February 19, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
“Bill 22 is a start, but doesn’t go nearly far enough. We need radical change”: Wellness Within, an Organization for Health and Justice.
Wellness Within is a registered non-profit organization working for reproductive justice, prison abolition, and health equity in K’jipuktuk, Mi’kma’ki (Halifax, Nova Scotia).
Bill 22, which will allow for the removal of mandatory minimum sentences for some offences and the partial decriminalization of substance use, is simply inadequate, and will not meaningfully address the overpolicing and overincarceration of people who use drugs nor prevent overdose deaths. We join with other advocates in demanding the full abolition of mandatory sentences, decriminalization of all drugs, and respect for the autonomy of people who use drugs.
The abolition of mandatory minimum sentences is a necessary step towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and towards addressing systemic racism in the criminal justice system. In 2017/2018, Indigenous adults accounted for 30% of admissions to provincial/ territorial custody and 29% of admissions to federal custody, while representing approximately 4% of the Canadian adult population. Indigenous women are the fastest growing population in Canadian federal prisons. Black people are overrepresented in Canadian federal prisons by 300%. Mandatory minimum sentences prevent judges from considering the impact of gender, racism and inter-generational colonial trauma on the experience of criminalization.
Wellness Within joins with health care professionals and advocates across the country to call for the complete decriminalization and of drugs and access to safe drug supplies to prevent overdose deaths. Substance use is rooted in trauma. Prisons are violent, unhygienic, and fundamentally unhealthy environments. Criminalizing drug use and incarcerating people who use drugs only results in retraumatization. To end the overdose epidemic that has taken over 17,000 lives so far in this country, we must act boldly. We made massive public policy changes to respond to the public health crisis of COVID-19. We can make evidence-informed decisions to decriminalize all drugs. Instead of investing in penal systems we must invest in services that support health, including housing, health care, and economic equity.
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