The author of a controversial proposal that senators delay their final vote on cannabis legalization says the idea was entirely his own, and doesn't reflect the position of his former employer Conservative senator Claude Carignan.
Malcolm Armstrong, who was fired from his contract with Carignan Friday, said he hadn't even presented the senator with the proposal before it was leaked to the media.
"I feel bad about this because it looks bad on him, which was certainly not my intention," Armstrong told The Leaf News.
Armstrong said he has no political affiliation, and had originally offered his services on a volunteer basis to Sen. Tony Dean, the independent sponsor of the government's legalization bill. Dean confirmed that he declined Armstrong's offer in November.
"I contacted a few other senators and they all said no, and then I was persistent with Sen. Carignan's office," said Armstrong, who took a personal interest in the topic of cannabis legalization in 2012 and has studied the government's legalization efforts closely by following committee hearings and doing his own research.
"He invited me in, we spoke in his office, and I think he recognized the depth of my research, and I think he also recognized that a lot of his staffers are overwhelmed."Advertisement
At the time, Armstrong said he didn't realize Carignan was the lead Opposition critic of the government's Cannabis Act in the Senate.
Carignan hired him on as a contractor in March. His role was "to provide information to any specific questions that (Carignan) needed answered."
Armstrong's report said senators could "temporarily suspend the vote on Bill C-45" without actually killing the bill, and then refer it to a new senate special committee for further study. In the meantime, he wrote, "the government could proceed to decriminalize cannabis for small possession and offer immediate pardons to those who have a criminal record (for small possession)."
By approving C-45 now, the report said, senators would be "tacitly agreeing" to a laundry list of potential negative outcomes for Canadian society.
Senate leaders have agreed on a June 7 deadline to hold their final vote on the bill, which could put legalization on track for late summer or early fall.
Armstrong said he's not opposed to cannabis legalization, but fears lawmakers are moving forward without considering the best available information. He reached his conclusion that senators could delay their third and final vote on the bill after discussing the issue with senate clerks.
"I sat down with the clerks and said, 'Is there a way to postpone the vote that doesn't kill (the bill)?'"
That goal could be achieved by postponing the vote and referring Bill C-45 to a new committee, he said the clerks advised, adding he started sharing his draft report with independent senators on his own, before he was able to present Carignan with a French translation.
"It is our understanding that the individual who prepared and circulated this document did so on his own accord and without authorization," Carignan's office said in a statement.
"This document does not reflect our views; it is inconsistent with our approach to the bill, the due diligence being applied to it by our caucus, and our work with our Senate colleagues over the past number of weeks."
'Serious breach of protocol'
Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, who leads the Senate's independent faction, confirmed that Armstrong had personally delivered the draft report to his office and made it available to other independent senators.
Woo was particularly concerned that the report looks like an official Senate document, even though it isn't.
"He put his ideas in a document using the format and the print style and the insignia of the Senate, without authorization," said Woo. "That's a very, I think, serious breach of protocol."
By identifying himself as "Dr. Malcolm Armstrong" on the report's cover, Woo said, Armstrong could have misled readers into believing he was an expert on cannabis.
"One might assume that he has a PhD in the relevant subjects — pharmacology or medicine or psychiatry — and I understand he does not have any of those qualifications."
Armstrong said he holds a PhD in eastern philosophy from Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, a theological institution in Bangalore, India. He said he never meant to mislead anyone by using his academic title.
In hindsight, Armstrong added, he would not have formatted the report as he did.
"There was no subterfuge on my part," he said. "I was up against a time limit because I knew the senators were breaking, and I had to get it out to them before the break, I wanted them to look at it over the break."
Armstrong said his contract with Carignan's office was due to end June 8.
"I don't blame senator Carignan for letting me go," he said. "I would do the same."
Still, Armstrong said his message — that cannabis legalization could be postponed without killing the bill — has been heard.
"The proposal is in the hands of a few senators," said Armstrong. "So that's good; at least they know there's a third option."