History repeats itself.
Marijuana is a major source of tension in today’s relationship between the US and Canada, but problems between the two countries are nothing new. Indeed, problems started in the late 1700’s when American colonists rebelled against England, and continued when Americans invaded “British North America,” which we now call Canada, in the War of 1812.
The invasion resulted from American belief that the entire British portion of North America, not just the area won during the American Revolution, should be part of the US.
In the first decade of the 1800’s, trade disputes and other international tensions fueled disputes concerning British-held northern wilderness, which was sparsely populated by indigenous people and groups of immigrant Europeans (fronting for various colonial empires), all competing for control of land and resources.
Beginning in 1810, right-wing expansionist members of the US Congress, such as South Carolina’s John Calhoun, advocated that the US empire should stretch from Southern Mexico to the North Pole and into the Arctic. These aggressive American expansionists were nicknamed “War Hawks.”
As pretense for invading British territory, they accused England of arming Native Americans who were resisting US expansion into native lands west of the Mississippi River. The Indians were led by their famous chief, Tecumseh.
Calhoun and other Congressmen encouraged their countrymen to use military force to make British North America part of the US. The War Hawks said England was a security threat, and encouraged their countrymen to use military force to make British North America a US colony.
Despite opposition by war opponents who wanted problems resolved diplomatically, the US declared war on British Canada on June 8, 1812, soon after Tecumseh and his followers left US soil and joined with British forces on the Canadian side of the Detroit River.
The US began its war with Canada using a poorly funded, disorganized, untrained military. The war was not supported by most Americans. War opponents accused Calhoun and other War Hawks of lying about the need, preparations, and justifications for war.
When US forces began losing key battles, Americans criticized their government, saying it was incapable of running a successful war. National sentiment was for ending the war, but the War Hawks in Washington, DC pressed forward, despite mounting casualties.
North of the American border in land sought by the US that is now officially Canada, there was a dysfunctional mix of British, former American colonists, French, and natives. Yet, this disorganized group won the War of 1812 after several decisive victories. Ten American armies crossed into Canada, and all ten were driven out.
The War of 1812 unified British North America’s northern provinces. Canadian historian Arthur Lower describes the war as “one of the massive foundation stones of modern Canada.”
For the US, the war was a source of national dishonor. Several American generals were court-martialed. The war was then banned from official memory, and today is barely mentioned in American schools. If it is mentioned, it is dishonestly described as a victory for the US.
The US has invaded dozens of countries since the War of 1812, among them Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Given the Americans’ warlike history, Canadians worry about the US’s attitude towards Canada.
In the US Congress and in the White House are vituperative politicians who believe in US expansionism through military force. And in the eyes of US officials and their corporate sponsors, Canada is perceived now as it was perceived in 1812: as a vast coveted storehouse of open space, water, trees, minerals, marine resources, and fossil fuels, ripe for the picking.
The US wants Canada as a 51st state, and a fair reading of US policy would give the impression that the US wants the entire North American continent. That’s why US presidents and legislators have long enacted trade, immigration and economic policies that victimize Canada and Mexico, seeking to turn them into US colonies. The overarching dream of US hegemonists is to create “the United States of North America,” encompassing the entire continent, controlled by Washington, DC.
National leaders in Canada and Mexico are not stupid; they know the Americans want to control the entire continent. And yet, Canadian and Mexican governments have cooperated with US hegemony. In the 1970’s, the Mexican government readily agreed to a US program that involved spraying poison on Mexican marijuana destined for export to the US. The program harmed many Mexicans and Americans.
The Mexican government also agreed to allow the DEA to operate in Mexico as a rogue police force, kidnapping Mexican citizens, violating Mexican sovereignty. The DEA now operates in Canada.
Economically, American hegemony was officially ratified when Mexico and Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in December, 1992. This agreement, which was engineered by the first President Bush, gives the US pre-emptive rights to Canadian water and energy resources, and has long been seen as a bad deal for Canadians, Mexicans, workers, labor unions and the environment.
The US and multi-national corporations based there have become whole or part owners of key Canadian industries. Canadian “Crown corporations,” set up by government to protect public resources and services, have been privatized and sold to American bidders. There are many indications that Canada is becoming a “subsidiary” of US interests.
And in the realm of official diplomacy during the last 15 years, the US has treated Canada with increasing disdain, almost as if Canada was a lawless territory of America that needed to be brought under tighter control.
