Pubdate: Sat, 12 Sep 2015
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Authors: Rob Shaw & Jeff Lee
Page: A7


It Is Very Unlikely That the RCMP Would Invade Vancouver Police Turf, 
Criminologist Says

Vancouver will push ahead with its plan to license some marijuana 
dispensaries and force others to close, despite a threat from Health 
Canada to have the RCMP raid 13 dispensaries it has singled out for attention.

Health Canada's threats, which come in the middle of an election in 
which the Harper Conservatives are pitted against Liberal promises to 
decriminalize marijuana, sets up another showdown between Ottawa and 
Vancouver over health issues versus enforcement.

"Health Canada is being used as a pawn. I think they are being used 
as a political distraction," said Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang, who has 
led the fight to require Vancouver pot shops to be licensed.

"I think this is a way for the Conservatives to motivate their base 
elsewhere in the country," he said. "As far as I am concerned they 
can do what they want, but we are going to continue on with a plan to 
license some dispensaries and require those that are close to 
schools, community centres and each other to close down."

Earlier this week, Health Canada issued notices to 13 dispensaries in 
Canada, including the B.C. Compassion Club, telling them to stop 
advertising access to marijuana and ordering them to shut down or 
face action from the RCMP.

The club, the oldest in the country, said it does not advertise.

Health Canada did not send similar messages to the rest of the more 
than 100 illegal dispensaries operating within Vancouver.

Vancouver police, which has primary jurisdiction in the city, said it 
has no reason to believe the RCMP would step in, especially when the 
city police have said they are monitoring the dispensaries.

In a one-line statement, the RCMP says it has received no "referrals 
or calls for service" from Health Canada.

In its letter, Health Canada warned the recipients to "suspend all 
activities with controlled substances" and to promise in writing to 
cease operating without a federal licence.

However, in a short statement to media, Health Canada focused only on 
the advertising and did not indicate it had ordered the dispensaries 
to close. Health Canada did not respond by Friday evening to a 
request to clarify the discrepancy and explain why only 13 
dispensaries were singled out.

It's not the first time Health Canada has clashed with the City of 
Vancouver and Vancouver police over illegal substances.

The federal department and RCMP threatened to shut down any 
supervised injection site during planning for what eventually became 
Insite between 2000 and 2003, said Kash Heed, a former B.C. solicitor 
general and then commanding officer of the Vancouver police drug 
squad. "I had a phone call from the commanding officer of federal 
enforcement in (RCMP) E Division, threatening that if in fact 
Vancouver allowed the injection site to operate, they would come in 
and shut me down," said Heed.

"I called their bluff and told them, ' Why do you have to wait until 
an injection site is in place, when you can come into Vancouver under 
your federal authority for drugs right now and bust all the people 
who are shooting up in the lanes in Hastings Street?' "

Ottawa and the Mounties never followed through on the threat, nor did 
they swoop into the Downtown Eastside to enforce drug infractions.

They won't this time either, said Heed, who said he doesn't support 
the city's marijuana licensing scheme, but also disagrees with the 
federal intervention.

"I can tell you nothing is going to happen here. It's a little muscle flexing."

That the federal agency waded so publicly into a controversial issue 
in the middle of an election is extremely odd, said David Moscrop, a 
political scientist at the University of B.C.

During a campaign, the government bureaucracy is typically expected 
to act in a non-partisan fashion and federal ministers running for 
re-election are supposed to avoid contentious policy decisions while 
they act as caretakers of their portfolios.

"Bizarre was the word that struck me," Moscrop said. "It's definitely unusual."

Moscrop said he can't believe federal Conservative ministers would 
instruct Health Canada to move on such a contentious issue during an 
election campaign.

"You'd have to be profoundly stupid or have a death wish," he said. 
"I'm not ruling that out, it just seems really unlikely. It seems to 
me this is the agency just doing it's own thing, but exercising poor judgment."

Both Jang and John Conroy, a lawyer who represents the B.C. 
Compassion Club, said they initially thought the letter was a hoax 
because it did not contain any letterhead and was sent as an email. 
Conroy also wondered why his client, which does not advertise, was 
singled out. "Some who advertise quite wildly haven't got any 
letters," Conroy said. "I think it shows they (Health Canada) don't 
care who they send these things to."

Ottawa has limited power to order the RCMP to investigate the 
marijuana dispensaries.

"They don't have the power to tell the RCMP to do anything, they can 
just turn over information to the RCMP and the RCMP can do what it 
wants with it," said Wendy Baker, a partner with Vancouver law firm 
Miller Thomson.

It's unlikely the RCMP would ever push into Vancouver police 
territory without co-operation and understanding from the city and 
its municipal force, said Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon.

If they did, it would seriously damage the co-operative units run 
jointly by the RCMP, Vancouver police and the B.C. government, he said.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's campaign said in a statement 
that "the law is clear that dispensaries, whether they are online or 
a storefront, are illegal and they should not be allowed to advertise 
these illegal services."

NDP candidate Randall Garrison accused the Conservative government of 
making "a complete mess" out of its medical marijuana system.

The NDP has promised to decriminalize marijuana if it forms 
government, while the Liberals have said they will legalize, regulate 
and tax the substance. The Conservatives believe marijuana should 
remain illegal.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom