Thursday, August 13, 2009

NDP ban former candidate Dana Larsen from Halifax convention

After rumours swirled around Facebook and Twitter all day yesterday, it now appears clear that the NDP has banned Dana Larsen, a party member, activist and its one-time candidate for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, from attending its convention this week in Halifax.

Larsen sent the following tweet around 10am EST this morning:

I just had my observer pass taken away and was escorted out of the Convention Centre. I am banned from the convention and building! #hfx09
You may recall Larsen as the first of three NDP candidates in the last federal election from BC that were forced to resign in short succession (Kirk Tousaw in Vancouver-Quadra and Jullian West in Sannich-Gulf Islands were the others). Larsen, a long-time marijuana activist and former Marijuana Party organizer, became contreversial when news of that activism history hit the mainstream, including his authorship of the Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone book and his videos for Pot-TV on YouTube.

While the party seemed bizarely taken by surprise by this history (which he never hid), it was likely survivable but what appeared to be a bridge too far was the videos Larsen produced that showed him driving under the influence of marijuana and acid. Larsen resigned his candidacy and was replaced by Bill Frost, who finished third behind Conservative John Weston.

Despite losing his nomination, Larsen has remained an active New Democrat as well as an advocate for marijuana legalization, and in the lead-up to the Halifax convention has been organizing behind a related "end prohibition" resolution to be debated at the convention.

As I wrote in February, his organization included offering assistance with transporting and lodging to delegates who were willing to support his anti-prohibition resolution:

He made the offer again in June:

It appears to be this activity that has gotten Larsen into trouble with the party brass. According to the messages posted in Facebook and Twitter by NDP activisits, NDP national director Brad Lavigne intervened to bar Larsen from the convention over allegations of vote-buying.

The decision has sparked a Facebook campaign t
o have Lavigne overturn the decision. Yesterday the wall of the NDP convention Facebook event page was filled with posts condemning the party's decision. Today, the wall has been disabled and is no longer viewable. However, I managed to grab some screenshots yesterday. Here's a taste:

Instead, the discussion has now moved over to the "Call Brad Lavigne to support Dana Larsen, Marijuana Legalization" event page on Facebook, as well as a lengthly Rabble thread.

Before the banning, Larsen was already complaining
about moves to limit policy debate at the convention, and in July complained his attempt to purchase an ad for his "End Prohibition" group in the convention program was denied.

If Larsen did cross the "vote-buying" line then that may be legitimate grounds for his expulsion, but as many have noted in the Rabble discussion threads its a fine line that would seem to be crossed with regularity.

Even so, stepping from revoking delegate status to banning someone from the convention centre is quite a step for the potentially soon to be Democratic Party. And it seems Larsen does have a sizeable constituency within the party, given the backlash this decision has sparked.

And, to put this in the bigger-picture context, it reminds me of this story from the last election:
The NDP is denying they made an informal deal with marijuana activist Marc Emery.

Emery alleges he and NDP Leader Jack Layton had an agreement to bring Marijuana Party members to the New Democrats. In exchange, Emery claims the NDP said they would continue efforts to decriminalize pot.

Emery told in a phone interview from Vancouver he told Layton in 2003 that he and his supporters would bring thousands of new people to the NDP, offer up qualified candidates, and get voters excited about the party.

"We did all that. We fulfilled every obligation we had," he said Saturday.
Layton denied any sort of arrangement with Emery; the Larsen affair would seem to underline that, even if there was such an agreement, its long dead. Which makes one wonder just how much organizational heft did Emery and his followers, such as Larsen, bring to the NDP? And how much will they miss it if they leave?

UPDATE: Here's the letter from Lavigne to Larsen explaining the party's decision, and Larsen's reply.

FURTHER UPDATE: Here's Marc Emery commenting on the Larsen affair (emphasis mine):
Larsen has been active in 12 previous NDP provincial and national conventions. He considers himself to have allies in NDP MP’s Bill Siksay and Libby Davies. Davies was to introduce Larsen’s resolution that calls for the NDP to adopt a clear, detailed policy calling for non-punitive regulation of the cannabis industry and the distribution of cannabis.

