CANNABIS CULTURE – I joined the NDP in 2003, and in 2005 I started a group within the NDP called “End Prohibition: New Democrats Against the Drug War.”
This group has now grown to over 700 NDP members and supporters who work within the NDP to promote resolutions which clarify and expand the party’s policy on marijuana and harm reduction issues.
Over the past five years I have personally attended over a dozen NDP conventions in eight provinces. We usually purchase table space and buy a small ad in the convention guide, along with many other groups.
We have never had a single problem at any of the dozen conventions before this federal convention. But at this most recent federal convention we had unprecedented problems every step of the way.
— PERSONALLY BANNED FROM POSTING ON OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE WALL
In February, I created a Facebook group for the NDP Convention. I made sure it was clear that it wasn’t an official page. In June, I received a message on Facebook from Jen Anthony, who said she was organizing the convention. She said that they were going to make an official Facebook page for the convention, and then they saw that I had made a page already.
Jen asked me to make her an admin on my page, and then to delete myself as admin and turn it over to her. I agreed to make her an admin but not to delete myself.
Shortly thereafter I saw that she had instead created an Official Facebook Page for the Convention. That seemed like a good idea, and so I linked to it from my Facebook page and sent out a message to everyone on my event page notifying them that there was now an Official NDP page for the convention.
My convention event page is here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=42586397764
The official event page is here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=92933656333
In late June and early July I made posts to their Facebook page wall, and all of them were deleted within 48 hours or less.
The first post was made around June 29 and said:
* If you are an NDP member who supports drug policy reform and wants to come to the Convention, contact [email protected] for information on how we can help to get you there.
The second post was made on July 9 and said:
* Why are the Resolution Priority Panels being held BEFORE the Call to Order?
The third post was made on July 11 and said:
* Long live the NDP! Jack Layton for Prime Minister.
Although there are many other posts from NDP members on the Facebook wall, all of mine were deleted within 48 hours or less of being posted.
I sent a Facebook message to Jen Anthony and Marena Winstanley, who are the two admins on the page, and who are both “Convention Organizers” in some way. I politely asked if they knew why my posts were getting deleted.
Jen didn’t reply, and Marena sent me a Facebook reply which said simply:
“I’m afraid I don’t have much to say in response to your messages. These are not my decisions to be made.”
I replied asking politely who it is that is making these decisions, but I received no further response.
— AD IN CONVENTION GUIDE BLOCKED
During the month of June we booked space for two quarter page ads in the NDP Convention Guide book.
One ad is for End Prohibition, and says “Thank you to the NDP for standing up against the Conservative’s failed War on Drugs.” It includes a quote from Libby Davies and contact information for End Prohibition. You can see it here: http://www.danalarsen.com/uploads/PmWiki/endproh-ad.jpg
The second ad is for the Vancouver Medical Cannabis Dispensary Society, a provincially-registered non-profit society of which I am a Director. This ad says “Thank you to the NDP for standing up for the rights of medicinal cannabis users.” It includes an image of a marijuana leaf and the contact information for the Dispensary. You can see it here: http://www.danalarsen.com/uploads/PmWiki/disp-ad.jpg
After booking the ads well in advance and then sending them in a few days before the end of June deadline, we were told after shortly the deadline had passed that the ads were “unacceptable.”
I spoke with Drew Anderson, the fellow who is apparently in charge of producing the convention guide, on Friday, July 3, he said he would email me a copy of their policy on advertising which didn’t allow us to advertise. But instead, on Monday July 6, he sent me an email which said only: “As promised, I am following up on our conversation from Friday in writing. The ads that you submitted are not consistent with our advertising policy. As such they will not appear in our Convention guide. Thank you. Drew Anderson.”
I immediately wrote back and asked again to see a copy of the actual advertising policy, as well as to please know who is responsible for making the decisions. I also offered to make changes to the ads if possible so as to bring them into line with policy.
Drew did not reply, so on Thursday, July 9, I called National Director Brad Lavigne and spoke with him personally on the phone.