US interference in Canadian is seen in numerous arenas, the most relevant of which involves marijuana. The US has placed Drug Enforcement Agency officers in Vancouver and other Canadian cities. Representatives of the DEA, along with US federal and state politicians, have coached their allies in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, joining together to force the Canadian government to create a US-style drug war in Canada. US anti-drug propaganda organizations have attempted to get Canadian schools to brainwash Canadian children with American lies about marijuana.
US politicians, police officers, and ambassadors have long been critical of Canadian judges in relation to marijuana sentencing, and have bluntly told Canadians that Canada’s marijuana policies should be identical to US policies.
A few days ago, US drug czar John Walters blamed Canada for alleged “increases in marijuana addiction among American youth.”
He said that Canadian marijuana is extremely potent, and he told the Canadian government to increase police actions and judicial penalties for marijuana growers.
Other American officials also claim that Canada is a source “very strong” marijuana, ecstasy and methamphetamines, but Canadian officials say only one or two percent of marijuana used in the U.S. comes from Canada, and that Canada is not a significant source for other illegal drugs used in America.
US ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci, who is leaving his job so he can write a book (titled “Unquiet Diplomacy,” due out in September) that tells Canadians what’s wrong with Canada, has routinely interfered with Canadian domestic politics.
As the Canadian government considers “decriminalization” of marijuana, Cellucci has made a habit of issuing threats about what the US would do if Canada “softened” its pot laws.
Earlier this year, he warned that young Canadians would be subject to increased scrutiny, interrogation and searches when they tried to cross into the US, unless Canada adopted his suggestions for making Canadian marijuana laws tougher.
“If the perception is that it’s easier to get marijuana in Canada, that’s going to put pressure on the border as young people drive into the United States, whether they’re U.S. citizens or Canadian citizens,” he explained. “Customs and Immigration officers at the border are law enforcement officers. Their antenna will be up looking for those trying to bring these drugs into the United States.”
Cellucci actually went so far as to outline what he wanted for Canadian cannabis laws.
“I think several things could be done to toughen the bill,” he said, referring to what he described as mistakes in pending Canadian decrim legislation. “You could do things like, on a second offence you will have a criminal record and if you do it while you’re driving or if you’re near a school.”
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of Cellucci’s comments came when he told a Canadian journalist that the US government viewed Canadian marijuana policy reform the same way it viewed cannabis reform laws passed by individual American states. Given that the US government has invaded states to enforce federal marijuana law, Cellucci’s comments implied that the US government views Canadian cannabis laws as similarly subordinate to US federal cannabis statutes.
None of this is surprising to people who pay attention to official US policy toward Canada. Ever since Cellucci began his job as ambassador in 2001, he’s bluntly delivered America’s imperious message: boost military spending, surrender the Canadian lumber and livestock industry, tighten marijuana laws, and join the U.S. missile defense plan.
When Canada refused to join the Iraq war, Cellucci said he was “disappointed and upset.” When Canada refused to participate in the ill-advised US missile defense and space weapons programs, Cellucci and other American officials said the US would launch missiles into Canadian airspace anyway. Cellucci went so far as to say that Canada had given up its sovereignty by refusing to participate in the US military programs.
In the world of “diplomacy,” a country’s leaders send messages by who they choose to send as ambassadors. President Bush’s nominee for US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, is a man who has spent his career saying that the UN is an irrelevant institution. Bolton’s nomination was seen as a ruthless reinforcement of the unilateralist approach that the US seems to favor these days.
In regards to Canada and marijuana, the choice of Cellucci as ambassador sent a clearly prohibitionist message. Before Cellucci became ambassador to Canada in 2001, he was governor of Massachusetts. Part of his governorship was spent fighting to ban progressive political ads that a group of local marijuana proponents wanted to place at Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) terminals.
Beginning in 1999, a drug policy reform group called Change the Climate wanted to pay for public, mildly thought-provoking ads that questioned the drug war.
Cellucci became personally committed to enforcing the advertising ban, even advising MBTA to hang tough when Change the Climate threatened to take MBTA to court for violating the organization’s free speech rights.
Joe White, a Massachusetts-based marketing and public relations pro, founded Change the Climate.
“On the way to a track meet, my 17-year-old son asked me why adults lie to kids about marijuana,” White explained. “I’d been hearing about medical marijuana initiatives, and my son told me that propagandists at school were still claiming marijuana was like heroin. I decided to do some professional marketing to initiate a dialogue about this problem.”
