Roundup: A firmer timeline for cannabis

The Senate came to a negotiated decision around the marijuana legalization bill timeline yesterday, and there is a bit of good news, and a bit of bad news if you’re waiting for its passage. On the one hand, the new timeline has the benefit of an end date – that it aims for third reading vote by June 7th, but that also moves a vote on second reading until March 22nd, and from then on, it will go to five different committees instead of just three. It does, however, mean that the government’s timeline of July is now out of the water, because even if it passes in June (because there is the possibility of amendments, but there should be enough time to deal with those), there will still be an eight-to-twelve week lag time between royal assent and when the stores can open their doors given production and distribution timelines, and the likes. So, it likely means no legal weed over the summer, if you’re so inclined.

A couple of additional notes: I keep hearing this concern trolling that keeping the legal age below 25 is terrible because youth shouldn’t smoke it because of brain development and so on. The problem with setting the legal age too high is that it remains the forbidden fruit for those youth, which encourages use, but it also ignores the reams of data that we have on what happens when drinking ages are set too high, especially in states where it’s 21 instead of 18 or 19. What happens if you have young adults who binge drink to the point of alcohol poisoning because there is no way to build a culture of moderation – not to mention, it will continue to be an active driver for the black market if young adults can still get it that way. At least by setting it to the provincial drinking age, you have a better chance of reaching them through education programs (which will hopefully be better than the current “don’t do drugs” scare tactics that governments repeatedly try and fail at) than simple prohibition. In other words, I hope that senators (and in particular Conservative ones) don’t make this a hill to die on.
The other note is that in the lead up to this negotiated timetable, Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative” Senator Peter Harder took the CBC to proclaim his concerns with the pace of the bill, and lamenting that it had been in the Senate since November – err, except it was really only there for a couple of weeks before the Christmas break, during which time the Senate was busy dealing with a glut of other bills from the Commons, and that they rose a week before they planned to, and this is only the third week back after the break, during which it has received several second reading speeches. He was utterly disingenuous about how much time it had been in the Senate to date, and I suspect that this is all part of his play to continue casting the partisan gamesmanship (or threats thereof) by the Conservatives in order to push through his reforms to the chamber that would delegitimise structured opposition, which is a very big deal, and one that Senators shouldn’t let him sneak by them by playing up concerns over this particular bill’s progress.

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QP: Gathering angry media clips

Two competing dynamics played out in the Commons today — because Parliament is not sitting tomorrow out of courtesy for the NDP’s policy convention, it was Friday on a Thursday, only slightly better attended, but there weren’t any leaders (save Elizabeth May) present. It was also a Conservative Supply Day, where the motion demanded an apology to veterans for the alleged “insult” by the prime minister during that Edmonton town hall regarding his response to why the court action against the Equitas group was still ongoing. Candice Bergen led off, reading concerns about veterans and demanding action from the prime minister. Dominic LeBlanc got up to answer, saying that they do support veterans and have put in place a pension-for-life option as well as other investments. Bergen concern trolled that the government voted down a veterans-themed private member’s bill yesterday, and LeBlanc listed the sins of the previous government when it came to respecting veterans. Alain Rayes took over in French, quoting the prime minister’s election promise, not that LeBlanc was having any of it. Rayes tried again, and LeBlanc raised the spectre of Julian Fantino when it came to how the Conservatives had respect. Rayes listed examples of the government’s profligacy except for veterans, but LeBlanc called out his contradiction before reiterating their respect. Ruth Ellen Brosseau led off for the NDP, reading questions on the same topic in English, and LeBlanc gave a less punchy response about how much they have done to date. Brosseau switched to French to read about the documents provided to the PBO around the tax gap, and Marie-Claude Bibeau got up to insist that they would study the tax gap, unlike the previous government. Pierre-Luc Dusseault heaped some condemnation on new tax treaties, and Bibeau read points about international information exchanges to fighting tax evasion. Peter Julian got up to rail about tax havens that are funding cannabis operations, but Bibeau reiterated the points about combatting tax evasion. Continue reading

Roundup: Promising a new framework

The big news yesterday was Justin Trudeau delivering a major policy speech in the House of Commons about creating a new legal framework for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada that aims to fully implement the treaties that have not been properly enacted, and that will build toward self-governance by creating the capacity within individual First Nations and other Indigenous communities that will enable them to take up that governance space at their own pace. Trudeau insisted that this would not require constitutional change but would rather put some meat on the bones of Section 35 of the Constitution, and the existing treaties. And yes, criminal justice reform including how juries are selected was also part of the promise (and I’ve heard that we might see new legislation around that in March). Trudeau said that this announcement comes with a new round of consultations, but the aim was to have legislation tabled by the fall, with the framework fully implemented before the next election.

