The B.C. Civil Liberties Association is set to appear as an intervenor tomorrow when the Supreme Court of Canada hears three appeals jointly challenging Canada’s marijuana possession laws. Two of the appeals, R. v. Malmo-Levine and R. v. Caine, originated in British Columbia and the third, R. v. Clay, is from Ontario.
The constitutional challenge to marijuana possession laws comes at a time when the public generally and law makers’ attitudes are radically changing:
“The tide has definitely turned on this issue,” said BCCLA President John Dixon. “The absurdity of the current marijuana laws is patently obvious to everyone from the Senate and the Parliamentary committees studying drugs to the Minister of Justice who has promised to get rid of them. It has been over 30 years since the Le Dain Commission recommended doing away with our current approach. It’s about time Parliamentarians follow the common sense of the majority of the electorate on this issue.”
The BCCLA will be arguing that the possession law is unconstitutional on two grounds.
- That the possession law violates the guarantee of life, liberty and security of the person contained in s.7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is not justified as a reasonable limit prescribed by law in a free and democratic society, and
- That the law is outside of the jurisdiction of the federal parliament.
At the core of our argument is that the use of marijuana should be a matter of personal choice. Furthermore, the use of marijuana, even in excessive amounts, does not create significant enough harm to society to justify jeopardizing individual liberty via penal sanction just for using it. To the extent that marijuana or other substances like alcohol can cause impairment, which is a much more serious cause of traffic accidents, there are other criminal sanctions for the use of a motor vehicle while impaired.
In our factum, the BCCLA also challenges the law on other grounds arguing that the law is indefensible because:
- it seeks to impose a particular view of morality on society in the absence of identifiable harm,
- it is overbroad in that it captures many people who use marijuana without harm to themselves or others,
- it in highly intrusive of the personal privacy of Canadians, and
- it is irrational given that society does not prohibit the use of alcohol or tobacco, much more harmful substances.
According to President Dixon: “Our criminal prohibition against marijuana has done more harm than good. Thousands of Canadians have had their lives irreparably harmed by this injustice. Not to mention the millions of dollars we foolishly spend on enforcing this. The continued existence of this prohibition brings the justice system into disrepute and is a fiscal black hole for Canadians’ tax dollars. It’s time we right this wrong and we hope the Supreme Court of Canada brings it down.”
The BCCLA is represented by Joseph Arvay, Q.C. and Matt Pollard of Arvay Finlay.