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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 2 - Policies and Practices In Canada

Chapter 11 - A National Drug Strategy?

Canada’s Drug Strategy – A Success?


This section does not claim to provide an in-depth analysis of CDS since its implementation and development in 1987. Certain key objectives, however, will be reviewed in order to determine whether or not the CDS can be deemed a success. It is important to note that, despite the considerable amounts of money spent at the federal level to control psychoactive substances, many would argue that Canada does not even have a funded national drug strategy.


In 1997 the government implemented “Program Review”, and severe financial cuts were applied to all departments, including Health Canada. The drug strategy did not escape these cuts and it sunset in 1997. In fact, there has been very little new money from the federal government for the field of addictions since.


Canada currently has no national strategy. We therefore simply do not have research data to guide us. In fact, no one knows the extent of drug consumption or prevalence in Canada because no national inquiry has been done since 1994. We therefore have to come up with hypotheses and resort to other tools to get a picture of the current situation in Canada. [1][37]


As mentioned, research, knowledge development and knowledge dissemination are severely lacking in Canada, despite the fact that these are intended to be key components of the CDS. A more complete analysis of these deficiencies in knowledge development and dissemination is set out in Chapter 6. To summarize, Canada has not given itself the means to conduct proper research and to acquire knowledge in this field. For example, only two general national drug surveys have been conducted - in 1989 and 1994. Much of the problem with respect to research and knowledge development can be attributed to the almost non-existent funding allocated to the CCSA. Considering the importance of the CCSA’s role in knowledge development and the costs of substance abuse in Canada, it is clear that its funding has been totally inadequate over the years. The recent increase to its core funding may temporarily stop the bleeding but will not allow Canada to acquire the tools necessary to conduct vital and necessary research in this area.

The CDS has, since its implementation, stated that it reflects a balance between reducing the supply of drugs and reducing the demand for drugs. While such policy objectives are easy to pronounce, they have not been reflected in reality. The Auditor General has recently indicated that, of the approximately $500 million spent annually by 11 departments or agencies at the federal level to address illicit drug use in Canada, roughly 95% is spent on supply reduction. Notwithstanding the division of constitutional powers in Canada, one would be hard pressed to argue that this allocation of funds represents a balanced approach.

Another of the key objectives of the CDS is to ensure coordination and collaboration across all federal departments and with the provinces and municipalities. The Auditor General has recently criticized the leadership provided at the federal level and recommended a drug strategy with sound co-ordination and with clear objectives and results.


Canada requires stronger leadership and more consistent co-ordination to set a strategy, common objectives, and collective performance expectations. It must be able to respond quickly to emerging concerns about illicit drug use or the illicit drug trade. The present structure for leadership and for co-ordination of federal efforts needs to be reviewed and improved. The mechanisms for co-ordination with the provinces and municipalities also need review since they cross three levels of government. [2][38]


One of the obvious weaknesses of the CDS is the failure to provide comprehensive evaluations of its objectives. For example, we are unaware of any evaluations of the prevention and treatment programs that have been funded by the federal government. This lack of evaluation is an overall concern.


Although the federal government provides leadership and co-ordination for dealing with the illicit drug problem, it has not produced any comprehensive reports that demonstrate how well Canada is managing the problem. It would be logical for Health Canada, as the lead department, to report government-wide results of Canada's efforts to reduce the demand for and the supply of illicit drugs. [3][39]


In summary, it would be difficult to declare the CDS a success when we do not even have the tools needed to determine whether or not the objectives of the strategy have been satisfied. The current strategy has, at the very least, many fundamental weaknesses. As several critics have argued one must question whether we in fact even have a comprehensive drug strategy in Canada.



[1][37]  Michel Perron, loc. cit., page71.

[2][38] Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons 2001, Chapter 11 – Illicit Drugs: The Federal Government’s Role, page 1.

[3][39] Ibid., page 22.

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