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Legislation: THE AGONY OF ECSTASY AND THE MAKING OF A LAW
Government It was a chance meeting aboard a quiet passenger ferry that would eventually send heavily armed police crashing through the doors of a Metro Vancouver home and forever change Canadian drug-enforcement policy.

The July 2011 raid was significant not only because it netted five arrests for suspected drug production but because it was the culmination of three years of lobbying the federal government to make illegal the possession of chemicals used to produce methamphetamine and ecstasy.

That chance 2007 meeting on the Bowen Island ferry between John Weston, now MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, and Cpl. Richard De Jong of the North Vancouver RCMP had all the makings of a Hollywood screenplay:

An aspiring young politician promises a veteran street cop he'll take the gloves off law enforcement to help them fight street-drug manufacturers if he's sent to the capital. "He offered to give me a legal education on illegal drugs," Weston told The Outlook, "knowing that I might be elected and knowing that he was right that I perhaps needed an education on something that was so important to young people and to families in the riding I now represent."

A promise kept: Weston goes to Ottawa and Cpl. De Jong's plea is echoed in the country's highest halls of power. But the barriers of bureaucracy went up and the new anti-drug bill that seemed a slam dunk for Weston became a lengthy battle of attrition with fellow politicians and lawmakers.

Meanwhile, in the time since that first ferry meeting, one of Weston's own constituents would literally become the poster child for ecstasy and amphetamine awareness. On May 28, 2008, Erin Spanevello of West Vancouver tried ecstasy one night and stopped breathing at the age of 21.

"We'd had no previous experience with ecstasy at all," Catherine Spanevello, Erin's mom, told The Outlook on Monday. "We were being told names and terms by the coroner and investigators and we just had no idea what they were talking about." Since her daughter's death, Catherine's become something of an unwilling expert on youth ecstasy and meth use, schooling parents, educators and what she calls her "captive audiences" at mandatory student assemblies.

And while the North Shore community was still mourning Erin's death, Weston and his team were in Ottawa writing a private member's bill they hoped would become a new federal drug law cracking down on ecstasy and meth producers.

"It was probably six months after I was elected that I decided to focus on this as something that people in our riding generally considered a priority," Weston told The Outlook. "It was something that was relevant to people throughout Canada, across all demographic groups."

The law would eventually come to be known as Bill C-475, an amendment to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act prohibiting anyone from possessing, producing selling or importing anything knowing it would be used to produce or traffic meth or ecstasy.

But it almost didn't happen. Only six private member's bills were passed in that three-year session of parliament, and this bill marked only the 15th time since Confederation that the Criminal Code was amended by a private member's bill, Weston said.

"On the Tuesday before parliament was dissolved, with 72 hours left, it hadn't even got to second reading in the Senate, nor had it gone to committee," Weston said. "But it got unanimous support and therefore I was able to stand before the Governor General the day after the vote was taken to bring down the House and see the bill signed into law."

It would be the first private member's bill of the session to get unanimous support and the gravity of that wasn't lost on Weston.

"I walked out of the House [of Commons] and I walked about four blocks before I realized I'd gone in the wrong direction," Weston said. "I turned around and realized that this was something very special that many long-term parliamentarians never get to experience."

That feeling was only topped, he said, when information was made public in October about the July 21, 2011 raid on the alleged Richmond drug lab, one of the first busts under Bill C-475.

In memory of her daughter, Catherine Spanevello applauds the drug bill and its use within the province and across the country.

"I think the ability for law enforcement to identify the ingredients for synthetic drugs and prevent them from ever making it to the street is a powerful tool," Spanevello said. "And I hope this will be an incentive for lawmakers to continue to improve our laws to give more power to preventative rather than reactive measures against illegal drug use."

Motivated by his success with Bill C-475, Weston said he is already mulling a new private member's bill, this time taking on the illegal use and abuse of prescription drugs.


 
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