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Archibald Kaiser: Harm Prevention

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Episode Description

In this episode, Professor Kaiser of the Schulich School of Law looks at drugs and substances issues in the criminal law as public health issues, and explores Canada’s drugs and substances strategy on harm reduction post-Cannabis Act. Drawing insights from international law and human rights, he explores how a rights-based approach to harm reduction may offer promising opportunities for reform in these, and other areas of the criminal justice system.

Professor Kaiser is an expert in the fields of criminal justice, criminal procedure, mental health in the criminal and civil law, and disability law. He also holds a cross-appointment as Professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine.

Contents: 1:45 – The origins of using the criminal law as a way to deal with drug use, and the subsequent total failure of the “war on drugs”

2:50 – How over-reliance on the criminal law has caused more harm than good

5:45 – How to define harm reduction and human rights? What are the connections?

5:50 – Health and Human Rights Resource Guide

13: 50 – Legalization of marijuana in Canada: The Cannabis Act

17:10 – The Cannabis Act suggests the government may be making progress in some areas; but in others, is still stigmatizing drug use and lacking in efforts at comprehensive harm reduction

17:55 – The 2017 “Insite” Case (PHS Community Services v Canada (Minister of Health)

19:20 – The 2019 election: the parties’ platforms on harm reduction

25:35 – Until we get to the point where decriminalization of currently illegal drugs is considered, we will be “stuck in the criminal mold”

26:45 – For the majority of governments, drug policy remains an ideological issue – rather than a societal issue that needs to be addressed based on evidence and dialogue.

30:10 – The human rights of people who use drugs – drug use, drug dependence

31:30 – Professor Kaiser explains, referencing the UN, how drug use and drug dependence should not be conflated; and the “right to health is applicable irrespective of the fact of drug use” and access to health is a fundamental human right.

38:20 – The fundamental problem with the policy outlook that would support only abstinence and prohibition

43:30 – A moral and legal obligation on governments to provide harm reduction services—and a public policy imperative to support decriminalization

47:45 – The enforceability of either the implications of the outcome of the Insite case, or of instruments of international law, remains uncertain

52:20 – Canada’s new Drugs and Substances Strategy

59:20 – The role of Provinces in relation to federal strategy; Nova Scotia’s non-profit, non-governmental overdose prevention site, HaliFIX; broader human rights and public health strategies yet to come?

1:06:20 – The role of the legal profession in engaging with substance-use-related issues in the criminal justice system. Defence lawyers, Crown attorneys, judges in a limited capacity, police, attorneys general, even law students – all have a role to play in upholding human rights, thinking about the evolution of the law, and engaging in law reform.

1:15:34 – Possibilities for applying the principles of harm reduction and a public health lens to other areas of the criminal law.