Since 1969, when hash-smoking Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau assured the nation that decriminalization was imminent, we’ve had a succession of promises without action from Canadian political leaders. After Trudeau reneged on his pledge and ignored the recommendations of his appointed LeDain Commission (which recommended legalization), Prime Minister Joe Clark in 1979 failed to do the same after he committed to decriminalization.
Then Prime Minister Jean Chretien promised to decriminalize pot possession to a $100 fine in 2003, but failed to act on that. Prime Minister Paul Martin admitted to eating pot brownies his wife made, and Prime Minister Kim Campbell (Canada’s briefest PM, 1992-1993) admitted smoking pot in her youth.
The late New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton famously repeated his line that he never exhaled, and while he never became Prime Minister, he came aboard as NDP leader in 2003 with tremendous promise after being an off-and-on pot smoker for the previous 35 years. Yet since then, over 500,000 Canadians have been convicted on marijuana charges in those more than eight years, with tens of thousands going to jail for those offenses.
Since Trudeau promised decriminalization in 1969, two-and-a-half million Canadians have been convicted of a pot offense. Despite this shocking and egregious injustice, no elected official, including Jack Layton, ever embraced the issue in such a way as to give it the gravitas required to get it on the national agenda. Jack preferred to leave it to NDP stalwarts like Member of Parliament Libby Davies, even though in the months prior to his becoming leader of the NDP, a nine-member Senate Special Committee unanimously recommended marijuana be legalized. (In the foreboding current Stephen Harper Conservative majority government, those days are quaint nostalgia now.)
It’s shocking Jack died so young – and so fast – and was robbed of life in his moment of triumph. He began 2003 with great promise for our movement, assuring me in an interview he solicited on Pot TV [seen here]that he would do his utmost to end marijuana prohibition.
But in the 2004 campaign and each election afterward, he virtually renounced his 2003 video and statement to me and Canadians. While Jack was leader, Dana Larsen and his eNDProhibition campaign were banned from NDP conventions, and Dana and Kirk Tousaw were pushed out as NDP candidates in the 2008 federal election. Jack tried to distance himself from me and my organization even though we had brought him so much support over the years – support that he came and sought from us.
Yes, Layton was a nice guy and got along well with people. But what revolutionary and liberating policies did he offer in his eight years at the helm of the NDP? Other than his initial promise to advocate legalization of cannabis, none that I can think of. What great defense of individual freedom and civil liberties did he put forward in Parliament? None that I can think of. How often did he renounce Canada’s military participation in Afghanistan and Libya? Not very often, if ever. Even Libby Davies was sidelined for her insightful remarks on the mistreatment of Palestinians. He got the NDP 102 seats, and he finished off the Bloc Quebecois – two stunning political achievements perhaps, but nothing of any longevity and value that improved the lives of Canadians. His criticism of Harper was muted and flaccid when we most needed strong opposition to the prison and war expansion in Canada.
The NDP has many great people in the Parliament, but no one knows much about them because none were cultivated to be prominent. A great leader grooms qualified acolytes among his caucus to shine and rise when his or her time is up. This is an attribute of great leadership. Yet there is no one in the caucus known to most Canadians, even after eight years. As leader of the NDP, Mr. Layton failed to groom the talented in his party for leadership. And now there is indeed a vacuum in Canadian politics.
When it comes to the elected headmen of Canada and the US – most, if not all, have smoked marijuana, including Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Trudeau, Campbell, Martin, and many opposition leaders, Senators, MPs, Congressmen – I have never been able to reconcile why, once elected to a position they have sought for much of their lives, they fail to act on this great civil rights violation of our time.
In 40 years, 17 million Americans and Canadians have been convicted of a cannabis offense, and millions of these citizens have gone to jail.
Yet after 50 years of this persecution, we are still no better off with our leaders than cheap laugh-inducing theatrics designed to dodge putting forth a serious answer to the question, “How can you justify the destructive policy of prohibition when the majority of Canadians and Americans want to legalize marijuana?”
