Indigenous harm reduction advocate slams federal drug bill as ‘disappointing’

A picture of Tracey Draper, program Coordinator with the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society, against a purple office wall
Tracey Draper, program coordinator with the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society. Photo courtesy of Tracey Draper.
Laurence Gatinel - CFRO - VancouverBC | 23-02-2021
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By David P. Ball
The federal government's new legislation reforming some of Canada's illicit drug laws fails to de-stigmatize substance users says a member of Vancouver's Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS).

Last week, federal Justice Minister David Lametti unveiled the Liberals' proposed Bill C-22, “An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and Controlled Substance Act." The goal, he said, was to reduce the massive over-representation of Indigenous and Black people in Canada's prisons.

But Tracey Draper, WAHRS' programming coordinator, said her organization's goal is still full decriminalization and removing stigma from substance use, which she said is the root cause of the lives shattered in the justice system. And all of that has always had deep colonial roots, she told The Pulse on CFRO.

“They haven’t done anything about stigma,” Draper said.

The legislation, which still has to face debate in Parliament and several readings, proposes to scrap mandatory minimum sentences for non-violence offenses such as simple drug possession, which were introduced by Stephen Harper's former Conservative government in 2012.

Those mandatory minimums take away a judge's discretion to reduce penalties based on an individual's life circumstances. Indigenous people were swept up in those mandatory minimums at a far greater rate than non-Indigenous Canadians.

“I was hopeful that non-violent criminal people in jail right now would be helped," Draper, who is from Peepeekisis Cree Nation, said in an interview. “We’re talking about decriminalization and that hasn’t happened.”