Harper’s anti-drug strategy gets a little less compassionate

For the next five years, the focus will be more on busting drug users than helping them

Drug money

Tara Walton/Toronto Star

When Stephen Harper launched his high-profile National Anti-Drug Strategy in the fall of 2007, he took aim at critics who were already saying his new Conservative government was putting too much emphasis on more drug arrests and longer prison sentences, and not enough on helping addicts. “This approach will be tough on crime and compassionate for victims,” the Prime Minister said in a speech in Winnipeg announcing the policy. “If you’re addicted to drugs, we’ll help you, but if you deal drugs, we’ll punish you.”

The blueprint Harper unveiled that day would bring more than $500 million in spending by a dozen federal departments and agencies under one umbrella. Spending was mapped out for five years, the period that ended this past spring. Now, a plan for the next five years of anti-drug programs, again worth more than half a billion dollars, has been drafted. Despite Harper’s early emphasis on balance, though, the planning and priorities report tabled with the federal Treasury Board for the next five years reveals deep cuts in Health Canada’s budget for drug treatment—but hefty increases in budgets for drug enforcement by police and prosecutors.

The spending squeeze that’s likely to be most demoralizing for groups running street-level rehabilitation programs for addicts is the reduction of Health Canada’s Drug Treatment Funding Program to $80 million for the next five years, down from $122 million in the previous five years. In sharp contrast, the RCMP will see its five-year funding for investigating marijuana growers and clandestine drug labs rise to $113 million, up from $85 million in the previous five years. As well, support for the federal Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions will rise to $61 million for the coming five-year stretch, up from $43 million for the strategy’s first half-decade.

The government has done nothing to publicize the anti-drug policy’s second five-year phase, much less drawn attention to the apparent shift in funding priorities. Maclean’s asked Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s office why treatment funding was being cut. Her officials said some of the earlier funding was meant “to support the provinces and territories in establishing treatment centres or programs,” not to pay for their ongoing operations. That answer will hardly satisfy groups trying to maintain street-level treatment services. “So you now have programs that have proven their efficacy, but there are no resources to sustain them,” said Susan Shepherd, manager of the Toronto Drug Strategy Secretariat. “They’re done.”

In some cases, those resources apparently dried up months ago. Bernadette MacDonald, executive director of Tri-County Women’s Centre, a Nova Scotia group working on rural anti-drug projects whose more than $300,000 in federal funding runs out this year, said the Health Canada office in Halifax that managed those grants was shut down last spring. “Having regional staff,” she said, “was very important for community organizations.” MacDonald added that she isn’t aware of any new money from Ottawa for the sort of drug-awareness work her group has been doing with teenagers.

She’s far from alone in being uncertain about which parts of the government’s anti-drug plan it sees as having succeeded in the past five years and which fell short of expectations. An evaluation report commissioned by Justice Canada has not yet been made public. However, Maclean’s obtained, under the Access to Information Act, a draft of that report from late last year, along with results from consultations done by a private firm. These documents reveal widespread misgivings about the strategy, based largely on interviews with dozens of federal officials and “stakeholders,” including leaders of groups that got funding, provincial and municipal officials, police and academic experts. Although the draft report credits the federal anti-drug plan with making “significant progress,” it also highlights persistent criticisms of the government’s approach. From the outset, the Conservatives insisted on focusing only on illicit drugs, excluding alcohol and legal pharmaceuticals for reasons that baffle many experts in substance abuse. The report says representatives of several federal departments “noted that the strategy should address abuse/misuse of non-illicit substances as well as illicit ones.” Outside experts pointed out that “strict criteria on illicit drugs” left some organizations ineligible for federal funding. Others stressed that “among First Nations, alcohol is the No. 1 barrier to community health.”

But the most frequently repeated complaint from stakeholders concerned the impact of criminal charges on illegal drug users. “Being sentenced and jailed for drug offences,” says a summary of the evaluation findings, “can often foster negative emotions and hopelessness that can often lead to further drug use.” It goes on: “There is a need for a method of enforcement that can change the lives of those using illicit drugs in a positive manner.”

