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The media has had many reports (several on this page) which signalled that decriminalisation of marijuana might be on the agenda. Those hopes have been dashed as Chretien has gotten on board the Bush tank -- both for pursuing the drug war and ignoring the will of the people.

Police group opposes easing of marijuana laws, predicts "astronomical" cost

BELOW: RCMP broke law in drug sting, court rules
Ottawa urged to decriminalize pot possession
Police chiefs want possession of all narcotics decriminalised
Legalize Pot and treat drug addiction as a public health problem!
Customs officials had grounds to search for drugs: Supreme Court
Medical use of marijuana judgment in Ontario
Ottawa draws closer to legalising medical marijuana

OTTAWA (CP) - The Canadian Police Association came out strongly Monday against easing marijuana laws, saying the costs would be "astronomical."

The association, which represents 30,000 police officers across the country, warns against decriminalizing the drug in a brief for a senate committee. "As legalization and permissiveness will increase drug use and abuse substantially, the costs of health care, prevention, productivity loss and enforcement will increase porportionately," the brief states.

In fact, the association concludes, "The costs of legalization will be astronomical."

Instead, the association advocates a balanced drug strategy to deter drug use and direct resources towards treatment and prevention.

The brief noted a "weakening perception of risk of harm in drug use, and weakening moral disapproval of drug use."

The House of Commons has passed a unanimous motion to create a committee to examine the issue of non-medical drugs in Canada.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan has said she is open to a debate on whether marijuana should be legalized, or at least decriminalized.

Tory Leader Joe Clark says he supports the decriminalisation of the simple possession of marijuana.


RCMP broke the law in drug sting, court rules. New trials ordered because officers sold hash to suspected traffickers

The RCMP broke the law when it arranged the sale of 50 kilos of hashish to set up suspected drug lords, and cannot avoid being questioned about the deal, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled yesterday.

It ordered new trials for two Toronto men convicted of trafficking in drugs after RCMP undercover officers arrived at a hotel rendezvous in 1992 ostensibly to sell them the drugs with a street value of almost $1-million.

Over the past three decades, the RCMP has periodically got into hot water over sting operations to snare suspects. Those range from burning barns in Quebec to blowing up oil wells in Alberta.

The Supreme Court also ordered the Department of Justice to reveal the contents of a legal opinion it gave the RCMP before the raid, saying federal commitment to wage a "war on drugs" is insufficient to justify an illegal sting.

"We were astonished when the government lawyers had the audacity to argue that the RCMP have some kind of state immunity and could break the law with impunity," defence lawyer Alan Gold said in an interview yesterday.

"What is very important," he added, "is that the court has made it very clear the end does not justify the means -- even if the end is the war on drugs."

Mr. Gold and co-counsel Irwin Koziebrocki took steps yesterday to obtain bail for their clients, John Campbell and Salvatore Shirose, until their new trial. Mr. Campbell is serving a nine-year penitentiary sentence and had $270,000 seized by the RCMP. Mr. Shirose is serving a six-year term.

The case began in 1990, when RCMP Corporal Richard Reynolds noticed a Quebec Superior Court judgment that he felt opened the door to "reverse stings" -- operations in which police try to sell narcotics to selected targets.

Cpl. Reynolds met with Justice Department lawyer James Leising to obtain advice. In January, 1992, the RCMP embarked on the first large-scale reverse sting operation in Canadian history, arranging to sell the defendants cannabis resin with a resale value of almost $1-million.

After a seven-month operation, the two defendants were arrested at a hotel meeting near Toronto's Pearson Airport.

When their clients were convicted in 1994, Mr. Gold and Mr. Koziebrocki attempted to halt the proceeding on the basis that in breaking the law, the police had abused their authority.

The RCMP insisted that their actions had been pursued in good faith on the basis of their legal opinion, but the court refused to let the defence have access to the opinion on the grounds that it was a confidential solicitor-and-client matter.

"The clear implication sought to be conveyed to the court by the RCMP was that Mr. Leising's advice had assured the RCMP that the proposed reverse sting was legal," Mr. Justice Ian Binnie wrote for the court yesterday.

"Police illegality of any description is a serious matter," he added. "Police illegality that is planned and approved within the RCMP hierarchy and implemented in defiance of legal advice would, if established, suggest a potential systemic problem concerning police accountability and control."

The court said the issue is a grave one. "In this appeal, the court is asked to consider some implications of the constitutional principle that everyone from the highest officers of the state to the constable on the beat is subject to the ordinary law of the land," it said.

"A police force that chooses to operate outside the law is not the same thing as a police force that made an honest mistake on the basis of erroneous advice. . . . It should be emphasized that the police in this case were not acting in an emergency or other exigent circumstances. This was a premeditated, carefully planned attempt to sell a ton of hashish."