White raised money, and then tried to buy public ad space with the Washington DC Metro Transit Authority and MBTA.
MBTA and DC Metro refused to run the ads, saying the ads “promoted drug use.”
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, White sued.
DC Metro relented, so White spent nearly $10,000 to print ads and purchase space for them on 10 subway platforms. His ads also appeared inside 50 buses and on the outside of 500 buses in Washington, DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia.
The DC ads were stark and compelling. One ad shows two cops in front of an American flag. The ad text says police are “too valuable” to waste time arresting pot people “when real criminals are on the loose.” Another ad shows a cancer-stricken businessman who smokes pot to help him tolerate the effects of chemotherapy.
Despite DC Metro’s decision to run the ads, Cellucci refused to allow MBTA to run them, even though his senior staff and MBTA staff recommended that he settle White’s lawsuit, which White pursued long after Cellucci became ambassador to Canada.
”The governor sent a strong message that we won’t accept any advertising that sends even a message that it is slightly pro-drug,” said MBTA spokesman Brian Pedro said. ”We’ll let the court decide.”
“Cellucci went nuts over our ads,” White said.
Cellucci’s opposition to the ads meant that White’s lawsuit continued until late 2004 and cost Massachusetts taxpayers nearly a million dollars. And in the end, MBTA lost, and will be forced to run White’s ads.
The defeat probably doesn’t matter to Cellucci, who is retiring as ambassador, and who is most likely to be remembered in Ottawa for his infamous version of psycho killer Robert De Niro, from the movie “Taxi Driver.”
“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to ME? Well, I’m the only ambassador here, so you must be talkin’ to me,” Cellucci liked to quip, perhaps inadvertently revealing the bullying nature of US foreign policy, and its ambassadors.
Canadians are glad Cellucci is leaving his job, but his replacement might be even worse. The Bush administration has nominated a right-wing, fundamentalist, pro-war, pro-military Southern Republican, David Wilkins, as new US ambassador to Canada. Indeed, Wilkins reminds historians of John Calhoun, the South Carolina politician who was one of the main advocates for invading Canada in 1812.
Wilkins is Speaker of the South Carolina legislature. He is a religious conservative known for opposition to women’s rights, abortion, the environment, gay rights, marijuana, pacifism, and the Canadian softwood lumber industry.
In 2001, he engineered a South Carolina legislative resolution that asked the US government to enforce trade sanctions against Canada.
During the South Carolina primary in the 2000 presidential campaign, Wilkins helped orchestrate a vicious, racist smear campaign against Bush rival Senator John McCain.
How else did Wilkins get the job? By giving money to Bush. He’s been a major Bush fundraiser and campaign leader during both of George W. Bush’s presidential bids. It doesn’t hurt that Wilkins and his wife are close friends with the Bush family, including Papa Bush.
Wilkins, who has been a South Carolina legislator for 25 years, admits he’s only been to Canada once, and that he doesn’t know hardly anything about Canada. If his track record is any indication, Wilkins will continue the Bush administration’s heavy handed approach towards Canadian marijuana culture.
Wilkins was personally responsible for increasing the severity of South Carolina’s marijuana laws. He crusaded for harsher sentencing for simple marijuana possession, and has encouraged law enforcement officers to arrest and jail bona fide medical marijuana users.
During his term as Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Wilkins pushed hard to increase prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders, a move that cost taxpayers millions of extra dollars building new prisons and hiring more prison guards.
Most nonviolent offenders served an average 53 percent of their sentences, but Wilkins’ proposal upped that to 85 percent.
Wilkins responded to criticism of his proposal by saying South Carolinians wanted tougher prison sentences, and that they’d be happy to pay for them. South Carolina already has a higher incarceration rate than most other states.
Wilkins is likely to be confirmed as ambassador by the US Senate and at his post in Ottawa by late June. What he won’t bring north with him is an insider’s nuanced knowledge of Canada, a consensus-building attitude, or any authentic respect for Canada that would distinguish him from the arrogant Cellucci, whose dictatorial approach offended Canadians for four years.
In fact, when the 58-year-old Wilkins was asked what he knows about Canada, he replied that he has only been there once, on a brief visit to Niagara Falls more than thirty years ago.
“I don’t know where we went. It’s been so long, I’d have to look at the map,” he said. “I’m going to learn as much as I can as fast as I can. I’m anxious to get on the job and I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”