Hopes of even watered-down decrim coming to Canada anytime soon were dashed on April 17, when Canada’s Liberal-majority government voted to discard a bill aimed at making pot possession a ticketable offence.
The bill was the brainchild of Keith Martin, Alliance MP from British Columbia. Martin had worked for two years on the bill, promoting his plan to make pot possession a ticketing offence, to make it easier for the cops to crack down on traffickers (CC#35, Decrim is dangerous).
Most bills in Parliament are introduced and passed by the majority party, but tradition allows for a few bills to be put forward by the opposition parties. The tradition is also that there is a “free vote” on these “private member’s bills” ? MPs can vote their conscience instead of having to toe the party line.
But tradition also states that any amendments to such a bill are “whippable” ? that is, the Prime Minister can force his MPs to vote a certain way. Not wanting the decriminalization of marijuana to pass, Prime Minister Jean Chr?tien forced his party to vote for a “poison pill” amendment that effectively killed the bill. They voted to refer the entire bill to a Parliamentary committee already studying Canada’s drug laws, a committee that seems hostile to reform and which could conceivably never issue a report (CC#33, Canadian committees to spell decrim?).
Martin was furious at this duplicity. He showed his frustration by marching down the centre aisle, grabbing the ceremonial mace and thrusting it towards the Speaker of the House, charging that Canadians “no longer live in a democracy.” After this he calmly replaced the mace where he found it.
Martin’s handling and pointing the mace was a powerful symbolic protest. In British Parliamentary history, the mace came to symbolize the power of the common people over the King. In the contemporary House of Commons, it faces the government to show that power rests with them. By seizing the mace and pointing it towards the Speaker, Martin directly challenged the legitimacy of the Liberal government ? clutching their symbol of authority and turning it away from them.
The Liberal government made a motion to suspend Martin for his action, yet a week later, facing a vote of suspension, Martin stepped up his protest against the Liberals. “I accuse the government of being a dictatorship,” Martin stormed, “and I accuse the government of being fascist.”
On the following day, April 23, MPs voted to suspend Martin from the House. Martin finally gave a half-hearted apology the next day and was reinstated. Martin has since been unapologetic for his actions, still telling the media that the Liberal government is a “dictatorship.”
Although Martin won grudging respect from Canada’s pot culture for his actions, sadly his bill would likely have made things worse for his nation’s pot-people had it passed. His bill would have made it easier for cops to hand out endless tickets for pot-smoking, with the result of more pot smokers going to jail for non-payment of fines than are now being busted for possession.
Ultimately, the failure of Martin’s bill might be a positive thing for Canada’s legalization movement. The governing Liberals showed themselves to be afraid of honestly addressing decriminalization, the issue of marijuana got headlines yet again, Keith Martin stood up to the regime that continues to oppress members of Canada’s cannabis, and the flawed bill he proposed failed, all hopefully making full legalization a more reachable goal.