What is Bill C-7?
Bill C-7 is a piece of government legislation otherwise known as the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. If passed without serious amendments, Bill C-7 will dramatically step up the War on Drugs in Canada.
Bill C-7 was introduced to Parliament at the beginning of 1994 and has already passed through its first two readings. It is almost identical to Bill C-85, which was introduced by the Conservative government of Kim Campbell but was not passed before the Conservatives were removed from power. A sub-committee of the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare heard testimony about Bill C-7 over the summer, and although it has not yet released its recommendations, the testimony provided a fascinating glimpse into the opinions of many different public organizations.
The sub-committee on Bill C-7 presented the first real opportunity for the government to receive some public input about the bill. A total of nineteen organizations gave testimony to the sub-committee. Over two thirds of those that testified were opposed to Bill C-7 in its present form. The organizations that gave testimony can be grouped into six general divisions, as follows:
- The federal justice and health bureaucracies
- Grassroots organizations
- Drug and addiction research agencies
- Legal professionals
- Health Professionals
- Law enforcement agencies.
Also in this article…
The Drug War Bureaucracy
Why Bill C-7?
The first thing that the committee wanted to know was why Bill C-7 had been created. For this purpose they heard testimony from Officials from the Department of Health and Welfare, the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs, and the Solicitor General’s Office.
The first explanation given to justify the need for Bill C-7 was that it is a benign piece of “housekeeping” legislation whose purpose is only to consolidate the Narcotic Control Act and parts of the Food and Drug Act into a single piece of legislation. The secondary explanation is that the legislation is intended to meet Canada’s obligations under the three international conventions on drug control to which Canada is a signatory nation.
During the testimony of the various officials however, at least one other explanation was offered, namely that of pressure from the American government. Bruce Rowsell, the Director of the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs, stated that
“we are under a fair amount of pressure from our neighbours to the South, who see us a weak link in the chain against the precursor substances.”
What Will Bill C-7 Do?
The government officials also testified as to the differences between the proposed Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the present legislation. Although there are a number of changes proposed in the legislation, there are at least four which deserve greater attention.
First, Bill C-7 widens the scope of controlled substances so that anything which has an effect similar to or greater than a controlled substance automatically becomes a controlled substance as well. This is supposed to be a means of controlling look-alike drugs and new designer drugs that may be invented.
Second, the section on offense-related property has been widened so that property used to commit crimes will be seizable and forfeitable as well. The potential for abuse with this aspect of the legislation seems obvious, yet it was not pursued by any of the sub-committee members.
Third, the terms “manufacture” and “cultivation” have been unified into a single term: “production” and now applies uniformly to all substances. Under the Narcotic Control Act it is not illegal to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms or a coca bush, but growing either of these plants would be prohibited under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This could possibly result in a farmer who unknowingly has psilocybin mushrooms growing on his property being charged with their production.
Finally, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act creates a hybrid trafficking offense so that trafficking in under three kilograms of cannabis can be dealt with either as summary conviction or indictment. Presently, possession of cannabis is a hybrid offense, but a trafficking charge can only be pursued through indictment. With indictment, there has to be a preliminary inquiry and the accused has the right to demand a jury trial. A summary conviction requires no preliminary inquiry and there is no option for a jury.
There is already a tendency on the part of federal prosecutors to press for a possession charge instead of a trafficking charge when the amount of cannabis in question is not a great one. With the option of a quick summary conviction before them instead, this change will result in more people being prosecuted for trafficking when they are only in possession of a small amount. Thus under Bill C-7 more people will be given quicker trials and more jail time than before.
Lambton Families in Action for Drug Education, Inc
There were two groups that testified which could be considered as grassroots organizations. They each represented one extreme on the issue of prohibition. The first organization to testify after the government drug bureaucrats is called the Lambton Families in Action for Drug Education, Inc. This was the only organization that was opposed to Bill C-7 because it was not strict enough.
