Shedding Light on Day: "Unreported Crimes" Code for "Cannabis Offences"

August 4, 2010 by  

There is a perfectly logical – if disgraceful – reason why Canadian Treasury President Stockwell Day (a Conservative MP) yesterday cited “unreported crimes” as the reason for spending $9B on the building of more prisons.  I submit that, with the phrase “unreported crimes”, Day is implicitly referring to cannabis offenses and other consensual drug-related offenses for which minimum prison sentences will be imposed if Bill S-10 becomes law.  The Conservative government’s announcement today that it has expanded the range of things constituting “serious crimes” provides additional evidence to that effect.

The media yesterday having asked Day to justify that kind of spending while the federal government is claiming to be tackling the deficit, one might have expected Day simply to answer that the prisons were to cope with the effects of the government’s Truth in Sentencing Act. Parliamentary Budget officer Kevin Page has already estimated that the cost of implementing that Act alone will be in that range, and the Act passed into law months ago. Yet, with his expression of the government’s concern over “unreported crimes” Day implicitly foreshadowed an additional source of pressure on prison resources.

Most reasonable people no doubt share Liberal MP Mark Holland’s view that “unreported crimes” cannot be the reason for building prisons, because unreported crimes are crimes for which nobody is charged or imprisoned. However, that assumption overlooks a few things.

The number one reason for not reporting a crime is the belief that the crime in question is not one meriting police involvement or criminal penalties. Millions of Canadians actively cultivate, sell, and possess cannabis despite the threat of fines and imprisonment. Polls in recent years repeatedly indicate that the majority of Canadians want cannabis legalized even for recreational use. And as any fairly social adult will probably have witnessed, police are rarely called to arrest someone who is cultivating, selling, or possessing cannabis. There is, in point of fact, mass civil disobedience, and a benevolent conspiracy of silence, with respect to cannabis offences in Canada. For this reason, cannabis offenses are arguably one of the most frequently occurring – if not the most frequently occurring – “unreported crimes” in Canada.

Day is not necessarily making the absurd suggestion that those whose crimes are not reported will be imprisoned. He is saying that those who are charged with committing a cannabis offence – a widely “unreported crime” – will soon be sent to prison in much greater numbers. The actual purpose of the government’s prison expansion plans is to accommodate the anticipated impact of the Conservative government’s “National Anti-drug Strategy”, when one of its key components – Bill S-10 – passes into law.

As one source painfully acquainted with the effect of the Harper government’s Americanesque drug war agenda explains, the number of sexual assaults, homocides, and other violent offences is fairly constant, year after year, as is the number of people convicted of such offenses. Indeed, as the population ages, the number of such crimes will decrease. Even if incarceration durations for such crimes were doubled, that would hardly put a dent in the prison population. Billions of dollars in additional prison funding is not needed for those sorts of offences, but billions in additional funding will be needed to build prisons for the anticipated thousands of non-violent cannabis (and, to a lesser extent, other drug) offenders who Bill S-10 will soon subject to mandatory imprisonment.

To understand what is at stake politically for the Conservatives, a bit of history must be kept in mind. In late 2006, the Harper government attempted to fulfill an election pledge to repeal the recognition of gay marriages. A late 2006 motion to revisit the issue of gay marriage failed, leaving unsatisfied social Conservative yearnings for a war against Canada’s changing culture. However, gay marriage was only one of two major cultural changes in Canada that steamed social conservatives in recent years. The other was Canada’s changing laws on cannabis.

A 2000 decision in Ontario’s Court of Appeal made cannabis a legal medicine (it remains so to this day, though federal and provincial governments have failed to provide adequate safeguards for physicians – who face concerns of losing their licenses to practice should they prescribe cannabis – and to ensure that patients have the cannabis they are prescribed). In 2002, a Senate report recommended that recreational cannabis be legalized, and a House of Commons report released shortly thereafter recommended that imprisonment be replaced with a system of stiffer fines (a recommendation known as “decriminalization”). The Canadian Alliance, then led by Stephen Harper, condemned those proposals on the ground that they would further inflame Canada-US relations at a time when Canada’s Liberal government had refused Canadian involvement in America’s war against Iraq (Harper’s Alliance opposition had indicated that it wanted Canada to join in the war against Iraq). Elections in 2004 and 2006 scuttled the Liberal government’s decriminalization plans, and Harper’s Conservatives formed a government with the smallest minority in Canada’s history.

