Police will keep arresting even if most pot charges dropped: De Caire

Most marijuana possession charges Hamilton police lay are dropped once they get to court — but don't expect enforcement strategies to change, the police chief says.

Courts attempt to divert criminal charges 83% of the time, yet police enforcement is way up

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire says pot possession charges are laid by police based on current laws – and they'll keep arresting people even if the majority of those charges are dropped once they get to the courts. (John Rieti/CBC)

Even though most marijuana possession charges Hamilton police lay are dropped once they get to court, investigators will continue to arrest smokers just like they always have, Police Chief Glenn De Caire says.

"We're going to continue to make the arrests and we're going to continue to lay the charges," De Caire said on The Bill Kelly Show Wednesday, when asked about a CBC story that showed most charges never lead to a plea or conviction.

"We have seen significant crime reductions in our different neighbourhoods that are facing these challenges," De Caire said.

But the courts have shown little interest in prosecuting these charges, and attempted to divert more than 80 per cent of last year's 455 possession charges. Just over 62 per cent of them were successfully diverted through mandatory donations or drug education programs.

We will leave the Crown attorney to make that final decision on prosecutions.- Police Chief Glenn De Caire

Yet enforcement has risen sharply. Compared to 2006, the number of marijuana-related charges laid in Hamilton has increased by 154 per cent.

Once charges are laid, the matter is out of police hands, De Caire says. "The Hamilton police service have no say in the prosecution of those matters – that's up to the Crown attorney to deal with."

Diversions happen through the John Howard Society of Hamilton/Burlington, which runs a "Direct Accountability" program for the courts.

If the diversion process is completed successfully (usually through a donation or drug education program), then the charge is withdrawn and there is no criminal record or conviction.

De Caire told Bill Kelly that diversion programs can be especially useful for young people. "We want to give young people the opportunity who have perhaps made this mistake to find a way forward in their life," he said.

So far in 2015, only 20 young people have had their charges diverted to the John Howard Society program, compared to 156 adults.

Nineteen of those youth referrals were "successfully completed" with a one-day education program.

De Caire says that Hamilton police's charges are laid "based on current laws."

But those laws show signs of changing. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ordered a major overhaul of Canada's criminal justice system that will hatch a priority plan to regulate and legalize pot.

But until then, don't expect to see a change in approach from police. "We will leave the Crown attorney to make that final decision on prosecutions," De Caire said.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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