CANNABIS CULTURE – The Senate of Canada has passed Bill S-10, which includes mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offences. No this is not a drill. The bill will now move to the House of Commons for voting before it can become law.
The Conservative-controlled Senate passed the bill on December 13 with barely a peep from the opposition Liberals or the press; an underwhelming response considering the implications for Canadians if the bill passes the House of Commons and becomes law.
If passed, S-10 will bring mandatory minimum jail sentences for marijuana offences to Canada for the first time – including six months for growing as few as five marijuana plants and 18 months for extracting hash or making pot edibles and sharing them. This means medical marijuana users who make pot cookies would be at risk of arrest, as there is no protection of this activity by current medical marijuana laws.
Some of the mandatory sentences increase to two years for growing or dealing near a school or park, and even more time with other ‘aggravating factors’.
The bill even includes life sentences for non-violent marijuana crimes.
A similar bill, C-15, made it through the Senate and House last year, but was first watered-down and ultimately killed when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in the wake of allegations of Canadian involvement in torture in Afghanistan. Now, with a stacked Senate, the Conservatives have been able to pass a stronger version of the bill, which includes mandatory prison terms of six months for just a few plants.
CLICK HERE to read more about how the law would change under S-10.
A search of Canada’s mainstream media websites revealed that NONE of them (as of the time of this writing) had reported on the passage of the bill.
Cannabis Culture contacted the Liberal Party for comment but our messages were not returned – and no press release has been issued by the Libs about the bill’s approval by the Senate.
The only comment from Liberals came in the form of a few critical questions just before the bill passed.
Senator Sharon Carstairs, who has Liberal party affiliation, questioned Conservative Senator John D. Wallace about the expected costs associated with the bill, estimated at $300 million to start:
Senator Carstairs: I listened carefully to the honourable senator’s presentation in which he talked about the $30 million for youth programs, $100 million for treatment and $102 million to combat production, plus another $67 million, for a total of $300 million.
Can the honourable senator tell the chamber how much it is anticipated the additional incarceration costs will be as a result of this legislation? As I am given to understand from a recent study by Corrections Canada, the number of women who will be incarcerated will increase by 225 per cent as a result of this bill.
Senator Wallace: Honourable senators, I cannot provide any figures in terms of the direct impact this legislation would have on rates of incarceration. I know that is a question and an issue that has been dealt with on other bills that involve mandatory minimums. Certainly, through the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Justice, it has been acknowledged that rates of incarceration could well increase and that money will be required to provide the facilities to deal with that. We have had assurances that not only will that happen, but that it is happening now.
Liberal Senator Tommy Banks said he supported the intent of the bill, but not the fine print:
If one weighed the provisions, not to say the words in this bill, the vast majority of it is good. […] If the bill did what it said it was going to do, I would have no trouble voting for it. However, I am obliged to vote against the bill because it does more than it says it will do. The purport of the bill, in its summary, says that it is for minimum penalties for serious drug offences.
I have said before how opposed I am to the idea of minimum penalties for anything, which I will address again in a minute, but this bill goes further than that. Senator Baker talked about this earlier, and Senator Wallace answered in response to Senator Fraser that, yes, there are circumstances that none of us would think of as trafficking in a controlled substance which are caught by this bill. Giving your friend a Tylenol because he or she has a headache is an offence under this bill. Growing six marijuana plants in order to have a party with your friends at graduation is an offence under this bill. No money made; just doing it for friends. I know that is not the intent of the bill because it says it is for serious drug offences in the summary.
We have to look at what the law says, and it says, among other things, that if I give Senator Baker a Tylenol 3 because he has a headache and if we happened to be near a school, whatever that means — “near” is not defined — that is trafficking and I can be prosecuted.
If we do this minimum sentence business, we are removing the discretion from judges about whether to proceed with something and relying instead, as Senator Baker has reminded us, on prosecutorial independence. It will be prosecutors who decide whether to prosecute me for giving Senator Baker a Tylenol and not others. That is the law we are passing.
Let me read you what it says in terms of the aggravating factor of being in or near a school. It says:
(ii) to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of two years if
(A) the person committed the offence in or near a school, on or near school grounds or in or near any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of 18 years,
It is talking about malls, theatres, concert halls and arenas, for example. That is what this law says.
Senator Charlie Watt also questioned the Conservative wisdom behind the bill, and was upset it didn’t include his proposed amendment that would exempt Aboriginal Canadians from the mandatory minimum jail sentences:
What I heard last week in this chamber was a misguided government plan to further penalize Aboriginal people in the Canadian justice system. There is only one way to take the action of removing a judge’s ability to interpret. Senator Wallace called them “our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.” In reality, they are victims of culturally intolerant government policy.
Read the entire discussion of S-10 in the Senate on the Government of Canada website.
Jacob Hunter, Marijuana activist and founder of WhyProhibition.ca, told Cannabis Culture the bill will harm, not help, Canadians.
“Yet again we have a house of our Parliament that is completely capitulating to this Conservative ideological war on our community,” he said. “This is a bill that has been proven, time and time again, to have nothing to do with reducing crime, nothing to do with reducing the availability of drugs on our streets, and everything to do with increasing the number of innocent, law-abiding Canadians in prison. We’re talking about a bill that will massively increase prison population, massively increase spending (especially Provincial) on prisons and policing, and that will have absolutely no positive effect. It is an absolute travesty – and one, I will continue to point out, the Conservatives can offer no piece of scientific evidence in support of.”
YOU CAN HELP STOP S-10 FROM BECOMING CANADIAN LAW
Please contact your Member of Parliament and tell them to VOTE NO on Bill S-10. No mandatory minimums for marijuana!
Let the Liberal Party know you are against this bill – call Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff: (613) 995-9364
Sign up at WhyProhibition.ca to get involved in marijuana activism online and receive regular updates about S-10 and protest actions in your area.
Watch Cannabis Culture for more news about Bill S-10 and upcoming activism events.