Under the previous Liberal government, Health Canada was given the lead role in anti-drug policy. But Harper put Justice Canada in charge, signalling clearly how the Conservatives view illegal drugs as, first and foremost, a law-and-order challenge, rather than mainly a health issue. That fit with the Tories’ tough-on-crime messaging, an important part of the winning election campaign rhetoric. But the authors of the evaluation report found stiff resistance to the shift, noting that some community groups didn’t support the move from the health department’s emphasis on treatment to justice’s focus on enforcement.

The general public, of course, wouldn’t know or care which department was in the driver’s seat. To most people, the only visible element of the Conservative anti-drug push was prominent advertising under its “prevention action plan.” Starting in the summer of 2008, Health Canada launched a campaign of TV, radio, online and print ads. In one widely seen TV spot, an adolescent girl started out fixing her ponytail in her well-appointed bedroom, then spiralled into a drug-abuse nightmare, ending with her scratching at the needle marks on her forearm. Follow-up public opinion surveys by the government found that the ads were widely noticed by teenagers and their worried parents.

But many addiction experts cited studies showing that public education campaigns tend not to change the behaviour of the subset of young people who are most likely to develop serious drug problems. Shepherd said the Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Panel urged Harper last year to redirect money away from ads “based on fear tactics.” Some police evidently agreed. The draft evaluation said an RCMP representative “argued that the strategy should be more focused on intervention and diversion of at-risk youth vs. raising awareness in the general population.”

Despite those criticisms, the government has always defended running the ads and setting up a related “DrugsNot4Me” website and a Facebook page. “The campaign has been very successful and generated a high level of engagement by youth,” Health Canada said in an email response to questions. Yet after pouring $30 million into the department’s “mass media campaign” in its first five years, the anti-drug strategy’s next phase has no budget at all under that heading. And Heath Canada officials confirmed the unceremonious end of the DrugsNot4Me ad campaign, although they said its online elements will remain.

Planned funding is roughly stable for some less splashy components of the federal anti-drug arsenal. Those include Health Canada’s Drug Strategy Community Initiatives Fund, which supports local projects designed to discourage illicit drug use, and Justice Canada’s six drug treatment courts—located in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Regina—where offenders get a chance to complete treatment programs instead of going to prison. As well, the Canada Revenue Agency will continue receiving about $1 million a year to audit taxpayers suspected by police of being involved in the drug trade.

Still, it’s the changes in the broader anti-drug spending mix that stand out. In all, Health Canada’s five-year budget under the strategy is slated to drop 15 per cent to $230 million, while the RCMP’s targeted funding is projected to jump 22 per cent to $127 million. If Harper started out insisting that the Conservative approach be seen as scrupulously balanced, the plan for his strategy’s next five years shows a pronounced tilt away from compassionate treatment and toward hard-nosed enforcement.


Harper’s anti-drug strategy gets a little less compassionate

  1. Well hes gotta fill those new prisons with people other than thought criminals.

  2. this is not a legitimate government. they cheated their way into power.

    • The did indeed, and they will soon be finding what the wrong end of a rope feels like.

    • The words of a sore loser… We didn’t lose because our leader was an automaton that couldn’t connect with Canadians. We didn’t lose because the other party ran a better campaign. Our loss has nothing to do with anything we did but with a conspiracy against organized against us. How could we win when the other party had a conspiracy?

      • Hm. How’d you fake the real Emily’s ID? At first I thought you did it with a zero instead of a one: Emily0ne vs EmilyOne, but looking at it, I’m not so sure.

        Still, it’s apparent to anybody who looks at the number of comments and ratings you have by hovering their mouse over your picture which one is the real one and which one is you, you pathetic dickwad identity thief.

        What’s really impressive, and kind of sad, is that Emily has gotten so far under your skin that it seems you can only salvage what little sense of self-worth you have by trying to change her reputation. And to be honest, if you’re that low, you should probably just off yourself rather than waste the time and effort.

  3. Legalize drugs, ban harper!

    • do you really want them legalized or do you want them De-crimanalized? Personally I don’t think pot should be regulated or taxed. I think the money saved by Canadians by not prosecuting “pot crimes” is revenue (a penny saved is a penny earned). Harper is taking Canada in a very negative direction.

      • I see no reason why it should not be legalized. Tobacco and alcohol are legalized, regulated and taxed even though both substances have been proven over and over to be harmful to the body.

