The Sensible B.C. 'cannabus' was parked at Jubilee Park on Wed.

Tactics for pro-pot petition drive controversial in Abbotsford

Strategies by local Sensible BC campaign organizers have faced criticism.

A pro-pot campaign that has struggled from the get go in Abbotsford is nowhere near its target during its last days.

Sensible B.C. has been on a mission since Sept. 9 to gather 400,000 signatures across the province in support of an act to decriminalize small cases of marijuana possession. The campaign needs the signatures of 10 per cent of registered voters in every provincial riding in order for the act to qualify for referendum.

The campaign has been met with mixed support throughout the province. In Abbotsford, the situation is especially bleak.

Organizers estimate that fewer than half of the required 13,000 signatures in the three Abbotsford ridings have been collected.

“It’s not going as well as I had expected or anticipated. There’s still strong resistance to what we’re trying to accomplish here,” said Gordon Finch, organizer for Abbotsford–South.

The campaign officially ends on Dec. 9, with canvassers planing to stop collecting signatures by Dec. 5 in order to have a cushion for tallying.

The Abbotsford campaign has been plagued with problems from the start. In early days, organizers were slow to recruit canvassers.

More recently, some strategies to attract signatories have been controversial, such as parking the Abbotsford campaign bus at a press conference for a human rights complaint filed by the homeless. A  campaign volunteer fully costumed as Master Chief from the Halo video game stood by the bus at the event at Jubilee Park on Nov. 27.

The “cannabus” was also in trouble in Sept. for parking in the downtown core and, according to local business people, disrupting their work.

On Nov. 25, police asked canvassers to leave the Christmas Tree Lighting, according to Abbotsford–West organizer Meghann Coughlan. Canvassers were also banned from the Abbotsford flea market, the location that generated the highest volume of signatures.

Coughlan has been critical of tactics used in Abbotsford, which she calls “in your face.” Loudspeakers and costumes work in a city like Vancouver, she said, but Abbotsford requires a different approach.

“It’s just a different entity here,” she said. “There were a lot of bad decisions in Abbotsford…The problem with a grassroots organization like this is you need to take what you can get. Sometimes people are so passionate, or so driven, that bad decisions are made.”

Finch disagreed that the campaign has used inappropriate tactics, and that having the “cannabus” at Jubilee Park may have resulted in lost support.

“I don’t think that’s the case. From what I saw, the bus was off to the side…It definitely garnered support,” he said.

Conversely in Mission, one canvasser stationed in front of the post office on First Avenue has quietly collected a third of the riding’s required signatures, according to Abbotsford–Mission organizer Brandon Macdonald. The “modest setup” of a table with pamphlets and a banner, he said, has not attracted significant criticism, while collecting about 1,200 signatures of the 3,600 needed in Abbotsf-rd–Mission.

“In some respects, it’s better to be reserved, and let people who are more skittish to the idea come to you,” said Macdonald.

Subtlety might work best in a conservative community, he added, where stigma may prevent people from signing.

“People are afraid to put their names on this, because it’s so stigmatized. They think their names will end up on a government blacklist. This illogical fear is preventing some of these folks from giving their support,” said Macdonald.

In these last days, organizers say they remain optimistic.

“We’re carrying on with it and trying to connect with as many people as possible. It’s just a matter of people educating themselves and opening their eyes,” said Macdonald.

Abbotsford is among the list of municipalities having the lowest number of signatures, Dana Larsen told Black Press on Nov. 19. Others include Cariboo, Fort Langley, Langley, and Surrey-Tynehead.

Conversely, the signature target is in sight for canvassers in Nelson, Creston, Vancouver’s West End, Penticton, Kelowna, Port Alberni and the Similkameen.

In Coughlan’s view, the only thing that would save the Abbotsford ridings in this final hour is a major door-knocking campaign.

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