
Urgent steps must be taken to prevent the unravelling of progress that has been made in the past few decades of drug control.
Will the minister reassure this House that Canada will not be embarrassed, and bring back a drug policy that is evidence based and in step with our international partners who support the four pillars of prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction?

Hon. Rob Nicholson (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I can tell members that our approach is a complete, comprehensive approach. I would refer the hon. member to the national anti-drug strategy and all the different initiatives this government has taken to assist individuals who have become addicted.
At the same time, we are sending out a very clear message to those individuals who think it is a good idea to get into the grow-op business or who want to get into the import or export of illegal drugs into this country. The message is that they will go to jail.

I caught up with Dr. Bennett after Question Period to ask her a little more about the topic, and the convention in question.

A: This is the 52nd session of the Narcotic Drug Committee, and they are dealing with what was released late last year in the World Drug Report, and with that quote about we had to stop the unravelling urgently, and I was asking the Minister whether we would be embarrassed on the stage, and would she bring back a drug policy that was evidence-based, but also included the four pillars of prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction, and it was extraordinarily interesting to see the Justice Minister answer the question when the last time I checked in this country, this was health.

Q: I’d heard that Justice was now taking the lead on a lot of the drug files, whereas Health used to.
A: Yes, and what I want to ask these people in terms of all, from Tony Clement’s rant at the CMA last year, to all of the things, and I did speak at the U of T law school on harm reduction, but again the issue to me and to the Minister and anybody who will listen is that you cannot help anyone if they’re dead. The harm reduction – I think we’re really starting to show, particularly with Insite but in lots of other situations – even homelessness, right. A lot of these people with addictions have been victims of child abuse, victims of other kinds of abuses, particularly with incest where they end up accidentally with alcohol and drugs, and sometimes prostitution, sometimes these other things, but we shouldn’t be punishing them for their bad beginnings. So my experience as a family doctor has been that someone who was abused by a parent or a teacher or someone in authority, by definition may not trust authority in the same way that someone else, and they can end up on the other side of the law, and on the other side of some of these really harmful habits. So if we can build them trusting relationships with some of these health care providers and community workers, who they actually can trust are really trying to help them, that even if it takes them four, ten, twelve, a hundred times to get their life turned around, then I think it’s certainly energy well spent.


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