        The current argument by the morons in power is that there is no reason for marijuana to be legalized or even decriminalized due to it’s lack of medicinal purposes in ****government funded**** research. If it’s not legal because it has no medicinal value in the eyes of the government, did I miss the memo stating that tobacco and alcohol indeed do have medicinal purposes and are the reason they are legal?

        It is extremely hypocritical to fight a non-existent war on a plant but continue to rake in profits from already legalized drugs which cause more harm to the body than anything else.

        • Actually tobacco and alcohol are decriminalized, not legalized. They have age regulations and safety / public regulations as well. Just consuming them both don’t make you a criminal, but some actions involving consumption + other things (ie driving, selling to minors) involve criminality.

          • Alcohol and tobacco are legally regulated.

          • There’s a very fine line in this case, but I suppose those are the right words.

        • Following your argument and looking down the road I can already see your future post arguing to legalize cocaine or ‘pick a drug’ “I see no reason why it should not be legalized. Tobacco, alcohol and marijuana are legalized, regulated and taxed…” Hypocritical or not, adding to a wrong does not make it a right. The common thought was once that tobacco caused no harm to the body either, that is until it became widely popular, used daily by millions and actual long term effects were monitored and accessed. Then they began to make the correlations between a myriad of diseases and the use of tobacco. The fact is, there have been no definitive long term studies performed on the health effects of marijuana. The simple fact you are filling your lungs with smoke rather than the air intended certainly cannot be providing your lungs any benefits. There was also a time when a number of other products once widely used in the world like lead, DDT, mercury etc were thought to have no ill effects on human health, and guess what? That thought was wrong.

          • Yes, there is a slippery slope: first pot, then unrefined coca and poppy products, mushrooms, etc. That said, we have decades of evidence from prohibition strategies that show that these strategies don’t work well. At the core of it, the state cannot stop 100% of individuals from doing what they want to do. Individuals are different than industries: your DDT, mercury examples are therefore not the same – the industries were making their own profits at the expense of the environment and citizens who were not involved in those benefits.

            Drugs are different. At the individual level, it is a harm one does to oneself. I realize there are potential other ‘victims’: the children of addicts, society who bears the burden of providing services to non-productive addicts, etc. But, for the most part use/addiction has consequences that are personal.

            Add to this that criminalization of drugs has put the power and profits in the hands of, well, criminals. Gangs, organized crime, etc have all led to gunfights on our streets and ridiculous costs associated with enforcement of prohibitions.

            We can’t control the fact that these substances exist. We can’t control the fact that people will find a way to get high/drunk/etc, regardless of the prohibitions we place on them. When we make these substances difficult to obtain, we can’t control the lengths to which addicts will go and the harm they will cause to the innocent as they go about getting their fix.

            You could look to Singapore for a solution where control is somewhat more successful, but again, that society has restrictions on freedom far exceeding what we would like to see in Canada. Its tiny geographic size also makes such controls more possible. Even there, 1800 drug users are arrested each year, so the problem never goes away entirely, even in a harshly controlled society.

            So, on the prohibition side of the ledger we have:
            -Enabled organized crime profits.
            -Spent billions on enforcement and incarceration.
            -Seen gangland shootings kill innocent Canadians.
            -Seen high rates of disease among addicts.
            -Seen high rates of drug-associated crime (theft, etc)

            The better option is to decriminalize and create a distribution system for addicts (not recreational users).

            Decriminalization and distribution of drugs by the state would not eliminate drug addiction.

            It would come with the following problems:
            -It would create the problem that someone’s addicted son would be helped by their own tax dollars to feed a diagnosed addiction.
            -It would create cross-border problems with the US (assuming the US maintains its prohibitionist stance). I assume it would also increase cross-border importation of drugs into the US from Canada.
            -It would make it easier for addicts to get drugs.
            -It would create a moral hazard for users (ie: if government supplies drugs, what economic incentive is there to stop using them?).

            It would also have the following positive benefits:
            -Fewer Criminals (by definition: stop making something a crime and the people who participate are no longer criminals).
            -A source of new tax revenue from recreational drug users.
            -The containment of harms to society (for the most part) to the users themselves.
            -The cost of new rehab and treatment programs for drug users, additional border security costs and aggressive ‘say no to drugs’ programs in schools could be levied from taxes on recreational drugs.
            -Organized crime would be marginalized, creating less violent cities.
            -Better statistics and better science on effective rehab could be done in an environment where patients weren’t also criminals.
            -If prescriptions were required for drug addicts, we would be better able to track them and provide interventions.

