On May 7, an estimated 30,000 – 50,000 people marched in downtown Toronto to call for decriminalization of marijuana in Canada. This cause in Canada is not just for marijuana users (despite being an obvious proponent of legalization, or at least decriminalization, this writer is not a smoker). The importance of Canada’s drug laws is not just the perceived object, but all that gets swept up under the umbrella of the ‘drug war’. Exactly as the ‘war on terror’ allowed a complete disregard of national and international law, ‘pre-emptive wars’ and excusable torture, and the new wars on copyright infringement and child pornography are being used to justify governments seizing control of the internet and denying citizens their right to privacy, so has the much older drug war allowed the US to override the sovereignty of American countries and impose their own laws on them.
The provincial courts have been calling Canada’s marijuana laws unconstitutional since 2000 and Canada was the first country to adopt a system regulating the medicinal use of marijuana. In 2002, Prime Minister Jean Chretien promised decriminalization, while his government also looked at amnesty for the 600,000 Canadians convicted of possessing marijuana. Both amnesty and legalization were recommended by a senate committee, and decriminalization was seen as a safe ‘middle ground’. Not middle enough for the Bush administration however, and their threatened reprisals caused the slow death of the plan. As reported earlier on WL Central, political activist Marc Emery was not only extradited to the US for something that is not a serious crime in Canada, contrary to even the one-sided Canada-US extradition agreement, but he was denied a transfer back to Canada after one year, contrary to the sentencing judge’s recommendations, because of “law enforcement concerns.” In other words, he would not be in jail in Canada for something he did in Canada, which is not a crime in Canada, so they kept him.
In his quest to make Canada unrecognizable, newly powerful Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hoping to change all that. He is not attempting to assert Canada’s authority to create and enforce its own laws, but he is trying to bring Canada’s drug laws and enforcement in line with that of the US. Ten days into his new majority, the Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a case Harper’s federal government is bringing against Vancouver supervised injection siteInsite. Insite is North America’s first legal supervised injection site. The BC Ministry of Health Services provides operational funding for Insite through Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates the facility in conjunction with PHS Community Services Society. Insite operates on a harm-reduction model, which means it strives to decrease the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use without requiring abstinence from drug use.
Vancouver has a drug problem. Anyone who has been to the emergency ward in any of the hospitals in Vancouver has seen how that drug problem affects Vancouver’s health services. The Ministry of Health is a provincial responsibility and the costs associated with running Insite are borne by the province, as are the costs of not running Insite. Some say that Insite is none of the federal government’s business. Those would be the people who supported its founding in 2003 and its exemption from Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act ever since. Those people would not include Stephen Harper. In his quest to bring the drug war to Canada, to impose mandatory minimum sentencing and build huge new prisons to ‘keep our streets safe’, Harper does not have any sympathy with people preventing drug addicts from dying, no matter how much taxpayer money they save. He is, in fact, willing to spend tax dollars arguing his case all the way up to the Supreme Court.
These people would fill a lot of new prisons. Soon.