By October of 2007, the legalization of cannabis was supported by 51% of Canadians (a number that crept up to 53% a year later). However, the Conservative government having let down its social conservative base with respect to gay marriage, it announced it would be launching a “National Anti-drug Strategy”.

Conservative MP Tony Clement (the same Tony Clement who is now trying not to smirk as he passes himself off as a libertarian defending long-form census takers from the abuse of government coercion) at that time was Canada’s Health Minister. On September 29, 2007, the Canadian Press quoted Clement thusly:

“In the next few days, we’re going to be back in the business of an anti-drug strategy,” Clement told The Canadian Press. “In that sense, the party’s over.”

Clement, together with none other than Stockwell Day (who was then Public Safety Minister), attended Prime Minister Harper’s October 4, 2007 press conference, wherein his $63M anti-drug strategy was announced. Given that the anti-drug strategy was a significant bone thrown to the Conservative party’s religious, social conservative constituency, rather than to the relatively secular majority of Canadians, it should not surprise the reader that the press conference was held at a Salvation Army headquarters (in Winnipeg).

Of the funding there announced, two thirds was to be directed at the social aspect of drugs, including a counter-cultural campaign. Harper explained:

What we are up against, in trying to resolve this problem – what the police are up against, what the people who deal in treatment and prevention are up against – is a culture that, since the 1960s has, at the minimum not encouraged drug use and often romanticized it; romanticized it, or made it cool; made it acceptable. And look, as a father, I don’t say all these things blamelessly. My son is listening to my Beatles records and asking me what all these lyrics mean. And, you know, it’s just there, it’s just out there, I love these records, I’m not putting them away. But, that said, the reality is that there has been a culture that has not fought drug use! And that’s what we’re all up against! No easy solutions to that but we have seen, in the case of tobacco, a shift in the culture, in a way that has rendered tobacco use less and less socially or culturally acceptable. I think we need to do the same thing – I think we need to do it much more quickly and much more critically – in the area of narcotics.

(Almost two years to the day later – with pot culture icon Marc Emery imprisoned in British Columbia for his romanticizing of cannabis culture – Harper would attend a widely-reported arts gala to play piano and sing the pot-inspired Beatle’s tune “I get high, with a little help from my friends”.  Oh, the sickening hypocrisy.)

On November 20, 2007, the Harper government introduced Bill C-26. Titled An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, the Bill proposed doubling the maximum term of imprisonment for cannabis-related crimes: from 7 years, to 14 years. It also proposed a minimum sentence of 6 months imprisonment for the cultivation of 1 to 200 cannabis plants where the purpose of growing the cannabis was to sell it. Higher mandatory minimums were proposed for greater numbers of plants, or for other aggravating factors. The bill passed second reading on April 18, 2008, but the dissolution of Parliament for the 2008 election killed the bill. Bill C-26 was re-introduced as bill C-15 and passed third reading on June 8, 2009. It was then sent to the Senate.

In late 2009, Liberal Senators outnumbered Conservatives in the upper chamber. On December 3, 2009, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs adopted a motion by Liberal appointee Senator Serge Joyal wherein the 6-month minimum sentence for growing 5 to 200 cannabis plants (in the absence of aggravating factors) would be removed. Later that day, an infuriated Justice Minister Rob Nicholson appeared on CBC’s “Power and Politics” program, and exclaimed:

They’ve taken the mandatory penalty out, and so we’re very unhappy with this…we take this very seriously, and we believe that people should have a mandatory jail time for people who are in the business, in the grow-op business.

Liberal members in the House of Commons having supported Bill C-15, Nicholson accused the Liberal Party of using Liberal Senators do their “dirty work” for them.

Show host Evan Solomon asked the Minister a question akin to that put to Stockwell Day just yesterday:

What about the notion that this is going to be very costly. I mean, the government said on one hand ‘we don’t want to have a huge deficit, we want to control spending costs’. On the other hand, building more prisons and taking more people in is an expensive cost. How do you mitigate that?

