MPs seek debate on drug legalization

The Liberal House leader and the prime minister say it's not for the Commons to decide.

Tim Naumetz
Vancouver Sun
Tuesday 19 September 2000

OTTAWA -- Some MPs have returned from Parliament's summer recess prepared to debate what only a few years ago might have been considered unthinkable by mainstream politicians -- the legalization of street drugs.

The Canadian Alliance's Stockwell Day said he thinks the debate should be followed by a free vote for all MPs.

"I think that debate on legalization of drugs should take place and it should take place in the House of Commons, and it should go ahead with a free vote," Day said in response to questions at a news conference in which he addressed a range of topics.

"The Canadian Alliance position is clearly to allow for that legalization related to the alleviation of pain and for medicinal purposes," added Day.

However, government House leader Don Boudria was unwilling even to discuss the idea of a debate.

Asked if he thought the Commons should take it up, Boudria replied "not particularly," and quickly walked off.

NDP leader Alexa McDonough said: "One thing is very clear, the intensification of the effort to deal with organized crime and shut down illegal drugs has not been a success in the U.S. and it makes no sense for us to just simply go down the same road.

"We're willing to debate whatever will get us through a solution here and that means needing to have sound initiatives put forward by the government, and it means having the evidence to guide us in decisions we make.''

Southam newspapers across the country have recently published a series of Ottawa Citizen stories exploring the cost and effect of the war on drugs led primarily by the United States.

Organized crime and the related question of illegal drugs, which the RCMP says are the main source of revenue for most crime groups, were central to much of the activity on Parliament Hill Monday when the Commons resumed after its summer recess.

The Bloc Quebecois, in response to the gangland-style shooting of a Montreal crime reporter last week, successfully steered a motion calling for a new law against criminal gangs on to the Commons floor for a special debate.

In the Senate, Conservative and Liberal members of a special committee struck to study drug legalization held a planning meeting for hearings that are to begin Monday.

Tory Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin, who convinced the Senate to launch the inquiry, is on record as saying the law that makes marijuana possession a criminal offence should be withdrawn.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien responded to the BQ pressure by saying it's up to the provinces to work harder to enforce a law that is already in place.

Chretien, under fire in question period, said Parliament already passed anti-gang legislation in 1997 and now it's up to the provinces to make it work, particularly with increased funding given to the RCMP.

"If there's a problem of this nature, it's not only a federal responsibility because the administration of justice in the provinces is the responsibility of the provincial government, who must take the necessary measures for the police to be able to use their resources," he said.

MPs who were interviewed about the question of drug-legalization avoided taking a stand, but said the topic should be aired. "Anytime that we have an opportunity to discuss something as topical and as serious as drug use, particularly the perpetration of organized crime in dealing drugs, we should certainly do that on the floor of the House of Commons," said Conservative MP Peter MacKay, the party's justice critic and a former Crown prosecutor.

Liberal MP Paul Szabo, who chaired a Commons committee that five years ago studied drug laws in Canada, flatly dismissed the idea, saying: "This is a non-starter, it's a non-starter for me."

Szabo said the committee he led in 1995 heard arguments in favour of drug legalization but "the evidence, not just anecdotal evidence from people and how they feel, but rather from health experts, from social experts, were in total consensus that this would be a terrible direction to go in and consider. The government agreed and I'm sure the government still agrees."

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