            Drugs aren’t healthy. You don’t have to think they are to see the reason in this strategy. Drugs do exist. But by all accounts, being an addict is not a good life and the vast majority of people will not fall into that trap even if drugs were freely available.

            Drugs are a problem and that problem can’t be solved through prohibition. We’ve tried that for decades. It doesn’t work. (If you can show me that it does work, please do so) Let’s try finding a new, rational approach. If people want to do harm to themselves, I can’t stop them, nor can the government or the police and still have a free society. Let’s focus on eliminating the harm to the innocent, reducing, mitigating and offsetting harm to society, and doing what is possible to reduce the harm addicts cause themselves.

      • should be treated like wine or beer. you can make you own or buy it in a store.

  4. The war on non-violent offenders, needs to go the way of the war on witches. What a waste of tax payer funds. Harper is taking giant steps towards his US style prison industrial complex. It is up to the judicial system in the country to set an example. Refuse to prosecute Canadians, who’s only crime was offending an ideal and only harming themselves.

  5. This comment was deleted.

    • I say we just vote him out so he can witness how much better Canada is without him

    • No Canadian should condone assassination, let alone of our own. As much as he has earned the hatred of Canada, we should seek to defeat him at the ballot box and by no other means.

      • The era of “peaceful change”—if ever there was one—seems to have long past; Robbie’s got a point, and many people are thinking the same; maybe it’s time to start shooting our way to freedom?

        • What an idiot! You wouldn’t happen to be American would you? Lets all go out and buy assault rifles so we can achieve your goal! NOT!

          • That course of action is actually supported by the CPC government. That was part of the reasoning they used to destroy the long-gun registry after all.. that having one is the action of a government seeking to keep it’s citizens from undertaking violent revolution if they need to.

      • Or, higher ups in his party can be found guilty of electoral fraud. Oh, I forgot, that happened before and it didn’t faze on them or many of the electorate.

    • Judging by your statement and most of those below I can certainly see why illicit drugs should remain illegal and criminal. Evidence of the negative effects of long term use of these drugs are quite clear in the comments here.

      • If you really are trying to think… try harder.

  6. Let’s just do exactly the opposite to what we know WORKS and implement POLICY that are PROVEN FAILURES! This is almost beyond comprehension. All studies show treatment before incarceration is the answer to addiction. Gangsters Love Prohibition and so apparently do Conservatives and Law Enforcement agencies…keep wasting those tax dollars boys!

    • Exactly lets get rid of gun control!

  7. Wow!! That’s a lot of “dangerous” pot, glad they spend a ridiculous amount of our money taking that off the streets (sarcasm) The Harper Gov’t has to go.

  8. Looking at Stephen Harper’s individual actions is bad enough. But if you look at them collectively, it appears as though he’s trying to take down our country and our culture and our social safety net. Religious reasons? Speed up The Rapture? Sociopath? What makes this man tick used to interest me, now I just want to see him gone.

  9. The next three years can’t go by quick enough for me. I wonder if Harper is arrogant enough to think he can fix another election?

    • Prepare yourself for four and a half years just in case.

  10. Who says we as a people and a jury of ones peers have to find anyone guilty of drug offenses. If you do not believe in drug prohibition then say “Not Guilty ” It’s as simple as that….

    • Except for the fact your job as a juror is not to judge the law, it is to judge if the evidence provided proves the accused broke the law under which they are charged.

      Is there not an age requirement for posting to MacLeans? Should you not have to be at least 10 or 12 before you are allowed to post?

      • What an ego!!

      • You’d be gone then.

      • R. v. Krieger 2006 SCC 47 refutes you.

        “juries are not entitled as a matter of right to refuse to apply the law — but they do have the power to do so when their consciences permit of no other course.”

  11. Another major policy and budget change comes in under the radar. Big pharma and doctors are partly to blame for addictions because of the profit motive – i.e. oxycontin, dilaudid and other prescription drugs. Plus they have lobbied hard to ensure marijuana doesn’t become legal or at least decriminalized because they can’t get a patent on it. Harper loves big business and hates poor and middle class people, especially if they have any social ills. And he loves big jails because some of his supporters are big jail builders.

