Experts Voice Opposition to Bill S-10 and Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

CANNABIS CULTURE – Opposition is growing to Bill S-10, the Conservative-proposed legislation that would bring mandatory minimum sentencing for marijuana offences to Canada, with the release of a new letter from medical and scientific professionals asking the government to support “evidence-based drug policies”.

Researchers at the Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI), a program of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, have released a letter voicing concerns about Bill S-10, federal drug legislation they say is “not scientifically grounded and which research demonstrates may actually contribute to health and social harms in our communities.”

“The federal government of Canada is currently considering Bill S-10, which proposes legislative amendments that, among other things, would introduce mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain drug-related offences,” the UHRI website says. “Research clearly demonstrates that mandatory minimum sentences are extremely expensive to the taxpayer and do not meaningfully improve public health and safety nor reduce drug use or crime in our communities.”

The group, made up of medical doctors and drug policy experts, is asking for public support and inviting “other concerned health practitioners, scientists, researchers and academics” in Canada to sign the letter to support “evidence-based drug prevention and treatment initiatives” and oppose “the introduction of costly and ineffective mandatory minimum sentencing.”


Right Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada
Hon. Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
Hon. Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada
Mr. Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Québécois
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Dear Sirs:

Re: Opposition to Bill S-10, the Penalties for Organized Crime Act

We, the undersigned, are concerned that the federal government is pursuing significant amendments to federal drug legislation, through Bill S-10, which are not scientifically grounded and which research demonstrates may actually contribute to health and social harms in our communities. We join with other individuals and community groups that have previously expressed concerns in their testimony to various Committees and in open letters, and we outline our key concerns, in brief, below.

We oppose Bill S-10

We are extremely concerned that Bill S-10 will exacerbate drug use challenges and related health and social harms in Canadian communities. Specifically, we are concerned that:

1. There is no evidence that mandatory minimum sentences will reduce drug use or deter crime. Research from the United States demonstrates that mandatory minimum penalties are a considerable burden on the taxpayer and are not effective in reducing drug use or drug-related crime. It is especially concerning that while several states in the US, such as New York, Washington, Texas, Connecticut and Maine, are now repealing and moving away from costly and ineffective mandatory minimum sentencing legislation, Canada is moving towards this failed and expensive policy approach.

2. Mandatory minimum sentences have a disproportionately negative impact on youth and Aboriginal persons. In Canada, mandatory minimum sentences will most negatively affect Aboriginal people, and particularly youth, who already face elevated risks related to and harms associated with substance abuse, are at increased risk of HIV infection and are disproportionately incarcerated. Over the last three decades, the proportion of Aboriginal persons admitted into correctional institutions in Canada has doubled from 9% to 18%, despite only representing 3% of the total population of Canada. Bill S-10’s emphasis on mandatory minimum sentences will likely lead to worsening drug-related harms experienced by Aboriginal persons, and does nothing to address the underlying causes contributing to these unacceptable disparities.

3. Policies that over-emphasize drug law enforcement have a negative impact on public health and rates of HIV. According to the Correctional Service of Canada, approximately one in twenty inmates is already HIV-positive and one in three has hepatitis C (HCV). Rates of infectious diseases continue to climb among this population. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recently raised concerns regarding the inadequate level of care and supports for inmates who suffer from mental health and addictions challenges, and stressed that community resources should be augmented to avoid incarcerating this population in the first place. The pending legislation, if implemented, will result in additional prison overcrowding and can be expected to contribute to further increased HIV and HCV risk behaviour in prison. This has serious implications for public health, given that most inmates will be released and reintegrated into the community. It also has implications for healthcare budgets, as the average health costs of each case of HIV infection are estimated to be $250,000.

4. Mandatory minimum sentences are expensive and ineffective. Although the government has not produced detailed budget estimates regarding the potential cost of implementing mandatory minimum sentences, similar sentencing regimes introduced in the United States have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. During these difficult economic times, this raises the question of why the federal government proposes to spend scarce financial resources on policies that have been shown to be expensive, ineffective and harmful. The reasons given by US jurisdictions for moving away from mandatory minimum sentencing legislation are the extreme costs to taxpayers, the ineffectiveness of this approach, and the resulting disproportionate harms to ethnic minority communities.

We support evidence-based drug policies

The Legislative Summary for Bill S-10 outlines no evidence supporting mandatory minimum sentences as an effective means of improving public health and community safety, or deterring crime. We support the goal of improving community health and safety through evidence-based drug policies, which includes expanding drug prevention and treatment initiatives. We encourage you to use the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Vienna Declaration, a scientific statement endorsed by leading scientists, researchers and health professionals around the world, to guide Canada’s drug policy.

We share the government’s commitment to addressing the challenges of substance abuse but do not support the implementation of non-evidence-based policies, such as Bill S-10, which place an enormous burden on taxpayers and will cause considerable health-related harms, while failing to improve community health and safety.

We are calling on the federal government to demonstrate leadership in addressing these challenging issues by abandoning Bill S-10 and pursuing an evidence-based policy approach that moves away from ineffective and costly incarceration schemes for non-violent drug offenders and towards evidence-based modalities. We invite you to work together with the public health community to develop scientifically grounded policies that meaningfully address drug-related health and social harms, are fiscally responsible, and are “smart on crime.”
We look forward to your response.


