Time for Canada to "grow up" about drugs

    Researchers, lawyers and activists will tell over-capacity symposium
    audience what's needed in Canadian drug policy

    TORONTO, June 12 /CNW/ - Canada's leading advocacy organization on
HIV-related legal issues is calling on the federal government to commit to
national policies on drugs that are based on evidence, a key theme to be
addressed by a panel of experts this Saturday at a national symposium in
    "It's high time for Canada to grow up regarding its approach to drugs,"
says Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal
Network. "There is so much evidence about what works to make people and
communities safer, including protecting public health by preventing the spread
of HIV linked to risky drug use. Yet on so many fronts, the government ignores
or denies the evidence, and instead wastes huge sums of money on approaches
that have been discredited. Tragically, these misguided efforts contribute to
disease and distress."
    Mr. Elliott points out a number of ways in which Canada's government is
missing the mark, such as: pushing Bill C-15 through Parliament to impose
mandatory minimum sentences that have proven disastrous in the U.S.; opposing
successful, community-run supervised injection sites, even spending money to
fight them in the courts; and refusing to implement proven harm-reduction
approaches in prisons.
    These and other issues will be scrutinized by experts at this Saturday's
event. Among the speakers are Dean Wilson and Shelly Tomic, plaintiffs in the
court case aimed at keeping Vancouver's supervised injection site (Insite)
open. Wilson, the past president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
(VANDU), and the story of the struggle for Insite were profiled in the
documentary Fix: The Story of an Addicted City. Professor Carol Strike, a
leading public health researcher from the University of Toronto, will examine
the state of the research about effective HIV prevention and health promotion
for people who use drugs, and Elliott will provide an analysis of the legal
arguments in the Insite case.
    Dealing with addictions in prisons is another major topic at the
Symposium. Long-time prisoners' rights activists James Motherall and Greg
Simmons will share their personal perspectives based on their own years spent
in prison. Expert Ralf Jurgens, who recently completed a comprehensive review
of effective HIV prevention programs in prisons published by the World Health
Organization, will give an overview of the evidence for action. Lawyer Sandra
Chu will explore the legal arguments in favour of introducing needle exchange
programs in Canada's federal prisons, while advocate Giselle Dias will outline
what else is needed. The issue of prison-based needle exchanges has recently
been raised at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and
National Security as it studies how the Correctional Service of Canada is
addressing mental health and addictions in federal penitentiaries.
    The Symposium will close with an address by Senator Pierre Nolin, who in
2002 chaired the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, which recommended
decriminalizing marijuana in Canada. Senator Nolin will offer some
observations about Canada's drug laws.

    Drugs and prisons are only two of the controversial issues being
discussed at this weekend's Symposium. Other sessions will address:

    -   The criminalization of people who have exposed others to HIV: As
        criminal charges mount in the courts, this will be the focus of a
        public lecture by Justice Edwin Cameron of South Africa's
        Constitutional Court (on Friday evening, June 12th) and a panel on
        Saturday (June 13th) titled "Challenging criminal charges for HIV
        transmission and exposure." Chaired by Justice Cameron, who is the
        only openly HIV-positive public official in all of Africa, the panel
        includes leading criminal defense lawyers Marlys Edwardh and Lucie
        Joncas, advocate Michaela Clayton from Namibia and Angel Parks from
        the AIDS Committee of Toronto, as well as Professor Barry Adam from
        the University of Windsor, who is leading the first Canadian study on
        the impact of these criminal prosecutions.

    -   Canada's law on global access to affordable medicines: As Parliament
        debates streamlining "Canada's Access to Medicines Regime" (Bill
        C-393 in the House of Commons and Bill S-232 in the Senate), experts
        will weigh in on these proposals to get life-saving medicines to
        people in developing nations. Lawyer Tenu Avafia from the UN
        Development Program will outline the parameters of the global debate,
        while the following panelists flesh out the issues at stake in
        reforming Canada's legislation: Dr. Philip Berger (Chief, Department
        of Family and Community Medicine at St. Michael's Hospital will
        discuss his experience in the field in Lesotho); Bruce Clark (VP of
        Regulatory Affairs at Apotex, Canada's largest generic drug
        manufacturer, the only company to export lower-cost medicines under
        Canada's law); Professor Jillian Clare Kohler (University of Toronto
        Faculty of Pharmacy); and Cailin Morrison (legal advisor on trade and
        intellectual property law who has worked extensively with developing

    Some 200 researchers, policy-makers, lawyers, activists and community
organizations will be attending the 1st Annual Symposium on HIV, Law and Human
Rights hosted by the Legal Network.

    About the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and this Symposium

    The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (www.aidslaw.ca) promotes the human
rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and
internationally, through research, legal and policy analysis, education, and
community mobilization. In response to the need for more information and
debate, the Legal Network launched an annual forum for policy-makers, legal
professionals, health researchers, activists, and people living with or
vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The day-long event features panel discussions and
training workshops on advancing Canadian law and policy, based on scientific
evidence and human rights principles (www.aidslaw.ca/symposium).


    Saturday, June 13, 2009 - 9:00 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
    Courtyard by Marriott Hotel
    475 Yonge St. (between Wood St. and Alexander St.), Toronto
    Full schedule and list of presenters: www.aidslaw.ca/symposium

For further information:

For further information: including detailed biographies and interviews:
Gilles Marchildon, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Phone: (416) 595-1666 ext.
228, Mobile: (647) 248-2400, gmarchildon@aidslaw.ca

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