Speaking Notes – Senator Patterson’s Public Comments at APPA – Nunavut Tour
March 28, 2018
For the benefit of those watching this at home or at a later date, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Dennis Patterson and I am the Senator for Nunavut. Thank you very much, colleagues, for giving me the opportunity to present to this committee the concerns that I heard during my recent consultation effort in my home territory.
Many of you may know that I recently returned from a tour throughout Nunavut during, which, I visited all 25 communities. I met with every community council, hosted public meetings and call-in radio shows, and visited some schools to engage with youth. I also made sure to speak with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated to understand their perspective on the bill. As committee members heard on Monday from President Aluki Kotierk, NTI passed a resolution at their AGM on October 27, 2017, demanding that the government slow down this bill until NTI had been properly consulted as is required under the constitutionally-protected Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Article 32.
Senators, it’s difficult to capture 25 days of testimony in 7 to 10 minutes so I’d like to focus, if I may, on the common themes that I heard throughout the tour. I would, of course, be happy to elaborate in more detail during the question and answer period.
I’d like to begin by stating that there was, in no way, unanimous support for or against the bill. Most communities were divided in their stance on the legalization of marijuana. However, there were common and consistent themes that I heard in every single community.
First, it was very apparent to me that there was a lot of confusion, misconceptions and overall lack of education surrounding the bill. Many thought that this was a bill about legalizing medicinal marijuana, while other, mainly elders, expressed their fear and “heartbreak”. I was regularly asked to define “a gram” and eventually took to carrying around bags of parsley that had been measured into 1 gram, 5 grams, and 30 grams so that I could use them as visual aids when discussing the bill. I often heard about how rushed Nunavummiut felt this process has been. Before me, no one from the federal government had visited the territory to speak to community members and one councilor told me that they “didn’t even feel as though [they] were a part of Canada”. My takeaway from those conversations is that many feel that the level of consultation was severely lacking from the beginning, which echoes what NTI has said about the need to consult with Nunavut Inuit.
I also had many people ask me if there was a way for the government to slow this bill down in order to give hamlets and municipalities an opportunity to draft the appropriate by-laws and train by-law officers who will, due to limited policing resources in the north, be the main enforcers. It is important to note that the Government of Nunavut, due to a recent election and change in government, is the last jurisdiction in Canada to introduce a legislative framework for dealing with legal marijuana. A delay in the coming into force of this bill would give more time to the territorial government to put in place a thoughtful bill that responds to the unique challenges of Nunavut while, at the same time, enable hamlets to respond appropriately by introducing complementary by-laws and policies.
Second, I heard a lot about the potential social impacts of this bill. There are currently no treatment centres in Nunavut and many communities have inadequate or are totally without mental health supports and resources. I also heard that more recreational facilities would help encourage youth to stay away from drugs and engage in more healthy lifestyles.
In each community, I was asked multiple times if it would be possible to streamline the tax revenues from marijuana sales to pay for addiction treatment centres, increase mental health support, and recreational facilities. It has been estimated that approximately $400M will be raised in tax revenues in the first year alone, should this bill pass. Imagine what that could mean for the social and mental well-being of this country if the funds were earmarked for mental health and wellness.
Finally, I heard deep concern for the youth. Elders and youth alike echoed what I have heard from health professionals – the young brain continues to develop until the age of 25. With that in mind, people in every community, whether they professed to be for or against this bill, took exception with the clause in the bill would reduce possession of 5 grams or less by a youth older than 12 and younger than 18 to a ticketable offense. Across the board, it was felt that limiting this to a ticketable offense would not serve a strong enough disincentive for youth possession. It is the sole jurisdiction, under this bill, of a province or territory to outline the ticketing regime. However, based on the concerns I heard, I would suggest that this committee consider putting forth an amendment that would bring about clearer, stronger disincentives for youth possession.
Colleagues, again, there’s much more that I could share with you from this trip. I want to let everyone know that I will be tabling a report that gives a detailed summary of what I heard in every community and that report will be completed before this committee is scheduled to report back.
I look forward to answering any question you may have.
Thank you. Qujannamiik.