Nicholson’s answer:

I can tell you that we wanna get the message out to people under the National Anti-Drug Strategy. Many people will be seeing advertisements running right now across this country, discouraging people, educating them about the problems of taking drugs in this country. We want to help individuals to get them off of drugs in this country and not to experiment with them.

In other words: imposing mandatory minimums will cause people to stop breaking the law, so fewer people will get imprisoned and the costs of prisons and incarceration will thereby be mitigated. With so many millions of Canadians growing, selling, and possessing marijuana despite its criminality, we are supposed to believe that what is perhaps the most “unreported crime” of all in Canada – cannabis “crime” – will suddenly tail off so much as to offset the effect of mandatory sentences of imprisonment imposed upon people who normally would not be sentenced to any jail time. The Minister’s credulity on this issue is almost unbelievable.

The amended Bill C-15 passed third reading in the Senate on December 14, 2009. It then awaited the final step in making a bill a law: royal assent.

Section 2 of the Royal Assent Act, 2002 provides:

2. Royal assent to a bill passed by the Houses of Parliament may be signified, during the session in which both Houses pass the bill,

(a) in Parliament assembled; or

(b) by written declaration.

The key words in that section are “during the session”. The effect of “prorogation” – wherein the Prime Minister advises the Governor General to end a Parliamentary session – is that all bills that have not received royal assent before prorogation die. On December 30th, 2009, just 16 days following third reading of bill C-15 in the Senate, Parliament was prorogued, killing the bill before it received Royal Assent.

Was the prorogation motivated, at least in part, by government’s desire to have C-15 passed into law without the Senate’s amendments? In other words: just how much priority is the Harper government placing upon its war on Canada’s cannabis culture? Consider three things.

First, it should be noted that the Senate had debated C-15 far more than any other bill in the Senate: 62 hours, 3 minutes. At the time of prorogation, only 2 other bills had passed the stage of third reading in the Senate: C-6 (regulating dangerous consumer products) had been debated for 37 hours, 42 minutes; and Bill S-8 (which implemented a tax-evasion treaty with South American countries) had been debated for 1 hour, 49 minutes.

Second, soon after proroguing Parliament, Stephen Harper appointed five more Conservative Senators. This was enough to give Bill C-15 a good chance of passing third reading in the Senate without amendments.

Third, before the new session of Parliament began, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was asked whether any of his crime bills would be re-introduced. He was not certain about any except one: Bill C-15, he said, was certain to be re-introduced.

Indeed, Bill C-15 has since been re-introduced in the Senate as Bill S-10, in its unamended form. Having already been debated on three days, Bill S-10 has yet to pass second reading in the Senate. With a greater number of Conservatives serving in the upper chamber, it now seems much more likely that mandatory minimum sentences for the tiny fraction of cannabis-using Canadians caught committing what are usually “unreported offenses” will soon be a reality.

Now, quite apart from the issue of prorogation, Nicholson today announced that the government had, on July 13, 2010, passed a new regulation that makes 11 less-serious offences “serious offences”.  Among them: “trafficking in any substance included in Schedule II in an amount that
does not exceed the amount set out for that substance in Schedule VII (subsection 5(4))”.  Cannabis and hashish are the two Schedule II substances referred to.  The new regulation makes trafficking in less than 3kg of either of those substances a “serious offense”.  The Canada Gazette summary for the regulation explains:

Expanding the availability of the criminal organization provisions creates the possibility that individuals may be subjected to longer periods of incarceration because it makes the use of the criminal organization offences possible. (emphasis added)

In addition to imposing longer periods of incarceration, the change essentially eliminates some of the pesky procedural hoops – also known as “due process in a free and democratic society” – through which police have to jump in order to arrest people for cannabis offenses.  Clearly, cannabis, and the Conservatives’ war on Canadian culture, continues to be top-of-mind for the Conservative government.

I submit that the evidence strongly supports the conclusion that Harper’s anti-cannabis culture war is actually the centrepiece of his entire government agenda for that large percentage of Conservative supporters who see cannabis users – and homosexuals – as plagues on Canadian culture.  The money be damned: this back-bone of the Conservative Party sees Canada’s popular embrace of legalization as a threat to the 1950’s style, clean-livin’ Canada of its spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child youth.  The so-cons see cannabis cultivators, sellers, and possessors as snakes from whom Godly government must deliver them.  If they cannot persuade Canadians to embrace their prohibitionist views, they will continue to demand of the Conservative Party that it lock-up cannabis-tolerant “liberals”, and leave them to rot.

