How did someone who has called marijuana a "scourge", who has obstructed access to medical marijuana to sick and dying Canadians in pain, who has dismissed marijuana users as “stupid”, and who works for a law firm that wants to see its clients get a monopoly on legal weed, ever get to chair a task force on marijuana legalization in Canada in 2016?
Health Canada policy is that after five years, the human mind is cleared of all previous prejudices, including all previous thoughts and statements. The task force chair, former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, has denied having any “intellectual interests” that would affect her status on this task force.
Here is how Health Canada defines “intellectual interests” that must be declared by any task force member: “Intellectual interests. Within the past five years, any formal advice or opinion to industry, a government organization, or a non-government organization.”
It goes on, but the point is if you didn’t say it in the past five years, then you never said it.
McLellan is engaged by the law firm Bennett Jones, which advertises and promotes itself today as the go-to law firm for government-backed licensed marijuana producers. So why is she permitted to chair the task force on marijuana legalization?
First, Health Canada says McLellan does have an indirect financial interest. Here's how Health Canada describes its section on the indirect financial interest McLellan has admitted to:
“Within the past five years, payment from the regulated industry for work done or being done, including past employment, contracts, or consulting; or financial support, including research support, personal education grants, contributions, fellowships, sponsorships, and honoraria.”
However, McLellan denies a direct financial interest. She has reported that her position as "senior advisor" with the Bennett Jones law firm for the past decade does not represent a direct financial interest.
Here is Health Canada’s description of direct financial interest:
“Direct financial interests. Current employment, investment in companies, partnerships, royalties, joint ventures, trusts, real property, stocks, shares, or bonds that relate to the mandate of the advisory body." (Italics added.)
Here is what Health Canada lists about McLellan in its “comments” section on those matters: "Senior advisor with Bennett Jones, a law firm in Edmonton since 2006. The firm represents some clients with interests in the legal marijuana business."
See how easy that was? To be a senior advisor “with” Bennett Jones is not to be employed by Bennett Jones.
If the actual definitions for employment you find in the Word Thesaurus were used—“service”, “pay”, “hire”, “engaged”—McLellan would have a hard time staying on that task force. She would be “employed” by Bennett Jones. She would have a direct financial interest.
McLellan’s past positions in government are also listed in the section for comments. However, no mention is made of what she said while holding three cabinet positions from 1997 to 2006—health, justice, and public safety—before losing her Edmonton Centre seat in January 2006.
This is because Health Canada, along with McLellan, fell down the five-year memory hole: Anne in Wonderland.
This brings us back to McLellan’s stated “intellectual interests” of only the last five years. McLellan has said nothing related to government policy in the last five years, and nothing she has said before the summer of 2011 is to be considered when weighing any conflict of interest. But of course, that time before 2011 is where McLellan, over several years of deliberate animosity to the cannabis culture, really told Canadians what she was all about.
What McLellan said and did from 1997 to 2005 is of total relevance to her assignment on this task force. But to Health Canada, these eight years of Liberal cabinet declarations and actions regarding McLellan’s cruel treatment of Canadian medical cannabis users is not an intellectual conflict!
You have to understand that Health Canada is protecting its own sleazy and shoddy record regarding its obstruction of implementation of court-ordered medical cannabis programs with this self-serving five-year rule. Health Canada has always obstructed and resisted all court attempts at a constitutionally valid medical cannabis program. Health Canada to this day does not acknowledge that medical marijuana has any scientifically validated value! As health minister, McLellan obstructed access to this medicine by sick and suffering Canadians in pain.
She gave the orders and Health Canada staff obeyed. She told them to delay and obstruct all medical marijuana applications, advice later deemed illegal by court rulings saying the opposite! Is that policy still in effect?
Imagine if Health Canada had to print McLellan’s quotes and actions from her government days, and then had to say it didn’t matter because it was more than five years ago. With words like “marijuana is a scourge” and “marijuana users are stupid” and delaying or denying medicine to lawfully entitled Canadians.
How would the government justify appointing this woman as chairperson of a legalization task force?
And as for determining conflicts of interest, get this: “Prior to each committee meeting, the Task Force chair (McLellan) will assess each member’s affiliations and interests, as they may apply to agenda items.”
It was badgering by writers like myself that pushed Health Canada to release a three-page defence of the choice of McLellan and explain how there is no conflict of interest in her appointment.
Clearly, Health Canada, Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, and McLellan are all reinforcing the government's talking points, which are Health Canada’s talking points, which were formed…by McLellan over several years and were never weakened under the Harper government. And now the Edmonton Journal calls McLellan the “cannabis queen”, a most nauseating and appalling suggestion. McLellan is more like a cannabis spider mite seeking to suck the life and vitality out of the cannabis culture in service of the government of Canada. Perhaps the Edmonton Journal could use that in future references.
This McLellan-Health Canada nexus makes the whole task force a task farce. Just to make sure this task force hears nothing too challenging, it isn't going across Canada to meet the Canadians who have been insulted, imprisoned, denied, and abused with 50 years of (largely) Liberal prohibition.
The task force is made up of police, legal experts, addictions specialists, public-health types, and McLellan. None of the nine task force members' biographies reveal if they have ever smoked marijuana or shown any sympathy to the Canadian cannabis culture. They would get howls of anger from thousands of Canadians if they dared to tour this nation and hear from the citizens who have been abused by this often Liberal-controlled Parliament and its 50 years of marijuana prohibition.
Instead, the task force, despite the pay packet that comes with the appointment, will hold no public meetings. They will not see the anguish, suffering, and betrayal from thousands of Canadians who desperately want to say on the public record—before the media and chroniclers—what misery marijuana prohibition under McLellan and others did to them and their families. Two million Canadians have been given criminal records in 50 years, and over 350,000 spent some time in jail or prison as a consequence of those arrests.
I’d like a truth and reconciliation task force that has the courage to hear from Canadians in every region about how we have suffered under prohibition for 50 years. Cowards, all of them on this task force, not to insist on seeing and hearing from Canadians in person in a public forum.
Blair recently told the Globe and Mail that “not everyone” has to go to jail while we wait patiently for “legalization”. Well, as long as it's not everyone!
The plain fact is those in the cannabis culture are going to jail in record numbers now, in the period when the government says we are transitioning to legalization. The government has been completely dishonest and disingenuous in calling it legalization; it is merely the New Prohibition.