Friday, December 21, 2007

Harpers Other War

This is Harpers other war, though it shares something in common with his War in Afghanistan. The war on drugs. Well actually the war on Pot. The new anti-drug law Bill C-26 was announced the same week Karlheinz Schrieber was making headlines, so quietly the Harpocrites slipped their crime bill into parliament complete with mandatory sentences for marijuana growing and possession. And the media as well as the Liberal Opposition ignored this new draconian legislation.

While New Democratic Party (NDP) drug policy critic MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East) has already denounced the measure, neither the Liberals nor the Bloc Qu├ębecois have issued statements on it. Nor had either party responded to Chronicle requests for comment by press time.

Burnaby MPs say they will vote against the bill.

Bill Siksay, NDP MP for Burnaby Douglas, says similar laws have already failed in the U.S.

"They fill up the prisons, they disrupt families, but they don't solve the problem," Siksay said in an interview Thursday.

"We've given fare to many people's criminal records for marijuana use, and we've clogged the courts for way too long."

Instead, the government should decriminalize marijuana, Siksay said.

"We need to upset the apple cart when it comes to drug policy, he added.

Peter Juilan, NDP MP for Burnaby New Westminster, agreed, saying the federal government should spend more money on front line policing.

"The bill is the wrong approach to take," he added.

It's Harpers other war. And it is a dangerous one. For it would return us to convicting recreational drug users for victimless crime. And in creating harsh minimum sentences it attempts to duplicate the creation of a prison industry in Canada like that in the U.S.

With an eye on past complaints from the U.S. that Canadian chemical drugs and the country’s booming illegal marijuana industry are threats to America, the bill imposes a two-year minimum for possession of more than one kilogram of a schedule I drug for the purpose of export trafficking. Possession of cannabis and marijuana for the purpose of exporting – with no aggravating factors or minimum amount – would carry an automatic one-year minimum.

But, despite the political drumbeats about drugs and the image of public hysteria, Ertel says the legislation goes too far, too severely.
A conviction for producing from one to 200 marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking carries a minimum jail sentence of six months. The scale rises to a two-year automatic sentence for the production of more than 500 plants. The maximum penalty for production of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking jumps to 14 years from seven.

“This is obviously crazy stuff,” says Ertel. “They’ve got a minority government and they’re playing cheap politics and the idea of the cheap politics is ‘go ahead and vote against us on this crazy bill and then we’re going to say you guys love drugs.’”

He argues the automatic jail time — no allowance for mitigating considerations — will inevitably prompt the kind of appeal that led to a 1987 Supreme Court of Canada decision striking down a seven-year mandatory-minimum sentence under the Narcotic Control Act as cruel and unusual punishment.

In R. v. Smith, the case of a B.C. man who pleaded guilty to importing seven and a half ounces of cocaine from Bolivia, Justice Antonio Lamer wrote, “The serious hard drugs dealer who is convicted of importing a large quantity of heroin and the tourist convicted of bringing a ‘joint’ back into the country are treated on the same footing and must both be sentenced to at least seven years in the penitentiary.”

Justice Lamer, though, included this obiter: “A minimum mandatory term of imprisonment is obviously not in and of itself cruel and unusual punishment.”
Ertel says the new Conservative bill may not only violate s. 12 of the Charter in certain circumstances, but it also targets the wrong problem, with the wrong weapon.

“Nobody’s putting anybody who’s making liquor into jail, and almost all violent crime, it’s above 90 per cent, is alcohol related,” he says. “I’ve never seen a case where somebody beat up their wife after they smoke a joint; it doesn’t happen.”

A Statistics Canada Juristat report shows drug trafficking accounted for four per cent of all cases in Canadian adult criminal courts in 2004, compared to 11 per cent for impaired driving. Common assault accounted for another 11 per cent, theft cases were nine per cent and major assault accounted for six per cent. Homicide, including attempted murder, accounted for 0.2 per cent of the cases.

Ertel says the mandatory minimums will mean more and longer drug trials because it will be impossible to bargain pleas: “The courts grind to a halt when there’s no incentive for pleading guilty.”

NDP MP Joe Comartin, a former criminal lawyer in Windsor, offers another twist. He says prosecutors will stay drug charges in an attempt to ration court time.
“They just can’t prosecute, they’ve run out of resources,” says Comartin. “They’ve got 100 more files behind them.”


Contact High

Canada Goes To Pot

Canada's Prison Industrial Complex

Narco Politics

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