Brad told me that he wasn’t aware of the situation, and that he didn’t oversee every ad decision in the Convention Guide. He gave me the impression that Drew was acting on his own, took my phone number and said that he would call me back soon. But he never did.
Instead, a week later on Thursday, July 16, almost three weeks after our ads were initially rejected, I received an email from Drew Anderson as follows:
I am responding to your correspondence related to applications for advertising in our 2009 Convention guide.
As a federal political party, we are subject to the strict financing restrictions laid out in the Canada Elections Act. In order to ensure we are in compliance, we are very selective about which types of organizations are offered advertising properties. We reserve the right to reject advertising which we believe places us in a compliance risk.
As part of this approach, we are not offering any advertising properties whatsoever from advocacy groups – regardless of what they are advocating. This is consistent with our approach during the 2006 Convention.
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns,
Canada’s New Democrats
I immediately wrote back, asking what an “advocacy group” means specifically. Because while End Prohibition is an informal group within the NDP, the Vancouver Dispensary Society is a registered non-profit, and so maybe one of the ads would be acceptable. I also asked if we would ever hear back about our table bookings. Drew did not reply.
When I look now at the convention guide from Halifax, I see ads like the one on page 15 from the BC and Yukon Building Trades, which says simply “Thank you for speaking up for working people.” These kinds of ads seem pretty much the same as to what we were trying to purchase.
— TABLE BOOKING STALLED
Along with trying to book an ad in the Convention Guide, End Prohibition and the Vancouver Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary Society were both trying to book table space at the Convention. It is usual for many social advocacy and non-profit groups to pay for a table at NDP Conventions, and End Prohibition had a table at the last federal convention in Quebec. (We’ve also had tables and ads at many provincial NDP Conventions across Canada over the past three years.)
We filled out the forms to book the table space and sent them in well before the June deadline. For the whole month of July we received no reply to our calls, emails and Facebook messages asking if our forms had been received. During every correspondence we had with Drew Anderson about our ads, we asked about our table space and received no reply.
Finally, two days before the convention, at almost the exact same time as Brad Lavigne emailed me to notify me that I had been de-registered as a delegate (see below), my associate received a call from Drew Anderson, informing him that End Prohibition could have a table, but not the Dispensary Society. Drew also said that we didn’t have to pay the usual fee, we could have the table from free!
— PERSONALLY BARRED FROM THE CONVENTION
On Tuesday, August 11, two days before the convention was to begin, I received an email from Brad Lavigne, notifying me that I had been de-registered as a delegate.
In the email, I was accused of “vote buying” for offering “a material benefit for voting a certain way.” This was based on posts I had made on the Internet over six months earlier.
I have transcribed their letter as follows:
Mr. Dana Larson
Dear Mr Larson,
It has recently come to our attention that you have been offering to provide financial inducements to individuals to attend the Federal New Democratic Convention in Halifax.
Both on an ‘eNDProhibition’ web site, as well as postings in your name on Rabble.ca, you have repeatedly offered to induce individuals to attend the convention through a financial gift for voting in a certain way. This is a concern to the Party, for a couple of reasons.
The first is that provision of a material benefit for voting a certain way is clear vote-buying, a practice that is widely acknowledged to be undemocratic and one that is not in keeping with the democratic principles of the New Democratic Party.
Second, your stated intention to defray the travel, lodging, food and other costs, as well as to provide subsidies to delegates to enable them to attend the Convention, risks causing the Party to be in breach of the provisions of the Income Tax Act of Canada, which limit the amount of the tax receipt that the party may issue to a person who has made a contribution to the “eligible amount” of the contribution. The “eligible amount” of a contribution is net of any advantage or benefit that a person who has made a contribution has received or will receive, where the advantage or benefit is in any way related to the contribution.
Moreover, the offer to provide subsidies of “other items” leaves open the possibility that such delegates might end up paying all or a portion of their Convention fees (which are considered a contribution under the Elections Act) with money that is not theirs. This would be a breach of Section 405.3 of the Elections Act, which states “No individual shall make a contribution to a registered party, a registered association, a candidate or a leadership contestant or a nomination contestant that comes from money, property or the services of any person or entity that was provided to that individual for that purpose.” Again, in such a circumstance the Party would be exposed to the risk of issuing tax receipts to such delegates that they would not be entitled to receive.
