Ottawa is deep in the weeds today.
The Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs met to discuss access to cannabis treatment for veterans; the Standing Committee on Finance met to discuss the proposed excise tax; and, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met to discuss, well, pretty much everything.
In the latter, the Honorable Anne McLellan and Dr. Mark Ware fielded questions on the disproportionate criminalization of visible minorities, risks for youth exposure, the number of plants allowed for home cultivation, social sharing, potency caps, and the kitchen sink. A lot of these concerns have been echoed verbatim over the last few months and are not really “new” news.
One fairly bold assertion, however, came in response to recent implications that Indigenous communities were not involved in preliminary legalization talks. The criticism originally came from the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, which has called for a one-year delay to allow for more participation.
McLellan, who led the country’s task force on cannabis legalization, clapped back at these claims saying a diversity of Indigenous viewpoints were heard and more were invited to participate, but didn’t show up.
Members of the senate committee definitely made themselves heard last Tuesday (May 1) when Senator Lillian Eva Dyck presented a 20-page report detailing just how uninvolved a number of Indigenous communities and organizations were in the process. McLellan argues, however, there was satisfactory effort to consider Indigenous concerns.
“We knew from the beginning that they [Indigenous people] would be an important voice to be heard, that’s why we had a roundtable specifically on Indigenous issues and viewpoints, and we invited a wide range of representative from national organizations, from local communities, and so on,” said McLellan during today’s (May 9) senate committee panel.
She went on to say that in both the crafting of the task force report and in other levels of consultation regarding the proposed amendments to Bill C-45, the task force “made very sure that Indigenous individuals were invited,” but that “not everyone that was invited came.”
Of the feedback collected, chiefs and leaders reportedly said their concerns with Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, were two-fold: To ensure Indigenous communities could develop sustainable economic activities from legalization, and that the already high addiction rates plaguing youth doesn’t worsen.
“The elders talked to us passionately about the fact that these problems exist in their community now,” she said.
“We have an opportunity now to make it better for these communities with the right supports.”
McLellan went one step further to say chiefs, elders, and community leaders provided the taskforce with a template of what Indigenous involvement could look like when legalization goes forward, suggesting the new laws could mean support for mental health and addiction programming, and federal government support programming, in these communities.
When asked specifically if Inuit organizations had participated in providing feedback, McLellan said she couldn’t remember which or how many national lobbying organizations had been involved, but could recall a small number of individuals from Nunavut who gave input.
Dr. Ware, former vice-chair of the task force, briefly followed up McLellan’s assertions and said delaying the process would only prevent the government from proactively dealing with the current issues Indigenous communities face.
Both Dr. Ware and McLellan reiterated several times the Trudeauesque sound bite similar to what we heard last Thursday: Cannabis legalization is not an event, but a process.
‘It’s something that will continue for years, it must be done,’ she says.