The following is by David Malmo Levine, September 1996
Pacific Press Falls Short of Practice Code and Credo
This is a simple outline of my concern regarding the coverage of Canada’snew drug law. This law was known as “Bill C-85”, “Bill C-7” and “Bill C-8″at various times during it’s creation, but now that it is law it is knownas “the controlled drugs and substances act”.
I monitored the Bill’s coverage in all the major media in Canada from theyear 1993 to the present day. While I cannot make the claim to havecaptured every news clipping about the bill, I do believe I found most ofthem, and most certainly collected all that was recently written about itin both the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Province.
These newspapers, according to the BC press council, have a responsibilityto “defend the freedom of the Press in the interest of the public”. Theabove newspapers never once (1) attempted to find justification for thebill, or (2) investigated the possible consequences of the bill. Therefore,I feel that the coverage of this bill did not meet the needs of the public,was not carried out “in the interest of the public” and therefore failed tomeet the code of practice.
As well as these sins of omission, according to the code, newspapers must”guard against deliberate or careless publication of inaccuracies orstatements designed to mislead”. Both the above newspapers featuredinformation about the bill (the front page of the Sun and featuredprominently in the Province – page A2, and again in a full page featurearticle – please see the supplementary info. and the article I wrote onpage 20 of Cannabis Canada #6 [not yet online. -ed]) that was false and misleading. For thisreason also I feel that the coverage of this bill failed to meet the codeof practice.
On top of the code of practice, Southam Newspapers has a Publishing Credowhich states that newspapers should “encourage active discussion in theirpages of all aspects of society. Their newspapers should present anaccurate and balanced picture…..they should bring to the public thewidest range of news, information, comment and interpretation, subject onlyto general good taste and the laws governing obscenity, slander, libel andsedition….Freedom of the press is a right of all Canadians, and one thatpublishers should preserve and defend.” Due to the sins of omission andprominent inaccuracies surrounding the new drug law, I feel thesenewspapers did not present an “accurate and balanced picture”, andtherefore they failed to live up to their own publishing credo.
I understand that it is the practice of the press council to use a recentclipping or article to examine public concerns, and I have decided to useJune 14th, 1996 for the Vancouver Sun and May 19, 1996 for the Province,although much of the criticism could apply to each and every article on thenew drug laws published by these newspapers.
Coverage in the Vancouver Sun
An item in the June 14th, 1996 Vancouver Sun announced the passage of BillC-8. It mentioned that “The senators have chickened out on pot – a Senatecommittee backed away Thursday from recommending decriminalization forsimple possession of marijuana”.
In a May 18th Van. Sun. article there was ample coverage of some senatorssupporting decrim, with the “health approach” reason given.
Nowhere in the June 14th article was a reason given for their “backingaway” from the “health approach”.
If a reporter had asked the obvious question, he or she would have foundout the very newsworthy fact that the Senators didn’t have any reason forbacking away from the health approach.
The senators did give two excuses (in other media): (1) that parliamentwouldn’t accept decriminalization, and that (2) the international treatiesthat Canada has signed wouldn’t allow for decriminalization.
Right away these excuses should have been seen to be fraudulent. (1) Thesenate is not a rubber stamp for parliament (though it’s admission that itis a rubber stamp is front-page news in and of itself). (2) Holland andthe US have both signed all the same international treaties that Canadahas, and both countries have experimented with decrim.
If the senators are really pressed by a persistent reporter, they wouldtell you that the real reason that they backed away is that the Justice andHealth departments insisted that the opportunity for the “good things”found within the bill would be lost, if the senators refused to pass thebill right away “as is”. These “good things” are the formaldecriminalization of the hemp stalk (not the leaves and flowers, but thestalk).
The Health and Justice departments fooled the senators – no one was beingcharged for possession of hemp stalk – it was a non-issue, a superficialenvironmental benefit exchanged for a massive increase of police powers andrepression of the Canadian cannabis community.
Aside from the lack of justification for the bill, the lack of anexamination of consequences for this bill was appalling.
To sum up:
- this new law will allow the police to
- hire people to sell marijuana in “sting” operations
- allow police to arrest everyone found to be in a place specified in awarrant, even “without probable cause”
- seize homes used for growing pot plants (“fortified drug houses”)
- testify by affidavit to avoid cross examination
- this law will allow the courts to
- deny the accused a jury trial
- continue to allow for a jail sentence, fine and or a criminal record thatwill inhibit employment and travel opportunities – for simple possession
- this law will deny doctors the right to prescribe medical marijuana,even though the same law will permit medical cocaine and heroin
- this law denies the right of farmers to grow productive strains ofregular THC industrial hemp, instead making them dependent on a Europeanmonopoly of less productive low THC seeds, and under the tight regulationof a new department of farm cops.
