Sensible BC hits target in West Kootenay

Canvassers fall short in other parts of province as deadline nears

The petitions are in, the canvassers exhausted, but it looks like there will be enough signatures to make up the 10 per cent of residents required for the Sensible B.C. campaign to call for a provincial referendum for the decriminalization of marijuana … at least in the Kootenay West riding.

A collective sigh of relief can be heard coming from the petition organizers in the region with only days left before the petitions need to be delivered to the Elections B.C. office in Victoria Monday.

“We just got the confirmation 20 minutes ago,” said local organizer, Susan Yurychuk. “On November 18 we were at 56 per cent (of their target) and people were ready to give up but I told everybody to go out and get 22 more signatures and they did. We needed 3,162 for the 10 per cent in our riding and we got 3,733.”

While organizers in the Kootenay West riding are happy with their efforts, the provincial campaign, organized by pro-cannabis activist, Dana Larsen, doesn’t appear to have garnered enough signatures in every riding in the province, as is required by the referendum legislation.

“We’re not going to have all the signatures in every single district,” said Larsen. “The process is designed to be difficult, gathering that many signatures in every riding in the province is not meant to be easy but we anticipate hitting our targets in the East and West Kootenay, as well as in many other areas.”

The provincial referendum legislation, which was enacted in 1995, requires that campaigners gather petitions with signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in each of the 85 ridings in the province within a 90 day period in order to force a referendum on one of the fixed election dates. All canvassers for any campaign must be registered with Elections B.C. for the petitions to be declared valid.

The process has only been successful once in nine attempts to force referendums in B.C., in 2011 when it was used to compel the B.C. government to hold a referendum on the much maligned Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

Larsen said the campaign went well in numerous areas of the province, with areas such as Nelson, Creston, Vancouver Island, Penticton, and the Sunshine Coast gathering enough signatures quite quickly but areas such as the Fraser Valley, Cariboo, and Surrey presenting particular challenges.

Larsen said he was surprised by the reaction of some opponents to the legislated petition process.

“We found that, for some, stigma was an issue,” Larsen said. “Some people said they’d love to sign but were afraid the RCMP or the government would know that they had signed the petition and harass them. It was a baseless fear but that’s where some people were coming from.

“There also seemed to be some people who feel they had the right to abuse the canvassers; we had volunteers harassed by irate people, spit on, one volunteer had the window of his truck smashed and Sensible BC signs stolen, people called the RCMP many times on canvassers but at no time were any arrests made. I didn’t expect the level of hostility that we saw in some places.”

Sensible B.C. volunteers in Vancouver will spend the weekend collecting petitions from outlying areas and collating them before sending them on to Elections B.C. by Monday to be officially tallied up before getting a final count on the campaign’s efforts.

Although hopes aren’t high for a successful petition campaign Larsen said that, for himself and Sensible B.C. it’s not the end.

“There’s no dates yet to start again but we learned a lot. We raised an army,” he said. “We had a lot of great canvassers out there and it really started to build momentum. If we had the momentum at the beginning of the campaign that we did at the end it would have passed by a landslide. We have to evolve, have to re-organize. But thanks to everyone for their support and thanks to everyone who signed. We’ll be back next time.”