Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why start now?

Insite's current exemption is up in Dec. 2007. It's time to start writing letters.

"What?!" I hear you say, "But Jen, that's months away!"

However, read the post below. It looks like things are starting to move on Canada's Drug Policy. It was last updated in 2003 (For a good background on current drug policy go to the Community Insite link and click on "Further reading". Entry #8 refers to the 2003 Federal drug policy update).

Since the current government has a track record of wanting to increase the criminality of everything (particular forms of marriage, age of consent, reducing the age young offenders can be tried as adults-- just 3 quick examples), any new policy is likely to be quite punitive and heavy-handed.

Write to the Prime Minister, your MP, Minister of Health (Tony Clement), the Ministers of Indian & Northern Affairs, Status of Women, Vancouver Olympics, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development and many others. See my post on Aug 31 for reasons to choose one minister or another.

**but fair warning: there has been a cabinet shuffle: check who is the current minister.

Write about Insite specifically or about Canada's Drug Policy in general but write now!

**Nursing students: depending on your community or clinical placements, you could have some unique and worthwhile anecdotes that could really personalize this issue. See the Tips on Letter writing post -- not the next one, but the one after that.

Rumblings in Ottawa

It's time to get active about Insite again.

Here's why: Perhaps in preparation for the Dec '07 deadline on the legislative extension allowing Insite to function, or perhaps in response to the eternal threat of an election (and possible Conservative majority) it looks like action on drug policy is happening here in Ottawa.

At a luncheon here today US "Drug Czar" John Walters was invited by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (a curious move given that the CCSA is a supposedly independant, non-partisan but federally funded agency). Here's the content of an email I recieved at the end of last week from a contact and InSite for Community Safety:

"U.S. Drug Czar John Walters has been invited by the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse to try and rationalize U.S. drug policy to a Canadian audience. Mr. Walters is a reputed zealot, known for an eagerness to drug test every student in America. He is also an infamous purveyor of anti-cannabis propaganda. As Eugene Oscapella from the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy said: "We in Canada have agreed to take John Walters off your [US] hands for a few hours on February 22. I am more than a little perplexed as to why the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, a supposedly independent drug policy agency, is inviting him to speak without using a panel format that would allow his statements to be challenged. There will be a question and answer session after his speech, but that will hardly offer the opportunity for a balanced debate. I wonder if these were the only terms on which he would speak here."

Drug Policy in the United States: A Presentation by John P. Walters Director, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy You are cordially invited to a luncheon event with featured speaker John P. Walters, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Mr. Walters will provide an overview of the U.S. National Drug Control Strategy, its progress and challenges. Opening remarks will be delivered by Michel Perron, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), Canada's national addictions organization. An informal question and answer period will follow the presentation.

Date: February 22, 2007 Time: 11:45 am - 1:15 pm (lunch is included)
Location: Fairmont Chateau Laurier, Tudor Room (1 Rideau Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 8S7) Registration: Seating is limited and RSVPs are required.

Since I wasn't the one cordially invited I had no luck finagling my way into the lunch (although it was looking good there for a while...) despite RSVP'ing and talking to the communications person a couple of times.

Here's the official response the press release about the press conference that happened up in Centre Block of the Hill today:


Who: Senator Larry Campbell, Ethan Nadelmann, Line Beauchance, Eugene Oscapella
Where: Charles Lynch Press Theatre, Parliament Hill, Ottawa
When: Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 1:30 p.m.

OTTAWA AND NEW YORK, February 21, 2007: The Canadian Foundation for Drug
Policy (Ottawa) and the Drug Policy Alliance (New York) will be holding a press conference in the Charles Lynch Room, Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, at 1:30 pm, Thursday, February 22, 2007. The press conference is being held on the occasion of the visit to Ottawa by the head of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (the US "drug czar") John Walters. Speakers at the press conference will challenge the continuing criticism of Canada's drug control efforts by Mr. Walters, and discuss pressure by the US Administration on the Government of Canada to follow the American model of drug control, which is based heavily the use of the criminal law, policing and incarceration ("criminal prohibition). Speakers at the press conference will also address the failure of US drug control policies in the United States, the misleading rhetoric by the US Administration about Canada's contribution to US drug problems, and the damaging effects of US drug control policies on Canada, including the risks US poppy eradication policies pose for Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the press conference will be:

