How Bill C-7 was Passed
|by Dana Larsen|
The day before Hallowe’en was a very scary day for most Canadians. Many of us were
afraid that we would lose our country because of a public referendum in Quebec. What we didn’t realize was that we
were simultaneously losing our freedom because of a secretive vote in Ottawa.
Late in the afternoon of October 30th, as the ballots were being counted in the
Qu?bec referendum, the Canadian parliament passed Bill C-7, the Controlled Drugs & Substances Act. The official
opposition, the Bloc Qu?becois, were not present to speak or vote against the bill, as they had chosen to boycott
Parliament that day because of the referendum. The vote on Bill C-7 was the last act of parliament before they went
home to watch the TV news and find out if they’d still have a country to try and imprison in the morning.
Bill C-7 has been a strange affair from beginning to end.What other piece of
legislation can claim to having survived a change in government and condemnation from almost every group that
testified about it, only to be discreetly passed when the official opposition is absent, as the last act of
Parliament on the day of a possibly nation-breaking referendum.
There was no debate in Parliament as to the constitutionality of the search and
seizure aspects of the bill. despite the fact that they remain unchanged from those that were heavily criticized
during testimony on Bill C-7. No member of parliament addressed the issue of the medicinal use of marijuana,
despite the fact that even the US has a dozen citizens who receive medical marijuana from their government.
Although more than one MP commented on the fact that Bill C-7 makes no provision
for the decriminalization of marijuana, there was no vigorous attack on the government’s continued prohibition of
the herb. Nor was there any spirited attacks upon the dangers of “streamlining” of the judicial process to allow
for “fast tracking” of marijuana cases.
Without the Bloc Qu?becois in the House, the Reform party had a magnificent
opportunity to challenge the prohibitionists and shame them for their attempt to ignore the testimony that had
been presented to them and pass Bill C-7 in the shadow of the referendum.
Instead, Reform Health Critic Grant Hill seemed to have only one complaint against
the bill, that the provision for allowing the Minister of Health to arbitrarily add or remove any item to any of
the drug schedules, “in the public interest”. Dr Hill wanted to add a clause forcing consultation with
“those persons who will be directly affected” by any potential change. The amendment was of course rejected.
Aside from the feeble efforts of the Reform party, there was no real opposition
in Parliament to Bill C-7. Nelson Riis, MP for Kamloops BC, was the only member of the NDP to speak against the
bill, and although he spoke in favour of the decriminalization of marijuana, he also expressed support for
“getting tougher” on “traffickers and drug dealers”. It’s unfortunate that the NDP could not do a more effective
job of speaking out against the human rights abuses and backroom politics inherent in Bill C-7.
Ironically, the most cutting analysis of Bill C-7 was delivered in a speech by
Sue Barnes, Liberal MP for Ontario’s London West. Although Sue concluded her speech by saying that she would
support Bill C-7, she was the only MP to speak knowledgeably about the benefits of harm reduction over the
She eloquently described harm reduction as being a system which “seeks to reduce
the harm caused by those who have a problem with substance abuse, including harm done to themselves, to their
families and to other persons. It takes a public health approach to the problem of drug abuse rather than a
moralistic, punitive one which views such abuse as criminal in and of itself.”
Later, she contrasted this against what she calls prohibitionism. She explained
that “prohibitionism toward drug users on its own arguably inflicts greater harms on individuals and families
than the harms it purports to prevent.”. Under prohibitionism, “one treats the consumption of drugs as a moral
evil where criminal sanction is seen as the only appropriate response. Rather than recognizing the users of
illicit substances as endangering their health and taking appropriate steps to help them, the prohibitionist
perspective would treat them solely as criminals who require the threat of criminal penalties and a criminal
record to deter them from such behaviour.
“Were this an effective approach, the United States with its heavy emphasis on
interdiction and punishment would be nearly drug free by now. As we know, the number of prisoners in jail for
drug offences in that country continues to grow with little sign of any stemming of the insidious drug trade or
the use of illegal drugs.”
