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MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES FOR DRUG OFFENCES COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE TO PUBLIC HEALTH AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Bill C-26 is ill-advised, says national AIDS organization

TORONTO, March 14, 2008 - Implementing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, as proposed in the federal government's Bill C-26 currently before Parliament, both creates unnecessary risks to public health and infringes basic human rights principles, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said today. The statement comes in reaction to the latest public announcement by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, at a public event in Regina this morning.

"The federal government is intent on implementing laws that have been shown to do real damage to both public health and human rights," said Richard Elliott, the Executive Director of the Legal Network. "The U.S. has had mandatory minimum sentences for some time, yet the drug problem there is only getting worse, while the number of nonviolent offenders in prison is dramatically increasing. This brings inevitable negative health consequences - including the spread of HIV and hepatitis C through sharing equipment to inject the drugs that make their way into prisons despite the government's best efforts."

The Legal Network also rejected the government’s suggestions that the law will only “get tough on drug dealers” while showing compassion for their “victims”.

"This distinction is often artificial, particularly when harsh minimum sentences are mandated for dealing in even small quantities of drugs," said Elliott. "The real profiteers in the drug market - those who traffic in large quantities of illegal drugs - distance themselves from more visible drug-trafficking activities and are rarely captured by law enforcement efforts. Instead, it is people who are addicted and involved in small-scale, street-level drug distribution to support their addictions who commonly end up being charged with drug trafficking and who would bear the brunt of this harsh sentencing measure."

For additional information, the Legal Network's briefing paper - "Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offences: Why Everyone Loses" - is available at www.aidslaw.ca.

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For more information, please contact:

Vajdon Sohaili
Communications Specialist
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Telephone: +1 416 595-1666 ext. 227 E-mail: vsohaili@aidslaw.ca
Website: www.aidslaw.ca


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