Representations of drug-related harms in sentencing: Towards evidence-informed, non-stigmatizing approaches 

Niki's LLM thesis can be accessed here She explores how the concept of harm is constituted in case law pertaining to the importation, production, possession, and trafficking of drugs in Canada. A specific focus of analysis is whether judges accurately use empirical research to inform decisions. Drugs are understood as a social construct – encompassing psychoactive substances that are both legal and illegal – and as variably regulated in Canadian law. I use critical discourse analysis to examine how harm is represented in case law (n=129), identify which sources influence legal discourses (e.g., past cases, expert testimony, empirical research), and analyze outcomes arising from how harm is constructed in case law. This approach indicates that normative use of moralization language silences certain knowledge sources and contributes to institutionalized stigma. Recommendations for reform include incorporating critical reflectivity into judicial practices, accurately representing harm in ways that are non-stigmatizing, and improving research literacy skills.