May 27, 2020 - Today the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) publishes Ending Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offences. Social workers across Canada are working tirelessly to address the ongoing and devastating opioid crisis, often impeded by the continued criminalization of substance use throughout Canada.
“Amid the Coronavirus global pandemic, social workers face two public health threats in tandem,” notes CASW President, Jan Christianson-Wood, “the overdose crisis and COVID-19, both intensified by the continued criminalization of substance use in Canada.”
Although CASW has called for the Decriminalization of Personal Use of Psychoactive Substances for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the worsening health inequalities in Canada and the need to take immediate and bold action to support the most vulnerable.
Since their expansion in 2012, mandatory minimum sentences have deepened the opioid crisis, while contributing to the near doubling of federally incarcerated Indigenous people in Canada. Moreover, the continued use of mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related charges contradicts commitments made by this government to uphold and implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which call for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing.
“We urge the Government of Canada to uphold its commitment to review changes in the justice system, specific to sentencing reform and increased restorative justice processes,” said Christianson-Wood “We cannot police our way out of crisis and pandemics.”
The alternative to criminalization of substance use is a public health approach based on the principles of social justice, human rights, and equity, accompanied by equitable access to evidence-informed treatment and addressing the underlying determinants of health.