Sue Barnes gave a very measured speech, carefully supporting Bill C-7 and the
amendments made to it, while still making it clear that she did not completely support the prohibitionist agenda.
Although she was not courageous enough to openly condemn Bill C-7 in Parliament, it would appear that she has been
acting as a voice for harm reduction policies within the Liberal party.
Recommendations to Pass the Buck
Paul Szabo, the Liberal Member of parliament for Mississauga South and Chairperson
of the Bill C-7 sub-committee, gave a speech in support of Bill C-7 in which he justified his subcommittee’s work
on Bill C-7 using a combination of misdirection, half-truths, and outright lies. He contradicted Hedy Fry on a
number of occasions as well.
Paul Szabo began his speech by describing the one potentially positive thing that
came out of the Bill C-7 subcommittee, their supplementary recommendations to the Standing Committee on Health.
These recommendations include forming an “expert task force… to establish precise criteria for the scheduling
of substances under this act.”
The subcommittee also recommended that the Standing Committee undertake a
comprehensive review of Canada’s existing drug policies. According to Mr Szabo, “the Minister of Health has
already informally given her concurrence that a comprehensive review of our drug policy should be conducted.
Although these recommendations might seem like positive steps, it must be
remembered that the Standing Committee on Health has no compulsion to act upon them. Even if the recommendation
to have a drug policy review is adopted, it could be months, if not years, before it is completed and further
recommendations are made. During this process, we would still be living under the prohibitionist regime enshrined
in Bill C-7.
Paul Szabo tells lies
While describing how the Bill C-7 had its origin in the Conservative Bill C-85,
Paul Szabo joked that it used to be a “draconian Mulroney bill,” but that it now the time to move away from
“partisan apprehension,” because “there are important reasons for Bill C-7 to be passed by this House.”
It is ironic that Mr Szabo chose to speak of putting away “partisan apprehension”
while passing legislation in the absence of the official opposition. It is perhaps even more ironic that, while
Quebecers were voting on the future of their province, the “most important rationale” that Paul Szabo could
provide for passing Bill C-7 was to satisfy international pressure.
Mr Szabo explained that although Canada “has been in violation of its treaty
obligations for many years, it has increasingly come under criticism by its treaty partners and the International
Narcotics Control Board.” However, when Mr Szabo read out excerpts from INCB reports that mentioned Canada,
they were all solely concerned with Canada’s failure to restrict the import and export of benzodiazepines.
Despite the fact that the INCB is a purely advisory board with absolutely no
authority to dictate Canada’s internal drug policies, the “embarrassment” that Canada is suffering by not being
in compliance with the international treaties could have easily been rectified, simply by adding benzodiazepines
to the appropriate schedule of the Narcotic Control Act. It is clearly not necessary to expand police powers of
search and seizure, or to continue restricting the legitimate medical use of marijuana, to satisfy any of our
It is also worthy of note that Holland has signed all of the same treaties as
Canada, and still manages to have a tolerant drug policy, and also that Canada could withdraw from any of these
treaties at any time. There are no penalties against nations that have not signed the treaties or choose to withdraw.
Paul Szabo is Misleading
To fight the claim that Bill C-7 is more about criminalization and interdiction
than it is about approaching drug use as a health issue, Paul Szabo made the claim that about 70% of government
spending is directed at rehabilitation and treatment. This is clearly misleading figure which is nevertheless
endlessly repeated by government members.
During testimony before the Bill C-7 subcommittee of which Paul Szabo was the
Chairperson, Mark Taylor of the Addiction Research Foundation explained that, “while it is true that Canada’s drug
strategy… 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.”
It is unfortunate that Mr Szabo chose to willfully repeat this misleading claim.
It is even more unfortunate that no other MP rose to correct him.
