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Drug criminalization causing overdose epidemic: lawsuit

21,000-plus Canadian overdose deaths since 2016 largely preventable, group claims
Canada's drug laws have contributed to the deaths of some 21,000 Canadians from 2016 to 2020, a lawsuit filed in BC Supreme Court claims

The Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs is suing Ottawa, saying laws criminalizing of drugs behind the overdose crisis are unconstitutional.

The suit says criminalization of drugs has created fear among drug users, resulting in stigmatization by family, peers, police, doctors, social services and others.

That fear, it said, has contributed to the largely preventable deaths of some 21,000 Canadians from 2016 to 2020.

That is partly because drug users must go to illegal sources for their drugs, the claim says. And, since 2012, that drug supply has been increasingly tainted with deadly fentanyl.

“Contaminated drugs can be sold by drug dealers because they are immune from the accountability of a regulated market,” says the suit, filed against the Attorney General of Canada in BC Supreme Court August 31. “Contaminated drugs exist and predominate as no safe and lawful marketplace exists.”

The suit calls the regulatory scheme in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act “a prohibitionist scheme.”

The association is working with four plaintiffs including harm reduction workers and counsellors. All have experienced heavy, addictive drug use.

The specific offences they are taking aim at are those around possession, trafficking for subsistence, trafficking to support drug use costs and trafficking to create safe supply for users.

All claim multiple harms flowing from the criminalization regime.

The suit asserts Canada’s drug laws have infringed users’ constitutional rights to life, security of the person and liberty.

The suit noted certain vulnerable groups such as Indigenous peoples and members of the LGBT community have suffered disproportionately under the current drug law regime.

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