How to Occupy a Member of Parliament's Office
CANNABIS CULTURE - Want to be a member of the 'Free Marc' Campaign but don't know where to start? Cannabis Culture presents a step-by-step guide to occupying your local Conservative Member of Parliament's office.
Why Occupy an MP's Office?
The Conservative Party has declared a war on Canadian culture, including the cannabis culture. With mandatory minimums for marijuana proposed in Bill S-10, the extradition of cannabis activist Marc Emery, the busts of medical marijuana dispensaries in Quebec and Ontario, and the budget cuts to Health Canada's medical marijuana program, it's blatantly clear that the Conservative Party is out to destroy our marijuana culture and community.
We are no longer trying to change the minds of Conservative politicians; instead, we intend to show them we are here to campaign against them. We will go into their offices, come to their campaign events, and hound them wherever they are. We will be relentless, and by going directly to their offices, we demonstrate this.
In short, this is a war of ideas and values, and we are taking the fight to them. No longer will we let our MP's hide in their offices and ignore the people. We will force them to acknowledge us, by sight, sound, and if you have your medical marijuana card, smell.
This Conservative Party wants to rule and control you. When we occupy their offices and roll marijuana on their desks and the police do nothing to stop us, it cuts through the core of their punishment-happy psyche and sends a strong message. Nothing says “You can not stop us” like rolling marijuana on their desk.
This article is intended to let you know how you can help take the fight directly to the Conservative Party!
First, let's go over your rights according to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
Section 2: Fundamental Freedoms
Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
The keys here are “Expression” and “Peaceful Assembly”. Expression includes more than just speech, because it allows non-verbal expressions, like protesting, using loudspeaker systems, etc. “Peaceful Assembly” specifically allows protest, or indeed any assembly that is peaceful.
Section 20: Communications by public with federal institutions
(1) Any member of the public in Canada has the right to communicate with, and to receive available services from, any head or central office of an institution of the Parliament or government of Canada in English or French, and has the same right with respect to any other office of any such institution where
(a) there is a significant demand for communications with and services from that office in such language; or
(b) due to the nature of the office, it is reasonable that communications with and services from that office be available in both English and French.
You have a right, as a Canadian to access services at any office, anywhere, during open hours, in both languages. This includes Member of Parliament offices; even offices belonging to Member's of Parliament other than in your own riding.
(1)This Charter applies
(a) to the Parliament and government of Canada in respect of all matters within the authority of Parliament including all matters relating to the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories; and
(b) to the legislature and government of each province in respect of all matters within the authority of the legislature of each province.
So, you have a right to protest, a right to be served in any office of government, and the Constitution applies to all government entities, including constituency offices. It doesn't matter if it's in a mall because the office is rented by the public, which makes it public space. You have every right to be inside any MP's office during open hours. If they say it's private property, they are wrong - it's rented by the public.
Sit-ins, or occupations, have a long history in activism, with a peak in popularity in the 1960s. We have the right to protest inside these offices, and we must exercise that right.
How To Occupy an MP's Office
(1) Pick a date, time, and place to meet for your protest
Pick a secondary place to meet, like a local bong shop or public place where people are allowed to assemble without drawing too much attention. Then you can depart to the MP's office as a group and arrive together. Any date during the week will do, and MP offices are typically open from 9am to 5pm, with an hour lunch break from 12-1.
(2) Invite everyone you know
Let your friends and fellow activists know of a the place to meet but don't tell them exactly where you are going afterwards or make them promise to keep it a secret! It's very important not to let the Conservatives know you are coming. Don't write the specific details of your plan on Facebook or other websites, as pot activists are often being monitored. The Conservative Party pays hundreds of people to watch social networks, forums, and blogs, so be careful. These occupations are effective with a large crowd or even just few people.
(3) Prepare your cameras, phones, etc
Make sure your batteries are charged, memory sticks cleared, and cameras ready to record! Make sure you are videotaping from the moment you walk into the office, until the moment the police back down. If you have a smartphone, download and install Qik so that you can send video directly to the Internet from your phone. The more cameras the better! If you've seen the video of my arrest, you will know how important video is to keeping us safe from unfounded charges.
(4) Arrive together at the MPs office
Make sure you and your fellow activists arrive together so you're not waiting around in front of the office. If some of your people are late, simply enter as a small group. It is vital to get into the office before they lock it up, which they will likely do if they know you're coming.
(5) Enter the office
Politely let the staff know you're there to protest, that it's legal, and that you'll be staying until closing. Remember, our “fight” isn't with the secretaries, it's with their bosses (and the party bosses). The staff will call the police, but don't worry. Police, if they demand you leave, will give plenty of warning before any arrests; most police have been instructed that these protests are legal. If you don't have a medical marijuana card, don't bring marijuana with you, as police will likely demand your card. If you have a card, remember, you can roll marijuana anywhere you like, legally. Inform police and staff that you are there under Sections 2, 20 and 32 of the Charter of Rights. Once you're in, get comfortable. Occupy any open offices and sit down, either on the floor or at a desk. If the door is open, you can enter the office, so go ahead! Don't let police or staff intimidate you!
