My initial reaction to Justin Trudeau’s announcement of the composition of his cabinet last November was profound relief at the omission of former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair.
Long-time readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I’m no fan of Blair. And after watching Trudeau’s Liberal Party do some heavy lifting to get their preferred candidates selected in their supposedly “open” nomination contests prior to the election, including having Trudeau publicly appear with Blair at a joint press conference in Ottawa long before he was selected as a candidate by his local riding association, I was concerned that a Liberal government would elevate the criminal and racist ex-cop to a prominent post in a ministry like Public Safety or even Defence. (He was selected for the seemingly low-profile position of Parliamentary Secretary for Minister of Justice Judy Wilson-Raybould.)
My relief that the rookie MP and veteran abuser of rights would be largely relegated to the back-benches was, sadly, short-lived. Yesterday, the CBC reported that Blair has been tapped by Trudeau to be the point person for the Liberals’ efforts to legalize marijuana.
For folks who have tirelessly advocated for legalization over the past several years and decades, this has to be a disappointing choice.
It seems to indicate that the government’s foremost priority is placating conservative critics of their push for legalization. By deploying a former police officer, they undermine claims that they’re being “soft on crime”, to be sure – but they’re also putting arguments about law and order, and about public safety, at the forefront of their effort.
Just look at these glowing quotes the CBC got about Blair’s selection:
Mayor John Tory says former Toronto police chief Bill Blair is the “ideal person” to oversee the Liberal government’s plan to legalize marijuana…
Tory told reporters the former chief’s “different experiences” would be an asset in developing the legalization plan.
The president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) also praised Blair in an interview with Metro Morning host Matt Galloway, but did not endorse the legalization of the drug.
Jeff McGuire, who is also the Niagara police chief, said that he knows Blair very well and it “makes good sense” to have him on the file.
“We’ve got great respect for Bill and his career in law enforcement,” said McGuire.
But McGuire does not support the legalization of marijuana, and neither does the OACP.
While the chief said it’s the job of police to uphold the laws, not make them, legalization is “not something we support.”
Have any of these gray generic cardboard-cutout people even smoked pot any time this century? And if even Bill friggin Blair running the effort isn’t good enough for the head of Ontario’s police chief’s association, on top of the literal mountains of evidence about the harms of the drug war and the benefits of legalization, then what could ever convince them?
Those hoping for a loose policy around personal growth of marijuana, a generous approach to amnesty for those convicted of marijuana offences, a general deemphasizing of drug-offence-related policing, or even discussion of across-the-board legalization of all drugs and the treatment of drug abuse as a medical rather than a law enforcement issue aren’t among those quoted here, for obvious reasons. I somehow doubt that their voices will have much influence on the process.
In what’s becoming a hallmark of the Trudeau regime, the process of legalization will be preceded by a lengthy process of consultation, a process that Blair will be supervising, according to an interview he gave to the Sun, “hilariously” titled “Former police chief is Trudeau’s pot head” (no link because the Sun):
“There’s a great deal of work to do,” Blair said by telephone Friday. “This will be a highly consultative process.”
Blair is the parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. Her mandate from the prime minister is to “create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.”
That means there will be joint task force of federal, provincial and territorial officials and it’ll be Blair’s process to shepherd that process along…
“If our intention is to manage the risks, keep it out of the hands of our kids, and get organized crime out of it … then we need to regulate it,” Blair said. “Clearly, criminal sanction is not keeping it out of the hands of kids.”
Blair also says he’s seen first-hand the kinds of gang violence that comes with the illegal marijuana trade and the best way, he says, to eliminate that is to make the drug legal.
Keeping pot out of the hands of children is something that we’re going to hear about again and again and again as this consultative process grinds along, despite the fact that it’s extremely well-established at this point that this will be an inevitable consequence of legalization.
What I don’t expect to hear much about, with Blair running a confab pf privileged white politicians, are things like the racial-justice aspect of the war on weed.
(Though statistics are atrociously difficult to come by, the very fact that Aboriginals are represented in the prison population at five times the rate they are among the general public, and that blacks in Toronto are arrested at a higher rate than any other racial group, would seem to indicate that minorities are more likely to have been arrested and incarcerated as a result of a misguided decades-long aggressively-enforced Prohibition against cannabis).
One wonders whether Blair, who vigorously defended the blatantly racist practice of carding to the bitter end of his contentious tenure as Toronto’s police chief, even realizes that there is a racial-justice aspect to legalization.
In other words, I’m expecting this whole show of a process to result in an overly-regulated, absurdly safety-focussed legalization process which doesn’t do nearly enough to compensate victims of the state’s ill-founded marijuana policy.
Of course, I’d love for Blair and Trudeau to prove me wrong, and of course I’ll be following this process closely as it (slowly, slowly) proceeds.
In the meantime, solidarity with those folks in the legalization movement who have fought so hard to get us to the point where we’re even talking seriously about legalization at a federal level, and solidarity with those folks who are gearing up to push this “consultative process” as hard as they can for the most just outcome we can get.