Suddenly, earlier this week, the NDP party brass dispatched Davies to the Middle East as part of a parliamentary fact-finding mission, even though she was scheduled to speak at the convention this weekend.

Bill Siksay was to replace Davies in speaking to the motion at the NDP resolution prioritization meeting, which is being held on Friday morning outside the convention, as the call to order does not come into effect until Saturday morning. This decision to hold the prioritization of resolutions meeting on Friday, before the NDP delegates have arrived and been called to order is illegal. Many delegates won’t have arrived by Friday morning, and since it is not on the convention agenda, many wouldn’t even be aware of it.

The reason for this is that Dana Larsen expects over 150 delegates who are his allies to be at the convention on Saturday, and the NDP is trying desperately to sideline Larsen’s increasing clout and presence in the NDP.
UPDATE: Kirk Tousaw (former NDP candidate for Vancouver-Quadra forced to resign over marijuana issues) weighs-in as well:
What on earth is the NDP doing? Banning people from "democratic" gatherings, censoring, fighting against progressive policies?

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Tim said...

I left the NDP nearly three years ago as I began to see this kind of undemocratic behaviour creeping up around this issue in particular. Dana is a good guy, a solid activist, and has a broader scope then just drug policy reform. However, Brad Lavigne seems to have brought in too many Obama advisers who think that this is somehow of a third rail.

It isn't. The treatment of medical marijuana patients (which is where my advocacy lies) is a disability and human rights issue, not a criminal one. What the NDP is doing is, in essence, treating the disabled as second class citizens.

Unfortunatly I experienced the same attitudes in the 2004 federal election when managing a campaign for a disabled NDP candidate. While they pay lip service to human rights and disability issues, some of the old guard were downright nasty. In the end, and after a little hardball, the candidate was given another riding.

Anyway Brad, sorry about introducing you to the power of social networking the hard way, but now we're even for that nasty paper cut you gave me on the '04 campaign when grabbing literature out of my hands. You know, in Hamilton, when you were trying to do much the same thing you are doing today...silence uncomfortable affinity groups?

Tim Meehan
Patients Against Ignorance and Discrimination on Cannabis (PAIDOC)

Pearce said...

I've been following this from Vancouver with the rest of the drug policy activist community. I'm quite frustrated with the NDP's constant see-saw of support. The eNDProhibition resolution represents a real chance for the NDP to forward sane, rational drug policy in this country for the first time in over a century.

Kyle G. Olsen said...

It is crazy that the NDP are so crazy over this. The Liberal Party passed a legalization resolution in workshop in 2005 if my memory serves me (it was not prioritized)

RuralSandi said...

You threw me there for a minute - I thought it was a photo of Prince William.

ADHR said...

Why isn't anyone who favours drug decriminalization blaming Larsen for his own foolishness? The guy pretty obviously was trying to buy votes. Whether or not others have been doing it, he did it. Given that he has a history of problems with the party, he should've been trying extra hard to keep his nose clean.

Spamming NDP Facebook pages is massively counter-productive besides. Why not try to get some resolutions introduced in Larsen's stead? Unless, of course, this is yet more reflexive NDP-bashing, which I'm starting to suspect it is.

Pearce Richards said...

ADHR - "The guy pretty obviously was trying to buy votes."

No, he was practicing what every NDP group does... Supports their members get to the conference to support resolutions. The unions do it, other member groups do it. The difference here is that they have arbitrarily decided to enforce the rules in this one specific scenario, at the last minute, for dubious reasons.

The NDP has jerked around drug policy activists for long enough, we're just pissed now.

"Why not try to get some resolutions introduced in Larsen's stead?"

Didn't you notice the "last minute" nature of this? The resolution will still be presented, rest assured. Bill Siksay is presenting it. However, its prime proponent was banned for doing something that everyone does, and isn't technically illegal. Do you have something wrong with Dana's reasoning surrounding the line between what is/isn't allowed.