The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Bill C-7 was passed late in the afternoon of October 30th, as the ballots were being counted in the Quebec referendum. The Bloc Quebecois chose to boycott Parliament that day, and so Canada’s official opposition were not present to vote or even speak against the bill.
Canadians must not tolerate a government that plots more efficient ways to imprison its citizens while the fate of the country hangs in the balance.
a strange affair
Bill C-7 is almost exactly the same as Bill C-85, which was introduced by the Conservative government of Kim Campbell, but was not passed before they were defeated by the Liberal government of Jean Chretien.
Bill C-7 has been a strange affair from beginning to end. What other piece of legislation can claim to having survived a change in government and condemnation from almost every group that testified about it, only to be discreetly passed, without significant changes, when the official opposition is absent, as the last act of Parliament on the day of a possibly nation-breaking referendum?
The most controversial aspect of Bill C-7 was Clause 3, which considered anything that had an effect similar to that of a substance already listed in the bill as being punishable as if it was that substance.
There was no debate in Parliament as to the constitutionality of the search and seizure aspects of the bill, despite the fact that they remain unchanged from those that were so heavily criticized by the Qu?bec Bar Association during testimony on Bill C-7 last summer.
No member of parliament addressed the medical use of marijuana, despite the fact that marijuana has a wide variety of medicinal uses, and even the USA has a dozen citizens who receive medical marijuana from their government.
Although more than one MP commented on the fact that Bill C-7 makes no provision for the decriminalization of marijuana, there was no vigorous attack on the government’s continued prohibition of the herb. Nor was there any comment upon the dangers of “streamlining” the judicial process to allow for “fast tracking” of marijuana cases.
Without the Bloc Qu?becois in the House, the Reform party had a magnificent opportunity to challenge the prohibitionists. They could have shamed the Liberals for ignoring the testimony that had been presented to them and trying to pass Bill C-7 in the shadow of the referendum.
Instead, Reform Health Critic Grant Hill seemed to have only one complaint: that the provision for allowing the Minister of Health to arbitrarily add or remove any item to any of the drug schedules was “dictatorial, arbitrary and opaque.” Dr Hill moved to add a clause forcing consultation with “those persons who will be directly affected” by any potential change. The amendment was of course rejected. It’s unfortunate that Dr Hill chose not to mention the many other negative aspects of the legislation.
Aside from the feeble efforts of the Reform party, there was no real opposition in Parliament to Bill C-7. Nelson Riis, MP for Kamloops BC, was the only member of the NDP to speak against the bill, and although he spoke in favour of decriminalizing marijuana, he also expressed support for “getting tougher on traffickers and drug dealers.”
Since the NDP officially supports the decriminalization of marijuana, they could have done a much more effective job of speaking out against the human rights abuses and backroom politics inherent in Bill C-7.
Ironically, the most cutting analysis of Bill C-7 was delivered in a speech by Sue Barnes, Liberal MP for London West, Ontario. Although Sue concluded her speech by saying that she would support Bill C-7, she was the only MP to speak knowledgeably about the benefits of harm reduction over the costs of prohibitionism.
She eloquently described harm reduction as being a system which “seeks to reduce the harm caused by those who have a problem with substance abuse, including harm done to themselves, to their families and to other persons. It takes a public health approach to the problem of drug abuse rather than a moralistic, punitive one which views such abuse as criminal in and of itself.”
Later, she contrasted this against what she calls prohibitionism. She explained that “prohibitionism toward drug users on its own arguably inflicts greater harms on individuals and families than the harms it purports to prevent.” She continued to say that under prohibitionism, “one treats the consumption of drugs as a moral evil, where criminal sanction is seen as the only appropriate response. Rather than recognizing the users of illicit substances as endangering their health and taking appropriate steps to help them, the prohibitionist perspective would treat them solely as criminals who require the threat of criminal penalties and a criminal record to deter them from such behaviour.
“Were this an effective approach, the United States, with its heavy emphasis on interdiction and punishment, would be nearly drug free by now. As we know, the number of prisoners in jail for drug offences in that country continues to grow, with little sign of any stemming of the insidious drug trade or the use of illegal drugs.”
Sue Barnes gave a very measured speech, carefully supporting Bill C-7 and the amendments made to it, while still making it clear that she did not completely support the prohibitionist agenda. Although she was not courageous enough to openly condemn Bill C-7 in Parliament, it would appear that she has been acting as a voice for harm reduction policies within the Liberal party.
Paul Szabo, the Liberal Member of parliament for Mississauga South and chairman of the Bill C-7 sub-committee, gave a speech in support of Bill C-7 in which he justified his subcommittee’s work on the Bill using a combination of misdirection, half-truths, and outright lies.
Paul Szabo began his speech by describing the one potentially positive thing that came out of the Bill C-7 subcommittee, their supplementary recommendations to the Standing Committee on Health. These recommendations include forming an “expert task force… to establish precise criteria for the scheduling of substances under this act.”
The subcommittee also recommended that the Standing Committee undertake a “comprehensive review” of Canada’s existing drug policies. According to Mr Szabo, “the Minister of Health has already informally given her concurrence that a comprehensive review of our drug policy should be conducted.”
Although these recommendations might seem like positive steps, it must be remembered that the Standing Committee on Health has no compulsion to act upon them. Even if the recommendation to have a drug policy review is adopted, it could be many months, most likely years, before it is completed and further recommendations are made. During this process, we would still be living under the prohibitionist regime enshrined in Bill C-7.
Although it is true that Canada’s drug control legislation is badly in need of an overhaul, this process should clearly take place before Bill C-7 becomes law, not after.
