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October 4, 2007
Toronto Drug Strategy officials highlight shortcomings of new federal plan
The Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Panel has called the federal government’s recently announced “National Anti-Drug Strategy” seriously flawed given its reliance on traditional approaches that have consistently failed in the past.

“The federal strategy reverts to punitive, enforcement-driven approaches to drugs,” said Councillor Kyle Rae, Chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Panel. “Of course, we need enforcement to address drug-related crime and its impact on our communities. But, we have learned from the colossal failure of the U.S. War on Drugs that this approach does not work on its own.”

The elimination of harm reduction from the federal strategy is of particular concern to panel members.

“Around the world, countries are embracing harm reduction,” said Councillor Gord Perks, a panel member. “I am not aware of any country that has stepped back from proven health interventions in this way. Harm reduction is an integral part of a comprehensive approach to substance use along with prevention, treatment and enforcement.”

The federal plan also ignores alcohol despite the fact that this drug creates far more health, social and economic harms than illicit drugs. Youth are a major focus in the National Anti-Drug Strategy and yet the use of alcohol, in particular binge drinking, which is the most serious substance use issue for Canadian youth, is completely absent from the federal plan.

“The federal government has turned back the clock on drug policy in Canada,” said Rae. “While governments around the world are grounding their drug policy in science, Stephen Harper is basing his on ideology. Clearly this is an election platform intended to mislead Canadians.”

The federal plan does include some positive directions that fit with the Toronto Drug Strategy, which was endorsed by Toronto City Council in December 2005, such as investing in treatment and court diversion programs for youth. However, resources also need to be targeted to youth before they get in trouble with the law. Toronto is in urgent need of residential treatment options for youth as none exist at present.

The panel also welcomes new federal resources for prevention, which requires significant investment. The federal plan, however, calls for an “education campaign” to discourage youth from using drugs. This strategy is of serious concern as the research is overwhelming that education on its own is ineffective in preventing substance use.

Toronto is Canada’s largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.6 million people. It is the economic engine of Canada and one of the greenest and most creative cities in North America. In the past three years, Toronto has won more than 70 awards for quality, innovation and efficiency in delivering public services. Toronto’s government is dedicated to prosperity, opportunity and liveability for all its residents.

Media contacts:
Councillor Kyle Rae, 416-392-7903
Councillor Gord Perks, 416-392-7919



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