Mr Charles Perkins, the chairman of the Lambton Families in Action for Drug Education Inc. began his testimony by stating that his “gravest concern is the proposal to legalize the cultivation of cannabis hemp for commercial purposes.” He went on to say that there had been “very aggressive marketing by the drug culture for cannabis sativa hemp.”
He claimed that if someone reads the Emperor Wears No Clothes
“they will end up believing that if you smoke cannabis sativa hemp it will cure AIDS, it will cure cancer, it will cure glaucoma, it will cure MS, it will cure epileptic seizures- sort of like the disease of the month club and that if you go to Jamaica and smoke the ganga, you’re going to live forever. It’s just not true.”
Mr Perkins also showed the committee some clothing that he had purchased that past weekend. He had a T-shirt with a cannabis leaf and the words “see me, roll me, smoke me”, and a baseball cap with the word “blunt”. The point of these items was that
“young people don’t really distinguish between the stuff you smoke, what you make your shorts out of, or whatever. All they know is that it’s dope.”
Finally, Mr Perkins finished his testimony with some dire warnings for Canada if we do not crack down on drug use. He gave the twin examples of Sweden and the Netherlands. He claimed that Sweden had seen their country become overwhelmed with drug use while they had tolerant laws, and that it was not until 1988 when they decided that they would “not tolerate any drug use” that they saw a downturn in use. He also claimed that the Netherlands had seen adolescent drug use rise by 250% in the past several years.
The Quebec Anti-Prohibitionist League
The other grass-roots group which testified was the Quebec Anti-Prohibitionist League. They took exception to the claims of Mr Perkins. Robert Hamon, a consultant to the league, testified that “…Holland did start a program of harm reduction in 1980. In the 10 years since then they’ve had a reduction of young people under 22 years of age as drug users. At the beginning of the program, 14% of the population were hard drug users. That is now down to 2% in Amsterdam.”
The Quebec Anti-Prohibitionist League had a very simple theme to its testimony, clearly stated by Michel Lalancette, a member of the Administrative Council of the league. He said that
“those who use drugs are ordinary people and not real criminals. The ban imposed by the government is really resulting in all kinds of criminal activities in terms of drugs. All traffic, murders, people being beaten up, etc., is due to the decision of the government to ban buying and selling of drugs. But most of those who use them are people like you and I who want to find a place in the community, live a happy life and work for the welfare of the country. We have no right to violate a behaviour that does not violate others’ rights. This is a basic principle.”
Drug Policy Researchers
The Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy
There were three groups who testified who could be considered as experts in the area of drug policy. The first of these was the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. The Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy is a nonprofit organization formed in 1993 by several of what can be considered to be Canada’s leading specialists in drug policy. According to Eugene Oscapella, the foundation’s Director, it was formed “largely out of a need to respond to Bill C-85, which was the predecessor to this bill and which is virtually identical to it”. The foundation’s eleven founders have over 150 years of experience in drug policy between them, and have among them professors of Medicine, Psychology and Criminology, as well as lawyers and professionals.
Mr Oscapella gave the position of the foundation quite clearly: “To be quite blunt, our position is that Bill C-7 should be withdrawn completely.” He went on to say that “this bill will neither stop the flow of drugs into Canada, nor the production of drugs within Canada”, and that the bill also does “absolutely nothing to address the multiple causes of drug use in society.”
Finally, Mr Oscapella had this to say about the international agreements which are used to justify Canada’s prohibitionary drug policy:
“In the guise of complying with international drug control conventions, we are trampling all over international human rights conventions.”
When the foundation was questioned about the success of harm reduction programs in other countries, the question of AIDS infection arose. Dr Diane Riley, a founding member of the league and a member of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, made this observation. “In the area that has the highest concentration of what are called `registered addicts’ in the UK they have a zero rate of HIV infection in their drug users.” She compared this with New York, where between 60-80% of the users of injected drugs are infected, and Montreal, where the level of infection among users is at about 15%.
