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Perspectives — March 20-22, 2018
Perspectives — March 20-22, 2018
March 27, 2018
OPINION

Last week at the Senate: welcoming new senators and the debate on cannabis legislation.

Government

This past week the Senate welcomed two new Senators, Marty Deacon and Yvonne Boyer, extraordinary women who have served Canada admirably, and who are now stepping up to further contribute in Canada’s Upper Chamber.

It was also an important week as the Senate voted on second reading of the Cannabis Act, C-45, a bill that puts in place the Government’s campaign promise of 2015, to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis.

It is a bill that has galvanized public interest, and the Senate, as a chamber of sober second thought, has been innovative and broadened its usual approach to give this bill the full attention it deserves:

  • As a Committee of the Whole, in the Senate Chamber, we invited three cabinet ministers who answered questions for two hours about the legalization and regulation of cannabis. This special session was broadcast so that Canadians could follow the debate.
  • We have deepened our study of the bill by asking four separate Senate committees with subject matter expertise to look at different aspects and then report back to the Social Affairs committee, as part of an extensive consultation and study process.
  • All representative groups in the Senate have agreed to a deadline to vote on the legislation to allow law enforcement, governments and businesses to prepare.

These innovations are all part of the Senate of Canada fulfilling its mandate to provide sober second thought and improve legislation if required, while ensuring that Canadians, through their elected representatives, have the last word.  


Opposition

During the National Security and Defence committee last week, senators heard from witnesses, some of whom, expressed serious concerns regarding the ability of Canadians to smoothly transit the border once Bill C-45 is passed.

US Immigration Lawyer Len Saunders told senators that he already has 1 or 2 cases per week of Canadians being denied entry into the United States, simply for admitting to smoking marijuana. He believes that more Canadians will be questioned about whether they have smoked marijuana when Bill C-45 is passed. It will not matter whether marijuana is legal in Canada or not. Saunders told senators that Canadians who admit to having smoked marijuana, or to involvement in a marijuana business in Canada, risk being banned for life in the US.

Saunders concluded that the second Justin Trudeau ceases to be the prime minister, he is technically inadmissible to the US for having admitted to smoking marijuana. He reiterated that if you have smoked marijuana you are at risk of being denied entry into the US for life.

Peter Hill, witness from the Canada Border Services Agency and Global Affairs Canada, told the Committee that US officials have indicated to their Canadian counterparts that no change to US policies at the border is anticipated when C-45 becomes law.

The government has failed to take these issues seriously. It has absolutely underestimated the implications of Bill C-45 for the land border with the United States and for the free movement of cross border trade and travelers.


Independent Senators Group

Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, is being debated in the Senate of Canada. Since we’ve begun studying this piece of legislation, there have been many passionate speeches delivered!

My recent remarks in the Senate Chamber on Bill C-45 focused on two issues: First, my interest and awareness of the preparation, readiness, and continued engagement with the legislation in my home province of New Brunswick; and, second, the merits of implementing good public policy, such as Bill C-45.

As a professional social worker and a mental health advocate, I have been listening to the voices of Canadians, notably those from New Brunswick, and I strongly believe that good public health policy is imperative.

I know that my home province is ready for the legalization of Cannabis and is putting mechanisms in place to protect our youth through tight government oversight regarding sales, and a cannabis education and awareness fund. This fund will include the development and implementation of education and awareness programs, policies and research projects related to cannabis, including such things as its responsible use, prevention of abuse and strategies for the reduction of the adverse health effects.

I take this issue very seriously and want to continue learning as much as possible as we move towards approving this piece of legislation. Legalizing cannabis is a significant policy change, and I am pleased that we have referred C-45 to committee for further study and to thoroughly examine all aspects of the bill.