Reaction from Indigenous leaders is cautious so far, because there aren’t a lot of details – and there probably won’t be many until something gets tabled later in the year. The flipside of that, of course, is that there’s room and space for these leaders to give their input during the consultative process that is to come, seeing as Trudeau is promising to work together to develop this framework. There are other questions when it comes to lands and resources, which I’m not sure if this framework itself will cover or if the framework will guide how those issues are to be solved going forward, and that’s also likely going to depend on the cooperation of the provincial governments, but there does seem to be some momentum. That will also depend on Parliament moving this forward, and while the NDP seem to be onboard, the Conservative response to Trudeau’s speech warned about being too ambitious, which should probably be some kind of a warning signal. But it’s early days, and we’ll see how the next few months unfold.

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QP: A smarmier version of Matlock

The first proto-Prime Minister’s Questions of the New Year, with Justin Trudeau finally in town on a Wednesday, and Andrew Scheer was once again no longer present. That left Lisa Raitt to leave off, who was worried that offshore investment into marijuana companies was not the front companies for organised crime. Trudeau stumbled off the block, and gave his worn points about why they are legalising marijuana. Raitt called out the talking points, but along the way, equated former Liberal fundraisers with organised crime, but Trudeau didn’t vary his response. Alain Rayes was up next, and in French, accused Liberal fundraisers of trying to line their pockets though cannabis and accused the government of interfering with debate in the Senate,  it Trudeau stuck to his points in French. Rayes tried again, and this time, Trudeau said that they could assure people that they were not letting organised crime into the system. Rayes went one last round, asserting that legalised marijuana was somehow the new Sponsorship Scandal, but Trudeau reminded him that the previous prohibition model failed. Guy Caron was up next, and kept on the same line of attack, highlighting tax havens, and this time, Trudeau picked up some notes to say that they have been coming to agreements with provinces to provide transparency on corporations and that they were doing background checks on any significant investment in cannabis companies. Caron went again in French, railing about Liberals and tax havens, but Trudeau repeated the assurances in French. Pierre-Luc Dusseault asked the same question again, to which Trudeau assured him that they had an information network to combat tax avoidance and evasion, and when Peter Julian asked one more time, Trudeau picked up his notes again to assure him that there would be mandatory security checks with companies.

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Roundup: Harder threatens hardball

A curious development happened in the Senate yesterday, where the Government Leader in the Senate – err, “government representative,” Senator Peter Harder, decided to threaten to play hardball for the first time. Harder moved a motion that would send the marijuana legalisation bill to three different committees by March 1st, with an aim to have them report back to the Chamber by April 19th. The threat? That if they don’t agree, he’ll resort to time allocation (which may be an empty threat if he can’t get the votes to do so). While there are questions as to why the “haste” (though I would hardly call it such), the supposition is that the government wants this passed before summer, despite the fact that there will be an eight-to-twelve-week lag between royal assent and retail sales. Now, one could point out that the Senate rose a week early before Christmas and could have done more of their second reading debate beforehand (along with the other bills on the Order Paper), and maybe they should have been more conscious of the timeline then, but that’s now past.

While I’m not opposed to one-off timeline negotiations, I do find myself concerned by some of the tone of Harder’s release, one line of which reads “Sen. Harder said he is also concerned that opponents may behave in a partisan fashion to delay review of the bill.” Why is this concerning? Because it’s part of his larger plan. After the Speaker ballsed up the procedural motions around the national anthem bill (which saw the motions go through that day rather than the three of four weeks of delays that were anticipated), the Conservatives are angry and threatening to delay legislation, and that in turn is giving Harder the ammunition he needs to push the Independent senators to agitate to change the rules to eliminate the government and opposition roles in the chamber, which is a very bad thing for parliamentary democracy. But the Conservatives can’t help themselves, and keep insisting that they’re just ensuring through examination of the bill, as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Of course, bringing up the anthem bill is not the same thing as it was a private members’ bill and there was no real mechanism for Harder to move it forward, whereas he has tools for this bill. But, as with anything, false equivalencies to prove a point are part of the game if people don’t know any better.