The Addiction Research Foundation
The second group of drug policy research experts which testified was the Addiction Research Foundation. The Addiction Research Foundation is the largest addictions research organization in North America. It is an arm’s length agency of the Province of Ontario and is a collaborating centre of the World Health Organization.
Mark Taylor, the President of the foundation, provided the sub-committee with some interesting information as to the rate of drug use in Canada:
“…contrary to popular mythology, consumption of illicit drugs has stabilized or declined since we began measuring it in 1977. Cocaine use, for example, has remained stable since 1984. About 2% of Ontario adults reported using it in the previous twelve months.
“Cannabis use among Ontario adults fluctuated between 8% and 11% through the 1980s and then fell to 6.8% in 1991.
“Drug use among Ontario students has fallen steadily since 1979. In that period, students reporting cannabis use, for example, in the previous twelve months fell by more than one half from 31.7% to 12.7%.
“Compare, in your minds, those statistics with the more than 80% of adults who drink alcohol and the more than 25% who smoke tobacco. Substance abuse is very costly to society both in personal and economic terms, but we are not in an epidemic.”
Something that had come up previously was the claim that the government’s drug strategy put 70% of its funds towards prevention and only 30% towards enforcement. Mr Taylor showed how this claim was misleading, explaining that
“while it is true that Canada’s drug strategy, consisting of approximately $270 million over five years, does split the funds 70% to prevention and 30% to law enforcement. If you look at the total expenditure across our country in terms of the expenditure on law enforcement versus prevention, the ratio would be approximately reversed, or certainly well above the 50/50 level.”
Finally, Mr Taylor provided some information about the overall success of the War on Drugs in Canada.
“Canada is already one of the world’s leaders in per capita drug arrests. About two-thirds of the convictions are for cannabis possession. A study has shown that only a year after their court appearances, 92% of cannabis users were again using the drug. Users of any drug, in fact, tend to regard threats to their health by drug use as a greater deterrent that the risks of getting caught.”
The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse
The final group of drug policy experts to testify was the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse. The centre is an arm’s length agency funded primarily by the federal government, and has a mandate to “provide leadership and a national focus for governmentsand thus contribute to the reduction or elimination of the harm associated with the abuse of licit and illicit drugs.”
Pamela Fralick, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer for the centre, outlined the centre’s proposals. There were a number of different aspects to her testimony, the first of which was that Bill C-7 had no statement of objectives. The centre suggested such a statement was needed to provide both a focus for the legislation and a means of measuring its success, and presented the following four objectives which they felt the legislation should be aiming to accomplish:
- Reduce or eliminate the harm caused by substance abuse through the deterrence of activities that lead to such harm.
- Provide an integrated drug control regime, supporting drug enforcement in a manner that is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- Ensure ready availability of psychoactive substances for legitimate medical, scientific and industrial purposes.
- Fulfill Canada’s obligations under the various international treaties.
The centre also recommended that the various schedules of drugs be revised to incorporate some real criteria, including scientific evidence of dependence potential and abuse liability, evidence of actual abuse and its significance, evidence of risk to public health and safety, and the degree of potential harm when compared to other scheduled drugs. None of these things are currently considered in the drug schedules. The example was given of the illogic of cocaine being listed in schedule I while amphetamine is in schedule II, since the actions and dangers associated with these substances are quite similar.
Finally, the centre offered some insight into the claim that Bill C-7 is necessary to meet Canada’s international treaty obligations. Ms Fralick read out Article 22.(b) of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which states that
“the Parties may provide, either as an alternative to conviction or punishment or in addition to punishment, that such abusers undergo measures of treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation and social reintegration.”Dr Eric Single, the Director of Policy Research and Information for the centre, also pointed out that the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs specifically mentions that the parties “may choose to impose minor penalties such as fines or even censure”, and that the Convention on Trafficking also cites similar passages and refers back to the single convention. Thus the harsh measures of criminal prohibition are not required under the international treaties which Canada has signed.