  • The Honourable Larry W. Campbell, Senator, former Mayor of Vancouver, former RCMP Drug Squad member, and former Chief Coroner of British Columbia.
  • Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, New York, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. Mr. Nadelmann is a former Princeton University professor and author of several books and articles on policing, crime control and drug policy.
  • Professor Line Beauchesne, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa,
    the author of several books on drug policy, and co-founder, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.
  • Eugene Oscapella, Ottawa lawyer, co-founder, Canadian Foundation for Drug
    Policy, and lecturer on drug policy in the Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa.

Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy:
Drug Policy Alliance:

Time to get the letter-writing started.

Tips on successful letter writing [redux]

According to Elizabeth May, formerly Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, now leader of the Green Party of Canada, in her book "How to save the world in your spare time" (2006), letters to politicians are more effective than emails, post cards or petitions.

"Because so few people take the time to write a letter on an issue that concerns them, politicians count each letter as representative of the views of far more citizens. A letter to a federal politician is seen as representing thousands" (p.90-91).

A handwritten letter is the best, typed is okay, but an email is often only glanced at or automatically discarded by employees.

When the time line on writing to the Health minister and/or the PM in support of Insite is short (as with the exemption last fall) a fax of the letter with the original following in the mail will be the most effective means of contacting a minister and/or your MP regarding Insite.

If you choose to write to one of the other ministers I have listed back in Aug, an email to their office may have some effect as they are likely recieving less/no mail on this issue. If you only have time to send emails, send several and make them unique. Here are some tips gathered from various sources:

Maximize efforts by identifying key players. In this case, Tony Clement, Minster of Health, Prime Minister Harper.

No stamp necessary if you write to their House of Commons address (although some websites say that Constituency offices are more effective, this is only the case if your return address is in that riding).

For MPs: Provide a return address and let them know that you live in their riding. This will provide you with much greater credibility in their eyes.

**Student Nurses: Our voices are super-powerful: We are only writing (on this or any subject) because we have an interest and emotion behind writing. Unlike others who may write, we have no vested interest other than we recognise what is the right thing to do and feel strongly about it.**

It is worth writing to your MP even if s/he or their official party line supports your view. If the issue ever came up for debate or vote in the House your letter would count as the voice and opinion of constituents.

Keep the letter relatively brief—no more than 1 ½ pages – typed or hand written.

Tell them why this issue is important to you, what you think should be done, back it up with facts and/or references and ask for a reply.

Illustrate the key messages by telling your story in your own words—this will have a much greater impact than any pre-written communication they received in the office.

With that in mind, back in August I included other Ministers in the cabinet to whom you may want to write and let them know why this issue matters to you, how you think it relates to their office and that you want to know where they stand on the issue. The cabinet has since been shuffled so you will have to look up who's who in the new zoo. However, Clement and Harper remain the key ones to focus on. The others are just icing.

Be respectful and give the MP the benefit of the doubt. Whatever information you have about an MP's position, it may not be accurate and they may be open to changing their mind. They will respond better to a calm, polite letter — remember passion can be expressed with reason. In this case it can also be supported with peer-reviewed evidence as well.

Don't put down those who oppose extending the exemption. You could be insulting someone close to that person — not an endearing tactic. You'll also just lose credibility.

Ask for their support and request a reply — you can provide them with your phone number and/or email address to make it simple for them to get back to you (See my response from Mr. Clement last fall). When you do hear back, please share the response in the comments section here—we want to know what’s happening.

Feel free to let them know that you were compelled to write based on an email from a concerned indivual and with information from this blog. A grassroots effort by individuals with no vested interests in Insite other than a recognition of Insite's value to the community that it serves, and with compassion for those individuals, could be a powerful message.

Copying a form letter is less powerful. Personalizing it can make it work though.