6.1 Drug Treatment Courts

Public Prosecution Service of Canada Deskbook

Guideline of the Director Issued under Section 3(3)(c) of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act

Revised January 31, 2022

Table of Contents

1. Purpose

The purpose of this guideline is to advise Crown counsel of the procedure to follow when dealing with federal charges against an accused whose sentence is being delayed to allow for participation in a drug treatment court (DTC) program.

2. Background

2.1. Drug treatment court defined

Sections 10(4) and 10(5) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) allow a court to delay sentencing while an offender with a substance use disorder either participates in a DTC program approved by the Attorney General, or attends a treatment program approved by the province. The sentencing is delayed while the offender is under the supervision of the court as outlined in s. 720(2) of the Criminal Code.Footnote 1 If the person successfully completes the treatment program, the court is not required to impose the mandatory minimum penalty (MMP) for the offence.

The objective of DTCs is to reduce substance use, crime and recidivism through the rehabilitation of persons who commit crimes to support their substance use. DTCs provide non-violent offenders suffering from a substance use disorder an opportunity to participate in community-based treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration. DTCs use a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach that involve judicial supervision, comprehensive substance use treatment, random and frequent drug testing, incentives and sanction, clinical case management, and social services support.

The following is a list of internationally recognized DTC principles adopted by the Canadian Association of Drug Treatment Court Professionals:Footnote 2

  1. Drug Treatment Courts integrate substance use disorder treatment services with justice system case processing.
  2. Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defence counsel promote public safety while protecting participants' Charter rights.
  3. Eligible participants are identified early and placed in the Drug Treatment Court program as promptly as possible.
  4. Drug Treatment Courts provide access to a continuum of drug, alcohol and other related treatments and rehabilitative services.
  5. Compliance is objectively monitored by frequent substance testing.
  6. A coordinated strategy governs Drug Treatment Court response to participants' compliance and non-compliance.
  7. Swift, certain and consistent sanctions or rewards for non-compliance or compliance.
  8. Ongoing judicial interaction with each Drug Treatment Court participant is essential.
  9. Monitoring and evaluation processes measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
  10. Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective Drug Treatment Court planning, implementation, and operations.
  11. Forging partnerships among courts, treatment and rehabilitation programs, public agencies and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances program effectiveness.
  12. Ongoing case management providing the social support necessary to achieve social reintegration.
  13. Appropriate flexibility in adjusting program content, including incentives and sanctions, to better achieve program results with particular groups such as women, Indigenous people and minority ethnic groups.

2.2. Approval of a drug treatment court program

Under s. 10(4)(a) of the CDSA, a DTC program must be approved by the Attorney General. Approval requires compliance with the principles mentioned above. This approval can be provided by the Chief Federal Prosecutor (CFP) in the appropriate province, territory, or region when they are satisfied that the DTC program complies with these principles and sign the form at Annex A.

2.3. Eligibility for drug treatment court

Any person charged with an offence is encouraged to apply for admission to a DTC program in circumstances where a substance use disorder has contributed to the commission of that offence. The DTCs will generally accept adult offenders who are suffering from a substance use disorder. The accused and defence counsel must also have received sufficient disclosure to determine if the accused is able to plead guilty to the charges set out in the applicable information.

The eligibility criteria for each DTC are established by interdisciplinary teams that include PPSC prosecutors. The criteria may vary among different DTCs, and must be acceptable to PPSC prosecutors given that they are members of the DTC teams.

Proportionality, general and specific deterrence, as well as rehabilitation are key considerations in sentencing. The DTC model is an exception based upon factors such as an assessment of the risk posed by an offender and the ability of the DTC program to address criminal conduct when a substance use disorder contributed to the commission of an offence.

Certain criminality is of such severity that the risk assessment will not generally favour the DTC program approach over ordinary sentencing principles. This may occur in situations where public safety is at risk. Some factors Crown counsel should consider are whether:

In addition, a person will generally be ineligible for admission into the DTC program if:

Finally, the DTC program relies upon the willingness and ability of the candidate to seek treatment for a substance use disorder that has contributed to the commission of the offence. Persons who are currently serving a conditional or intermittent sentence at the time of their application to the DTC program will generally not be admissible as these sentences are generally incompatible with an intensive DTC program. Persons who have previously participated in a DTC program and have either been expelled or withdrawn, as well as those who have graduated from a DTC program in the previous year,Footnote 3 are generally not admissible to the DTC program. In such cases, the onus is on the applicant to persuade the DTC team that they should be given another opportunity. A candidate should generally be considered only in light of convincing evidence of changed circumstances and a willingness and ability to commit to treatment.

An indication that resort to the DTC program is being used solely to avoid punishment, rather than to seek treatment for a substance use disorder that contributed to the criminality in question, should militate against admission to the DTC program.

2.4. Successful completion of drug treatment court program

The standard for what it means to have successfully completed a DTC program is to be determined by the individual DTCs. The successful completion criteria should consider whether the individual has met the general completion requirements of the individual DTC. Some suggested criteria include: a substantial period of abstinence from substances such as cocaine, opiates and methamphetamine; and a substantial period of time having passed without further criminal convictions; social stability indicators such as having obtained stable housing, ongoing attendance at community support programs, and being employed, attending school or participating in significant community volunteer work.

A person who meets the individual DTC program's successful completion criteria, and graduates from a DTC program, is eligible to receive a reduced sentence. This may include a suspended sentence along with a period of probation, recommended by the DTC team.

Appendix A - Attorney General's Approval

Section 10 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provides, in part, as follows:

10(4) A court sentencing a person who is convicted of an offence under this Part may delay sentencing to enable the offender:

  1. to participate in a drug treatment court program approved by the Attorney General;
  2. to attend a treatment program under subsection 720(2) of the Criminal Code.

10(5) If the offender successfully completes a program under subsection (4), the court is not required to impose the minimum punishment for the offence for which the person was convicted.

I hereby approve the (name of program) as a drug treatment court program approved by the Attorney General of Canada pursuant to paragraph 10(4)(a) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This approval is provided further to powers, duties, and functions the Attorney General of Canada assigned to the Director of Public Prosecutions on February 18, 2019 (Assignment 5) and that the Director delegated to Chief Federal Prosecutors in the Guideline "Drug Treatment Courts", which was issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions pursuant to paragraph 3(3)(c) of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, SC 2006, c 9, s 121.

Dated at the City of _______________, ______________, this ____ day of ________________, 20____.


Chief Federal Prosecutor for the Region of _____________

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