The Canadian Bar Association
The Canadian Bar Association is a national association representing over 37,000 legal professionals across Canada. According to Melina Buckely, the associations Senior Director of Legal and Government Affairs, one of their primary objectives is “improvement in the law and in the administration of justice.”
Despite the fact that the association admitted that any prohibition law benefits them greatly in that it provides their members with a great deal of work, Ms Buckely stated that their national council had adopted a resolution in 1978 which urged the government to decriminalize possession of marijuana by adults and to decriminalize the non-profit transfer of small amounts of marijuana between adult users. Earlier, in 1974, the association had adopted a resolution calling for the decriminalization of heroin maintenance and more of a health approach to heroin maintenance in Canada.
John Conroy, a member of the association, essentially reiterated the view of the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse when he stated that
“…it’s our view that before the criminal law becomes involved there should be some evidence of harm to others in society or to society as a whole from the individual’s use of the particular drug.”
He also presented a statistic which was repeated by others during the sub-committee hearings. Mr Conroy stated that tobacco use kills over 35,000 people each year in Canada. The use of alcohol resulted in the deaths of between 5,000 and 15,000 people. According to Mr Conroy, neither heroin, cocaine nor amphetamines kills more than a hundred people each year, and marijuana has not resulted in any fatalities.
When asked about the connection between drug use and crime, Mr Conroy made reference to a study in Merseyside, where,
“of the 100 addicts who went through this program instead of the criminal justice type model there was a 96% reduction in the number of offenses committed by those 100 addicts over a two year period.”
The Criminal Lawyers’ Association
The Criminal Lawyers’ Association is an Ontario based organization with about 1,000 members. It is a member of the Canadian Association of Defense Counsels, which is a country-wide organization.
The first point raised by Paul Copeland, the former Vice-President of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, concerned our Prime Minister. Mr Chretien was the Minister of Justice in 1980, and he then claimed that the government
“wanted to be sure that young people using marijuana for the first time, who were using it only in small quantities, would not be considered criminals, that it would remain an offense but that young people would not have criminal records for the rest of their lives.” According to Mr Copeland “this bill does nothing of that type of work.”
On the subject of cannabis, Mr Copeland made the following comments:
“There is a concern that cannabis remains classified with cocaine and heroin as the most serious of drugs.
“The two year maximum penalty [for summary conviction of cannabis trafficking]provided in the legislation means it’s being treated more seriously than methamphetamine, more seriously than LSD and everything else that’s now in schedule II.
“To provide a seven-year maximum penalty for possession of cannabis makes no sense to us whatsoever.
“Strangely enough, Bill C-7 increases the monetary penalty for summary conviction cannabis possession.
“In our view, six months in jail for possession of cannabis for a first offense is ludicrous, as is one year for possession on a second charge.
“The definition of growing marijuana has been expanded so that now even offering to grow marijuana is a criminal offense, and that it’s a straight indictable offense punishable by seven years in jail. The purpose of prosecuting someone who grows one or two plants at home for producing cannabis is beyond me.
When making recommendations as to how cannabis and other drugs could be dealt with, Mr Copeland stated that:
“We recommend that heroin and cocaine- and we would suggest that methamphetamine should go in that category- be treated as the most serious drugs. We’re really not recommending any change in that legislation at all.
“We recommend that cannabis be treated entirely separately and that the maximum penalty for trafficking be 10 years in jail.
“We’re recommending that there be no prosecution by indictment for possession of cannabis. And you’ll note we have reduced the penalties in the summary conviction prosecution to $1,000 or six months.
“We do recommend this whole cannabis prohibition go into the Contraventions Act, [which was passed in 1992 but has not yet been given official proclamation]. That makes it almost like a traffic ticket offense. There can be a maximum penalty of up to $1,000 or whatever lower maximum the Governor in Council decides is appropriate for the offense.”
