The evidence is clear: Bill S-10 will result in expensive, ineffective sentencing

published on February 7, 2011

Health, research and academic leaders oppose proposed law’s mandatory minimum prison terms, which do not reduce violence or drug use or improve public health and safety

Ottawa and Vancouver – Over 550 health professionals, including more than 260 physicians, researchers, and scientists, from across Canada have voiced clear opposition to proposed drug sentencing legislation in an open letter issued to the federal government this morning.

Canada’s federal government has tabled Bill S-10, the Penalties for Organized Crime Act, which proposes a range of amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and other Acts including introducing mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug offenses.

Canadian health professionals, researchers, and scientists, led by the Urban Health Research Initiative, a program of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Canadian Public Health Association argue that “tough on crime” measures included in Bill S-10 are ineffective and expensive.

“The scientific evidence shows that mandatory minimum sentences will not cut violent crime, reduce drug use or improve public safety,” said Dr. Thomas Kerr, Co-Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative. “To turn the tide on organized crime and drug use in Canada we need illicit drug policies based on the best available scientific evidence. Unfortunately, Bill S-10 turns its back on evidence-based research in favor of misguided political appeal.”

Scientists, researchers, and health professionals signed an open letter explaining to the federal government that mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes are a costly and ineffective response to drug use and organized crime in Canada. The letter also notes that Bill S-10 will have negative impacts on youth, people of Aboriginal ancestry, and the public health of Canadians.

“Mandatory minimum sentences neither prevent organized crime nor deter the use of illicit drugs,” said Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “The Canadian government is proposing a policy direction that has cost jurisdictions in the United States billions of dollars without achieving the desired benefits of lower crime and better public health.”

Mandatory minimum sentence legislation is being repealed in New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Connecticut due to high costs to taxpayers and the disproportionate harms caused to ethnic minority communities.

ï_”Bill S-10 will put small scale growers of marijuana in jail for a minimum of six months, even though the RCMP’s study of some 25,000 cultivation files reveals that violence or the threat of violence among cultivators is rare,” stated Neil Boyd, professor and Associate Director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University. “We will be spending tens of millions of dollars to imprison individuals who represent little if any real threat to the public.”

Bill S-10 comes at a time of growing consensus that drug policy approaches that prioritize public health are more effective at curbing drug use and drug-related harms than costly enforcement schemes, such as those proposed in Bill S-10. Data from Portugal, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and other settings suggest that public health-oriented illicit drug policies have resulted in positive and sustained reductions in a variety of harms from drug use, such as HIV infection, and have not resulted in increases in illicit drug use.

“Public health experts and academics recognize that “get tough’ policies such as mandatory minimum sentences do not achieve their intended goals and come with financial, social, and public health costs that Canadians are not prepared to accept,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. “It is time to abandon ineffective “get tough’ polices in favour of scientific, evidence-based policies. Let’s trade “get tough’ for “get smart’ policies.”

Bill S-10 will be before the House of Commons alongside the new federal budget. A full list of researchers, scientists, and health professionals who have signed the letter can be found online at


About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS:

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility. The BC-CfE is a program at St Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. Located in Vancouver, Canada, the BC-CfE is dedicated to improving the health of British Columbians with HIV through the development, monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases.

About the Urban Health Research Initiative:

The Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI), established in 2007, is a program of the BC-CfE. UHRI’s mission is to improve the health of individuals and communities through research to inform policy. UHRI research programs are based on a network of studies that have been developed to help identify and understand the many factors that affect the health of urban populations, with a focus on substance use, infectious diseases, the urban environment and homelessness.

About the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network:

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network ( promotes the human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, in Canada and internationally, through research and analysis, advocacy and litigation, public education and community mobilization.
Media contact:
Mahafrine Petigara
Edelman (on behalf of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS)
[email protected]
604-623-3007 ext. 297