    • Seems to me if he hates poor and middle class people he would make all the illicit drugs under the sun available to them, not try to take them away. After all, people are easier to control when they are hammered, they tend not to make as many illogical statements on internet chats that way.

      • JAIL’S expanded `beyond all previous levels? Criminal? guess what you are no longer free ever again.

  12. There needs to be laws that allow the people of Canada to prevent a government from enacting legislation that can be proven to be detrimental to the health of society. And please don’t say we have that and it’s with our votes, because then we just end up waiting for the next government to undo the damage of the previous one while people suffer. There needs to be a public approval process that forces a law to be reviewed by experts in the fields in which the suggested laws touch. We should not be allowing uneducated people to pass laws through ignorance, simply because it suits their ideology. Stephen Harper has no expertise when it comes to drug issues, and it is quite apparent that he has not consulted any such experts, so this law needs to be deemed unconstitutional by going directly against the human rights code.

    • So then the answer is to have our government legislation approved by, and basically run by, a group of self chosen pseudo intellectuals? From what I’ve seen in my lifetime, the so called “experts” are wrong just as often as the rest of us. Seems we should be trying to look past the BS and hype propagated during election campaigns and vote for the persons who seems to be the most level headed and have the most common sense. You think this law is “unconstitutional” go ahead and initiate a legal challenge! See how far you get… If our government was run by all of the “experts” posting on these articles, Canada would indeed be in a sorry state!

    • Am I to assume you believe your right to take what ever illicit drugs you please is enshrined in the constitution and human rights code? What is it again you were saying about uneducated people? They shouldn’t be allowed on the internet?

    • He has talked to experts. He simply believes that his opinion is better than their expertise.

  13. Drugs are only one part of the equation. Canada used to be the country that was the most left-wing white majority former British colony(Australia, New Zealand ,U.S., and Ireland). The PC’s of old were centrist by the standards of British politics. However, Harper has tried to change this. Now, Canada’s politics are to the right of Britain(compare the British Conservative Party to Harper’s). The country has actually moved to the right of Americans on economics(U.S. government 43% share of American GDP versus Canadian level fo 40% GDP). The goal of Harper is to move the Canadian economy in the direction of Australia. Australia has government’s share of GDP at 33.5% versus about 40% Canadian GDP. Australia has introduced significant private business forces into its public healthcare system. It has a privatized form of social security. Union membership has crashed to only 18% of workforce. Over 35% of its school children are educated at private or religious schools(largely on the public dime). In Australia, both the Labor Party and National/Liberal Party court business(particularly the mining industry). The only party that stands up to the businesses are the Green Party with their one parlimentary seat. Both parties have turned the country into a soulless nation. Where Harper takes from the U.S. is in the social arena. He knows that Canadians are not religious so that knocks out abortion. Instead, he focuses his government on both gun policy and adopting American methods of policing(expect him to offer legislation to restore capital punishment). So far, he has had great success with these two social policies which have won him support from people who would not normally support the Conservative Party(Example: Look at Conservative vote versus public support of their crime initiatives. Look at how many people in left-leaning Toronto support Ford’s hug a thug line). Harper is not just a want a be American. He wants to transform this country into the John Howard dream(former Australian p.m.)

    • I would like to point out, Harper is not a PC, his party is not PC. Harper and cohorts had to hide their true roots behind the PC label in order to go beyond regional recognition.
      The PC party was the perfect candidate holding only 2 seats and threatened with losing official party status.
      The connection that no one seems to have made yet is that Harper and company are Canada’s first true big oil government and true to their Alberta roots would rather dissolve Canada and become part of the USA.
      Seeking intelligence or real improvement or even genuine honour in the ‘NEW PC’ government policies and laws is an exercise in futility.
      Simply follow the money, all will be revealed.

  14. My only regret is that I only voted for Harper once…

    • Do realize lamer, if you persist in this, even without the site admin catching up, you can be reached.

  15. Once again prejudice and preconceptions trump evidence and logic with the RepubliCons.
    Pandering to their redneck base will, they hope, help them get re-elected. Nothing else really matters, does it?

