MONTREAL (CUP) — Decriminalizing marijuana would be in the best interest of Canadians said Justice Minister Martin Cauchon in a speech at McGill University.
“People are using marijuana so much across the country that the police don’t even enforce the laws,” said Cauchon, “When we have a piece of legislation, it has to reflect the interests of society. When police are no longer enforcing the legislation, you have a problem and the legislation needs to be changed.”
Cauchon emphasized that he is not in favour of legalisation.
“We would like to proceed with decriminalization, not legalization,” he said, citing an upcoming government report that will recommend changes in legislation. “If recommendations are positive, then we would like to move ahead at the beginning of next year.”
The minister stressed that despite movements to decriminalize, the government will continue fighting the use and the trafficking of drugs.
“Even the Chief of Police:is for decriminalization. It doesn’t mean we’re going to legalize. At the end of the day, it means we would be, by far, more efficient.”
Cauchon also addressed the controversial issue of same-sex rights, saying that current common-law legislation applies only to heterosexuals and said there currently is “no real legislation including homosexuals.”
He said possible options include changing certain definitions in the legislation as well as developing a civil union legislation for homosexuals. “Is it time to change the institution of marriage?” he asked. “I believe the answer doesn’t belong in the courts.”
Law student Paul Hesse challenged the minister to take a stand for gay rights.
“The other day I was thinking about my boyfriend and thinking about our future together. I take risks by standing up in front of my class and saying “?I’m gay’ and by coming out, and I’m asking the government to take a risk,” he said. “Be not a minister of justice, but for justice. I would personally be against the idea of two-tier marriage laws or civil unions.”
Cauchon argued that his impression of the gay community was not as one-sided as Hesse presented. “You would like to be part of a marriage, but I know friends and parts of your community working in the justice department that don’t want to be in a marriage, but feel a civil union is more modern,” he said. “Sometimes you need to go in a step-by-step process.”
Craig Rosario, the coordinator of Outlaw, the queer law students group, asked Cauchon to justify the proposed system.
“With the upcoming appeal,” he asked, “what do you think the government’s strongest arguments will be for continuing to support their discrimination?”
“As I have said, if I have decided to continue with the appeal, it’s a question of the interpretation of Section 15,” the minister replied.
Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.”
Cauchon closed the issue of same-sex rights noting that the government intends to take some action soon.
“Honestly, I hope as a government we will be able to move forward. I would like to deal with the matter before June 2003.” That’s the date that the standing committee will release a report on same-sex rights legislation. Initiating the changes by that time would also set them before the Liberal Party leadership campaign, which, Cauchon implied, would slow the process.
Mike Arnot, president of Liberal McGill, praised Cauchon on his speech.
“The minister was well prepared for the dialogue,” he said. “There were a few inconsistencies, but it’s good to see he’s taking a leadership role. There were poignant questions, and he did well to answer them.”
Arts student Paul Todd agreed.
“He addressed the issues that needed to be addressed,” he said. “I think he’s a progressive minister, and that’s what we need.”