As part of our in-depth interviews for Project Inclusion, we found one thing connecting and driving the experiences of all study participants and the laws and policies discussed in this report: stigma. We close our report with the introduction of a new tool to audit for stigma in BC’s laws, policies, and provision of services. The aim is to reveal that which can be difficult to define or make tangible. By making stigma visible, we can change the systemic processes that hold it up and allow it to cause harm.
Read the other chapters of #ProjectInclusion:
- Policing: The Impacts of Police and Policing
- Justice System: Everything Becomes Illegal: How Court-Imposed Conditions Set People up to Fail
- Services: No Access, No Support: Service Gaps and Barriers
- Read our recommendations for change
As of July 31, 2018 there have been 878 fatal overdoses in British Columbia, a crisis fuelled by stigma permeating government policy and daily life. Prohibition has proven itself a failed policy that forces people into the illicit drug market and criminalizes people who use substances.
Click here for interactive graphRead more
(Note: This is a guest blog post by Olivia Nicoletti, a first-year UBC student interested in law. Students met with Pivot to learn about our core values and were then given the opportunity to engage in community learning, such as a tour of Insite or naloxone training. They were then asked to write op-eds on a topic of their choosing, relating their experiences and reflecting on their learning.)
Around 1,420 lives were lost to overdoses in British Columbia in 2017. My uncle was one of them. On a Friday night, after an evening out, he found himself at a location known for illicit substance use in Victoria. By Saturday morning he had passed away and become a faceless statistic—one of many that has dominated headlines for years.Read more
Pivot’s work is grounded in the belief that poverty and social exclusion are not inevitable. Through our campaigns, our team focuses on making the possibility of a more just and compassionate society a reality. Our projects evolve from year to year, but our central mandate, to use legal tools and political advocacy to challenge laws and policies that intensify poverty and social exclusion, remains the same.
(From L-R: Lawyers Caitlin Shane [Pivot], Naomi Moses [Rosenberg Kosakoski LLP], DJ Larkin [Pivot], Graham Kosakoski [Rosenberg Kosakoski LLP])
Last week the Supreme Court of Canada was asked to strike down the mandatory victim fine surcharge because its effects are cruel and infringe upon people’s rights to liberty and security of the person. Four appellants, all absent the means to pay these mandatory fines, challenged the law because it subjects them to perpetual criminal sanction, threatens to incarcerate them for non-payment, and deepens the inequality they already experience.
Pivot, with the help of our friends at Rosenberg Kosakoski, demonstrated to Canada’s nine top justices exactly what that harm looks like.
The Surcharge: What is it?
A vestige from Harper’s tough-on-crime era, s. 737 of the Criminal Code requires every person convicted of any criminal offense to pay a post-sentencing fine of at least $100 per offense. Payment is mandatory and uncompromising, regardless of the severity of the offense and the circumstances of the offender (including inability to pay).
Many of Pivot’s clients incur multiple surcharges for committing low-level and victimless offenses. A person with court conditions prohibiting substance use and the possession of drug paraphernalia, for instance, could easily incur $200 in surcharge fines if found to be using drugs and carrying harm reduction supplies, such as clean syringes. Given the lack of privacy afforded to people who are homeless and precariously housed, it is not uncommon for surcharges to mount astronomically and disproportionately.
The view from BC: What we told the Court
Graham Kosakowski, making submissions on behalf of Pivot, took to the podium with one goal: ensure that the Court understood that the impacts of these fines and way they are collected in BC are nothing less than cruel and unusual punishment, a clear violation of s12 of the Charter.Read more
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On April 17, 2018, Pivot Legal Society and Rosenberg Kosakoski LLP took our fight for justice to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the mandatory "victim fine surcharge." The surcharge is a fine of $100 or $200 per offence upon conviction. This unjust provision of Canada's Criminal Code entrenches marginalized communities that are unable to pay in a cycle of poverty and criminality, and therefore, must be abolished. Sex workers, people who use drugs, and those affected by homelessness who can't pay the surcharge could face arrest, causing members of these communities to evade police or engage in behaviours that threaten their health and safety.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim | National Day of Action | Feb. 20, 2018)
Note: this is an extended version of an op-ed that appeared in the Vancouver Sun, Mar. 29, 2018.
This April, the federal Liberal Party will consider a policy resolution that could result in the decriminalization of low-level drug possession across Canada. It’s a measure that people who use drugs, their allies, medical professionals, and increasingly, members of government have long been pushing for. But as support for decriminalization reaches an historic high, resistance has grown more fierce from Conservatives and other prohibitionists who argue that a tough-on-crime agenda is the only answer to an opioid crisis that continues to kill thousands across the country.
The latter position ignores both the harms of prohibition and the benefits of a new regulatory approach. Whereas the presumption is that decriminalization or legal regulation makes a radical ‘wild west’ of the drug market, the opposite is in fact true: Under absolute prohibition we relinquish control over every echelon of the drug chain to the black market, which history has shown, no amount of law enforcement can get under control.
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To clear up any misunderstanding, let’s talk about drug policy reform, what works, and what doesn’t:
As contemplated by the Liberal Party, decriminalization refers only to the removal of criminal penalties for the simple possession of illicit drugs. It does not remove sanctions for all drug-related offences, as those besides possession will still fall under the existing criminal regime.
Practically speaking, decriminalization means people who possess drugs for personal use will no longer be forced to use in secret, under fear of arrest. It means they will be afforded a basic degree of legal protection when accessing harm reduction services, medical assistance, or police services. From a harm reduction perspective, decriminalization is an imperative first step. With a toxic drug supply and mounting death toll, now is not the time to be driving drug use further underground.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim | National Day of Action | Feb. 20, 2018)
In Canada we legally regulate many substances (including alcohol and tobacco) so that government can control who accesses them, how, and when. Legal regulation is not to be confused with absolute legalization. The former refers to a complex set of laws that regulate substances with a view to managing the personal and public health risks associated with use. Different substances warrant different regulatory structures, depending on affiliated harms and evidence of efficacy. For opioids, regulation can be rigorous and comprehensive to ensure strict quality control and to minimize problematic use.Read more