In short, by offering the inducements that you have, the Party would be put in the positiion of issuing tax receipts contrary to the requirements under the Income Tax Act. You will understand that the Party cannot accept such a risk.
Mr. Larsen, because your offers of financial inducements to other delegates are contrary to the democratic principles of the New Democratic Party and risk placing the Party in a position where it may issue tax receipts contrary to the Income Tax Act, the Party Officers have decided to de-register you as a delegate to the Convention.
The Party will reimburse to you any fees that you have remitted to it in connection with your planned attendance at the Convention.
And this is the reply that I sent to Brad Lavigne a few hours later:
I am surprised and confused by this turn of events. It is shocking to me that I have been stripped of my delegate status with no chance to response to these false allegations against me.
Is there any way that I can appeal this decision?
I will take this opportunity to correct some of the misapprehensions in your letter to me.
First, allegations of vote-buying are false. I never once explicitly or implicitly offered any sort of inducement for changing someone’s intended vote. The offer of travel and lodging subsidy was clearly made only to registered delegates who already support drug policy reform.
Second, I am aware of the rules around the payment of delegate fees, and we never offered or provided any sort of subsidy or payment to cover these for anyone. I was always very clear that we were offering subsidy for travel and lodging only. By “other items” we meant incidental expenses, certainly not delegate fees.
Third, because an individual’s personal transportation and lodging expenses are not considered receiptable expenses, subsidization of those expenses for another individual would not in any way cause myself or the party to be in breach of the Income Tax Act.
Fourth, it should be noted that on numerous occasions, party organizations such as the ONDY or unions have subsidized delegates attending on their behalf. I am not sure how our offer of a subsidy for our delegates is any different. Youth delegates are on occasion asked to vote as a block by their provincial organization and unions are often explicit in their commands to vote a specific way.
Finally, considering that the posts in question are all well over a month old (the notice on the End Prohibition site was posted in March) I am confused as to why I heard nothing about this until two days before the convention.
My flight leaves for Halifax in a few hours and it is too late to cancel it. I look forward to discussing this with you in person.
The main point in their letter was that I had made these offers on the www.endprohibition.ca website, and on the discussion forums at www.rabble.ca/babble
On the End Prohibition website I had made only one post offering travel and lodging subsidies, on March 24, over four months before the convention.
You can read the whole post here: http://www.endprohibition.ca/2009_03_24_archive.php
The relevant parts of that post are as follows:
We are also working to get as many End Prohibition members as possible registered as delegates for this convention. We are offering subsidies to our delegates to cover the cost of travel, food, lodging and other items.
We will be posting our marijuana and drug policy resolution very soon. Please introduce this resolution at your local riding association so that it will come to the convention with a broad base of support across the country.
I hope that you will be able to join us at this NDP convention in Halifax! This will be a unique opportunity for you to travel across Canada, make new friends in the NDP, and have fun promoting legal marijuana and an end to prohibition.
Once again, we are offering subsidies to our delegates to cover the cost of travel, food, lodging and other items. Please contact us if you are interested!
And I also made some posts on the Babble forums about our offer to help delegates get to the convention.
The first was on January 20, 2009:
Well I will be there of course. I think it will be my 11th NDP convention, but I’m starting to lose count.
If there’s any Babblers who want to go but perhaps cannot afford it, please contact me. I am organizing transport and lodging for groups of delegates. All that I ask in return is your vote on an anti-prohibition resolution and perhaps one or two other issues, otherwise you can vote and do as you please.
If you are interested, please contact me.
The next two were in together in the same thread a few months later. On June 27:
Does anyone know if the deadline to submit resolutions also been extended?
“End Prohibition” has a standing offer to help with the travel expenses of anyone going to convention who will help promote and support our resolution on drug policy reform.
And then on July 25:
Please note that the only people we’re offering help to are NDP members who have already been approved as delegates by their riding associations. Probably it’s going to be six or seven people, and they’ve all agreed to help work our table, (although at this point I don’t think we’re going to be allowed to have one.)