  16. You want an insight as to who really runs Harper? Google the following:

    Harper Versailles France 2003

    It’s his masters’ agenda he’s so energetically forwarding.

  17. Many of you are missing the point! Australia is the true model that Harper wants to emulate. You think that he is friendly to the U.S. and wants to become an American. No, he just wants the death penalty and the same type of criminal justice system as the Americans. Don’t let the proximity to the U.S. fool you. Australia is the country where pro-business interests dominate. It is Australia where the Wheat Board was privatized. It is Australia that sold off Telestra and practically every other “crown corporation” that exists. Australia is the one that got the rating of 3rd most free economy from the conservative Heritage Foundation. This rating made Australia more economically conservative than every nation except Hong Kong and the dictatorship of Singapore.In addition, there are certain elements of social conservatism that exist in Australia. Aborigines are excluded from much of society. There is no seperation of church and state. Therefore, religious instruction and school prayer are allowed in public schools. Abortion laws vary by state with Queensland and New South Wales imposing tight restrictions while ACT(capital territory) allows it on demand. Also, while gun laws are strict. They have gradually been getting looser recently(part of a worldwide trend like Russia’s plan next year to allow private citizens to own handguns or Brazil’s 64%-36% defeat of a handgun ban. Also, gun control laws are currently being loosened in India and some areas of eastern europe.Which is why just talking about American gun laws misses the larger global push.) Finally, some of the Australian private schools allow corporate punishment(U.S. is only other 1st world country that allows this). The only thing Australia is missing is the death penalty. The most successful exporter of the right is not the Americans. Instead, it is an Australian businessman. Stop thinking Crocodile Dundee and look at Australia for the neoconservative problem it is. The U.S. political influence is overrated, particularly while Obama is president. Don’t let your anti-Americanism overshadow the neoconservative threat from countries like Australia! If you do, we will be sitting here talking in 30 years about how Harper was far more moderate than our current leader. Look at how the incompetency of the Democrats in the U.S. has helped shift the country so far right that Nixon is viewed as centrist or even center-left. From 1932-1980, the Democrats controlled both houses of congress for all but 4 years. They controlled most of the state governments too. They had power but they failed to see political threats over the horizon and became stagnant. They got lazy and just spoke the same lines again and again. The same is happening in Canada. Non-Conservatives are getting pissy instead of formulating action strategies. Don’t be like the Democrats. Man up! Make plans and present countervailing arguments. Saying simply I hate Harper doesn’t work! Show what his type of policies and have done in other countries.

  18. More killings, more violence, more taxpayer money spent, that’s the Drug war
    Mr Harper. Follow the American way Mr. Harper.

  19. Harper is such a pathetic excuse for a human being. Laughable really. Typical bully = a coward.

  20. By all means go after meth, crack & other hard drugs.
    Actually marijuauna is the only med that works with little or no side effect.
    The pills all affect liver, kidneys etc. Alcohol does no help, it makes pain worse & I don’t drink.
    Keep all drugs from children with developing brains including prozac & other drugs to make them “behave”.
    Weed is not a stepping stone to hard drugs, I smoked from 18-25 years old-street pot was being adulterated, & I could tell.
    I now after 35 years old got permission to grow & use as needed & never leave home under the influence.

    • weed can is known for triggering genetic factors to schizophrenia past age 30 for men… lets not forget about pre-teens-teens that are experiencing alot more psychosis which if continued can change the brain chemistry

  21. I like the Brady Bunch

  22. I invite everyone, wether you are for or against pot, to check on you tube’s video:
    “acme420.com” its the “Best marijuana documentary EVER”, it’s informative, and it concerns everyone of us

  23. Aren’t we all just a little bit tire of Government shoving their agenda down our throats!! Look at the harm tobacco,alcohol and big pharma drugs have caused and cost our society.I believe the real hidden agenda behind making these drugs illegal is the huge profitable business of law enforcement.Most prisons are privately held and the war on drugs employs so many from judges to guards.Also I believe the government fears many of these “drugs” because they tend to cause their citizenry to question the integrity of authority.Look at the 60’s and the psychedelic wave.

  24. Sorry if I missed it, but can you provide a link to the TBS draft submission?