Mr. Gold said in the interview that he suspects the RCMP was envious of the amount of money U.S. police seize and appropriate every year under their Draconian proceeds-of-crime laws. He speculated that by selling previously seized narcotics to criminals for cash, the RCMP felt it had lucked into an easy method of adding millions of dollars to its budget.

Judge Binnie said it is not hard to understand why police are attracted to the effectiveness of reverse-sting operations, but they tread close to a legal boundary line.

"It brought the police into conflict with the very law they were trying to enforce," he said. "The paradox of breaking a law in order to better enforce it has important ramifications for the rule of law."

Once the Mounties made good faith the issue, he said, they automatically entitled the defence to get a look at their legal advice.

While some RCMP duties may involve immunity, when the force is involved in a criminal investigation, it operates as an independent body, Judge Binnie said.

"A police officer investigating a crime is not acting as a government functionary or as an agent of anybody."


Ottawa urged to decriminalize pot possession but only for small amounts, police chiefs to recommend

Getting arrested with small amounts of marijuana should be no worse in the eyes of the law than drinking liquor in a public place, police chief Dave Scott said Wednesday.

The Association of Canadian Police Chiefs is recommending Ottawa decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

They are not calling for the legalization of pot or other narcotics.

"We criminalize so much behaviour right away in our society, this is one large area where simple possession of small quantities can lead to a criminal record for some people for the rest of their lives.

"We feel there's better ways of dealing with that," Scott said.

"I would compare it in some ways to what a liquor offence would be, liquor in a vehicle or in some place other than a dwelling. You would simply endorse the ticket and forward it via mail or in person with the fine amount."

The chiefs would endorse the change if the government committed to providing a good education awareness program and counselling and treatment for the people charged, Scott said.

The chiefs did not recommend what could constitute a small amount and they still want the power to pursue drug dealers.

"If you've got someone carrying four baggies of marijuana, a checklist and cash - we still want to criminalize that behaviour as possession for the purpose of trafficking," Scott said.

Scott said there is a vigourous debate within law enforcement circles over whether such a move is the first step to legalizing marijuana and what might be the legal threshhold for simple possession.

The proposal is meant to clear a backlog of drug cases in the court system and allow police to concentrate their resources on investigating more serious crimes.

The plan was endorsed by the association directors and goes to the membership for a vote later this year.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan said she would review the policy and discuss it with the chiefs at their annual meeting scheduled for August.

Chiefs are "a very influential voice. . . . I take very seriously their resolutions, I will take this one very seriously. I will be reviewing it very carefully," she said Wednesday.


Police chiefs want possession of all narcotics decriminalized: Fight court backlog

OTTAWA - Canada's police chiefs are recommending that the federal government decriminalize possession of small quantities of all illegal narcotics, including heroin, the National Post has learned.

If the federal government accepts the proposal, anyone convicted of simple possession of narcotics would simply sign a guilty statement and pay a fine, without having to go through the court system. They would not have a criminal record.

The proposal is meant to clear the courts of a backlog of drug cases and allow police to concentrate resources on more serious crimes.

It was approved by the board of directors of the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs last week and will be submitted to the membership for a vote later this year.

The association's drug abuse committee, led by Barry King, Chief of the Brockville, Ont. police force, proposed decriminalisation of narcotics, but also called for new federal and provincial programs to deal with substance abuse.

Senior federal officials were part of the "intense dialogue" in the drafting of the proposal and one top Justice Department official said it will be given serious consideration.

Mr. King would not offer details until the proposal is revealed at a news conference next week, but Julian Fantino, chief of the York Region police force and a member of the association's board of directors, stressed they are not recommending legalization of marijunana, cocaine, heroin, or other illegal drugs.

Mr. Fantino said Canada's police chiefs are responding to the reality that police forces are wasting scarce resources going to court when most judges throw out drug-possession cases.

"I mean we diligently put these cases forward but in places like Vancouver, for example, it is a terrible problem just trying to get any kind of conviction for these issues using the courts. . . It is just draining our resources and, in the end, the outcome is nothing," he told the National Post yesterday.

Chief Fantino stressed, however, that the police chiefs also want politicians to direct substantial funds to help deal with drug abuse, as well as for education programs to dissuade young people from trying narcotics.

He points to the United States, where efforts are underway to treat drug abuse as a health issue and not as a crime.

"We rely heavily on the criminal justice system, the police to deal with this issue. We need a strategic, sophisticated drug policy in this country. There needs to be a great deal more effort with respect to education, getting at young people and treating people who want to be treated," he said.

However, Mr. Fantino said the police also need funds to go after organized crime, which is the principal conduit of illegal drugs into Canada. The problem is that governments are short-changing the police, he said.

"We don't seem to realize how devastating it is to see the deterioration of communities, the ruination of lives, but this is directly linked to the activities of organized crime . . . but we have to go begging for the resources to help us do anything of meaningful work with respect to organized crime. Our priorities in this country are all screwed up," he said.