    Cc: Members of Parliament of Canada

    The letter is the latest initiative from a growing movement of concerned citizens and professionals who oppose the Canadian Federal Government’s push to send increasing numbers of non-violent Canadians to prison at a time when the crime rate has been dropping.

    Sign The Vienna Declaration

    At the same time, there is a burgeon international effort to support evidence-based drug laws. The Vienna Declaration is a call from international experts and several of the world’s leading HIV and drug policy scientific bodies for the incorporation of scientific evidence into the process of crafting international drug policies.

    The declaration, which calls on the United Nations to support drug policy reforms including decriminalization of, was the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2010), held in Vienna, Austria from July 18 to 23, 2010.

    “The criminalisation of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences,” the declaration reads. “A full policy reorientation is needed.”

    The document has over 18,000 signatures from citizens, scientists, researchers, academics, law enforcement professionals and world leaders, and has been endorsed by the city councils of Toronto, Victoria, and Vancouver.

    CLICK HERE to read and sign the VIENNA DECLARATION



    1. War Veteran on

      I agree with you Ill Bill that blowing up federal buildings, gunning down cops on Christmas morning in front of their family and shooting politicians at grocery stores is the best way to defeat the enemy . . . but many out of concern would like to show mercy to the evil police officers, judges, DA and politicians –to hope that they turn from their evil and Third Reich view of thinking and have a change of heart and if the above humans via evil have caused an increase in youthful drug addiction, rape, robbery, teenage pregnancy, divorce, a National Debt, jailing 110% law abiding citizens, Osama’s drug bank, The Mexican Cartel Wars, 9/11, gang violence and gang control, Terror and Horror in Columbia, Genocide in Darfur from those whom toss drug money out to killers in the name of food, guns, ammo, cars, gasoline, shelter, protection, farm animals etc and other African Despotism in the name of the Drug War and all its dirty hundred Billions a year –you’d think that such accomplished evil beasts such as cops and judges would be just as effective if they were good guys doing mostly good for society and the world . . . not just a victory, but a double victory at all the people we don’t have to legally assassinate or execute for being cops, judges, politicians etc . . . To show them mercy even when they show us terror at the death of thousands of people a year and the collapse of Governments like Tunisia and Lebanon via Hamas and Hezbollah that require drug money. Remember Canada is at war with a militant Islamic enemy whom just assumes to blow you up for not worshiping the right God and to support the Drug War and to show support to any officer of the law or judge whom practices drug enforcement is called treason –or do you ILL BILL like the possibility of a bombing in Toronto or a Nuke in New York money . . . just how many drug dollars does it take to build or buy a weapon of mass destruction . . . how much drug dough to buy or make anthrax or other such weapons?

    2. Anonymous on

      i suspect you are a drinker. i’m 55 and like the odd toke as well as a beer in the privacy of my own home. growing up as an army brat i was subjected to some major drinking and partying by my parents. i could get up and walk away after drinking a 24 of beer at 16 years old. something to be real proud of. got into lots of trouble over booze, and as an army brat, felt the wrath of anger from my old man fueled by alcohol. i have had some rough points in my life as my own anger eventually came out & i never lost a fight. it was fight to the death. the old boy wanted nothing to do with this once i turned 16 & directed my anger towards my perpetrator. we won’t go there.
      i guess my point is this, i can remember getting drunk referred to as getting stoned
      by my parents and their friends up until pot and drugs were introduced to me back in 1970. pot was so evil in their eyes, that they never referred to getting drunk as getting stoned again. strange.
      i have been put down all my life for smoking pot and speaking my mind about it.
      i don’t flaunt it though. i have also worked in engineering since i was 21 and paid lots of taxes. i will speak my mind & would fight or go to jail for my beliefs.
      people like you are usually very closed minded & living in the conservative past.
      it’s time for a reeferendum on matter to see what the majority of Canadians prefer.
      that would be democracy in action. it’ll never happen. if the feds put all free thinkers like me in jail, where would they collect tax dollars to continue to persecute the population.
      we could become the next state of the good old usa where they have a policy of persecuting pot smokers. isn’t this a human rights issue which they continually preach to the world about? whiners. i don’t think Obama agrees with us drug policies as he is intelligent and grew up in the real world, unprotected from lifes temtations.
      Rod in Ontario

    3. Anonymous on

      It’s called ” not wanting to eccesively interfere with natural course of happenings”

      If we become to active in bringing our “message”, our opposition will use it as a means to hammer it down even harder on us.

      Balance and patience are key here.

      Rome wasn’t build in a day either.

      The right pace to go about will come from the inside, No need to tell others they are lazy incompetent f*cks !

      Chill out , peace :)

    4. Anonymous on

      so you got a bunch of office geeks writing terse letters to civil servants who are driving the steam roller over you
      this is lame posing and it comes way too late to have any effect
      too bad, stoners leave everything to the last minute and its just complaining after the fact
      stoners never do anything its no wonder they have been so easily defeated for the last 70 years