Indeed, where is democracy? Where is justice?
Where are the real leaders?
Jack Layton, nice fellow though he may have been, was a consummate politician. If a state funeral was offered up to him – an opposition leader of no particular greatness beyond his kindness and positive attitude – then now it must be extended to former Prime Ministers Joe Clark, John Turner, Kim Campbell, Paul Martin, and Brian Mulroney when they pass, not to mention former Liberal opposition leaders such as Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion. Yet none are worthy. Politicians get fawned over and live a largely royal life with perks and privileges galore. Their actual achievements in advancing the western ideals of freedom, tolerance, peace, economic prosperity and prudent, transparent, fair governance are few.
These are not the people who should be honored with state funerals. There are so many more deserving individuals who have dedicated themselves to actually improving the lives of many others in direct, real ways. For example, I hope David Suzuki receives a state funeral when he passes; after all, his own country, Canada, threw him unjustifiably into an internment camp in the 1940’s for being born with Japanese ancestry, yet he rose out of such an ordeal to impact on the lives of every Canadian. He has taught us over the decades about the inter-relationship between Canadians and their environmental habitat, and the profound vigilance required to maintain the quality of life for both people and the planet. His lifetime influence is everywhere in Canada today, in our consideration of how we treat our forests, rivers, oceans, the air we breathe, animals, humans, our diet, our health. This is a great man who actually and profoundly changed all our lives for the better.
Stephen Harper’s cynical (faux-gracious) offer to hold a state funeral for Layton is to reinforce Harper’s deeply-held view that the political class is the barometer of our deepest held value system. It is government that determines the national agenda, the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. It is the political class that Canadians must submit to, Harper believes, and it is the political class that he wants “good guy” Layton to be part of. “I wish I would have had time to jam with Jack,” said Harper in his eulogy, offering forth the bilious image of Harper playing his lounge-act rock and roll to show how human he is, when you and I know Harper is anything but.
I believe the reason people are so torn up about Jack Layton is because nature is essentially unjust – if nature were just, the good would live happy and long lives in good health until they were 100 years old, and the evil would be consumed by their insidious demons and die young and quickly as a reward for their bad choices and as protection to the good people.
But that isn’t what happens. Good people get murdered, raped, stricken with cancer, suffer horribly, lose loved ones to tragedy, and more unfortunate suffering and ordeals, while evil people can prosper – often in politics, high finance, and other similarly vaunted strata in society. Humans try to ameliorate this natural injustice by instituting law, government, and its social engineering extensions, but this largely fails, usually creating more war, suffering, famine, financial chaos, misery, inequity.
What the candlelight vigil was really saying was “people dying suddenly, who don’t deserve to die so soon, frightens me,” and “That could be me, or someone I know”, and it scares them. They can see in Jack Layton the paradox of here today, gone tomorrow, literally. And that other famous line, “There but for fortune go I.”
The lesson is that life is short, and we have to make the most of our time. There are many individuals who inspire others and achieve greatness – not for their gain alone, but for the betterment of many lives. Politicians are too often seen as the great decision makers and the only ones who can save us, but they don’t really accomplish anything as individuals while working within a party in government when compared to people who have dedicated themselves to improve the world in a more direct way, outside of politics.
Our country needs, but hasn’t had, a great leader. When have we had a champion of civil liberties, of a reduced military, of a peacekeeping nation, of prosperity and freedom for all, of fairness, of justice? When did we have a leader who inspired great idealism and nobleness in citizens of every class? We have never had that. We have certainly had bad leaders who led Canada in the wrong direction; we have that in Prime Minister Stephen Harper now! But we’ve never had a good or great leader. We’ve always had calculating politicians for leaders, but never a statesman or peace-loving visionary.
And that’s the tragedy.
– Marc Emery
Yazoo City Medium-security prison
Yazoo City, Mississippi, USA