The short and long-term consequences of these changes are apparent. TheCanadian Bar Association testified before parliament that the new law would”result in a significant increase in rates of incarceration and in lengthsof sentences, and will place additional stresses on an already overburdenedcriminal justice system”.
This testimony echoes evidence found in other circles, for example anarticle by Eric Schlosser in Atlantic Monthly in Sept. of ’94 which pointedout that “in America today the number of people imprisoned for drugoffenses is the same as the number imprisoned for all crimes twenty yearsago”.
The drugwar industry is booming. In some US States it’s the #1 growthindustry. Noam Chomsky said that “one effect of the so-called “drug war,”which has very little to do with controlling drugs and a lot to do withcontrolling people, has been to create a huge explosion in the prisonpopulation”. With the Canadian prison industry looking to privatize, onecould easily imagine a world where the 3 million or so Cannabis Canadiansend up as “McPrisoners” – working off their “community service” by flippingburgers for their corporate McJailers.
The method this privatized “Ministry of Love” scenario could well evolvewithout media ever having to lie. For example, the media didn’t lie aboutthe Holocaust – it was just back page news. (Please read the quote at thebeginning of my article on page 20 of Cannabis Canada # 6, or better yetsee the illustrated version on page 20 of Potshot #11 for evidence of thisassertion).
Basically, the front cover of every newspaper in Canada should be screaming”Government plots to imprison 3 million Canadians for pot smoking – withoutjustification” and the headlines say the opposite, if they say anythingabout the bill at all. The logical conclusion to the “drugfree society”ideology this government is pushing is a universal daily urine examination.That is big news, but in Canada it’s hidden in the back pages of the Globeand Mail once – on Sept. 24th, 1994!
The lack of respect for a doctor’s ability to decide if the cannabis herbcould somehow be of benefit to their patients will result in unnecessarypain and suffering for the many thousands of people who use pot medicinally(dry spells, jail, street impurities, paranoia etc. etc.) and will denymany more the opportunity to try a natural alternative to syntheticmedicines – one that they could grow themselves to become more independent.
This bill will also result in unnecessary restrictions on industrial hemp.The timber industry pollutes our ecosystems with chlorine and dioxins forbleach, and destroys trees – the lungs of the earth. The cotton industry ishard on the soil and uses most of the pesticides in agriculture – some ofwhich destroy the ozone layer. The fossil fuel industry contributes toglobal warming (please see Potshot #10, pages 50-64, especially page 51, 58and 64).
There is much evidence to support the belief that industrial hemp couldreplace all of the above polluting industries – so long as (and this isvital to understand) there is not a “war on THC”. THC is the plant’snatural sunscreen and accidental pesticide. On top of burnt, pesticidestrewn hemp crops, growing low THC hemp will hamper the selective breedingprocess – it is difficult to simultaneously breed for hi fiber or seedcontent, and at the same time breed for low THC. Low THC requirementscreates a synthetic monopoly for low THC seed merchants (at presentexclusively France) and insures a high price for hemp seed, as well asdependency instead of self sufficiency for Canadian hemp farmers (seeCannabis Canada #6, page 58).
I need not remind you of the seriousness that the current scientificcommunity (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example)is placing upon reducing the amount of Ozone depleting chemicals and fossilfuels released into our atmosphere. The opponents to the Cannabis communityhas regarded hemp as a “smoke screen” to the legalization debate. But whowants to get “high” in an environmental disaster area?
Coverage in the Vancouver Province
The most recent coverage in the Vancouver Province, May 19th, mentionedthat “5 of the 13 committee members favored decriminalizing possession andthe rest were sympathetic.” No reason for favoring decrim. No subsequentcoverage of the Senate “chickening out”. No seeking of justification forexpanded police powers. No mention of expanded police powers. No mention ofthe “medical coke and smack but no medical pot” clause. No mention ofrestrictions on industrial hemp. None of this in this article – or in anyother.
What should happen now?
I would like to see the newspapers tell the truth with the same space andenergy they previously devoted to the misinformation. I would like to seethe Vancouver Sun print a front page story on increased police powers, alack of justification for the bill and the probable social, medical andenvironmental consequences of the bill. This front page story shouldcontain quotes from the Canadian Bar and Medical Associations, both ofwhich opposed the bill.
The Vancouver Province should do a feature on these issues, as they devotedat least 9 full page features by Kathy Tate on “the human costs of drugabuse”.