And if the Conservatives don’t think that they’re signing their own warrants for the demise of opposition by continued procedural gamesmanship, then they had better wake up because the ISG is rousing itself to go on the warpath for these rule changes. Being a little more strategic in their partisanship and tactics would be advisable because the reckoning is coming.

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Senate QP recap: Fisheries under the microscope

For the first ministerial Senate Question Period of the year, fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc was the special guest star. Leading off as always was Senator Larry Smith, who first wished LeBlanc well given his cancer treatment, and then asked about the impact of the Phoenix pay problem on the Coast Guard. LeBlanc noted that this was a problem and he was working with the senior management of the Coast Guard on the problem, he acknowledged that it was an unacceptable situation that was costing them personnel that had a cascading effect on their capacity, which is why they were trying to deal with it. Smith asked if there was a timeframe to sort it out, and LeBlanc said that because previous timeframes have slid, they were simply continuing to do the work to deal with the most urgent cases and working toward stabilising the system. Smith asked if this message was relayed personally to the Coast Guard members, and LeBlanc said that he had every time he visited a Coast Guard facility. Continue reading

QP: Not taking yes for an answer

While Justin Trudeau was present today, Andrew Scheer once again was not. That left Lisa Raitt to lead off, mini-lectern on desk, and she worried about the Trans Mountain pipeline and wanted a plan to ensure that it would begin construction this spring. Trudeau listed the actions they’ve taken on legislation and processes, said that he was meeting with premiers, and asserted that the pipeline would be built. Raitt dismissed this as platitudes and stated that Canada was not open for business, and Trudeau reminded her that the previous government’s leadership never got any projects built. Raitt asserted that the government botched Energy East, and demanded more action. Trudeau reminded her that he pitched Keystone XL to American Democrats while he was in opposition while the current opposition just talks down Canada. Alain Rayes picked up this line of questioning in French, and Trudeau repeated his first response about providing certainty and asserting it would get built. Rayes tried again, and Trudeau simply asserted that they would get the pipeline built. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, and he concerned trolled about CRA not being accountable to parliament. Trudeau praised the actions they took strengthening the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and that they supported his work. Caron tried again in English, noting the two new tax treaties signed, to which Trudeau reminded him that they put $1 billion into the CRA to go after tax evasion. Peter Julian picked it up in French, demanding immediate action on stock option taxation and tax havens which contrasted with poverty and inequality, and Trudeau took it as an opportunity to praise their social housing investments. Julian tried again in English, and this time Trudeau praised the work of the government to reduce drug prices.

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Roundup: Jury selection in the crosshairs

The fallout from the Gerald Stanley trial continued in Ottawa yesterday, where the family of Colten Boushie met with ministers Carolyn Bennett and Jane Philpott about their frustrations with the justice system, and in particular the focus seemed to be on jury selection, and in particular the use of peremptory challenges in order to screen out any potential juror that looks Indigenous. In Question Period, justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said that this was under consideration as part of their broader criminal justice review, but this is a project that seems to be travelling at a glacial pace (as so many things do in this government), and we have no idea when any report or formal recommendations by the government will actually be released in advance of legislative fixes. Boushie’s family are due to meet with Wilson-Raybould, Ralph Goodale and the prime minister at some point today, but I’m not holding my breath for any timelines on action on these issues. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the premier of Saskatchewan says that he’s open to discussions about more Indigenous representation on juries, but it doesn’t sound very concrete.

The attention that the Stanley verdict has given to the problems around Indigenous representation on juries have reminded us that this is a long-standing problem that has been on the radar for many years, such as with the report by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci written for Ontario about the issue, complete with a number of recommendations. (That report spawned the Debwewin Committee, whose report is more than a year-and-a-half overdue by this point). The National Post last week had a look at the issues of stacked juries and biased media in cases like Stanley’s, and noted that there is a current study underway by an Ontario Superior Court justice looking into representation on juries with an eye to training judges in the future. Meanwhile, Senator Murray Sinclair says he will advocate for concrete changes such as limiting peremptory challenges, and provincial jury selection processes.

