Canada’s Largest City the World’s First Municipality to Sign
Declaration, Support Alternatives to the War on Drugs
The City of Toronto is the first municipality to join a long list of Nobel Laureates and academic, political, law enforcement and health leaders to endorse and sign the Vienna Declaration, the official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS conference (AIDS 2010) held in Vienna, Austria from July 18-23, 2010.
“We welcome the City of Toronto’s leadership in signing the Vienna Declaration and publicly recognizing the severe health, social and criminal justice issues caused by the global War on Drugs,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a Canadian physician and Chair of the Vienna Declaration writing committee. “Toronto City Council’s support for a full policy reorientation for illicit drugs marks a sea change for drug policy in Canada. We hope that other cities across the country and around the world follow the city’s lead.”
The Vienna Declaration (www.viennadeclaration.com) is a scientific statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. More than 16,500 people have signed the declaration since its launch on June 27, 2010, including six Nobel Laureates, thousands of scientific experts, law enforcement leaders, members of the judiciary and a diversity of academic, faith-based, and civil society organizations around the world.
The declaration has also been endorsed by former heads of state including Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former President of Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (former President of México) and César Gaviria (former President of Colombia). In Canada, the declaration has been signed by five chief provincial medical health officers and the Canadian Public Health Association.
“Toronto City Council’s endorsement of the Vienna Declaration underscores our city’s commitment to evidence-based policy making and our support for improving community health and safety by advocating for drug policies that can meaningfully reduce harm,” said Councillor Kyle Rae, Chair of the City of Toronto’s Board of Health subcommittee on HIV/AIDS and the councillor responsible for bringing the Vienna Declaration forward to council.
In response to the complexity of the drug problem, the City of Toronto’s Drug Strategy follows the four pillars approach, which includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. Support for initiatives such as the Toronto Harm Reduction Task Force, a community-driven city initiative that provides education and services to individuals and communities, demonstrates that Toronto is committed to health and evidence-based approaches to drug use.
The Vienna Declaration highlights how over reliance on drug law enforcement results in a range of health and social harms including growing HIV rates among people who use drugs.
“The number of HIV infections attributable to injection drug use in Toronto, as well as in the rest of the country, is unacceptably high,” said David Miller, Mayor of Toronto. “In Toronto, we are committed to a balanced response to drug use that focuses tax resources on measures that can meaningfully improve community health and safety.”
“The War on Drugs approach fuels the AIDS epidemic in Canadian cities and results in violence and increased crime rates, yet there is no evidence that drug prohibition has reduced rates of drug use or drug supply,” added Dr. Julio Montaner, the Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Chair of the AIDS 2010 conference and past President of International AIDS Society (IAS). “Toronto’s endorsement of the Vienna Declaration reflects innovative leadership and the fact that more Canadians recognize the futility and expense of the War on Drugs, and are demanding that their elected officials enact effective policies.”
Toronto’s call for drug policy review and reform builds on a progressive resolution approved by the United States Conference of Mayors in 2007. The resolution states that: “the United States Conference of Mayors believes the War on Drugs has failed and calls for a New Bottom Line in US drug policy, a public health approach that concentrates more fully on reducing the negative consequences associated with drug abuse, while ensuring that our policies do not exacerbate these problems or create new social problems of their own.”
The impact of the Vienna Declaration will be measured over the coming years, and progress reports on the adoption of evidence-based policies will be presented at subsequent International AIDS Conferences. The adoption of the Vienna Declaration’s recommendations among high-level policymakers at the local, national, and international levels will be tracked by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, founded by Dr. Wood. Should additional policy-makers or councils wish to endorse the Vienna Declaration they are encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Vienna Declaration was drafted by an international team of scientists and other experts. It was initiated by the IAS, the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Those wishing to sign on may visit www.viennadeclaration.com, where the full text of the declaration, along with a list of authors, is available. The two-page declaration references 28 reports, describing the scientific evidence documenting the effectiveness of public health approaches to drug policy and the negative consequences of approaches that criminalize drug users.
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