Doc against drug bill

A Coquitlam family doctor is one of more than 550 Canadian physicians, researchers and health scientists voicing their opposition to a federal crime bill that would impose mandatory minimum jail terms for people arrested on drug offences.

The Conservative government’s Bill S-10 — which seeks automatic prison sentences for drug-related crimes including marijuana possession — is one step closer to becoming law after passing a vote in the Senate in December.

But the bill is not only meeting with political opposition on Parliament Hill, it’s finding resistance from doctors across the country as well.

Dr. John Edworthy has a practice on Austin Avenue and he told The Tri-City News Wednesday he doesn’t think locking up all drug offenders is smart policy from a public health standpoint.

“To say somebody must go to jail for 10 years after a particular offence might be right nine times out of 10 but not 10 times out of 10,” he said. “So you’re going to end up sending people to jail inappropriately.”

Edworthy added that he believes judges should be given the discretion to consider what’s best for the health of the individuals and of society when sentencing for drug-related crimes.

That’s why Edworthy has joined 563 other health professionals across Canada in signing a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal opposition leaders opposing the bill.

“I don’t sign very many petitions. I have to feel particularly strongly about something to,” Edworthy said. “I see drug addiction as an illness... I realize that courts are backed up right now but I think we should deal with each person on a case-by-case basis... not rigid guidelines that force a minimum jail sentence.”

The letter, written by Vancouver’s Urban Health Research Initiative, cites four reasons the health practitioners oppose the bill: their belief that mandatory jail terms do not reduce drug use; that such sentences disproportionately affect youth and First Nations people; that such laws have a negative impact on public health and drive up HIV rates; and that mandatory jail terms are expensive and ineffective.

Supporters of the bill say it would target the drug traffickers and gangs that prey upon drug addicts and bring violence to the streets, especially in the Lower Mainland.

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