In terms of commentary, Colby Cosh tries to take a more dispassionate look at the jury system and wonders what we risk if we try to overturn it because we don’t like one decision out of hundreds. In a piece from 2016 that was reposted in light of recent events, Jonathan Kay wrote about his experience in a jury pool where, in a case involving a domestic homicide, the defence used their peremptory challenges to assemble an all-male, mostly visible minority jury.

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QP: Demands for disassociations

While Justin Trudeau was present today, post-trip to Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Andrew Scheer was not. This left Peter Kent to lead off, railing about the “peoplekind” remark and the fact that Trudeau’s principle secretary, Gerald Butts, called out people who crictised it as Nazis. (He didn’t really, but made reference to specific alt-right characters doing the criticizing). Trudeau noted that he didn’t hear a question in that statement, and sat back down. Kent got up to rail about real Nazis and demanded that the PM disassociate himself from Butts, but Trudeau stood up to talk about how they recognise the horrors of the holocaust and that they took that history seriously. Alain Rayes got up next, and railed about the lack of action on the Trans Mountain pipeline, and Trudeau noted that he had committed that the pipeline would get built. Shannon Stubbs returned to the “Nazi” issue, and while Trudeau first dissembled about town halls, on a supplemental, he told the opposition that they shouldn’t let Rebel Media quite their  questions for them, and suggested that they are the ones who should disassociate themselves. Guy Caron was up next for the NDP, concerned about anonymised data requested by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and Trudeau noted that they have concluded an agreement with the PBO to get them the information that they need. After a round of the same in French, Charlie Angus got up to demand action on cases like the death of Colten Boushie, Trudeau noted that their hearts went out to the family, and while they couldn’t comment on the specific case, they were working to address the inequities in the system. Angus demanded more action on Indigenous justice, and Trudeau listed areas that they need to fix, and noted that they were at work on it.

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Roundup: Fallout from the Stanley decision

The verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial came down late Friday night, and the Saskatchewan farmer was found not guilty in the shooting death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie for the same kinds of actions that a white person would not have been shot at for. That the jury did not contemplate a manslaughter conviction instead of second-degree murder is the more puzzling aspect of the verdict, and why there is such a cry about racism in the justice system – especially since the defence counsel was able to successfully challenge any of the potential Indigenous jurors and wind up with an all-white jury, which is when the family knew that the fix was in, and that this was not doing any favours to the cause of reconciliation, nor for faith in the justice system for people who aren’t white.

The PM and justice minister tweeted that more needs to be done when it comes to ensuring that there is justice for Indigenous people in this country, leaving some Conservative observers a little aghast that they got involved. That said, the wording was carefully chosen in order to not criticise the jury itself, or promise that there would be an appeal or some kind of attempt to overturn the verdict. That’s probably a good thing overall, while it acknowledges that there is a problem and that the government is aware of it, and it’s worth nothing that the government is talking about this situation where there is a good chance that they wouldn’t have just a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, this hasn’t stopped the Conservatives from accusing the government of “political interference” with the courts (never mind how many times they criticised court decisions, especially by the Supreme Court of Canada, while they were in power). But what can be done? Well, there is already an ongoing review of the criminal justice system that this government has undertaken (but is very, very slow about rolling out any concrete measures about), so we can be sure that this will be part of it. But better resourcing the justice system is something that they need to confront, which means hiring more Crown attorneys, and giving them more time and resources to tackle cases is going to be part of the solution as well (and we can all think of a number of high profile cases in recent years that the Crowns have utterly ballsed up). And indeed, in this case, there were apparently questions going in as to whether the Crown attorney in this case was capable of handling a trial like this. But this is also a provincial issue as well. Ontario is working on a strategy about getting more Indigenous representation on juries, but its report is already more than a year overdue. The Boushie family has arrived in Ottawa to meet with ministers, so one suspects we may hear more later in the day.

And there has been no dearth of commentary around this case already. Lawyer David Butt talks about the need to limit the peremptory challenges that allowed Stanley’s defence lawyer to create an all-white jury. Defence Lawyer Allan Rouben suggests that maybe it’s time to loosen the rules that forbid jurors from discussing what happens during deliberations. Tammy Robert reminds us that no, you can’t shoot someone to protect your property in Canada. Robert Jago says that the trial and verdict show that the attitude remains that Indigenous people are simply animals that Canadians are taught to fear.

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