Government Links to US Anti-Drug Campaign

Questions are being raised after Health Canada’s new anti-drug website for youth included links to a similar campaign being run in the US.

Health Canada says it had no choice but to link to several American sources on its new youth anti-drug website as no applicable Canadian sources existed. However, others see it as the government moving Canadian policy more in line with its southern neighbour.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the new “youth component” of the government’s National Anti-Drug Strategy on Dec. 15. The campaign centers on a website hosted by Health Canada called, which includes links to a campaign run by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, as well as interactive graphics from MSNBC and the University of Utah.

Health Canada spokesman Gary Scott Holub said the move was not an endorsement of American anti-drug strategies. Rather, he said linking to these websites was necessary after a fruitless search for Canadian resources.

“When initially searching for web interactive tools and programs to feature in this section, no Canadian resources were found,” said Mr. Holub. He refused to comment on the merits of the US strategy, pointing to the Health Canada website’s disclaimer that it is not responsible for external content.

Mr. Holub suggested several branches of the department were involved in the website’s implementation—including external affairs, public relations, marketing and the controlled substances bureau—and that this made it difficult to pinpoint who made the decision to link to US-based anti-drug material.

“There’s a marketing aspect to this campaign as well as a scientific aspect. Different directorates and bureaus within our department [are involved]. It’s rather large,” said Mr. Holub.

One expert, however, sees the links as a telltale sign the government is attempting to beef up the credibility of its national anti-drug campaign in order to resonate with voters who approve of the traditionally American war on drugs.

“Our anti-drug policy has become more propagandistic than the previous one under the Liberals, and it’s become more punitive,” said University of Ottawa drug policy professor Eugene Oscapella. “It’s about ideology, it’s about what policies we can bring in, to go ahead and get votes.”

Mr. Oscapella, a founding member of the reform group Canadian Foundation For Drug Policy, noted the shift is “ironic” considering the Obama administration’s approach to drug policy differs significantly from the Bush administration’s zero-tolerance approach.

The US Justice Department announced in October 2009 that it will no longer prosecute those who use and distribute medical marijuana in 14 US states that allow this practice. US Attorney General Eric Holder suggested in a memo to these states the department would prefer to use its resources for other purposes.

The Obama administration has also announced support for government-funded needle exchanges and other techniques that fall under the rubric of harm reduction.

“For years, the excuse Canadians used for not making our drug policies less punitive was that the Americans wouldn’t allow us. Now there’s quite strong evidence that the United States is beginning to moderate its stance on drug policy,” Mr. Oscapella said. “Obama himself admitted that he used cocaine and marijuana as a youth. He’s declared the war on drugs to be an utter failure when he was a Senator a number of years ago.”

Ms. Aglukkaq announced the campaign at Ottawa’s Mother Teresa High School, alongside Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary. Neither was available for comment.

NDP Substance Abuse critic Libby Davies called the Health Canada website “very disappointing” and suggested that the department has been influenced by the government’s “ideology about drug use.”

“I really do believe that that political message has gone down the line to whatever bureaucrats who work on these things, and what gets transmitted on these websites,” Ms. Davies said. Instead, she said she would prefer the funds for the website be spent on community outreach initiatives.

“Maybe there’d be some use for a website if it were linked to other community-based resources, as part of a program in a local community,” Ms. Davies said.

“But to have a page on Health Canada, and to have it so dull, and boring, and bureaucratic, and just not based on reality of what young people are facing, I think it’s a waste.”

In addition to increasing illicit drug use media awareness campaigns, the Conservative government spent all last year trying push Bill C-15, which would have amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to force mandatory minimums for some drug crimes, through Parliament.

Mr. Oscapella appeared in front of both the House Committee on Justice and Human Rights in May, and the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in November, to speak to the bill.

Although the bill made it through the entire legislative process, passing Third Reading in the Senate on Dec. 14, it did not receive Royal Assent before the government prorogued Parliament, and thus became extinct. It will have to be reintroduced in the next parliamentary session. C-15 was actually the reintroduction of a 2007 bill that met the same fate.

– Article from Embassy.