In the guise of complying with international drug control conventions, we are trampling all over international human rights conventions.
Canadian Foundation on Drug Policy
While describing how Bill C-7 had its origin in the Conservative Bill C-85, Paul Szabo joked that it used to be a “draconian Mulroney bill.” He explained however, that it was now the time to move away from “partisan apprehension,” because “there are important reasons for Bill C-7 to be passed by this House.”
It is ironic that Mr Szabo chose to speak of putting away “partisan apprehension” while passing legislation in the absence of the official opposition. It is perhaps even more ironic that, while Qu?becers were voting on the future of their province, the “most important rationale” that Paul Szabo could provide for passing Bill C-7 was to satisfy international pressure.
Mr Szabo explained that “although Canada has been in violation of its treaty obligations for many years, it has increasingly come under criticism by its treaty partners and the International Narcotics Control Board.” However, when Mr Szabo read out excerpts from INCB reports that mentioned Canada, they were all solely concerned with Canada’s failure to restrict the import and export of benzodiazepines.
Despite the fact that the INCB is a purely advisory board with absolutely no authority to dictate Canada’s internal drug policies, the “embarrassment” that Canada is suffering by not being in compliance with the international treaties could have easily been rectified, simply by adding benzodiazepines to the appropriate schedule of the Narcotic Control Act. It is clearly not necessary to expand police powers of search and seizure, or to continue restricting the legitimate medical use of marijuana, to satisfy any of our international agreements.
It is also worthy of note that Holland has signed all of the same treaties as Canada, and still manages to have a tolerant drug policy. Canada could even withdraw from any of these treaties at any time. There are no penalties against nations that have not signed the treaties or who choose to withdraw.
To fight the argument that Bill C-7 is more about criminalization and interdiction than it is about approaching drug use as a health issue, Paul Szabo made the claim that about 70% of government spending is directed at rehabilitation and treatment. This is a clearly misleading figure which is nevertheless endlessly repeated by government members and other prohibitionists.
During testimony before the Bill C-7 subcommittee of which Paul Szabo was the chairman, Mark Taylor of the Addiction Research Foundation explained that, “while it is true that Canada’s drug strategy… does split the funds 70% to prevention and 30% to law enforcement, if you look at the total expenditure across our country in terms of the expenditure on law enforcement versus prevention, the ratio would be approximately reversed, or certainly well above the 50/50 level.”
If Mr Szabo had been paying attention during Mr Taylor’s presentation, then perhaps he would not have chosen to willfully repeat this misleading claim.
paul szabo says
no to hemp
Paul Szabo concluded his explanation of Bill C-7 with a series of statements that should be enough to put aside any false impressions that Bill C-7 is in some way a progressive piece of legislation.
First, Paul Szabo explicitly stated that despite “substantial lobbying… Bill C-7 does not at present permit the commercial cultivation of hemp.” Although he claimed that it was possible under the legislation, “this process could take years… the commercial production of hemp is a long way off, if indeed it is appropriate at all.”
paul szabo tells more lies
Even more startling was the brief tirade with which Paul Szabo finished his speech. After explaining how “fast tracking” certain offences would unclog the court system, he repeated some common lies about marijuana, as follows:
“Attitudes of many Canadians toward marijuana were developed many years ago when many failed to realize the technology of breeding plants has allowed producers to drastically increase the potency of marijuana by increasing its THC content, tetrahydrocannabinol.
“Marijuana is about 15 times more potent today than it was 10 years ago. Marijuana today is as potent as cocaine was 10 years ago. Let there be no confusion, marijuana is a dangerous drug…”
It is completely irresponsible for Paul Szabo to shamelessly repeat this kind of nonsense in Parliament. What is even more disturbing is that not a single Member of Parliament rose to challenge these ludicrous statements.
A certificate could be issued allowing police officers to violate the provisions having to do with searches ... an officer could be authorized to deal drugs, and everyone working for him, as well as his informers, will be protected.
Quebec Bar Association
Marijuana potency has not dramatically increased over the past decade. That is a myth based upon a purposeful misunderstanding of police seizure statistics.
However, even if marijuana growers did somehow manage to increase the THC content of their crop, this would only mean that marijuana smokers would be exposed to less tars and particulates, because they would be able to use less marijuana to achieve the desired effect. THC itself is non toxic and has never been shown to be harmful to humans.
There is absolutely no basis to Mr Szabo’s claim that marijuana is as potent as cocaine. Cocaine, by itself and in combination with alcohol and heroin, is responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths every year in Canada. In comparison, marijuana has no record of ever causing a death by overdose.
Marijuana also does not affect the brain’s dopamine receptors as does cocaine, and for this reason marijuana users do not experience the withdrawal symptoms associated with the regular use of cocaine.
The fact that Paul Szabo chose to conclude his speech with such wild exagerrations and unfounded assertions should have been cause enough for Parliament to re-examine the work of his Bill C-7 subcommittee. Instead, the Bill was passed without debate or public awareness.
The purpose of prosecuting someone who grows one or two plants at home for producing cannabis is beyond me.
Criminal Lawyers' Association
a bad thing
By completely ignoring the testimony before them, and then delaying the passage of this regressive and prohibitionist legislation until public attention was focussed elsewhere, Parliament has committed an indecent and undemocratic act against the people of Canada.
If Bill C-7 becomes law, more Canadians will be put in jail because they use marijuana. More Canadians will have their homes seized because of marijuana plants growing in the basement. More Canadians will be shot to death by overzealous police during drug raids.
Bill C-7 is an unnecessary and dangerous piece of legislation that must not be allowed to become law in Canada.