HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Marijuana Bill To Kick Off Liberal Agenda
Pubdate: Thu, 14 Oct 2004
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2004 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Author: Elizabeth Thompson, The Gazette


Justice Minister Plans More Changes. Legislation Would Decriminalize
Pot And Allow Cops To Test Whether Drivers Are Stoned

The federal government is poised to reintroduce controversial
legislation to decriminalize marijuana and will accompanying it with a
bill giving police the power to force drivers to take a test to prove
whether they are driving while stoned.

In an interview with The Gazette, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said
he plans to introduce both pieces of legislation sometime in the next

Nor does Cotler have any plans to change the legislation
decriminalizing marijuana first introduced by his predecessor Martin

"It might get changed in committee, but we are basically reintroducing
that legislation."

The pot bill is just one of several changes Cotler says he plans to
make to overhaul Canada's criminal justice system.

"If I were to look at our legislative and parliamentary agenda, I
think we probably, proportionately, have as many if not more bills
from our department and that relate to criminal justice than anywhere
else in the government."

Cotler took a first step last week, introducing a bill to protect
vulnerable persons from things such as child pornography, and a second
bill concerning those with mental disorders.

While Cotler plans to lessen the penalty for those caught with small
amounts of marijuana, he will also give police more powers to stop and
test those who smoke pot then get behind the wheel.

Currently, the law obliges drivers to submit to a breathalyzer test if
police suspect they have been driving under the influence of alcohol
but there has been no legal obligation for anyone to submit to a test
to determine whether they are under the influence of marijuana.

"Now a technology has been developed which allows for a parallel
process with regard to drug-impaired driving to be investigated and
enforced as we have for alcohol-impaired driving."

Cotler also plans to give police more tools by reintroducing
legislation to expand the existing DNA databank, which matches the
blood, hair and saliva of convicted criminals against samples taken at
crime scenes.

The plight of sex trade workers is also one of Cotler's concerns -
particularly in the wake of the killing of prostitutes in Vancouver.

"We want to look at how sex trade workers can be protected and what
legislative initiatives need to take place in that regard."

Cotler said he is also determined to reintroduce legislation governing
cruelty to animals, legislation that hasn't been reformed since 1892.
Bills reforming the law have been passed twice by the House of Commons
only to be blocked by the senate. However, Cotler said the bill, as it
has now been amended, has the support of both industry and animal
rights groups.

Cotler is also planning a number of nonlegislative initiatives. For
example, Canada already has laws that allow it to take action against
war criminals, including those from "contemporary killing fields," and
has been a leader in the establishment of the International Criminal
Court, he said.

"But for that international criminal justice system to work, for war
criminals to be brought to justice, requires domestic initiatives to
be taken as well. So the whole area of war crimes law and bringing war
criminals to justice is yet another initiative that relates to us as a
department of justice."

Cotler also wants to introduce major changes in the very way justice
is carried out in Canada with more emphasis on restorative justice.

"The whole notion of restorative justice is that all the actors in the
criminal justice system should be involved in a participatory manner."
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