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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 1 - Our Mandate  



The Committee's mandate is a continuation of the history of drug legislation passed by the Parliament of Canada in 1996, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That legislation, which revised drug statutes in Canada by repealing the Narcotic Control Act and certain sections of the Food and Drugs Act, grew out of a relatively lengthy history of which we will provide only a brief overview here, since Chapter 12 is devoted to a detailed history of drug laws in Canada.

Bill C‑7, which was tabled by the newly elected government in February 1994, proposed a revision of illegal drug legislation, in particular to make it more coherent and to render national legislation consistent with Canada's obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances signed in 1988. Following prorogation, it was reintroduced in the House of Commons at the start of the 2nd Session, on March 6, 1996, as Bill C‑8. It was adopted by the House on the same day and was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs which conducted a detailed study of it and heard a number of witnesses.

In its report, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs proposed 15 amendments as well as the striking of a joint parliamentary committee of the House of Commons and the Senate, which would review Canada's drug policy. Bill C‑8 was passed and received Royal Assent on June 20, 1996, and is thus Canada’s current illegal drug legislation.

While this legislation was being studied by the Sub-Committee on Bill C-7 of the Standing Committee on Health of the House of Commons in 1994 and 1995, "the vast majority of witnesses (…) were highly critical of the bill. The most general criticisms concerned three points: first, the lack of basic principles or an express statement as to the purpose of the act; second, the fact that the bill followed the prohibition system of the 1920s, subsequently codified in the Narcotic Control Act, and third, the absence of any emphasis on damage reduction and prevention criteria which form the basis of Canada's Drug Strategy."[1][2] Despite the amendments made by the Sub‑Committee of the House, the testimony of the persons heard by the Senate Committee was equally critical. Witnesses noted that the Act did not categorize drugs on the basis of the dangers they represented, that it did not contain any specific, rational criteria and that it was impossible, particularly in view of the Act's complexity, to determine how it would be implemented in practice.

All of these criticisms led the Senate Committee to "propose energetically" the creation of a Joint Committee of the House of Commons and the Senate that would review all Canadian drug legislation, policies and programs.[2][3]

However, the 1997 federal election rendered this suggestion moot. Senator Nolin, convinced of the need for action and faced with the inaction of the House of Commons, thus tabled his first motion in 1999 - that a Senate Committee be struck and given a mandate to examine the legislation, policies and programs on illegal drugs in Canada. The motion was adopted by the Senate in April 2000. In support of the motion, Senator Nolin had commissioned a study on drugs and drug policy in Canada. The purpose of this study, in particular, was "to assist in analyzing policy on the control of drug use from a new angle, without being influenced by the often unfounded prejudices that Canadian society has of drug addicts".[3][4] Senator Nolin wrote further that a Senate Special Committee "would be charged, first, with transmitting to the Canadian public accurate and objective information on the use of illegal drugs, their effects on individuals and society and control measures in place. Second, it could conduct consultations on desirable amendments that Parliament should make to legislation on the control of drug use in the years to come."[4][5]




[1][2]  Allain, J. (1997) Bill C-8:Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Ottawa, Library of Parliament, page 35.

[2][3]  Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Eleventh rapport, June 1996, page 8.

[3][4]  Nolin, P.C. (1998) Preface. In Riley, D. (1998), Drugs and Drug Policy in Canada. A Brief Review and Commentary. Ottawa, page 10.

[4][5]  Ibid., page 11.

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