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Proposed legislation to curb drug use is a civil rights violation: legal expert

By Joe Thomson Sep 26, 2023 | 9:33 AM

Public Safety Minister Kris Austin. Image: Government of New Brunswick YouTube video capture

New Brunswick’s latest attempt at dealing with substance abuse is drawing criticism from civil rights experts.

The province is looking into subjecting people who have drug addiction issues to involuntary treatment.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) released a statement calling the legislation unlawful and harmful.

On top of this, they say that research has proven that forced treatment is unsuccessful when it comes to helping people who struggle with addiction.

Harini Sivalingam is the director of the equality program at the CCLA. She says that one of the most important factors in a person’s road to recovery is their choosing to seek help.

“It’s not helpful to force someone into treatment against their will when they’re not ready, or willing to seek that kind of treatment,” said Sivalingam.

What she’s truly concerned about though is how the legislation would be in clear violation of a person’s human rights.

“The deprivation of liberty is really one of the most fundamental violations of, of an individual’s rights,” said Sivalingam.

She says that only in the most extreme circumstances should it be used as a punishment or a safety measure, such as sending someone to prison or confining them to a mental institution to protect themselves and others.

“People that have substance abuse issues, that are not harming anyone, that are not harming themselves, not engaging in criminal activity, forcing them into treatment against their will is a significant violation of the of their rights. It’s a state-enforced infringement on their personal autonomy and the right to dignity,” said Sivalingam.

Public Safety Minister Kris Austin made the proposal in an attempt to address crime and drug use rates across the province.