Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer today again raised the spectre of a re-elected Liberal government decriminalizing hard drugs.
During an interview with Toronto's CP24, Scheer pointed to last year's Liberal Party policy convention, which saw some grassroots Liberals push for sweeping decriminalization as a way to promote harm reduction and curb overdose deaths.
"Justin Trudeau was asked specifically about that and he said, well, they weren't going to do it right away. A lot of their candidates, people running under the Liberal banner, are calling for decriminalization of hard drugs," he said.
"So for parents out there who are worried about what their government might do in the future for other types of hard drugs, they need to be very concerned about what Trudeau will do."
Scheer's statement comes as his party distributes flyers and runs online ads falsely stating that "Justin Trudeau has a plan to legalize hard drugs!" Those pamphlets have targeted ridings where there is a higher population of Chinese-Canadian voters.
Legalization and decriminalization, which some advocates say would reduce criminal records, stigma, overdose, high-risk use patterns and the spread of disease by replacing a punitive approach with a treatment-based one.
Many public health advocates and city health departments, including Toronto's, have called on the federal government to decriminalize the possession of all drugs for personal use, and boost prevention, harm reduction and treatment services.
Scheer circled back to the notion of decriminalizing hard drugs today during an event in Brampton, Ont., pointing to the number of candidates and Liberal convention delegates who endorsed the notion.
"We believe the focus should be on recovery programs. That's where we're going to put our investments, not decriminalizing hard drugs," he said.
Trudeau said it's a non-starter
Speaking to reporters after the TVA debate Oct. 2, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he has no interest in going beyond what his government did in legalizing recreational marijuana use.
"It is not in our plans to pursue further decriminalization of drugs," he said. "We believe that the approach we have, grounded in science, in harm reduction, in safe consumption, in giving more tools to our medical professionals, is the right one.
"We will not be further decriminalizing any drugs other than cannabis."
But that position does not reflect the wishes of many Liberal caucus and grassroots party members.
On June 17, 2019, Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith tabled a private member's bill, C-460, which would have amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to end criminal sanctions for low-level possession of drugs. At the time, he said the number one source of stigma associated with seeking treatment is the criminal sanction.
The vast majority of private member's bills don't make it into law.
Erskine-Smith also was leading the charge for decriminalizing drugs at last year's Liberal biennial policy convention — a position proposed by the national caucus.
Despite the popularity of the idea (especially among youth delegates) of decriminalizing possession of small quantities of drugs as a harm reduction strategy to cope with the opioid crisis, Trudeau shut it down as a non-starter during a news conference following the convention.
Harm reduction strategies
"We'll of course reflect on next steps for a broad range of issues they bring up. On that particular issue, as I've said, it's not part of our plans," he said, adding that the government is adopting other harm reduction strategies.
On the weekend, Scheer was asked by reporters why his party was running ads in Chinese saying the Liberals would decriminalize drugs, but not in English.
Today, Trudeau was pressed about his own party's ads in Chinese, which allege the Conservatives would let assault rifles spread to the streets — and was asked if that also amounted to disinformation.
"I pass the ball to him and give him the floor. Will he ban assault weapons? If he does, we are happy to withdraw any ads that point out that he doesn't want to ban assault weapons," Trudeau replied.
The Liberals legalized marijuana one year ago as a way to fight the black market and organized crime and make cannabis harder for youth to get their hands on. CBC News reported today that the black market persists.
Trudeau said today the policy is working, but it will take time.
"We have made significant progress in just one year, but we recognize there is much more to do as we eliminate that black market altogether. But the decision that we took to keep our communities safer and remove profits from the pockets of organized crime was the right one," he said.
Conservatives have suggested the Liberal government's decision to legalize marijuana would lead to more lax laws on other drugs.