Sunday, March 08, 1998
LeDain stands by '71 report
The LeDain Commission was set up by the federal government in 1969 as the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-medical Use of Drugs. It issued four reports including one in 1971 on cannabis, which recommended that simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use be permitted, but importation and trafficking remain a crime.
The man who headed a Canadian royal commission which recommended marijuana be decriminalized, is as proud of the study today as he was when it came out more than a quarter of a century ago.
"We worked like hell,"commission head Gerald LeDain tells the Edmonton Sun when reached at his Ottawa home. "We really did our homework."
"The heart of the study was, why should cannabis be treated so harshly compared to tobacco and alcohol?" says LeDain, who was one of three on the five-person commission who wrote the majority opinion.
Virtually none of the commission's recommendations were made into law, something LeDain blames on politicians.
"It was a hot potato for all the parties and they didn't want to run any risks," says the man who was dean of law at University of Toronto's Osgoode Hall when he headed the commission.
"The position adopted by the politicians was to do nothing."
LeDain says the commissioners were just recommending what the public wanted concerning pot.
"We saw at the hearings the public was worried about their kids. The public saw those current laws as a tremendous injustice."
LeDain recalls the extensive media coverage his royal commission received. Not only was it front-page news in every major daily Canadian paper, many came out with special supplements detailing the cannabis study.
Penguin books published the report dealing with cannabis and it became a top-selling title in several countries.
LeDain is particularly proud the commissioners demanded there be no interference from the government while they compiled their studies. There wasn't, he says.
"I knew Pierre (Trudeau) well at the time and I made it my business to be assured from him our independence would be respected."
The commission's findings proved to be a political bombshell for the Grits.
"It cost him and it caused the government embarrassment before the 1972 election. Our report had created a public demand for a change in the law."
Today, LeDain's life is markedly quieter.
He retired for health reasons from the Supreme Court 10 years ago and lives alone.
His wife died two years ago and LeDain putters around making his own meals, paying bills and worrying about slipping on the ice in the winter. Breaking a hip at age 74 can be a big problem, he says.
He also maintains a family cottage for his grown children and grandchildren, and is busy writing his memoirs.
"I live a simple, low-profile life now. I'm content."
A filing cabinet in his basement is still filled with commission transcripts. "I'll leave them behind for someone. I can't bring myself to throw them out."
One thing, however, hasn't changed with LeDain.
He still believes in his commission's findings.
"Those conclusions stand. I stand by them."
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