It had to happen sooner or later, although probably most of Canada would have preferred later, but it looks like federal politicians are finally recovered from their Christmas break. With them back at work it means we all have to start looking over our shoulders again to see what unpleasant surprises they have in store for us in the upcoming year.
One thing you have to say about this new Conservative Party government is that they are quicker off the mark then previous governments have shown themselves to be. They don't even have to introduce a policy for it to be condemned. They've made their intentions so clear right from the start that everyone knows what's coming and can try and take preventative action.
A prime example of this is Canada's strategy for dealing with the problem of illicit drugs and preventing their usage. In a report to be issued today Canada's record is criticized for being too in favour of law enforcement measures for dealing with illicit drugs, instead of treatment and preventative steps.
Five years ago the Auditor General of Canada said the programming needed to find a more balanced way of dealing with things, but according to the new report, prepared by four authors from the British Columbia Centre For Excellence in HIV/AIDS, government has not done anything to realize that goal. Using information collected through the Freedom on Information Act and the government web sites that promote programming the report shows that 73% of the budget is still being used for law enforcement projects.
The authors also point out that although the Drug Secretariat is supposed to be releasing reports every two years, they have failed to do so since 2003, and they have no system in place for proper evaluation of programming. Programs that are geared at prevention and treatment come under intense scrutiny by the government while the law enforcement programs are renewed without any regard to their success or failure.
The authors of the report point to the fact that there has been no discernable decline in illicit drug use in the past five years to emphasise the failure of programs like DARE, where police officers are sent into schools to preach against drug use, or the special Drug Courts. According to the authors of the report there has never been any scientific proof that law enforcement strategies on their own have any impact on usage numbers.
Even Fredericton Police Chief Barry MacKnight, who chairs the drug abuse committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, says that his organization recognizes the need for a balanced approach to dealing with the issue of illicit drug use. Yesterday he confirmed that when he said that they've always endorsed the fact that communities need to deal with the issues of addiction and treatment as much as they do the criminal element.
While the source of the report may seem strange to some, coming from an HIV/AIDS organization, the authors state that their concern is the continual increase in numbers of HIV/AIDS case being caused by sharing needles. The medical bill for treating injection caused HIV/AIDS in the city of Vancouver alone is $215 million dollars a year. If nothing is done to prevent the use of illicit drugs these costs will continue to mount all across the country.
Of course this report is based on the programming of the previous government, so why release it now before the current government has had a chance to unveil their plan for dealing with illicit drug use. The answer is that the Conservative Party has made it clear all along that they are planning on taking even a harder line on law enforcement and doing even less in the way of providing funds for prevention and treatment.
While the previous government had been talking about the possible decriminalization of marijuana, the Conservatives promised in the last election campaign to scrape that plan and increase penalties for usage and make precursor drugs harder to come by. Not once did they make any mention of treatment or prevention programs.
In fact when contacted the government spokesperson made no bones about the fact that they will be putting an even heavier emphasise on law enforcement then prior governments. His claim that Canadians said that's what they want is somewhat spurious, as the majority of Canadians in previous polls had supported the idea of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
According to the study that in spite of the high amounts of money already spent on law enforcement actual illicit drug use in Canada is on the rise, and with it so too the cost to the health cares system with the resulting increase in injection related cases of HIV/AIDS. Combine that with fact that there is no evidence that increased law enforcement programming decreases drug usage, the case for spending more energy on prevention, risk reduction, and treatment when it comes to illicit drugs becomes that much stronger.
But that doesn't seem to matter to our new government. According to Dr. Thomas Kerr, a professor in the University of British Columbia's medical faculty, and one of the reports authors, Canada does not have an evidence based drug policy. "I'm paid to treat disease and death, and I don't like what I'm seeing," he says. "There's way too much ideology and politics, and not enough science and principle."
Judging by the reactions coming from the office of the current Minister of Health, and the rest of the Conservative government, I don't think Dr. Kerr should be holding his breath waiting to see anything different soon.