A senior law enforcement official, however, who asked not to be identified, said the government would be foolish to accept the proposal by the police chiefs. It would particularly anger the Americans, who are already upset about Canada's inability to stop smuggling of drugs and immigrants into the U.S.

"I wonder how they will react to know that the federal government is contemplating decriminalizing possession of narcotics. I suspect they would be somewhat pissed," said the official, who noted it is a subject of controversy among police forces.


Revisit pot law

The call by national police chiefs to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana again focuses attention on why Canada should revamp its drug laws and reconsider the value of its "war on drugs."

The reality facing law enforcers is that marijuana and hashish account for about three-quarters of all drug charges laid in Canada. About half of those charges involve people found with no more than 30 grams of the drug.

The chiefs have concluded, and rightly so, that valuable court time and police resources are wasted on criminally prosecuting pot smokers at a time when police are squeezed for resources.

However, while chiefs such as Saskatoon's Dave Scott want possessors of small quantities of marijuana punished with fines similar to those levied against those who drink in public, they draw the line at legalizing pot or other narcotics.

"We criminalize so much behaviour right away in our society," Scott noted. "This is one large area where simple possession of small quantities can lead to a criminal record for some people for the rest of their lives."

Precisely.

Thousands of persons across North America have been hauled to court, fined and put on probation or jailed - U.S. jails are filled with pot smokers locked up for good under a "three strikes and you're gone" criminal law - for no sillier a crime than smoking a dried leaf.

After a recent case, defence lawyer Mark Brayford noted that pot sellers in Saskatchewan are punished more severely than child molesters. The case involved a client jailed for 16 months on a trafficking charge as a result of a months-long police operation involving wiretaps that uncovered 30 immature marijuana plants and less than a kilo of the drug.

Given that Canada's drug war annually costs anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion, depending on whom you ask, it should be asked whether we're getting our money's worth of crime fighting or simply padding police budgets.

Vancouver police veteran Gil Puder incurred the wrath of his chief last year for telling an international forum that laws prohibiting narcotics and attempts to enforce them were little more than history's most expensive failure in social engineering. Busting junkies at street corners may pad police statistics but does little to solve social problems involving drugs.

Const. Puder argues Canadians would be better served if the government set up a regulated pot distribution system and dealt with narcotic addicts as a health problem rather than a criminal problem.

As Patrick Basham of the Fraser Institute noted at that conference, "crime is drug-related only because drugs are illegal and thus expensive. No one is winning in this war except the drug dealers."

While the chiefs don't want marijuana or any other narcotic legalized, their stance on simple possession shows the need to revamp Canada's badly outdated drug laws.

On the political front, Health Minister Allan Rock's recent call for clinical trials for the medical use of marijuana shows some willingness to consider legal changes, as does Justice Minister Anne McLellan's promise to consider the police chiefs' position seriously.

Surely our legislators can do better.

Instead of wasting tax money rounding up pot smokers and intercepting the phone calls of small-time dealers, why not legalize and regulate the trade of a drug less harmful or addictive than alcohol?

Why not treat drug addiction as a health problem and divert scarce police resources to fighting crimes with more social impact?


inJusticebusters say: The war on drugs serves as an excuse for legalizing intrusions on our bodies. Court ordered piss tests are now routine on both sides of the border. Now Canada's Supreme Court has ruled that a person can be held until their stomach contents have passed through if border officials suspect they have swallowed our concealed drugs in their bodies. The possibilities for abuse of this are staggering, when one considers that many border officials are cut from the same cloth as jail guards who grab any chance to exercise excessive authority over other people.


Customs officials had grounds to search for drugs: Supreme Court

OTTAWA (CP) - Persons crossing the Canadian border who raise suspicions they may be smuggling drugs in their stomachs can legally be detained long enough for customs officials to check, the Supreme Court says.

In a decision delivered Friday, the high court upheld the right of customs officials to hold a "bedpan vigil" if they have reasonable grounds to suspect the person is trying to smuggle illegal substances.

Being asked to give a bodily sample may be embarrassing, Justice Frank Iacobucci wrote, but it is "the price to be paid in order to achieve the necessary balance between an individual's privacy interest and the compelling countervailing state interest in protecting the integrity of Canada's borders from the flow of dangerous contraband materials."

Officials at Toronto's Pearson International Airport did not violate the rights of a man they detained and searched because his travel plans indicated he may have been a drug courier, the court ruled.

Isaac Monney was convicted of importing narcotics after customs officials found traces of heroin in his urine.

When at first he refused to give a urine sample, he was told he would have to stay in the so-called "drug loo facility" until he produced a urine sample or a bowel movement that proved he hadn't ingested drugs.

An appeal court overturned his conviction on the basis that his right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure was violated.

