May 27, 2022
Mr. Gord Johns, M.P.
House of Commons
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
On behalf of the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW), I am writing to lend the Association’s official endorsement to your Private Members’ Bill, C-216, the Health-based Approach to Substance Use Act. As long-time advocates for a public health approach to drug policy and the decriminalization of the personal use of substances, CASW strongly supports the Bill’s multiple pathways to ensure substance use is treated as a health issue, and not a criminal issue.
As background for you, CASW is the national professional association for social workers in Canada, comprised of 10 provincial and territorial Federation Partners. CASW’s Board of Directors is comprised of a member from each of these Partner Organizations, and we are proud to operate through a consensus model, giving our Association’s voice a measured and considered approach to creating a fairer, better future in this country. In this regard, we have officially called for the decriminalization of the personal use of substances for a number of years.
We have been very pleased with numerous changes and commitments brought about by the current federal government in the mental health and substance use files, including the development of a new Minister of Mental Health and Addictions – hopefully cementing mental health and substance use health as social, fiscal, and philosophical priorities in this country, but also of further destigmatizing substance use by naming it as a health concern like any other. That said, I am certain you would agree that the current approach to the mental health and substance use needs of Canadians – especially as exacerbated by the pandemic – has not been successful in ending the opioid pandemic, or in fully realizing Canadians’ wellbeing. We must do more.
We must make concrete changes, listen to the evidence, and decriminalize the personal use of substances: for this reason, we strongly support Bill C-216, and are deeply hopeful that this Bill will be referred to committee after debate. Study at committee would ensure that parliamentarians give Bill C-216 full consideration and hear from those on the frontlines of this crisis, including not only social workers and other health and social care professionals, but most importantly from the voices of lived experience. Indeed, Bill C-216 would bring about drug policy reforms to reduce the harms and stigma associated with drug criminalization that have disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. In this way, while Bill C-216 speaks to drug policy directly, it also addresses issues of equity.
As we know, the pandemic has and will continue to bring lasting health and mental health impacts for Canadians, and the need for responsive, accessible, and timely services has never been greater. As such, CASW further supports the Bill’s intention to prompt the development of a national strategy to address the root causes of substance use and reduce toxic drug poisonings by expanding access to safer supply, harm reduction services, and trauma-informed treatment and recovery options.
Again, we commend your work and strongly support Bill C-216. Please do not hesitate to contact us if CASW can be of further support.
Fred Phelps, MSW, RSW, CAE
CASW Executive Director