(6) Call the media
It is good to have a list of phone numbers for local newspaper and TV stations that you can call once you're inside the office. Tell them you are staging a 'Free Marc' protest inside the MP's office and have the address ready. Give them other details if necessary and ask them to send someone. It usually takes journalists and photographers a bit of time to show up, so it's best to call as soon as you're inside the office.
(7) Announce your Success on Twitter
The best way to tell the world you are in an MP's office is via Twitter and other social networking sites. If you're savy, add the Twitter Application to your Facebook account and enable auto-reposting of your twitter to your Facebook. This way, anything you tweet from your phone will go out over both social networks. It's important to get your Qik feed (if you have one) included in your first tweets. Post details of what's happening and you'll have people watching your protest live via the internet!
(8) Have fun
You are exercising your rights, something millions have fought and died for! Enjoy it! Sing, play guitar, and enjoy sticking it to the Conservative Party! You can do anything in the office that doesn't disrupt their ability to do business. Let them talk to people, let them work, but by all means have fun! You are free to speak with any members of the public who enter, so let them know all about Marc Emery, Bill S-10, and why we must defeat this Conservative Party.
9) Don't stop filming
No matter what police, staff or anyone else tells you, DO NOT STOP FILMING! You have every right to film police, and we have already fought and WON in court over that right. If police start seizing cameras, remove your card and pocket it (without the police seeing) and make sure you are recording to Qik.com. If Police seize cameras, we will sue, and we will win. DO NOT STOP FILMING!
10) Decide when to leave
When staff and police are less than polite, we stay for longer periods; where they are completely welcoming, we stay for less time. We want to train the Conservatives that we will force our rights upon them if they decide not to respect them. For those who do respect our rights, we leave early and post their names to the Internet. So far, Ed Fast and Gary Lunn have been somewhat welcoming, while Stephen Harper, Rob Nicholson and Andrew Saxton have been completely hostile. We stayed at Harper's office until exactly 5 because they tried to force us out. Nothing makes this Conservative Party feel powerless like the inability to remove us from their offices. So enjoy yourself! When your group decides to leave, thank the staff and police for their hospitality and smile! This is fun, so let them know you're enjoying yourself.
'How-To' wrap up:
Bring: Cameras, Cell Phones, Handbills, buttons, whatever you've got! We've done these occupations with as many as 30 people and lots of signs, to as few as 4 people without any signage. This is about taking the fight to the Conservatives, so it's our presence, more than our materials, that makes all the difference.
You have every right to be inside of an MP's office, and if you're a medical user, you have every right to roll your marijuana inside that office! Enjoy yourselves, smile a lot, and stick to your guns - you have every right to be there!
Frequently Asked Questions
What if Police say we have to leave?
Tell them "no, I have every right to be here until closing, feel free to call Crown (Counsel) and discuss it with them." If Police push on this, it's up to you; if you're willing to get arrested to prove your point, do so, otherwise leave the office. It's good to plan ahead for this, and discuss as a group who, if anyone, is willing to get arrested should it come to that.
What if Police tell us to stop recording?
Don't. Tell them: "an MP's office is public space, you are on public duty and have no expectation of privacy. The Supreme Court of Canada has already decided this issue. Also, this is live to the Internet, so you're going to have to explain why you, as a law enforcement officer, don't already know that."
What if staff say they're closing early?
Tell them: "no, your posted open hours are 9-5, you can not simply prevent us from protesting by closing; that would violate our constitutional rights. We will leave promptly at 5pm, the posted closing hours for this office."
What if people get arrested?
We will help cover legal costs related purely to a sit-in, videotaping, or medical users rolling marijuana. It only takes one person charged to mount a Charter Challenge, and defending people in court is expensive. If you want to be arrested, do so, if you don't, do not. Getting arrested is not about courage, it's about the ability to do so without being harmed. We do not want people losing their jobs, or otherwise compromising their ability to be activists in the future! If people start being arrested, it's your decision, stay and get arrested with them or leave and start calling media and lawyers. We are a team, with many different positions, so do what you're comfortable with!
What if the MP wants to talk to us?
Talk to them! Inform them that you're very upset at the Conservative Party's policies on drugs, and their total disregard for evidence or popular support. Tell them that you will be campaigning against them, and so will your friends, so long as they continue to support Stephen Harper's government. If they are willing to resign from the party, vote against Bill S-10, or speak out in favour of Marc Emery, then post it online! If we can make friends in the party, by all means do so. Sadly, the vast majority of these MPs will remain in opposition to drug policy reform, so let them know we will be back during the campaign to make sure they're defeated.
What if they say the office is private property?
They are wrong. Tell them: "this office is rented by the public, making it public property." It's that simple, they tried this at Stephen Harper's office, and we stood our ground. Calling an MP's office private property is like calling the sky Green, you can say it all you want, but that doesn't make it true.
Have more questions? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will update this article! Let me know when you're doing a rally in your area and I will help get people out to it! Above all else, remember: Bring CHARGED cameras with EMPTY cards :) Be safe out there and have fun! Free Marc Emery!