Overview of the drug treatment court funding program

2.1 Program Background

In Canada, the drug treatment courts (DTCs) were introduced as pilot demonstration projects in Toronto in 1998 and in Vancouver in 2001, using funding from the Crime Prevention Investment Fund of the National Crime Prevention Strategy. After Canada’s Drug Strategy was renewed in 2003, the DTCFP was established (2004). The DTCFP is now a component of the CDSS (formerly the National Anti-Drug Strategy).3

2.2 Program Objectives

The DTCFP represents a concerted effort to break the cycle of drug use and criminal recidivism, through innovative partnerships among the criminal justice system, drug treatment services and social service agencies.

The objectives of the DTCFP are to:

DTCs provide an alternative to incarceration by offering the offender an opportunity to participate in a court-monitored, community-based drug treatment process. In Canada, under the DTCFP, the DTC model has continued to evolve to address local community contexts and populations’ needs. DTCs are provincial and territorial courts that target adult, non-violent offenders who have been charged under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) or the Criminal Code of Canada, in cases where their substance use disorder was a factor in the offence. Offenders who are interested in participating in a DTC are assessed to ensure that they meet DTC eligibility criteria. Rather than incarceration, DTC participants may receive a non-custodial sentence upon completion of treatment.4

2.3 Key Program Elements

To date, the DTCFP has established funding agreements with eight provinces and two territories to fund 13 DTCs. The key elements of DTCs funded under the DTCFP include:

Appendix A includes a further list of principles that define an approved DTC program by Crown counsel.

While each DTC establishes its own eligibility criteria, the rights of the accused and risk to public safety are key considerations. Therefore, the accused must voluntarily apply to enter the DTC and there must be sufficient disclosure to determine that the accused is able to plead guilty to the charge. The participants in the DTC are most commonly charged with non-violent Criminal Code offences, such as theft, possession of stolen property, non-residential break and enter mischief, and offenses related to sexual services. With respect to drug offences, the more frequent offences are those of simple possession, possession for the purpose of trafficking and trafficking (at the street level).

The admission process is similar for all DTCs. The Crown screens for eligibility of the applicant and will receive input from the DTC team. Eligible applicants are also assessed by treatment personnel and most DTCs prioritize high risk and high needs applicants. It is ultimately the judge's decision whether to admit the applicant into the DTC program or not.

The accused must enter a guilty plea to be admitted in the DTC; however, participants have the option to withdraw their criminal plea within a certain period of time after starting the program (e.g., 30 days) and re-enter the traditional criminal justice system. The vast majority of DTC participants are high needs (meaning they are entering the program with multiple issues such as serious addiction to illicit drugs, mental health concerns, inadequate housing, reliance on income assistance, minimal employment/education opportunities, etc.) and are assessed as medium to high-risk to reoffend. A dedicated treatment plan with a strong case management component ensures that the offender is directed to existing services within the community and that the plan is tailored to the participant’s specific needs. DTC staff will help ensure that the participant has safe housing, stable employment and/or an education.

Participation in DTC requires high involvement and commitment from participants including requirements to attend court regularly, check-in with their probation officer or case manager as directed, attend regular group sessions and individual therapy sessions, participate in other programs as per their treatment plan, and also usually, at some point, attend a full-time inpatient program. DTC treatment team members offer individualized support to DTC participants through every step of this journey to help ensure participants continue to be as equipped as possible to succeed in the program.

The length of the program is approximately one year but some participants may remain much longer. Specifically on the court requirement side of the program, participants are required to appear personally in court on a regular basis and each participant is subject to random urine screening. It is expected that the participant will be honest and disclose any high-risk activities and information on whether or not a relapse has occurred. The judge will review his or her progress and can either impose sanctions or provide rewards.

To successfully complete the program, participants must meet several criteria established by the DTC which typically refer to compliance with program conditions, including fulfilment of treatment requirements, no further criminal convictions, indicators of social stability, and a period of abstinence from substance use. Participants who successfully complete the DTC program may receive a non-custodial sentence. 5

2.4 Funding and Financial Information

The total transfer payment budget for the DTCFP during the years covered by the evaluation (2016-17 to 2020-21) is $18.7M. The total combined operations and maintenance (O&M) and salary budget from 2016-17 to 2020-21 was $2.8M. The breakdown per fiscal year is presented in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Program Allocated Resources during the Evaluation Period







2016-17 to 2020-21





























*This table also includes DTCFP resources associated with communications, research, evaluation, corporate costs, employee benefit plans.

*From 2016-17 onward, some internal transfers were made to the DTCFP (between $14,000 and $150,000) to support demand for the program.


3 The goal of the CDSS is to contribute to safer and healthier communities through coordinated efforts to prevent use, treat dependency and reduce production and distribution of illicit drugs. The prevention, treatment and enforcement action plans guide these efforts. The DTCFP is aligned with the Treatment Action Plan, the objective of which is to support effective treatment and rehabilitation systems and services by developing and implementing innovative and collaborative approaches.

4 A non-custodial sentence is a sentence that does not require time in jail (e.g., a suspended sentence along with a period of probation to be recommended by the DTC team).

5 A non-custodial sentence is a sentence that does not require time in jail (e.g., a suspended sentence along with a period of probation to be recommended by the DTC team).