However, Mr Copeland made a telling statement at the end of his recommendations, indicating that the Criminal Lawyers’ Association actually supported a more radical position. He said that the association members “doubted that any political party would be prepared to advance or support a total decriminalization of cannabis and it’s for that reason that we have recommended the provisions of the Contraventions Act.”
Mr Copeland also commented on the lack of provision for a diversion program in the legislation. He explained that a diversion program is a program where
“you take people out of the criminal process. It requires an acknowledgement that they’ve committed the offense, but then you send them off to write an essay or do a little bit of community work or you find some other way of dealing with it.”
“Strangely enough, this legislation doesn’t produce a diversion program.” According to Mr Copeland, this means that “we are wasting a great deal of money” in using the full force of criminal law when it is not necessary.
The Quebec Bar Association
The Quebec Bar Association is similar to the Canadian Bar Association, except that it only represents legal professionals within the province of Quebec. The Quebec Bar Association chose to review Bill C-7 on a more technical basis, focussing in on a few specific issues within the bill rather than dealing with the general philosophy behind criminal prohibition.
To begin, the Quebec Bar Association found it odd that representing a substance as a narcotic produces the same penalties as actually trafficking in that narcotic. Michel Denis, The President of the Quebec Bar Associations Standing Committee on Criminal Law, said that
“…it seems to the association that the actions of someone who fraudulently represents a substance as being heroin are “less `reprehensible’, if you will, than that of someone who is actually selling heroin. The first person is more of a con artist than a drug dealer.”
Mr Denis also found himself in agreement with many of the other organizations in that he criticized manner in which drugs were being scheduled. The solution he proposed however, was unique.
“We don’t see any classification in the various schedules according to the danger of the drugs or products that are listed there. We think it would be simpler to allow the same sentence for all drugs, and the sentencing judge could bear in mind the relative danger and the harmful nature of the drug that the person was trafficking, had imported, or had in his possession.”
There was also problems with the search and seizure provisions in the bill. Mr Denis said that
“subsection (5) of section 12 appears to create a constitutional problem under the Charter. This provision allows officers to search any one found on the premises where a search is being carried out If we are going to search the Forum in Montreal, I think it would be considered an abuse to have the right to search the 16,000 spectators at the Forum.”
Another difficulty with the legislation was that it includes a provision to exempt a member of the police force from the provisions of the Act. This means that “a certificate could be issued allowing police officers to violate the provisions having to do with searches.” Also, because of the wording of this section of the bill, “an officer could be authorized to deal drugs, and everyone working for him, as well as his informers, will be protected.”
The final concern of the Quebec Bar Association was over section 60 of the bill, which allows the executive to amend the substance of any of the schedules. This means that
“tomorrow the executive branch- not the legislative one- will make our laws. For example, nothing will prevent the executive from repealing schedule 6 tomorrow, which exempts marijuana if it’s less than a certain quantity.”
The Canadian Pharmaceutical Association
The Canadian Pharmaceutical Association was founded in 1907 and has over 10,000 members. It claims as its purpose to promote and improve pharmaceutical care in Canada.
The concerns of the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association had little to do with the issue of drug prohibition. Their concerns about the bill were primarily in the definition of “practitioner” and the effects of the legislation on a pharmacist who unknowingly fills a false prescription. They also expressed some concern about the widened definition of a controlled substance encompassing drugs that are not already scheduled.
Finally, the association felt that the scheduling criteria was not sufficiently clear, and that some classifying criteria should be developed to govern which drugs go into which schedule.
It is interesting to note that the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association was originally formed as a means of protecting the interests of pharmacists against the increasing popularity of non-prescription patent medicines.
The Canadian Medical Association
The Canadian Medical Association presented some very interesting testimony, and it is difficult to tell from the transcript if they realized the full impact that their suggested amendments would have if implemented.
