Federal lawyers in Canada are being directed to avoid prosecuting simple drug possession cases unless there is a major public safety risk, the CBC reports. Under the policy of Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel, federal prosecutors would only pursue criminal charges in “the most serious cases.” Instead, attorneys would seek alternative measures, such as restorative justice, and Indigenous approaches to deter simple possession cases away from the criminal justice system.
Public Prosecution Service of Canada Spokesperson Nathalie Houle told the CBC that when deciding to “initiate and conduct any prosecution” attorneys “must consider not only whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction based on the evidence available but also whether a prosecution serves the public interest.”
“For example, where the possession relates to a substance use disorder, prosecution should generally be avoided where the offender is enrolled in a drug treatment court program or a course of treatment provided under the supervision of a health professional.” – Houle via the CBC
The reforms come as legislative leaders reconsider national drug decriminalization. Last month the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called on federal lawmakers to decriminalize low-level possession of all drugs for personal use. CACP President Chief Constable Adam Palmer said that current drug possession laws have “proven to be ineffective” and do “not save lives.”
“Being addicted to a controlled substance is not a crime and should not be treated as such,” he said in an interview last month with the CBC. “We recommend that Canada’s enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system.”
In a letter to federal lawmakers last month, British Columbia Premier John Horgan said implementing the reforms would “reduce the systemic stigma associated with illicit drug use and support people to access the services that they need.”
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has supported broad decriminalization, said he was “more hopeful” than he has previously been about the reforms being enacted.
In 2018, Canada legalized cannabis for adult-use, becoming just the second nation to federally allow taxed and regulated cannabis sales.