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No one remedy for the ecstasy trade Add to ...

Canadians have long celebrated their nation's status as a leader in global trade. But news this week about Canada's latest export surge is cause for shame rather than pride.

The United Nations' World Drug Report said Canada has emerged as the primary supplier of ecstasy in North America and is a major exporter of methamphetamine around the world. According to the report, much of the trend is being driven by Asian gangs on the West Coast, who bring in the chemicals used to manufacture these synthetic drugs, by ship from China. Motorcycle gangs in Central Canada also contribute to Canada's illegal drug exports, which are fairly easily moved from our extensive coastlines.

Antonio Maria Costa, the UN's drug czar, who heads the Office on Drugs and Crime, politely "invited" Canada to be as pro-active as the United States and Mexico in restricting imports and purchases of the chemicals used to produce these drugs. He called such rules "preventative strikes" to curb the proliferation of drug labs.

In reply, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson blamed opposition parties for slowing the passage of government legislation introduced in 2007 to boost jail terms for drug traffickers. The bill would impose mandatory minimum sentences on traffickers, and is intended to respond to concerns among the public and police that courts are too lenient in drug cases.

But critics have complained that mandatory sentencing rules leave judges unable to use discretion when there are mitigating circumstances, and could fill jails with minor offenders. Indeed, two Department of Justice studies concluded mandatory minimums have not been proved to constitute effective deterrents in other jurisdictions, such as the United States, while one British Columbia criminologist has calculated that the new rules would send about 700 more marijuana growers a year to jail in the province. That's enough to fill a whole new (but non-existent) prison.

It's far from clear that mandatory sentencing is the magic bullet to stem the tide of drug exports offshore. But effective or not, such laws will certainly not cover all the bases in the war on these drugs.

Mr. Costa has urged legislators to turn their minds to other significant gaps in enforcement. It is a reasonable request from one of the world's leading anti-drug voices. Instead of using the UN's report to fling tired political insults, Mr. Nicholson should give its recommendations sober consideration.

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