While I agree that the January 20 post should have been phrased differently, I still think it is clear in the broader context of the posts that I was seeking like-minded people willing to work at our table and help out at the convention, and not trying to bribe anyone to change their vote.
As I explained in the posts on March 24, June 27 and July 25, I was seeking delegates to come to convention and “promote and support” our group, including to help work our table, give out flyers and buttons to delegates and otherwise help with our efforts at convention. I wouldn’t expect anyone who didn’t already support drug policy reform would want to work at our table and hand out flyers for End Prohibition.
The most contentious post was made January 20, over 6 months before the convention. Yet I was only notified of my ban two days before the convention was to begin, with no prior hint that anything I had written was a cause for concern.
I believe that I should at least have been given a chance to respond to these accusations and offer a defence before being banned from the convention. And if these allegations were so serious as to ban me, then perhaps there should have been a further investigation of some sort?
Just banning me from the convention, without any advance communication, hearing or investigation, seems like a very strange and undemocratic way of dealing with this situation. I believe we could have easily resolved this problem in a less confrontational manner if there had been an opportunity to do so.
— AT THE CONVENTION
Shortly after I wrote back to Brad Lavigne, I received a phone call from Drew Anderson. Drew told me that I shouldn’t bother coming to Halifax because I couldn’t be a delegate. I told him it was too late to cancel my flight and I would just come as an Observer instead.
Drew called me back twenty minutes later, and told me that I would not be allowed to attend as an Observer either. When I told him that I wouldn’t be able to get a refund on my flight, he actually told me that the NDP could compensate me for the cost of my lost airfare if I just stayed home!
Of course I decided to come anyways. I arrived in Halifax on Wednesday night, and Thursday morning I went the YND Convention, being held in the same building as the NDP Convention which started on Friday.
Along with a few NDP friends I registered as an Observer and sat down in the room where the convention was to be held.
Just before the Call to Order, someone came and told me that Drew Anderson wanted to meet with me. I followed this person down the hall to where I met Drew, and Drew took me to a private room. My friend and associate in End Prohibition Benn Greer came along too.
Drew was polite and friendly, but he told me that I was not allowed in the building, and that he would call security on me if I didn’t cooperate.
I mentioned to Drew that banning me didn’t make much sense. If I was truly guilty of undermining democracy by bribing delegates, then just banning me didn’t really solve that problem.
After saying “Now I don’t want to read about this on Babble,” Drew told me that the reason I had been banned was because Brad Lavigne had received a phone call from a reporter, asking about my posts on Babble. Drew told me that by banning me they had squelched any problems with the media, but that if I didn’t cooperate then the party might choose to launch a police investigation against me, or pursue a deeper investigation into the delegates I had help subsidize.
Drew then told me “I am sure you will agree that this is best dealt with quietly.”
I asked Drew that if this was truly only about the posts I had made on Babble, and if these things had truly only come to light very recently, then had how come we had such trouble booking our ad and table space?
Drew told me that he regretted not being able to run our ads, and that he had consulted with lawyers about our ads, and he was told that they weren’t allowed because they weren’t advertising anything, or that our groups weren’t getting any value from the ads because we wouldn’t run them anywhere else. I admit I didn’t fully understand his reply, I may be misquoting him, it didn’t make any sense to me.
Drew also told me that the delay with our table was just due to them being busy, and that other people trying to book tables had also had problems. (Later on, when we asked the other people who had tables about their experiences, they all told us their tables had been booked right away and they had no problems getting a reply or booking their space.)
By the next morning I had a sign printed which said “I was banned from the NDP Convention. Ask me why.” I spent most of the next three days standing outside the front of the Halifax convention centre with my sign, talking to curious delegates and media.
You can see a photo of me with my sign here: http://www.danalarsen.com/uploads/Main/dana-banned-sign.jpg
I received quite a bit of media coverage, including being on the front page of the weekend Metro in Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa and Halifax. I was also covered in The Province, many Black Press newspapers, a story in the Canadian Press, and I am told I was on both CTV and Global News, although I haven’t seen those. A short video of me posted on Youtube is the top result for a search on “NDP Convention” and has received double the views of anything else from the convention.