Paul Szabo says No Hemp
Paul Szabo concluded his explanation of Bill C-7 with a pair of statements that
should be enough to put aside any false impressions that Bill C-7 is in some way a progressive piece of legislation.
First, Paul Szabo explicitly stated that despite “substantial lobbying,” Bill C-7
“does not at present permit the commercial cultivation of hemp.” Although he claimed that it was possible under the
legislation, “this process could take years…the commercial production of hemp is a long way off, if indeed it is
appropriate at all.”
Paul Szabo tells two more lies
Even more startling was the brief tirade with which Paul Szabo finished his speech.
After explaining how “fast tracking” certain offences would unclog the court system, he repeated some common lies
about marijuana, as follows:
“Attitudes of many Canadians toward marijuana were developed many years ago when many
failed to realize the technology of breeding plants has allowed producers to drastically increase the potency of
marijuana by increasing its THC content, tetrahydrocannabinol.”
“Marijuana is about 15 times more potent today than it was 10 years ago. Marijuana
today is as potent as cocaine was 10 years ago. Let there be no confusion, marijuana is a dangerous drug…”
It is completely irresponsible for Paul Szabo to shamelessly repeat this kind of
nonsense in Parliament. What is even more disturbing is that not a single Member of Parliament rose to challenge
these ludicrous statements.
The Truth on Cocaine
There is absolutely no basis to Mr Szabo’s claim that marijuana is as potent as
cocaine. Cocaine, by itself and in combination with alcohol and heroin, is responsible for hundreds of overdose
deaths every year in Canada. In comparison, marijuana has no record of ever causing a death by overdose.
Marijuana also does not affect the brain’s dopamine receptors as does cocaine, and
for this reason marijuana users do not experience the withdrawal symptoms associated with the regular use of cocaine.
The Truth on Potency
Marijuana potency has not dramatically increased over the past decade. That is a
myth based upon a purposeful misunderstanding of police seizure statistics.
Even if marijuana growers did somehow manage to increase the THC content of their
crop, this would only mean that users would be exposed to less tars and particulates, because they would be able to
use less to achieve the desired effect. THC is non toxic and has never been shown to be harmful to humans.
The fact that the Chairperson of the subcommittee on Bill C-7 chose to conclude his
speech with such wild exagerrations and unfounded assertions, should be cause enough to re-examine the work of his
Parliament did a bad thing
By completely ignoring the testimony before them, and then delaying the passage of
this prohibitionist legislation until public attention was focussed elsewhere, Parliament has committed an indecent
and undemocratic act against the people of Canada.
If Bill C-7 becomes law, more Canadians than ever before will be put in jail because
they like to use marijuana. More Canadians will have their homes seized because of marijuana plants growing in the
basement. More Canadians will be shot to death by overzealous police during drug raids.
Only you can stop Bill C-7
Canadians must act to stop Bill C-7 now, while there is still some hope of change.
Now that Bill C-7 has been passed by Parliament, it will go to the Senate for approval. The Senate will send Bill C-7
to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. This committee has the option of approving Bill C-7
immediately, or they can choose to examine it at length and ask for more input from experts and the public.
The Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is Gerard
A. Beaudoin. It is vitally important that he is made aware of the need for more comprehensive hearings on Bill C-7
and Canada’s drug policies.
Given that the committee is supposed to focus on legal and constitutional affairs,
it is hoped that they will be more sensitive to the constitutional problems caused by the search and seizure
provisions of Bill C-7. It could also be possible to convince them to look more closely at the need for marijuana to
be allowed for legitimate medical use.
Print, Sign, Send
We have included some letters which you should print out and send to Gerard Beaudoin,
the Minister of Health, Hedy Fry, Paul Szabo, and your local newspaper.
Ideally, it would be best for you to use these letters as templates and write your
own with different wording. However, even if you just print, sign and mail these letters, your actions will still
have significant impact, and you will be doing a great service for freedom and tolerance in Canada.
This was taken from the Debates
of the House of Commons in Canada (Hansard).