A former criminal defense lawyer vying for the leadership of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) says he would call for decriminalizing possession of all drugs for personal use.
On Sunday, at one of the last NDP leadership debates before party members choose a successor to Tom Mulcair, candidates including former deputy leader of the Ontario NDP Jagmeet Singh were asked how they would respond to Canada’s opioid crisis.
"I can tell you that people who are charged with personal possession offences are often those who are poor, often those who have mental health issues and often those who are addicted,” said Singh, who recently made headlines for his calm and compassionate response to a racist heckler in Brampton, ON.
"This does not sound to me like a criminal justice problem. That sounds to me like a social justice problem and a health-care problem.
“I would call for the decriminalization of all personal possession offences when it comes to drugs. Period."
Singh added that it’s “unacceptable” to have a system in Canada that "criminalizes those that are already so worse off in society. It puts people who are already marginalized into a worse position.
"What we need to do is decriminalize and work towards harm reduction, supports and rehabilitation," he said.
None of Singh’s fellow candidates – MPs Charlie Angus, Guy Caron, and Niki Ashton – were quite as sold on decriminalization.
Caron offered that decriminalization was "a good idea, to be studied”, while Ashton called for the approval of safe injection sites. Angus floated the idea of developing programs that provide addicts with safe access to drugs while investing in other recovery methods.
NDP members will start voting for a new leader on Sept. 18.