Freedom and oppression in Canada
On August 19, Marc Emery was convicted of trafficking and sentenced to three months because someone said they saw him pass a couple of joints. Since then, his incarceration has become a focal point for public discussion on the meanings of freedom and oppression in Canada.
Last week, I commented that Emery's imprisonment set a dangerous precedent, as any one of us might be charged with trafficking on the basis that someone saw a joint travel around a circle of friends. Since then, many activists have pointed out that Canada's proposed "decriminalization" bill means nothing because police could still charge users with trafficking.
In an August 29 article in the Toronto Sun, Law Professor and pot advocate Alan Young explored the legal history behind the trafficking law. The difference between what Emery did and true trafficking, wrote Young, is the difference between sharing and a commercial transaction. According to Young, the highest courts in Canada have upheld this distinction from the beginning.
"In the 1970s, when the Charter of Rights was just a glimmer in Trudeau's eye, courts had referred to the statutory extension of trafficking to include giving as 'distasteful,'" Young explained in his provocative column. "Surely in the Charter era, a distasteful provision should be invalidated as unconstitutional.
"In 1980, the Quebec Court of Appeal noted that 'one can certainly hope that the Crown will exercise a certain amount of discretion before relying upon a mere giving in support of a charge of trafficking.' Assuming that those in power in Saskatoon understand that the prairie provinces have not been exempted from the Charter, I think the decision of the police and prosecutors to charge Emery with trafficking is a fairly clear indication that public officials acted in a mean-spirited manner to punish an outspoken critic."
In other words, Emery is a political prisoner. His disproportionate sentence is evidence of that, according to legendary British Columbia pot-defending lawyer John Conroy.
"In British Columbia, you can be a cop and take people down to Stanley Park and beat them up instead of processing them through the legal system and the worst the cop got was a 3 month conditional sentence, and his superior an absolute discharge," Conroy told Cannabis Culture. "You can kill someone while driving and get a conditional sentence. You can be a famous hockey player and get a conditional discharge for assault. Finally you can be a famous politician and get a conditional discharge for stealing an expensive item. So the moral of the story is: don't do anything that doesn't put anyone else's body or property at risk [smoke pot] 'cos you'll go to jail if you do. Beat 'em up, kill them or rip off someone's property and you won't. Some screwed up proportionality principle if you ask me."
Speaking from Jail, Emery is keenly aware that his imprisonment is highly political and asked that activists use his predicament to help end prohibition, by spreading awareness about how authorities abuse pot laws as tools of cultural oppression.
"I have asked all of you to write to Irwin Cotler, Canada's Minister of Justice, to scrap the deceitful decriminalization bill of the Liberal government," Emery wrote in the Cannabis Culture forums. "The current bill earmarks $250 million for a campaign of demonization of the cannabis culture under the guise of 'drug education'. It is a sleazy propaganda campaign budget to convince Canadians to endorse the failed genocidal policies of prohibition. The current bill [also] recommends that the gardeners of our cannabis culture be given sentences in the Canadian gulags of up to 14 years for growing merely fifty plants. What the government is saying with this 14-year maximum sentence proposed is that our people, our gardeners, and the cultivators of the holy sacrament are the moral equivalent of those other crimes worthy of fourteen years incarceration: second degree murder, rape, aggravated assault, child rape, kidnapping, torture, bank robbery, armed robbery. These are offenses that net fourteen years maximum in the criminal code.
Emery sees the oppression of the cannabis culture as equivalent to the cultural genocide leveled against the black, aboriginal, chinese and other peoples throughout history.
"I am reading extensively while I am incarcerated," related Emery. "Currently I am reading a book of speeches by Malcolm X, the great black revolutionary in the United States. When I read, I substitute the words 'black nationalism' with 'cannabis culture' and 'white oppressors' with 'prohibitionist collaborators', and the entire book of speeches is completely comprehensible to our struggle."
I previously asked readers of this column to sign a petition to free Emery. Here are some of their responses, the entirety of which is readable online:
- "This war on marijuana, of which Marc Emery is but the latest casualty, makes a mockery of the idea that we live in a "free" society. We do not, and will not until this insane and immoral treatment of peaceful individuals comes to an end."
- "The reason for this judgment is obvious in that it is to make an example to scare people not to use marijuana but this will not achieve that goalS This example is only going to further anger the citizens of Canada (including individuals who do not use marijuana) thereby decreasing the confidence in the justice system.
- "As a police officer, I think its time we declared a truce on the war on drugs. The possession of marijuana for recreational and medical purposes should be legalized and regulated, like alcohol and cigarettes. Let consenting adults decide for themselves."
- "Trafficking charges for passing a 'joint' are unheard of! He has been singled-out during a PEACEFUL protest, and used as an 'example' based on his political agenda. Shame on the judicial system in Saskatchewan."
- "Marijuana prohibition is senseless, useless and a waste of taxpayer money. The charges against Marc Emery are ludicrous!"
- "I need it to keep me alive it help with all my pain I must smoke it or I get very sick, so be it I'm breaking the law it's the first one for me and it will be my last dying breath of good smoke!!!"
- "How can we claim to live in a free society where those in power laud this kind of injustice? Time and financial resources should be spent on violent crime instead of infringing on personal freedoms."
- "Don't let the Canadian justice system be corrupted by US style prohibition policy. Free Marc Emery"
While the petition swells with signatures, an ongoing protest against Emery's political imprisonment has swelled outside the Saskatoon Provincial Court Building where Emery was sentenced. Cannabis Culture Editor Dana Larsen hopes to continue the protest for the entire duration of Emery's jailing. While I again encourage readers to add their names and comments to the online petition to free Emery, I also encourage Saskatoon readers in particular to attend the protest.
- Cannabis Culture would again like to thank Chuck Beyer for creating the petition to free Marc Emery. We would also like to thank "Seizure Circus" for the stunning illustrations that regularly accompany this column. In addition, we would like to thank all of the activists who have written letters to the editor or helped protest his imprisonment.