Dr Richard Kennedy, the President of the Canadian Medical Association, began his testimony by stating that the change between Bill C-7 and the Narcotic Control Act goes much further than consolidation and meeting international obligations, “and fails to strike a balance between controlling the illegal use of drugs and permitting legitimate medical and other uses.”
Dr Kennedy pointed out that the 1971 convention and the 1961 convention both recognize that the use of psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes is indispensable. He stated that the
“CMA has grave concerns that Bill C-7 does not differentiate a practitioner conducting a legitimate practice from the common criminal, does not protect the confidentiality of patient records, and does not protect the legitimate practitioner from indiscriminate search without the authority of a warrant.”
He went on the say that
“there are a number of substances that fall under this act that are extremely useful in treating the pain of terminal illness and psychiatric conditions that would otherwise not be controlled.”
He suggested that this could be remedied by adding the following clause to the bill:
“This act and its regulations do not apply to a physician engaged in an activity that falls within the legitimate practice of medicine.”
Although the sub-committee did not seem too receptive to this idea, if accepted it would result in the medicinal use of every presently prohibited drug being allowed, so long as it was prescribed for a legitimate medical purpose.
The Toronto Department of Public Health
The testimony of the Toronto Department of Public Health was supported by the Canadian Public Health Association. Their concerns centered around the impact of the bill upon the needle exchange and the general illogic of the schedules.
Mr Wade Hiller, the department’s Drug Abuse Prevention Coordinator, explained that Toronto had been a pioneer city in the area of needle exchange, and that as a result the rate of HIV related injection drug use infections in Toronto was around 5%, while in New York it was closer to 60%. He went on to say that Bill C-7
“looks at seeing containers for drug use as garnering some of the same charges as the drugs themselves. This could severely impact issues around needle exchange.”
He suggested that this problem could be solved if
“any subsequent iteration of Bill C-7 specify that harm-reduction programs, such as needle exchange, methadone maintenance clinics, and prescribing of controlled substances to addicts, are not undermined by legislation.”
Mr Hiller expressed concern over the manner in which drugs were scheduled.
“Coca and phencyclidine are lumped together with other opiates in schedule I, while amphetamines and their derivatives are in schedule II. Khatis in schedule III together with barbiturates. Yet cocaine, amphet-amines and khat have almost the same action in the body.”
He was also concerned about the addition of khat to the list of controlled substances. He explained that khat was being used by new immigrants from the Horn of Africa for “social, religious and ceremonial purposes”, and that in criminalizing this substance,
“we essentially will be taking a substance that is culturally relevant to these communities and making it a criminal offense to possess such substances.”
The RCMP did not have a great deal of original insight to offer into the legislation. Their testimony reiterated the history of national and international drug prohibition and indicated their pleasure that Bill C-7 would provide them with the “necessary tools” to enforce the intent of the law. Their testimony concluded with a statement that only a Deputy Commissioner of Operations for the RCMP could make.
“In spite of efforts through law enforcement, education and public awareness, drug abuse continues to flourish. This does not mean that our efforts are lost, but that the drug abuse problem would be significantly greater if not for these endeavors.”
Therefore, if it was not for the noble efforts of our courageous drug warriors, we would be a nation of junkies.
Another interesting piece of information came out of the testimony of the RCMP, which contradicted that given by Bruce Rowsell, the Director of the Bureau for Dangerous Drugs. He had stated that the Americans perceived Canada as a “weak link in the chain”, but the RCMP testified that they had asked their American colleagues about this phenomenon, and that they had been told that
“no investigation had showed that huge quantities of drugs from abroad came through Canada on their way to the United States.”
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police began its testimony by saying that they “welcome Bill C-7”, and that they believed that it would be an “effective tool” in reducing the harm caused by the abuse of illicit drugs. Further to this, MR B.V. King, the Chairman of the Drug Abuse Committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, stated that his organization
“does not support nor do we endorse the legalization or the decriminalization of marijuana or other illicit substances beyond the current boundaries.”
