Nunavut senator says Ottawa should talk to NTI about cannabis law
“The government has a duty to consult with Inuit”
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson says that Ottawa must have a “meaningful conversation” with Inuit to meet its obligations under the Nunavut Agreement ahead of the coming legalization of recreational cannabis.
On Thursday, Nov. 23, Patterson told Senator Peter Harder, the government representative in the Senate, that Ottawa should consult with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. on the organization’s concerns about Bill C-45, which will legalize the sale of possession of recreational cannabis as of July 2018.
Delegates at NTI’s annual general meeting last month called on Ottawa to postpone the legalization of cannabis, consult with Inuit on the issue of legalization, explore the negative impacts of cannabis among Inuit and look at the creation of addictions and rehabilitation centres before passing any new law.
Patterson pointed to the government’s legal duties under Article 32 of the Nunavut Agreement, a constitutional document that states Inuit have a right to participate in the development of social and cultural policies in Nunavut.
“The government has a duty to consult with Inuit on any policies that have significant social and cultural implication,” Patterson told Harder.
Harder took Patterson’s questions as notice, while promising to inquire into consultations with NTI, adding “I want to assure senators that the government will accept all of its obligations, as it should, with respect to the land claims agreements.”
Harder said the federal government’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, which released its report this past March, consulted with the national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, as well as the Government of Nunavut.
Patterson told Nunatsiaq News Nov. 24 that NTI’s resolution against Bill C-45 “speaks for itself,” but said he believes Harder was sincere when he promised to look into consulting with the organization.
“That tells me that NTI will be consulted. I think that’s going to happen,” he said
And under the Nunavut Agreement, the Crown is obliged to speak with NTI as the designated Inuit organization in the territory, not ITK, Patterson said, although he credited the national organization as a strong advocate for Inuit rights in Ottawa.
Patterson added that the prominence of mental health and addictions treatment issues in the recent territorial election proves the issue was of great concern for Nunavummiut when they headed to the polls.
“My fondest hope is that these consultations, with NTI and the new [government], will lead to progress finally on re-establishing an addictions treatment centre in Nunavut,” he said.
The GN has yet to release a policy on cannabis regulation, but former Premier Peter Taptuna told Nunatsiaq News in July that a 2019 deadline for provinces to comply with Bill C-45 “would have been more ideal.”
An online survey, launched by the GN in August, asked Nunavummiut how they want to see cannabis legalization unfold in the territory.
The results of that survey have not been released.
Patterson said he intends to invite Nunavut witnesses to appear before the Senate committee on legislation when Bill C-45 moves to the Red Chamber from the House of Commons.