Institute of European Studies hosts illegal drug conference

International symposium compares the Canadian, European and American experience in the war on drugs. Is anyone winning?

by Bruce Mason staff writer

The expensive, ongoing failure to combat the use of illegal drugs is fuelling a rapidly growing international controversy.

To inform this debate, UBC's Institute for European Studies (IES) and Green College are hosting a free public symposium, "Illegal Drug Use in North America and Europe: Comparative Issues, Problems and Policies" Sept. 22-23, on the university campus. The symposium is attracting widespread attention and hundreds of participants have registered.

"Canada's experience is distinct from the American `War on Drugs,' but has much in common with European efforts, including certain values and attitudes," says Sima Godfrey, director of IES, which is bringing together leading policy makers, scholars and practitioners.

She will moderate the opening keynote session "Europe and North America: Between Harm Reduction and Zero Tolerance," Friday, Sept. 22, from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The second session, "Questions of Policy," will be held on Saturday, Sept. 23, from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., followed by "Questions of Practice, a Roundtable Discussion," from 2 p.m.-5 p.m.

Among the participants is Robert MacCoun, co-author of "Does Europe do it Better? Lessons from Holland, Britain and Switzerland," featured in the September 1999 issue of The Nation, "Beyond Legalization: New Ideas for Ending the War on Drugs."

Well-known representatives include A.D. Keizer, head of Addiction Policy in the Netherlands, Ministry of Health and Welfare; Ueli Locher, deputy director for Substance Abuse and AIDS in the Swiss Federal Office for Public Health; and Diane Jacovella, director of Canada's Drug Strategy Division, Health Canada.

Among the other speakers are Werner Schneider, initiator of the Frankfurt Resolution, and Alexandre Berlin, formerly affiliated with the European Drugs Observatory, Lisbon, now honorary director of the European Commission, Brussels.

Symposium co-organizer German and European Studies Prof. Frank Unger says participants are aware of Vancouver's importance as a test case and centre for implementing and evaluating drug programs and policies. Both Berlin and Schneider have studied the Downtown Eastside along with other international centres of highly concentrated illegal drug activity.

Established in 1998, the Institute for European Studies is part of UBC's ongoing mission to advance international knowledge and research about, and dialogue with, Europe.

This free public symposium is made possible through the generous support of the Consulate General of the Netherlands, the Consulate General of Switzerland and the City of Vancouver with help from the UBC Institute for Health Promotion Research and the President's Office.

A full conference program is available at