Instead, he said that we must continue with
“a balanced strategy of continuing education, of prevention, enforcement and treatment. Increased resources are urgently required, however, to meet these significant challenges.”
Mr King made no mention of Chief Brian Ford of the Ottawa Police Department, who has spoken out in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana. When they were questioned as to why so many of the other groups which testified supported an end to criminal prohibition, Superintendent Burke, a member of the Drug Abuse Committee, replied
“Does it generate money? It certainly does. The Escobars of the world, you’ve read about them. Yes, there’s all kinds of money out there. Does it cause violence? You’re certain it does. Does it cause people to fight for turf and take over areas? Yes, it does. Whether you’re trafficking marijuana or you’re trafficking whatever drug, there’s a lot of money involved, and we see those things. Organized criminal networks- there are all kinds of them. That’s why we are emphatically opposed to any legalization.”
There was also two individuals who gave testimony, these being Neil Boyd, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, and Jan Skirrow, a former director of both the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Commission. Although they both gave excellent testimony as to the negative effects of prohibition, most of their points were repeated by others who testified. However, if the sub-committee had thought carefully about either one of the following statements, perhaps they would have come to realize that a prohibitionary policy is mistaken.
Neil Boyd summed up his testimony by saying that
“I think altering consciousness is a ubiquitous part of human activity. The key should be to first choose substances that don’t harm or impose the least harm possible.”
Jan Skirrow’s most penetrating comment also came near the end of his testimony, when he stated that
“it has always struck me as odd and it continues to strike me as odd that Canada’s drug control policies are more like those of Malaysia, Singapore, and of course the United States than they are like those of Great Britain, Australia and the Netherlands, countries whose liberal democracies we profess to admire.”
What About Hemp?
The issue of licenses for the commercial cultivation of cannabis hemp was also investigated by the sub-committee, although the information provided to them seems to have been quite sparse. Aside from the rabidly anti-hemp views of the Lambton Families in Action for Drug Education Inc., the issue was only seriously addressed once, when officials from the Department of Health of Welfare were called back to provide more insight into the question.
According to Mr Rowsell, Director of the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs,
“interest in commercial cultivation of hemp came about fairly recently, within the last couple of months.”He explained that France, Spain and England, as well as some eastern European countries, all had some framework in place which allowed for the commercial cultivation of the crop. He also spoke briefly about the high quality of hemp fibre, and that hemp could be used to make
“the textiles, the shirts, the fine newsprint, pressed lumber materials, fence poststhe list is very sizable.”
The reaction of Paul Szabo, the Chairman of the sub-committee, was fairly negative as to the usefulness of allowing hemp cultivation. Once the differences between hemp grown for agricultural and medicinal purposes was explained to him, he stated that
“this is going to cost money to license, police, control and monitor for the benefit of some commercial cultivation, so that effectively it would turn out to be some sort of a government-subsidized activity. To the public at large cannabis is cannabis. How do you control the level of THC? Over time, I’m sure the experts are going to be able to start doctoring the content to push thresholds. Will there be any social fallout?”
Who Was On The Sub-Committee?
The sub-committee was made up of six members of parliament, four of them Liberals, one from the Reform party and one a member of the Bloc Quebecois. The sub-committee was chaired by Paul Szabo, Liberal MP from Mississauga South. His fellow Liberals on the sub-committee were Andy Scott (Fredericton-York-Sudbury), Rose-Marie Ur (Lambton Middlesex) and our own Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre). The Bloc Quebecois representative was Paul de Savoye (Portneuf), and the Reformer was Margaret Bridgman (Surrey North).
Aside from Mr Szabo’s constant attempts to discredit the testimony of the many groups that spoke out against prohibition, and his equally constant repetition that it was not the place of the sub-committee to question the wisdom of a prohibition policy, but rather simply to analyze the bill, he also showed his ignorance in this confrontation with Neil Boyd.