I suspect strongly, and angrily, that we are going to need those prisons. However, I am reasonably sure that the majority of Canadians – given an alternative to seeing their children criminalized, marginalized, imprisoned, and otherwise having their lives destroyed so that religious conservatives will keep voting Conservative – would prefer an intervening election.


UPDATE (5:35 PM): : Well, well, well. Will the “coincidences” never cease? It was reported on Facebook that, at about 5:25 PM today (approximately 2 hours after the above blog was posted), police again raided Toronto’s C.A.L.M. cannabis compassion club. Imagine that: an evening news program in which there will be “proof” that the Harper government “needed” to make the regulatory changes announced earlier today. Makes me wonder if I should charge for soothsaying.


7 Responses to “Shedding Light on Day: "Unreported Crimes" Code for "Cannabis Offences"”

  1. LindsayDianne on August 4th, 2010 8:47 pm

    That is exactly the kind of crime I THOUGHT he might be talking about.

  2. Russell Barth on August 5th, 2010 10:22 am

    They say the new jails will be filled with violent offenders. That means pot smokers, pot growers, and pot activists. The big push is coming. Pot people will be rounded up in droves.

  3. kirbycairo on August 5th, 2010 2:18 pm

    The very fact that Harper likes the Beatles so much makes me reconsider my entire aesthetic. Great Post, thanks.

  4. Flynn woodcock on August 5th, 2010 4:06 pm

    To me the only answer can be , it is time that all good people come to the aid of each other.Canadians need a political party that has our backs plain and simple .The very fact that they are increasing jails is a show of thier failure to comprehend that smoking pot using pot for medicinal and recreational use is accepted by the majority let us say it again the majority, you know in the democracy we think we live in .So to Harper and all the rest of you people that have brothers cousins father wives kids using it ,stand up for them!!!!!! it is ok to drink it is ok to smoke pot it is ok to use both substances in moderation and controled behaviour it is not ok to get drunk nor is it ok to get blasted out of your head on speed crack coke meth on and on and beat your wife and go to church on sunday and be forgiven yet dont smoke a joint come on get your head out of your butt Harper Dont be a hypocrite act like a leader understand what your people want, and I mean the majority of your people Ummm maybe I give you too much they are not really your people stats prove it and watch what the stats start to do now!!!!! To all CANADIANS lets show the world just how democratic we can be lets call an election and remove the conservative goverment and I really dont think the liberals are the better choice so lets start a new party lets call it The True Democratic Government(TTGD)Of Canada!!!!!! GOOD NAME EH LOL.The main component of this governing system is to deliver pros and cons of all issues to the Canadian people in non bias fashion so that all people of age to vote will be able to on a MONTHLY BASIS ON ALL ISSUES EFFECTING THEM !!!!!|OH MY GOD is that not smart every month voting on each issue you know taking part in the very workings of goverment taking the deciding factor away from the politicians I by no means know it all or how to do it all I just know as a CANADIAN we need to have the majority rule on all issues so that goverment and parties dont use thier bias to promote ill in our country

  5. Jesse on August 17th, 2010 12:57 pm

    its about economy.
    every time there is an oil spill, or a tragedy, or even a bunch of broken families seeking help (from jail time from a shoddy go nowhere war), it gives people jobs, opens economic niches, provides more hurtles, for people to aid you in your hurtling.

    its the calamity of a society that bases its monetary system on everlasting growth. but resources for the most part are few, and this means that someones gotta clean up a few messes to make a buck.

    its a fallacy that has been implimented by our neighbors, who are in the process of droping our boarders for the purposes of shared intrest, you will know this as the security and prosperity project ( which is alot like what happened with the European union. which no one had a say about either.

    marijuana actually has a lot of good effects. cognitive, and physical, many are lost in the iconic smoking of it, but yet still eating it, or processing it for oral consumption will yield far amazing benefits. ranging from strong anti inflammatory to possible treatment for random skin growths.

