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

Chapter 4 - A Changing Context

Changes in Canada


We have identified three major causes of change in Canada over the same period which have had at times paradoxical effects: the judicial activism resulting from the coming into force of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, the adoption of the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention and the fight against organized crime. Since we will be discussing each of these causes more fully in subsequent chapters of this report, we will only briefly sketch out the broader context here.


Judicial activism

With regard to cannabis, there is undoubtedly no better example than the decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal in the R. v. Parker.[1][19] In that case, the Ontario Appeal Court considered the constitutional validity of the prohibition against marijuana under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in the context of its use for medicinal purposes. The Court unanimously held that Terrance Parker's allegations that the prohibition violated his fundamental rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were founded. Rosenberg J.A., writing for the majority, found that Mr. Parker needed marijuana to control the symptoms of his epilepsy and that the prohibition against marijuana possession was accordingly unconstitutional. The Court thus held that the statutory provision was null and void. However, they suspended the declaration of invalidity for one year, thus giving the government time to amend the act accordingly. In July 2001, as a result of that decision, the government made regulations circumscribing the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Other judicial decisions altered the applicability of drug legislation in various ways, particularly regarding police powers. Certain of these decisions are briefly reviewed in Chapters 14 and 15.

Generally speaking, it has been observed that, since the Charter came into force, the courts have played an increasingly significant role in Canadian political life, and the drug issue has not fallen outside the scope of this judicial activism. Moreover, a decision on the issue of the use of cannabis for non-medicinal purposes is to be rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada in the coming months.


A national crime prevention strategy

In 1999, as a result of the work of the National Crime Prevention Council, the federal government introduced the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention. The purpose of this national strategy, originally allocated an annual budget of $35 million, which increased to approximately $65 million this year, is to prevent crime through social development actions in the communities by taking action in particular on risk factors among children and youths. While the Strategy does not specifically mention prevention of drug use, a certain number of its projects and activities have focused on that issue in various ways.

The Centre has seen fit to fund two special drug treatment court pilot projects, in Toronto and Vancouver, for the purpose of preventing repeat drug abuse and related criminality. The Centre also supports an initiative of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to introduce drug-free communities in a certain number of cities. It is also supporting the evaluation of alternative measures programs for youths accused of cannabis possession.


The fight against organized crime

If there is one legal subject that has given rise to extensive public debate, led to the passage of new legislation granting greater powers to police forces and resulted in spectacular police operations and no less spectacular trials, it is organized crime, in particular criminalized motorcycle gangs in Quebec, the Italian-Canadian Mafia in Montreal and the Asian heroin rings on the West Coast.

In 1995, Parliament passed Bill C‑95 granting police officers more effective tools for investigating and prosecuting individuals taking part in gang activities. Four years later, three problems led the government to propose amendments to the Criminal Code and other statutes: the problems involved in implementing the act, the growing influence of organized crime in Canada and the illegal activities committed by police officers in undercover operations. In 1999, in passing Bill C‑51 (an omnibus bill amending the Criminal Code), Parliament granted immunity from prosecution to police officers who had to commit offences related to money laundering in the course of an investigation or in performing other duties. According to the government, the purpose of that amendment was to support police officers in the fight against organized crime and money laundering.

In addition, on October 19, 2000, the Sub-Committee on Organized Crime of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled a report proposing a series of amendments that could be made to the Criminal Code to facilitate the fight against criminal organizations. The Sub-Committee began its work in April 2000, and, in view of the nature of the subject under study, its members decided at the outset to perform their work in camera. Among other things, the Committee recommended that the Criminal Code be amended in such a way as to group together all provisions concerning activities relating to organized crime in a specific part entitled "Organized crime, designated substance offences, gangs and money laundering". A number of the Committee's recommendations were incorporated into Bill C‑24, which received Royal Assent in December 2001.



[1][19]  R. v. Parker 49 O.R. (3d) 481.

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