Harm Reduction: Ends and Means and Shades of Grey

Although it is not a new concept by any means, the term “Harm Reduction” has come into vogue recently, particularly in reference to music festivals. Harm Reduction seeks to keep people safe when engaging in risky or illegal behaviour, usually relating to substance abuse. There have been a number of safety-related incidents occurring at music festivals this summer including the following:

• 80 people were sent to hospital and a woman died of a suspected drug overdose at the Boonstock Music Festival in Penticton, BC;

• a man was found dead in his tent at the Pemberton Music Festival in Pemberton, BC. The exact cause of death has not been confirmed, but police have ruled out foul play;

• there were a number of drug overdoses but no fatalities reported at the Center of Gravity Festival in Kelowna, BC;

• 13 people were sent to hospital and two people died as a result of ingesting what the police have called “party drugs” at the VELD Music Festival in Toronto, ON.

These incidents have brought Harm Reduction to the fore for organizers of such festivals. A recent article published on The Globe and Mail website reporting on the considerable Harm Reduction strategies employed at the recent Shambhala Music Festival near Nelson, BC can be viewed here.

Not surprisingly, Harm Reduction is not without its critics and controversy. The argument is that, by focusing on reduction rather than prevention, we are degrading the social mores upon which decent society is founded, and are in fact condoning (and the argument has been made encouraging) these illegal and risky behaviours.

Distracted driving was the topic in Einfeld Law’s June 5, 2014 article “Is it Worth It?” It is interesting that the Frontier Centre for Public Policy website has advocated a Harm Reduction policy approach to distracted driving in an article which can be viewed here.

The article claims that by focusing on prevention of distracted driving, the Law is actually increasing it. In other words, by prohibiting the use of phones while driving, the Law forces people to use their phones surreptitiously or in “stealth mode”—for example, texting with the phone below the dashboard—which increases distraction.

The article suggests it would be more effective to use a “multi-pronged effort” that accounts for real-world behaviour in seeking to reduce harm from distracted driving. It argues that punishment should not be the first resort and suggests that education, the use of automated automobile safety technology, and road design taking into account the use of phones while driving are potential solutions to distracted driving.

Without debating the merits of these suggestions, the article raises a number of questions. Is a Harm Reduction policy approach a better way to deal with distracted driving than prohibition based upon penalties and demerit points? Would a Harm Reduction policy approach encourage cell phone use while driving? Is prohibition working?

It is unfortunate that the answers to important issues are so frequently clouded in shades of grey rather than standing out clearly in black and white.

What do you think?

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Einfeld Law is a highly knowledgeable and experienced BC personal injury law firm specializing in motor vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents, and other negligence claims involving bodily injury. We have successfully litigated many ICBC and other insurance claims, including out of province, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury, whiplash, soft tissue injury, and all other bodily injury claims. We have collected millions of dollars on behalf of our clients. We never act for ICBC or other insurance companies.

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