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DAPHNE BRAMHAM: Misleading Conservative ads fan fears in Chinese community

A Conservative Party ad that has appeared on Facebook.
A Conservative Party ad that has appeared on Facebook.

The close-up image of lines of white powder, a razor blade and thick, white fingers is startling enough for most Facebook users. But it’s the words in the Conservative Party of Canada’s Facebook ad — in Chinese characters — that are more attention grabbing.

“(Liberal Leader Justin) Trudeau has already legalized marijuana, he now plans to legalize hard drugs! If you want to get the latest in Chinese, please press Like in our Facebook page.”

Alarming? Yes, it is. It’s also not true.

The message is repeated in a bilingual (Chinese/English) post dated Oct. 5 on the Conservative Party’s Chinese-language Facebook page. “Do you want Justin Trudeau to legalize hard drugs in your community?” reads the headline. “Justin Trudeau has a plan to legalize hard drugs!”

No similar posting was made on the party’s main English-language Facebook page.

The Conservatives base the fake claim on an exchange between Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Trudeau during a recent leaders’ debate. In French, Scheer accuses the Liberals of having a “secret agenda to legalize or decriminalize hard drugs.”

But Liberal spokesman Guy Gallant said Wednesday, “That (legalization) is not in our plans.”

What the Liberals’ platform says is that the “default option for first-time, non-violent offenders” would require going to drug court where they would get “quick access to treatment,” which in turn would “prevent more serious crimes.”

To make it work, the Liberals promise more community-based services, more residential treatment beds as well as a scaling up of the most effective harm-reduction services such as supervised consumption sites.

Drug use in Portugal, once the highest in Europe, is now amongst the lowest, especially among youth

Although it lacks many details, it sounds similar to what Portugal did in 2001 in response to its opioid addiction crisis.

There, all street drugs (including marijuana) are illegal. But anyone found with drugs within the set limits for personal use is sent to the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, where counsellors and therapists come up with a plan to direct the user to whatever services are needed to help them quit taking drugs.

Anyone found with larger amounts is charged with trafficking, goes through the criminal justice system, and can be sent to jail for up to 12 years.

Drug use in Portugal, once the highest in Europe, is now amongst the lowest, especially among youth, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s 2019 report .

While Portugal had only 30 overdose deaths in 2016, the year quoted in the report, 4,588 Canadians died from overdoses in 2018, and another 1,082 died in the first three months this year.

“If Justin Trudeau tells us precisely when he is going to legalize dangerous drugs, we will amend our ads to reflect the new information,” Conservative spokesman Simon Jefferies said Wednesday in an email.

All but one of the links provided by Conservatives to “prove” that Liberals would legalize illicit drugs — the French-language debate clip, a Trudeau interview with Global TV, news stories about individual Liberal candidates, and a YouTube video from the 2018 Liberal convention — all refer not to legalization, but to decriminalization. Some even include specific references to the Portuguese model.

The exception was a 2014 tweet from Michael Den Tandt, the Liberal candidate in the Ontario riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. At the time, he was a National Post reporter and his tweet urged legalization and control of recreational drugs and prostitution, along with an end to supply management and lower taxes. None of those are Liberal party policies.

Conservatives deny a deliberate attempt to confuse voters by using “decriminalization” and “legalization” interchangeably.

All but one of the links provided by Conservatives to “prove” that Liberals would legalize illicit drugs all refer not to legalization, but to decriminalization

The Conservatives have yet to release their full platform, but last week Scheer promised to “tackle drug addiction” in an announcement that focused on guns, gangs and sentencing.

A background paper released at the same time said Conservatives would invest in treatment and recovery centres, including recovery high schools, have a national campaign warning children and youth about the dangers of drug use, and partner with municipalities and schools to clean up used needles.

Illicit drugs are anathema for many new Canadians from Asia and for those who recall China’s opium wars. In Hong Kong, for example, penalties for possession of illicit drugs can be up to seven years in jail and a fine of C$170,000. In China, drug trafficking can bring the death penalty, as two Canadians found out earlier this year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand also have a death penalty for trafficking.

As was apparent when Trudeau’s government legalized marijuana, changing drug laws is much less acceptable to many Asian voters than to other Canadians. And it just so happens that Chinese-speaking voters account for a significant percentage in some heavily contested ridings — including Richmond Centre, Steveston-Richmond East, and Vancouver Kingsway in B.C.

Deliberately creating confusion and misunderstanding has, unfortunately, proven to be a far too effective strategy south of the border, and it seems to have made its way north.

Bad at any time, it’s worse when it targets voters whose first language isn’t English, and especially confuses an issue that affects thousands of Canadians with addictions whose lives are at stake every day.

Yet, that’s what Conservatives are willing to risk in this ugly, too-close-to-call election.

dbramham@postmedia.com

Twitter: @bramham_daphne


What the parties promise

Liberals

• Expand community-based services.

• More in-patient rehabilitation beds.

• Scale up the “most effective programs such as extending hours for InSite and other safe consumption sites”.

• Drug treatment court as the default option for first-time, non-violent offenders charged with possession to help drug users get quick access to treatment and to prevent more serious crimes.

Conservatives

• Revise the Canadian Drugs and Substance Strategy to focus on helping more

• Canadians recover from addiction.

• Invest in treatment and recovery centres, including recovery high schools, to give those who suffer from addiction, their families, and those who have recovered, spaces where they can get the help they need and support each other.

• Launch a national education campaign to warn children, youth, and teenagers about the dangers of drug use while highlighting the benefits to young Canadians of staying drug free.

• Work with municipalities and school districts to help clean up used needles in public spaces.

NDP

• Declare a public health emergency.

• Decriminalize drug possession.

• Tougher enforcement of trafficking.

• Support overdose prevention sites.

• Expand access to treatment on demand.

• Investigate role pharmaceutical companies played in fuelling the opioid crisis

• Seek compensation from Big Pharma.

Greens

• Declare a national health emergency.

• Decriminalize drug possession.

• Ensure people have access to a screened supply of drugs and to medical support they need to combat their addictions.

• Increase funding to community-based organizations to test drugs and make Naloxone kits widely available to treat overdoses.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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