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Politics

Scheer says Trudeau and the Liberals want to decriminalize drugs. Is that true?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters Thursday morning that an elected Conservative government would oppose any further drug decriminalization, and would seek to address drug treatment rather than pursue programs like needle exchanges which ‘maintain a lifelong addiction.’

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer repeated on Thursday his warning that Justin Trudeau would decriminalize drugs, even though the Liberal leader has repeatedly denied that if re-elected, his government would do so.

“Justin Trudeau was asked specifically about that and he said, well they were not going to do it right away,” Scheer said in an interview with CP24 in Toronto.

“A lot of their candidates, people running under the Liberal banner, are calling for the decriminalization of hard drugs. It was part of their platform discussions at their policy convention and Liberal MPs on the health committee actually advocated for that as well.”

Federal Election 2019: Scheer says Trudeau ‘going down road’ of ‘making drugs more accessible’
Federal Election 2019: Scheer says Trudeau ‘going down road’ of ‘making drugs more accessible’

Scheer then cautioned that “for parents out there who are worried about what the government might do in the future for other types of hard drugs, they need to be very concerned about what Trudeau will do.”

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But Trudeau, whose government legalized recreational cannabis, threw cold water on the notion that he wanted to decriminalize drugs in an interview with Global News last month.

“We’re not looking at full decriminalization at all right now,” Trudeau said, reiterating the stance he has long held on the matter.

He restated this to reporters after the TVA leaders’ debate earlier this month saying, “We will not be further decriminalizing any drugs other than cannabis.”

For years, Trudeau has rebuffed calls from drug policy experts and harm reduction advocates to decriminalize drug possession as a way to curb overdose death rates and reduce the stigma associated with criminalized drug use and addiction. He, instead, points to the government’s other actions on harm reduction measures including supervised consumption sites.

Conservatives, Scheer criticized for Chinese-language ads against Trudeau
Conservatives, Scheer criticized for Chinese-language ads against Trudeau

These experts have also called for the government to support and expand safe supply measures, in which doctors prescribe prescription opioids to people who use such drugs. The idea is to help steer them away from the increasingly tainted street supply that has been linked to more than 11,000 overdose deaths in Canada since 2016.

In September 2018, the Liberals signed onto a declaration led by U.S. President Donald Trump at the United Nations General Assembly that renewed calls to continue the criminalization of drugs around the world.

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READ MORE: More doctors are prescribing opioids to prevent their patients from dying of overdoses

Also, the decriminalization of drugs is found nowhere in the current Liberal platform.

In the brief section on “Drug Use and Addiction,” the platform pledges to improve treatment access, extend the hours of supervised consumption sites, and expand drug treatment courts, which has been described by some harm reduction advocates as an expansion of the criminal justice system.

However, Scheer is correct in pointing out that a number of Liberal MPs, and the party’s national caucus, have been supportive of the decriminalization of drug possession.

In 2018, members of the Liberal national caucus put forward a resolution at the party’s convention that would “re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations” as a way to treat drug use and addiction as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one.

Singh explains proposal to end criminalization of drugs
Singh explains proposal to end criminalization of drugs

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, the Liberal incumbent for Beaches—East York, has advocated for decriminalization. Before the House of Commons rose earlier this year, he tabled a bill that would have decriminalized the possession of small quantities of illicit drugs.

Scheer’s statements on Thursday follow reports of advertisements on the Conservative Party’s Chinese-language Facebook page last week that stated that the Liberals planned to legalize illicit drugs.

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READ MORE: Trudeau confirms that the Liberals are not looking to decriminalize drugs

“Before Trudeau legalized marijuana, he now intends to legalize hard drugs!” the ads stated in Mandarin. “If you want to get the latest Chinese version of the news, please like our FB page!”

Legalization differs from decriminalization by regulating how a substance is sold, just like with the current regime with cannabis. Decriminalization would remove drug possession from the criminal code and treat it as an administrative matter outside the criminal courts, sort of like what happens with a traffic ticket.

The Trudeau Liberals are not proposing either measure.

Responding to a question from Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson about why the Conservatives ran the ads in Chinese but not in English, Scheer said, “We’ve called attention to the Liberals’ inability to become clear on this in English and in French.”

“Canadians have a right to know about whether or not they’re going to give Justin Trudeau a second mandate where he will continue to go down this road of making drugs more accessible,” he added.

Last month, Scheer said that his party “accepts” the decisions of the courts around supervised drug consumption sites. But he added, “We receive a lot of feedback from people all over the country that they were not consulted, that the impacts on their communities were not taken into consideration.”

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He said the Conservatives would be focusing on “getting people off” of “dangerous drugs” and “not maintaining a lifetime of addiction.”

For its part, the NDP has said it would focus on ways to reduce the criminalization and stigma of drug use and addiction. The Green Party, meanwhile, has said it would decriminalize drug possession and support a safer opioid supply.