Users off the hook
by Greg Middleton
from The Vancouver Sun newspaper, June 19, 1995
Simple drug possession in Vancouver will no longer be prosecuted,
under new federal government guidelines, The Province has learned.
Senior federal drug prosecutor Lindsay Smith wrote to Vancouver police
on May 17 advising them of the relaxed stance.
The letter said the Crown would only approve possession charges if
there was an aggravating factor, such as if the person was “a known
“We were simply indicating the system is badly overtaxed and we have
more drug cases than we can deal with”, explained Tony Dohm, of the justice
Dohm is in charge of federal prosecutions in B.C. All drug charges are
handled by federally appointed prosecutors. He said the edict applies to Vancouver, where drug prosecutions have
overloaded the courts.
“We have to look at the effect on the community“, he
said. “It may be different if someone is caught outside a school in
West Vancouver or North Vancouver with drugs.”
Drugs, from marijuana to cocaine and heroin, are part of the culture
of the downtown area, he said. Dohm defended the new position.
We’re not giving people carte blanche. It’s not a licence to do drugs
and we’re not telling police to turn a blind eye.
While no one knows how many illicit drug users there are in Vancouver,
one downtown needle exchange will give away at least 1.5 million
needles this year.
Two provincial courtrooms run almost full-time in downtown Vancouver
exclusively for drug cases, and there can be several dozen new drug-possession
cases a day.
Vancouver police deputy chief Rich Rollins agrees with Dohm: “We have to
be practical; that is the bottom line“, Rollins said. He confirmed the
latter had come after a number of meetings with federal justice department
officials and drug prosecutors.
Members of the drug squad had complained about the number of recent
drug cases being dropped or refused by federal prosecutors.
“It was discussed at an executive meeting of the police department”,
Mayor Philip Owen, chairman of the Vancouver police board, could not
be reached for comment last night, but Prof. Neil Boyd, head of Simon Fraser
University’s criminology department, said giving up on drug-possession
charges is “probably the right way to go.”
He advocated decriminalizing drug possession, saying drug use should
not be a criminal offence.
It doesn’t make sense to criminalize the chemical alteration of
consciousness with some drugs when we allow people to do it with
tobacco and alcohol
… Boyd said.