Szabo: Marijuana has about five times the damaging components of tobacco, and-
Boyd: That whole area of research is highly questionable.
Szabo: Highly questionable.
Boyd: You will get many debates, as you will with respect to price sensitivity
Szabo: It is a hallucinogen, and obviously-
Boyd: It is what?
Szabo: -it is more harmful than tobacco.
Boyd: No, not in the context in which it is used. It’s clearly not more harmful than tobacco. That is nonsense.
Szabo: We will have to find out. I want to thank you very much for your input. It has been interesting.
Mr Scott seemed to be one of the more reasonable members of the subcommittee, and his questions generally showed that he had some accurate knowledge as to the realities of the situation being discussed. He occasionally let it slip that he was aware that criminal prohibition had little or no effect on the actual behaviour of drug users. For example, in conversation with Neil Boyd, Mr Scott asked the following question, and then essentially answered it himself.
Mr Boyd, of course, agreed with him.
“Is there any evidence to suggest that offering a decriminalized opportunity to consume cannabis would increase consumption? I don’t think there would be. I think people have already made that choice.”
The fact that the Lambton Families In Action for Drug Education Inc. is in the riding of Rose-Marie Ur can’t have been the reason that they were asked to testify, could it? When Mr Bernheim from the Quebec Anti-Prohibitionist League compared marijuana to tobacco, she replied that
“from what I see, my husband used to be a smoker. He didn’t go off on some tangent like some people do if they use marijuana, and over smoke or whatever they do with marijuana. You don’t have that same correlation with tobacco, so I don’t know why you’re always correlating marijuana with tobacco other than the fact you smoke it. I don’t think they have the same ill effects.”
Hedy Fry did not attend five of the ten sub-committee hearings. She claimed that she was “going to China on behalf of the Ministry”, but even after that trip had ended she still missed some more meetings. In total, she missed about two-thirds of the total meeting time. Since her riding of Vancouver Centre is home to both Hemp BC and a greater concentration of heroin users than anywhere else in the country, it is unfortunate that she chose not to provide much input to the committee during its analysis of this important bill.
Margaret Bridgman made a number of ignorant and inflammatory comments during the sub-committee hearings, but the following two seem to encapsulate her attitude and general lack of knowledge towards the issues at hand.
While speaking to Mr Copeland of the Criminal Lawyers Association, Ms Bridgman said that
“LSD can create much more damage to the brain than say, heroin. Heroin is an addiction, whereas LSD could put a person into a mental institution, for example, for the rest of his life.”
Even though she is a member of the Reform party, Ms Bridgman could have been speaking on behalf of the current administration when she answered a question from Neil Boyd, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University. He asked, rhetorically, “When are you going to stop?” and she immediately answered “When the jails are full.” One has to wonder though, if they won’t just build more jails instead.
Paul de Savoye
Paul de Savoye asked a number of interesting questions, and generally seemed to have a good understanding of the issues being discussed by the sub-committee. A theme which ran through his questions and comments was also present during a speech which he made in the House of Commons on February 18th, during debate on Bill C-7. There, he said that Bill C-7 “completely neglects the need to control demand, as well as aspects such as prevention, treatment and rehabilitation”, he went on to say that instead of sending the drug addict to jail where we will spending $70,000 a year to keep him there,
“a withdrawal treatment and rehabilitation program would only cost a few thousand dollars and would return to society an individual capable of greatly contributing to his or her community.”
Who to contact
If you would like to receive a complete copy of the transcript of the testimony presented, or would simply like to share your opinions with the sub-committee, you can write to Paul Szabo or any of the other members, postage-free, at: House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6. The office of Hedy Fry is located at 1030 Denman St. You can also call her at 666-0135 to make an appointment to discuss your concerns over the criminal prohibition of drugs.