Alistair MacGregor, NDP Critic for Justice, says he is concerned that Canadians are still being arrested for cannabis prior to legalization and is open to the idea of amnesty for some with past charges for cannabis possession.
In Justice Committee earlier this month, MacGregor requested more information from the government’s justice minister, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, regarding legalization of marijuana.
The Justice Minister is expected to appear before the standing committee on justice and human rights on May 4. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights studies the bills, policies, programs and spending of the Department of Justice and the six federal agencies related to its portfolio. The Department of Justice (Wilson-Raybould) is one of three government agencies tasked with managing the legalization ticket, along with the Department of Health (Jane Philpott) and Public Safety Canada (Ralph Goodale).
MacGregor, the MP for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford on Vancouver Island, says he hopes the justice minister is able to soon provide specific “plans and priorities” for implementing legalization.
“Since the Liberal party made this promise, and up until now, I’m really curious how many Canadians have received criminal records and charges while we’re waiting for legalization and regulation to come forward." Alistair MacGregor, Member of Parliament Cowichan—Malahat—Langford., Critic for Justice
In an interview with Lift, MacGregor says he’s frustrated by the government’s lack of clarity on a timeline for legislation, and wants to ensure the government is being held to account on this ticket. When he’s requested more information in the past from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, he says he’s been unhappy with the reply.
“I was pressing the chair to make sure that the plans and priorities of the department are going to be ready,” says MacGregor. “I basically want to put the minister in the hot seat to see when this plan is going to come forward.”
“I’m still frustrated by their answers. When I pressed Bill Blair on a timeline, the only response he would give me is that their plan is going according to schedule, whatever that is supposed to mean.”
The MP from Vancouver Island also says he’s also concerned by the idea of people potentially still facing arrest and charges for basic possession, well over a year after the Liberals were elected on a promise to legalize.
“We have, from the outset, supported decriminalization as an interim measure because my colleagues and I in the NDP feel strongly that, with this promise to legalize and regulate, it is patently unfair to be charging Canadians and giving them criminal records which can affect them in employment and in travel. So we have been in support of that as an interim measure. And, again, when the Prime Minister has been pressed on this issue, they just come back with a quip that the law is the law and we expect Canadians to follow the law. But that’s obviously not happening and we’re still seeing a lot of Canadians getting charged and will have these records.”
“Since the Liberal Party made this promise, and up until now, I’m really curious how many Canadians have received criminal records and charges while we’re waiting for legalization and regulation to come forward. So yeah, in the months ahead you can expect me to turn up the pressure on them to try and get a firm answer as to when this is actually going to be introduced.”
While the NDP has always called for the decriminalization of personal possession, he also says he’s open to the idea of amnesty for those with past charges. Amnesty could mean those who have a a criminal record for basic possession of cannabis.
“I think [amnesty] is a valid thing to look at because it fits in with the argument we’ve made for decriminalization. We have always held the position that is unfair to keep charging Canadians under a system that you’re hoping to change, reform through a legalization process. So I would certainly be interested in looking at that proposal because I think that fits with what we’ve been calling for all along.”
Unlike another B.C. MP, Peter Julian, one of four currently seeking to lead the NDP, who says he believes the Liberals will not legalize, MacGregor does say he believes the Liberals will legalize. But he’s skeptical of the timeline.
“For the overall promise, I think they do intend to keep it. It’s a pretty big promise not to keep, but we’re interested in seeing it come forward as soon as possible because of all the confusion we’re seeing on the ground.”
While the Liberals have stated they intend to take the time to do it right, MacGregor says time is of the essence. The longer it takes to come out with a plan, the more cities will struggle with how to manage things like grow ops or dispensaries.
“We just want to make sure this isn’t being delayed further than necessary, because I think think time is the enemy here. Because the longer this is delayed, the more confusion is going to reign supreme on the ground, and the federal government needs to really come forward and take a leadership role on this file, because otherwise you’re leaving it up to municipalities, we’re leaving it to businesses, to local police forces to hold the bag.”
“We want to see this legislation come forward, we believe parliament needs to have a healthy debate on the issue, we think the justice committee needs to call a lot of experts forward on this and they need to have their say, but in order for all that to start, we need to see what we’re working with.”