    also it comes with the knowledge that prohibition is bad, and by classing it as a medicine it undermines the pharma corps, and opens doors to the history of medicine, and the truth of synthetic carbon units (made from petro chemicals) ,which many people are still in the dark on that subject.

    anyways, its an intricate web, and i don’t want to sound to random. but many different factors are up against legalization, even if we as a country want to, there will always be strong pushes from the states, and they will excuse themselves by saying “its because of trafficking from up north” when over 75% of the pot in that country is still grown, in the country… the rest its easier to get it from Mexico.

    its all about the Benjamins. the jobs, & the economy…

    got nothing to do with families, they probably smoke that shit after the kids go to sleep. and it was probably grown by some government whoever the fuck, chilling with some random gang.

  6. Barry on August 20th, 2010 3:30 am

    Well done, well thought out. I’m wishing for that intervening election. It takes our human faces, as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, to breathe reality into the issue just like coming out of the closet did for my family and friends years ago. I’ve learned to stand for my freedom. I will never submit to their so called “moral” rules they have no right imposing on us.

  7. Wayne Phillips on August 29th, 2010 6:50 pm

    The Conservatives may claim to want to be seen as being “tough on crime” crusaders but I for one am not buying it. Who, in fact, would be more in need of a pretence (of this sort) than those most complicit in the undermining of a nation in order to implement a policy of discrimination, persecution and incarceration while enabling and enriching organized crime and insuring even more youth and communities are at even greater risk; all by implementing the very legislation that pretends to prevent the aforementioned.

    While there is no doubt that Harper and the Conservatives anti-cannabis culture war is actually the centrepiece of the entire government’s agenda playing to that large percentage of Conservative supporters who would like to be seen portraying cannabis users – and homosexuals – as plagues on Canadian culture, the Conservatives “tough on (unreported, manufactured and contrived) crime”, in conjunction to its’ prisons package, brings Canada’s criminal justice system that much closer in line with that of America’s.

    Interestingly enough, just such a “re-aligning” was necessitated by the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) agreement, which was initially launched March 23, 2005 in Waco, Texas between Paul Martin, George Bush and Vicente Fox, and according an Oct. 1st, 2009 NDP communication was no longer an active initiative as of Aug. 2009. An active initiative is unnecessary when the parties, or , in this instance, party ( the Conservatives ) acquiesce via their platform.

    Bill S-10, in conjunction with “Unreported (Cannabis) Crimes”, (cannabis offenses are arguably one of the most frequently occurring – if not the most frequently occurring – “unreported crimes” in Canada) will usher Canada into a new era of the war on cannabis and by extension the war on other drugs. Privatization of Canadian prisons, in full, or in part, is another inevitability The Conservative message sent will be loud and clear but, in essence, it will be considered even more disingenuous than ever before, and in some circles, even treasonous. Internationally, Canada will be seen as a bastion of hypocrisy; even America’s lapdog.

    The Conservatives cannot claim ignorance about the ramifications their implementations will set into motion. Incarcerating street traffickers, small-time growers for extended periods of time and stepped up eradication efforts, besides annually assailing the taxpayers pocketbook will, in the best case scenario, only provide house cleaning services for more ruthless entrepreneur; in the worst case, enforcement clears the stage an emerging turf war. Either way, the availability of the substances in question will continue unabated, as will a preponderance of adolescent users who will be drawn into greater involvement.

    A comprehensive study released released April by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy exposed an extensive correlation between drug law enforcement efforts and increased drug-related crime, homicide and gun violence. It demonstrates commonalities between violence and the illicit drug trade in relation to the impacts drug law enforcement has, as intervention, on drug market violence and can be found at &

    The Conservatives anti-drug strategy, from D.A.R.E. programs to prison programs, provides a cradle to grave approach to drug crime control as an industry, with cannabis as its’ mainstay. The Conservatives, however, in spite of their tough talk, have left some telling escape options that only privilege would be able to afford. The most interesting is an option of “pleading down” – where offences are mitigated and expedited. Ex-Conservative Jaffer used this option to avoid cocaine charges thereby inadvertently demonstrating its viability. What would make the whole process that much less suspect would be for Harper, Nicholson or Aglukkaq to announce the commencement of mandatory random urine samples need be produced by every sitting member in Parliament.

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