Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay was in London on Wednesday (Aug. 13) to host a roundtable discussion on a variety of topics, violence, cyberbullying, and sexual violence against women.
While all those topics were given their due time for discussion, the most topical conversation may have been had around the federal government’s stance on marijuana.
After all, London is the hometown of Marc Emery, the nation’s leading advocate for loosening the rules around marijuana. Emery was returned to Canada on Tuesday after serving five years in an American prison for selling marijuana seeds.
MacKay, who is also Canada’s Attorney General, held a brief session with the media prior to starting the roundtable, which was attended by representatives from over a dozen local organizations. While speaking with reporters, MacKay made it clear the Conservative Party isn’t looking to ease the rules around marijuana use.
“We don’t favour legalization; we don’t favour decriminalization. We are looking at various options that would give police more ability to enforce the law in a way that is fair,” MacKay said. “We are not moving in the direction of the Liberal Party and what Mr. Emery would advocate and that is making pot, making marijuana more available in our communities.”
MacKay questioned any proposal that would make marijuana more available, particularly to youth. With that in mind, MacKay said it is the intention of the federal government to continue to “uphold a law that does not allow the proliferation of drug use.”
The justice minister also said he was concerned about what he described as the growing problem of impaired driving through the use of drugs.
“We know, and certainly Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other community based groups will tell you the number one criminal cause of death in Canada remains impaired driving,” MacKay said. “We have seen an expansion of impaired by drug driving on our highways that is causing carnage and death and injury.
We are going to protect the public by not making marijuana more available in our communities.”
MacKay also answered questions around the federal government’s proposed prostitution law, legislation designed to replace the old laws that were overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.
In saying he felt the Conservatives “have it right” by promoting legislation MacKay said the new rules will put the focus on those who are “most vulnerable, those who are being exploited, those who bear the brunt and the misery of that exploitive relationship that so often exists in prostitution.”
In addition, MacKay said it is “a legitimate question” to ask if the $20 million the federal government has set aside to assist individuals in getting out of the sex trade is sufficient for a problem that can be found nationwide. That money is to be used to help bolster programs that assist with things like childcare and housing and health care.
“We have gone through the exercise of identifying many of the programs, some right here in London, that are working well,” MacKay said. “Perhaps those will help emulate other new programming in the country. We recognize there is always the potential, the possibility of expanding that program, but we have to start somewhere. That $20 million is a significant amount to start.”
Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, was one of the participants in the roundtable.
While there were questions around impaired driving with respect to drugs, marijuana and others, most of the discussions were focused around prostitution.
Walker said she felt the session offered “a really good discussion” around the topics at hand. She also felt MacKay was “really receptive” to the conversation around what the so-called Nordic model could mean for women across the country.
“This is not about the legislation being enacted by midnight Dec. 19 and all of the sudden there is no more prostitution. This is about shifting the culture,” Walker said. “We want boys to grow up and learn women are not commodities to be bought and sold. We want little girls to grow up and learn the world is their oyster, they have so many opportunities; they don’t have to make a decision to enter prostitution because they have no other choice.”
Walker’s feeling that MacKay and his staff in the justice ministry truly are listening to Canadians on the prostitution issue and was reflected somewhat in the minister’s reasoning for coming to the Forest City.
MacKay said he was in London just over a year ago receiving “tremendous feedback” on the victim’s bill of rights that the government was in the process of drafting and consulting on.
“For that reason I know London is a very engaged, active community,” MacKay said. “Because of London’s interest, expertise and reputation of tremendous work in that area, I felt it was important to come back and get further feedback.”