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March 23, 2010 -- The Province (BC CAN)

Study: Drug-Crime Crackdown May Do More Harm Than Good: B.C. Researchers

By Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News Service

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


OTTAWA -- The Conservative government's efforts to crack down on drug crimes may do more harm than good, suggests a recent report.

The study released Tuesday from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS concludes that stepping up the enforcement of drug laws is unlikely to reduce gang violence tied to drugs or stop the circulation of drugs in communities.

On the contrary, the report notes that gun violence and murders are likely a consequence of drug prohibition -- and laws aimed at breaking up drug gangs could unintentionally increase violence.

The researchers say violence emerges when organized-crime groups compete for the massive profits made in the drug trade on the black market.

"These findings obviously have direct relevance to recent bills that are being proposed, including C-15, in terms of their ability to reduce violence," said Dr. Evan Wood, one of the report's authors, at a news conference on Parliament Hill.

"The scientific evidence clearly shows that these types of legal manoeuvres will not reduce the flow of drugs into our communities, they will not reduce violence, and if anything, they may actually increase violence."

Bill C-15 seeks to impose mandatory jail time for certain drug crimes and to increase the maximum penalties for marijuana production. The proposed law was among the bills that died when Parliament was prorogued in December, but the federal government has said it plans to re-introduce it.

The B.C.-based researchers conducted a scientific review of 15 studies -- two from Australia and the rest American -- related to the impact of heightened law enforcement on violence rates. Thirteen of the studies showed that stepping up enforcement resulted in increased rates of drug-related violence, according to the review.

Wood said efforts in other countries, specifically the U.S. and Mexico, to crack down on drug crimes have backfired and done little to drive down drug use.

Tougher jail sentences here in Canada will not deter drug use or disrupt the organized-crime rings who bring drugs to the streets of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and elsewhere, he said.

"We know that these types of laws just put a huge burden on the taxpayer," said Wood, referring to the cost of operating jam-packed prisons. "What's being proposed will not be effective, in terms of Bill C-15, and it will likely result in a range of harms."

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson disagreed with Wood's assessment, and added that Bill C-15 is aimed at organized-crime operations.

"It's not targeted at the unfortunate individual who has become addicted or is experimenting -- we want to help that individual," Nicholson told reporters. "We want to get the message out that this is not a way to live your life."

Nicholson also said the government has "no intention" of legalizing illegal drugs.

The government has pledged to spend nearly $70 million to bolster law-enforcement initiatives if Bill C-15 passes. That amount is in addition to $102 million already committed for heightened enforcement activities under the government's national anti-drug strategy.

The full 26-page report, "Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review," is available at

Also visit our "Studies and Reports" section.

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