Ottawa, ON – June 2, 2022 – As long-time supporters of a public health approach to substance, the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) is deeply disappointed in the results of yesterday’s vote on Bill C-216, the Health-based Approach to Substance Use Act. The Bill would have decriminalized small amounts of substances for personal use and developed multiple other pathways to ensuring substance use is treated as a health issue, and not a criminal issue.
Members of Parliament that voted against the Bill prevented it from proceeding to the next stage of study where Parliamentarians would have had the opportunity to hear from experts, advocates, and voices of lived experience on what is needed to end the opioid crisis and save lives.
“Disappointed is too weak a word,” said CASW President, Joan-Davis Whelan. “Canadians are receiving mixed signals from the Government of Canada: they talk about the importance of a public health approach and following the evidence, but the record on Bill C-216 shows every Cabinet member present voted against it, aligning the minority Liberal government with the Conservative caucus against a life-saving piece of legislation.”
This vote also came at an interesting time, as the federal government announced an exemption for the province of British Columbia to decriminalize small amounts of illicit substances for personal use earlier this week.
This, in addition to the Liberal’s existing track record on drug policy – including the creation of a new Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, moving the responsibility for federal drug policy from the purview of Justice to the Minister of Health, and the introduction of legislation that would eliminate mandatory minimums for drug offences – seems to demonstrate their understanding of the importance of a public health approach.
“Studying decriminalization for implementation across Canada is the next logical step in following the evidence and deepening a public approach to drug policy – which makes the results of this vote all the more surprising, and dismaying,” added Davis-Whelan. “This Bill would have saved lives and brought dignity, safety, and compassion to drug policy in this country.”
Moving forward, CASW continues to advocate for the decriminalization of the personal use of substances, for the swift realization of Bill C-5, which would eliminate mandatory minimums specific to drug offences, and for a public health approach to substance use that sets aside partisan politics in favour of saving lives by following the evidence and voices of people with lived experience.
For more information:
Fred Phelps, MSW, RSW, CAE
CASW Executive Director