Pubdate: Wed, 23 Aug 2017
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2017 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Joanna Smith
Page: A4


OTTAWA - The plan to legalize marijuana should recognize that the
black community has been overly-criminalized for using the drug, says
a Liberal MP who is calling on the government to consider that

"We do know that black Canadians have been disproportionately charged
with and are imprisoned for possession of small amounts of cannabis,"
Greg Fergus, a Quebec MP who chairs the Liberal black caucus, said on

"I don't think that's because there is a greater propensity in the
black community to consume marijuana," he said.

"We have to look at the questions of systemic racism."

Fergus added that the same could be said for Indigenous Peoples and he
wants to make sure that is reflected in the ongoing debate over the
proposed legislation to legalize marijuana, also known as Bill C-45,
which the House of Commons health committee will begin studying next

The MP, who gathered with other African-Canadian leaders in Ottawa
this week to discuss this and other issues affecting people of colour,
said they also want to reach out to the community to discuss the
economic and social justice impacts of the proposed

Fergus nonetheless said he agreed with the Liberal government's
decision not to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana for the
time being.

New Democrat MP Alistair MacGregor questioned Fergus's

"How can the Liberals claim to understand this issue and yet choose to
keep handing out possession charges and criminal records that unfairly
target young people of colour?" he said in an emailed statement.

Fergus, who appeared at a news conference in Ottawa alongside Michael
Coteau, the Ontario minister responsible for anti-racism, and
Independent Sen. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard, said the leaders also
discussed the need for more data on race across all levels of
government. As well, they talked about the importance of seeking
allies outside their communities and efforts to adopt the UN's
International Decade for People of African Descent.

They all spoke of having strong reactions to seeing the racism and
hatred expressed by white supremacists who marched earlier this month
in Charlottesville, Va., but expressed hope that those voices are in
the minority.

"It was shocking. I never expected to see in this day and age such
baldly held views on anti-Semitism or on racism," Fergus said.

"The comforting thought that I had, of course, is the law of numbers,"
he said, adding that he felt the same way seeing counter-protesters
outnumber those with La Meute, a group associated with the far right,
in Quebec City over the weekend.

"I feel strongly that most people don't hold those

Thomas Bernard, a Nova Scotia senator, said it was a reminder of what
her ancestors lived through, but she tried to focus on those who spoke
out against the racism.

"I think we need more of that around the world," she

"We need people who disagree with the narrative to take a stand, to
express that in some way, to say 'This is not acceptable.'"

All three were more cautious when pressed on what they thought of the
mixed messages United States President Donald Trump has been sending
regarding Charlottesville, but Coteau said everyone has the
responsibility to denounce hatred.

"I think any form of hate that exists, any form of overt racism that's
out there publicly, it needs to be stopped and we need to speak
against it," Coteau said.
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