My supporters caused a bit of a stir as well, some going a bit overboard and posting Brad Lavigne’s home phone number, which I didn’t ask for and didn’t feel was very helpful. However, there’s nothing wrong with people contacting the National Director of the NDP to complain about this, as long as it is at his work number or email.
Apparently, I also received so many positive comments on the NDP Official Convention Facebook page that they disabled the public wall entirely when they couldn’t delete them fast enough.
I also received nothing but a friendly and positive response from the many delegates who went by me on their way in. Not everyone stopped to talk to me, but most of those who did offered their sympathy and support, and many ended up taking an End Prohibition button and putting it on before continuing on into the convention.
— RESOLUTIONS PROCESS
While I was not in the building during the resolutions prioritization meetings, I have spoken with other people who were there. All of the following is based on what I was told by others who were inside the convention.
The resolution on cannabis and drug policy had initially been set at number 20 on the priority list. Although it had been passed by 9 riding associations, and 3 others had also passed different resolutions with similar goals, it was still placed two spots behind a resolution calling for more controls on pet food safety.
During the prioritization meeting, a motion was made to push up the priority of the drug policy resolution to number two. A few delegates spoke in support of the motion, and no-one went to the Con mikes to speak against it. So a vote was held, and the motion passed by a large majority.
A while later, the chair said words to this effect: “I haven’t had enough coffee. No-one spoke against that resolution on drug policy. Let’s go back and do that again.”
Now this is clearly against Roberts Rules of Order and NDP Rules of Order for a meeting. The only way to go back and have a re-vote is if a delegate who had initially voted in favour of the item introduces a motion to have a re-vote, and that motion needs to pass with a two-thirds majority. Neither of these things happened, the chair just arbitrarily decided to have a do-over all on her own. There were challenges from the floor against the chair, but in the end this was allowed to occur.
Between the first and second votes many delegates entered the room who had not been there before. Speakers who hadn’t been there for the first vote were now lined up at the Con mike, and when the new vote was held there was a tight margin of victory to keep that pesky drug policy resolution down at #20 on the list.
However, the resolutions from #6 to #20 were later passed by the panel in an omnibus motion, which means that even though they were not debated on the convention floor, they must still be considered by the Federal Council at their next meeting.
This same kind of “do-over” occured on the main convention floor as well, over the issue of the convention agenda. An amendment was made to the agenda from the floor of the convention, to add an hour to policy debate by moving a US Democrat guest speaker to an evening session. After heated debate the motion was carried in a majority vote.
Then after some delegates had left the room and the debate had moved on to other topics, Olivia Chow proposed that the agenda motion be reconsidered. Despite this being an absolute violation of Roberts Rules of Order, the convention chair allowed a re-vote and the original vote was reversed.
In both instances it was the same person chairing when the decisions to have a re-vote were held.
— CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
While I feel that both I and the democratic convention process were badly treated by National Director Brad Lavigne, my support for the NDP has not wavered, and I do not feel that the actions of Brad are supported by most of the membership of the party.
I agree that the way I worded my January 20 offer to help delegates get to the convention could be misinterpreted, especially if you are actively seeking to find some way to justify keeping me away from the convention. But I think any fair-minded analysis would agree that bribery and vote-buying did not occur, and that it was never my intent.
I definitely feel that the situation could have been dealt with much better than the last-minute ban I was given, and that I should at least have been given a chance to explain and defend myself.
In the context of my posts being deleted, the ads and table being blocked, and the general lack of response to our queries, the last-minute stripping of my delegate credentials seems more like part of a pattern of wanting to eliminate my influence from the convention, than a genuine concern for the integrity of the democratic process.
I would definitely like to see some changes occur in regards to how the federal NDP runs their conventions, so that we can create a system which is truly democratic and grassroots.
Regardless, my work within the NDP continues. I will be in Edmonton for the Alberta NDP Convention this Sept 11-13, and I will be at the BC NDP Convention this winter as well. I hope to see some of you there!