British Columbia high court declares Canada drug law unconstitutional

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of British Columbia [official website] Tuesday ruled [text] that Canadian laws on drug possession and trafficking are unconstitutional as they violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. Justice Ian Pitfield gave the Canadian government until next June to amend the drug law to bring it in line with the Charter. The case concerns a Vancouver exemption to Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act [text] that allows the city to create a "safe injection" zone known as Insite [VCH backgrounder]. The exemption, intended to encourage drug addicts to seek medical care, was set to expire on June 30, but advocates petitioned the Court to intervene before Ottawa could decide whether to extend or end the exemption. Pitfield's ruling extends the exemption until June 2009.

Pitfield compared drug addiction to alcoholism and smoking, noting in his ruling that similar sites existed to help people with those addictions and finding that the "safe injection" site provided a vital public service:

Denial of access to Insite and safe injection for the reason stated by Canada, amounts to a condemnation of the consumption that led to addiction in the first place, while ignoring the resulting illness. While there is nothing to be said in favour of the injection of controlled substances that leads to addiction, there is much to be said against denying addicts health care services that will ameliorate the effects of their condition. Society does that for other substances such as alcohol and tobacco. While those are not prohibited substances, society neither condemns the individual who chose to drink or smoke to excess, nor deprives that individual of a range of health care services. Management of the harm in those cases is accepted as a community responsibility. I cannot see any rational or logical reason why the approach should be different when dealing with the addiction to narcotics, an aspect of which is that the substance that resulted in the addiction in the first place will invariably be ingested in the short-term, and possibly in the long-term, because of the very nature of the illness. Simply stated, I cannot agree with the Canada’s submission that an addict must feed his addiction in an unsafe environment when a safe environment that may lead to rehabilitation is the alternative.
Canadian Press has more. CBC News has additional coverage.


 

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