A C.B.C. Documentary: “We’re not arresting ourselves out of the problem, are we?”
Written by Mary-Clare MacKinnon, Barrister & Solicitor
A C.B.C. radio documentary gets its title from a comment made by Inspector McKenna of the Brampton Police acknowledging that just arresting people addicted to drugs doesn’t get rid of the problem.
Drug treatment courts started in Canada in the 1990s and this doc examines the Brampton model that was established 2 years ago. Drug Treatment courts are based on rehabilitation and are meant for charged persons whose criminal activity is linked to drug addiction. If they are accepted into the program, the clients are put into a strict regimen with counselling, urine screens and weekly court dates. While most lawyers would usually tell their clients to remain silent, Drug Treatment Court requires the client to admit any slip-ups to the judge. Not being honest to the judge can result in getting kicked out of the program. “Using” or missing an appointment may result in a sanction or a punishment (doing community hours, for example). The court realizes that “slipping up” is often part of the process at the beginning.
Judge Maresca comments throughout the program as well as some of the clients: “Sarah” who had gotten addicted after she was prescribed percoset when she got her appendix removed. “Elizabeth” who had run out of good veins to inject heroin and turned to smoking crack. She describes her life on drugs as “being possessed”. And we hear from “Frank”, in his 60s who has been an addict since the 1970s.
Once a client is in the Drug Treatment court, their bail is dependent on their success in the court. The presiding Judge has the right to revoke their bail for a period of time if the client isn’t following the program. When “Elizabeth” doesn’t comply, her bail is revoked for 5 days but, after she asks the court to give her time to go home and feed her pets, Judge Maresca gives her cab fare to go home after which she comes back and goes into custody for 5 days.
Judge Maresca acknowledges that only 10% of those in the program graduate and, afterward, stay clean. However, that doesn’t take into account who in the remaining 90% use drugs less often or who commit fewer criminal offences. In 2017, there were 4,000 overdose deaths in Canada. Judge Maresca says that, while Naloxone save lives, she hopes that the drug treatment court changes lives.
There are several drug treatment courts in southern Ontario, including Oshawa, but they are “unfunded”. Even in Brampton, it is a donation from a local Rotary Club that funds drug screenings.
There are community treatment courts in many of the cities that Aitken Robertson serves.
As for the clients featured, “Frank” is still clean and has reached out to re-connect with his family. “Sarah” still struggles with anxiety but has clean drug screens and “Elizabeth” is in residential treatment and will be there for several months. She is doing well.