B.C. lawyers call Canada’s drug possession laws unconstitutional

B.C. lawyers call Canada’s drug possession laws unconstitutional

Two B.C.-based lawyers, including one from Vancouver Island, are challenging the constitutionality of Canada’s drug possession laws, saying they infringe on resident’s charter rights.

Sarah Runyon of Marion and Runyon Criminal Lawyers in Campbell River and Caitlin Shane with Pivot Legal Society filed a notice in B.C. provincial court in Courtenay on behalf of applicant Ryan Blore, who was charged with two counts of drug possession in Courtenay in 2022.

The lawyers are looking for his charges to be stayed or dismissed, saying that Canada’s current drug possession laws infringe on citizen’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Specifically, the court challenge cites sections 7 and 12 of the Charter.

Section 7 refers to everyone’s “right to life, liberty and security,” and the lawyers say simply possessing drugs prevents drug users from accessing vital services without fear of legal repercussions.

“For many, simply travelling to a safe consumption site with their own drug supply can result in arrest, detention, and entanglement in a prolonged court process,” said Pivot in a release Tuesday.

The lawyers say Canada’s drug possession laws could also be considered cruel and unusual punishment, which is barred under section 12 of the Charter.

“Criminalizing what is for many people who use drugs a chronic and relapsing illness constitutes cruel and unusual treatment and punishment,” said Runyon.

Drug possession has been in the spotlight ever since B.C. decriminalized the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs in January.

Some advocates, like Runyon and Shane, say decriminalization should expand further than the current permitted amount of 2.5 grams, while others would like to undo the policy altogether.

Recently, on Sept. 18, the province banned the possession of drugs within 15 metres of any play structure or playground, as well as near skate parks, wading pools and spray pools.

The province said it also requested that Health Canada amend its decriminalization policy to add buffer zones around schools and child care facilities.

It’s a move that’s attracted municipal attention as well.

Just this week, a Victoria councillor proposed expanding the province’s drug possession buffer zones from 15 metres up to 30 metres in the city.

In July, Campbell River council also made an amendment to its “public nuisance bylaw,” which banned drug use near municipal public spaces, like parks, tennis courts, bus shelters or government buildings.

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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