In the Blog
Rob Ford, Kanye West and Torontonians: What’s important?
I realize that there have been many articles and videos circulating about the scandals of the so-called mayor, Rob Ford. This blog will cover only some of the blunders and movie-like dramas of the Toronto stripped-of-his-powers mayor but it will also cover some serious criminal charges that seem to have been brushed under the rug by many Torontonians, in my humble opinion.
First off, Rob Ford has had many moments in the press, personal and political conflicts including; being removed as football coach to the Don Bosco High School football team, allegedly giving the finger to a woman driving a minivan while talking on his cell phone, and an actual conflict of interest case, among others. That being said, this latest scandal has put the mayor over the top in terms of global press coverage and embarrassment, conflict with city councilors and a hardship on Toronto’s resources and the obvious neglect of other city business.
There are a number of different issues that the Rob Ford train wreck has exposed. The two issues I would like to draw more focus to are Rob Ford’s admitted drug and alcohol use and the recent release of information of him being charged with domestic assault against his wife.
Now, it might seem like I am playing two sides of the fence here, but bear with me.
Firstly, even though Rob Ford has clear and apparent ties to people who are alleged to sell drugs, as well as his candid admission of smoking and purchasing the drug crack cocaine, technically smoking drugs is not illegal * - and I think Rob Ford is giving crack users a bad name.
* What is illegal is: (drug) possession, trafficking, cultivation, importing or exporting and “prescription shopping” (obtaining multiple prescriptions by visiting several doctors). **See more at the end of this article.
The use of drugs has a particular stigma attached to it, especially the use of certain drugs such crack, heroin, and other street drugs. In particular, crack cocaine has a stigma of being used by poor people, homeless/street-based people, sex workers or people assumed to be sex workers, and poor people of colour. The reasons people use street drugs vary, and although the stigma of using remains the same in society, how we view addiction is changing. Because addiction is more and more being seen as a disease, certain people with privilege can be excused for the addiction and behaviours that come along with it, while others remain judged by society for using in the first place.
It is clear that most people would prefer their elected leaders to not be users of these kinds of drugs, when such huge and important responsibilities rest on the shoulders of these politicians. At the same time, as it is becoming more widely accepted that drug and alcohol abuse is a disease, it is important to regard the words and actions of Rob Ford from that perspective.
Now, I am not saying that his alleged addiction issues (reported by many City of Toronto ex- and current mayoral staff) give him license to act in ways that are inappropriate or damage the city of Toronto and its multiple ongoing projects. Not at all. But I think, as a Kanye West song once stated, as Torontonians “we are worrying about the wrong thing.”
Rob Ford’s drug use is part of a long slew of shenanigans and debacles that Ford’s brazen and bull-like personality just can’t seem to avoid. Even Ford himself perpetuated that same stigma to substance users with his statements against supporting harm reduction programs in Toronto. At the same time, while drug use can be destructive, it is not wrong or illegal to have issues with drugs and alcohol. It is considered a disease, after all.
On the flip side, it’s been most recently reported that Ford has been charged with domestic assault against his wife and that calls to police have been made on multiple occasions due to domestic violence allegations. The most recent calls, in August 2013, interrupted a sting operation against Sandro Lisi, a suspected drug dealer connected to Rob Ford. Ah, Robbie, back to the drugs.
As a feminist and anti-violence activist, I am appalled that a) I didn’t know that Rob Ford was charged with uttering death threats and domestic assault in 2008, during his third term of being city councilor; b) he was voted mayor in 2010, after this had happened; and c) police have been called to his home multiple times for multiple reasons, including domestic assault allegations (at least twice according to police records)!
This is not cool.
Imagine late night talk show hosts, bloggers and journalists all making such a big fuss over smoking crack, but those same folks barely making a peep about multiple documented police contact with the mayor (some before he was mayor) and some of those charges and allegations being about violence against women. What does this say about Toronto? What does this say about how we regard violence against women, drug use and Rob Ford as a general hot mess?
As Kanye clearly states: Toronto, “you worry about the wrong thing, the wrong thing.”
** Federal Drug Law The most important federal statute dealing with illicit drugs is the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), which was proclaimed into force in May of 1997. There are six common offences under it: possession, trafficking, cultivation, importing or exporting and “prescription shopping” (obtaining multiple prescriptions by visiting several doctors). According to the Federal government, CDSA was just a “housekeeping” act. “The CDSA consolidates certain parts of the two previous acts, modernising and enhancing Canada’s drug abuse control policy. Another focus of the CDSA is to fulfill Canada’s international obligations under several international protocols on drugs”. A more detailed analysis of the CDSA and the extent to which it goes beyond merely “keeping house” is given below. The Food and Drugs Act, which contained sections on non-medical drug use under the previous drug law, now controls pharmaceuticals, foods, cosmetics and medical devices. In addition to CDSA, other laws pertain to illicit drugs. Amendments to the Criminal Code make it illegal to knowingly import, export, manufacture, promote or sell illicit drug paraphernalia or literature. A court has recently struck down these provisions as they relate to drug literature. The judge held that these offences constitute an unjustifiable violation of freedom of speech as guaranteed by section 2 (b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In Canada, offences are divided into two broad categories; those tried by summary conviction and those tried by indictment. There are also hybrid offences in which the prosecutor may proceed by summary conviction or by indictment. Under the CDSA, possession and prescription shopping are hybrid offences. If the Crown proceeds summarily, the offender is liable to a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine for the first offense, and 12 months imprisonment and $2,000 fine for subsequent offences. If the Crown chooses indictment, the maximum penalty for possession if seven years imprisonment. All other offences under the Act are tried by indictment, except for certain amounts of marijuana. The maximum penalty for cultivation is seven years imprisonment; trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting all carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The most substantial legal change in the CDSA is in relation to cannabis. No longer a “narcotic”, cannabis is now a Schedule II drug (cocaine and heroin are in Schedule I). The punishments for marijuana possession, distribution and production are slightly different from those for cocaine and heroin. Provided that the amount of cannabis possessed is less than 30 grams and the amount distributed is less than three kilograms, maximum jail terms are reduced to six months and five years respectively (for heroin and cocaine the maximum term for possession remains at seven years and the maximum term for distribution at life imprisonment). The CDSA also covers offences to do with property and proceeds of drug offences (one component of which is “money laundering”). - The Law Regarding Licit and Illicit Drugs in Canada