But the high court said the man's charter rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, were not violated. His conviction was restored.

The court said that under the circumstances, customs officials had reasonable grounds to be suspicious.

Monney raised suspicions of a customs official because his birthplace was Ghana - a common source of drugs - and he had travelled to Switzerland - a common transit point for drug couriers. He also bought his ticket on the date of departure and paid for it by cheque.

Monney first denied having been to Ghana but then admitted he had gone there to visit his mother.

Customs officials felt they had enough grounds to detain him and advised him of his right to a lawyer.

Once the urine test was done and it came back positive for heroin, Monney confessed to having swallowed 84 pellets of heroin of about five grams each.

He was arrested, and during the 4 hours passed 83 pellets. He passed the final one early the next day when he was taken into the custody of the RCMP.


Dying man wins right to use marijuana

A Toronto man dying with AIDS has won the right to cultivate, produce, and smoke marijuana for medical purposes.

Justice Harry LaForme of the Ontario Superior Court yesterday granted Jim Wakeford, a Toronto AIDS activist, a constitutional exemption from criminal prosecution under Canada's drug laws.

The ruling temporarily allows Mr. Wakeford to use marijuana until Allan Rock, the Health Minister, decides whether to grant Mr. Wakeford a special exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

"Mr. Wakeford's application is bona fide, for a legitimate medical purpose, and one which merits genuine consideration," wrote Judge LaForme, whose ruling implied that he expected Mr. Rock to eventually grant a permanent exemption.

"I am gratified and exhilarated. I was granted some relief," Mr. Wakeford, 54, said yesterday.

This is the second time a Canadian court has allowed the medicinal use of marijuana, but the first time a higher court has done so.

"Jim can now possess and grow marijuana, and, I presume, walk down the street smoking it," said Alan Young, an Osgoode Hall law professor and Mr. Wakeford's lawyer. The victory will open the door to other terminally ill patients who seek relief from the courts, he added.

"This decision shows that a court would be willing to provide constitutional remedies if the government is unwilling to help people like Jim," said Mr. Young. "Anybody who is in a similar situation to Jim's could apply for a constitutional exemption while the government scrambles to figure out its marijuana policy."

However, Mr. Wakeford said he fears the decision may be only a partial victory because the judge did not say whether the friends who take care of him can legally help him grow cannabis.

"The judge did not deal with the issue of caregivers and supply," said Mr. Wakeford, the founder of Casey House, Canada's first free-standing AIDS hospice.

He says his illness prevents him from growing marijuana on his own. "I grew a crop last year with a great deal of help from friends. I'm not a professional grower."

Nonetheless, the ruling is a long-awaited victory for Mr. Wakeford, who had asked the court in February, 1998, for permission to use marijuana. He and his doctor, Toronto AIDS specialist John Goodhew, testified the drug had helped keep Mr. Wakeford alive by countering the destructive side effects of his anti-viral medication, such as loss of appetite.

Last year, he came close to death as the side effects of his medication caused his weight to drop to 116 pounds from 140.

Judge LaForme had dismissed the demand last September, noting Mr. Wakeford could request a special exemption from the health minister. Mr. Wakeford returned to court last week, demonstrating he had applied for such permission months ago and is still waiting for his application to wind its way through a byzantine bureaucratic process at Health Canada.

After hearing a Health Canada official testify about the process for processing applications, the judge agreed it is too slow and untested to adequately protect Mr. Wakeford's rights.

"It is unknown whether or not the process can work or even if it is capable of doing so, and if so, can it do so in a meaningful and timely fashion," Judge LaForme wrote, after listening to the testimony of Carole Bouchard, an official for Health Canada.

"Ms. Bouchard said that the process to consider [medical marijuana] applications was only beginning. She said the structure and personnel to review application is not complete, and she cannot say how long it will take to consider and decide upon Mr. Wakeford's application," the judge noted.

He said he was pleased by the Health Department's work. "I am personally impressed and comforted by the action of the government on the issue of medical marijuana," he wrote.

The government may yet appeal the decision, said Derek Kent, a spokesman for Mr. Rock. The minister intends to present a research plan on the medical use of marijuana before the House rises for the summer, Mr. Kent said.


Ottawa draws closer to legalizing medical marijuana

OTTAWA - Ottawa has moved one step closer to permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes with the approval Tuesday night of a Bloc Quebecois motion in the House of Commons.

LINKS: The B.C. Compassion Club | Text of Charles Whitebread speech on the history of the non-medical use of marijuana

The motion calls for the legalization of pot for medical reasons, and instructs the federal government to take immediate steps to develop clinical trials, guidelines for its use and a safe supply of marijuana to people who need it.

Following the vote, Health Minister Allan Rock said the government's plan for legalizing medical pot will likely be unveiled before the House breaks for the summer.


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