Libby Davies’ private member’s bill is on its way back to committee after the vote in the House of Commons last week. I chatted with Davies in the foyer earlier today.
DS: We’ve had the debate, and it’s been voted on and sent back to committee. What’s the process of negotiation now for this amendment?
LD: Right now we’re working on an amendment that will meet two criteria, we hope – one, that it will be admissible, and two, that it will satisfy the concerns that the Bloc have about the bill respecting their jurisdiction. The bill is now back to the committee. We have to find a time that the committee can deal with it, and our member on the committee, Tony Martin, is actually doing that, because committees have to arrange their agenda. Of course, my preference is that we look at this amendment and amend the bill as soon as possible and get it back into the House, but that’s something that Tony will help work out, and he does a vey good job.
DS: Being as we have since learned that this will have to go back for another round of third reading, is there concern for the time crunch that could happen if there is a spring election?
LD: There’s always a time crunch that you’re facing, and my goal has always been to try and have this bill dealt with, and to pass it through the House of Commons. And then, of course, we deal with a whole other scenario with the Senate, but we’ll deal with that when we come to it. I obviously want to see it come back to the House as quickly as possible, get through the debate and get to its final vote on third reading. Exactly when that will be, I don’t know, but my aim is to do that as quickly as possible because there is huge momentum out there – still coming in, by the way, from people to support this bill. I was very disappointed that the Conservatives did not support the motion to go back to committee. I’m hoping that at third reading, there may be some Conservatives who will support the bill. I know they’ve been lobbied; I know they’ve a massive amount of emails on this, so I’m hoping that they’ll listen to their constituents.
DS: Changing topics a little bit, the forum you held on drug policy the other night – how did that end up?
LD: Really good – we’re really pleased with it. It was the first time it’s ever happened on Parliament Hill. It was hosted by members from all four parties, which was very significant. The speakers were outstanding, and it was a very thoughtful discussion. We were delighted that the ambassador to Canada from Portugal came and spoke about what’s happening in Portugal, and he brought some very good information about the experience of Portugal. The reason it’s good is because so often, we mirror ourselves to the United States on drug policy as though it’s the only place in the world that’s doing anything, and, of course, the Conservatives believe it’s the sensible course of action – the so-called War on Drugs. Even in the US, the debate has changed significantly, even with Obama. But individual states are repealing some of their mandatory minimum laws, so I think it’s very timely and appropriate that we look to Europe and see what’s taking place there, because there is a different experience. They have a much more pragmatic, realistic approach to drug policy, so to hear what Portugal is doing, and that they haven’t had an increase in drug use, they haven’t had a massive influx of people, which was predicted would happen. It’s very interesting to hear about that experience.
We also heard from a really great speaker from LEAP, which is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and this is a guy who’s currently in law enforcement – he’s the supervisor of corrections in New Hampshire, in a particular county there. We had Tara Lyons here from Ottawa, who is the former executive director of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. They’ve done three lobbies here on Parliament Hill, which has been very important, because we have to start talking to MPs honestly about drug policy, and when they say that we’re doing this for young people, a group like Tara’s in very important because they say you’re not doing this in our name. In fact, what you’re doing is counter-productive and harmful. It was a very good discussion – there were a number of MPs there; there were a number of local activists and NGOs, and everyone I talked to said it was a very good event.
DS: What is your opinion of the government’s new anti-drug ads?
LD: My concern is that they’re really into window-dressing as opposed to seriously engaging with young people around drug use, and what it means, and what harms there are, and doing that in a realistic way. I’m very distressed that they dropped harm reduction from their drug policy in 2007 – they have a heavy reliance on enforcement, they have a heavy reliance on these bills that they bring in, like what was C-15 and is now S-10. The thought that they’re going to lay on mandatory minimum sentencing that will affect young people and will affect students – it’s crazy. Their ad campaign – they’re trying to compensate by saying that they’re education, but if everything else that they’re doing is very harmful, and particularly as they’ve dropped harm reduction, which is a very important pillar of what is called the four-pillar approach, then these guys are going in completely the wrong direction.