PHOTOS: An illegal pill press, with illegal firearms (Australian Broadcasting Corporation photo). Below: Progressive Conservative MLA Mike Ellis and NDP MLA Deb Drever (Edmonton Journal photo).

Hmmmm… Canada’s conservative parties – first among them Alberta’s Opposition Wildrose Party and its federal auxiliary, the Conservative Party of Canada – have long found a certain segment of the population’s enthusiasm for unrestricted firearms ownership a politically profitable way to wedge votes away from other parties.

Hence the former Harper Government’s destruction of the Liberal-created long-gun registry and its vandalism of the data contained therein, plus the Wildrosers’ stout defence of the “property rights” of so-called “law abiding gun owners,” as well as the party’s insistence Ottawa leave non-criminal regulation of firearms to the provinces.

So what’s with these same conservatives’ enthusiastic support in the Alberta Legislature Monday for Calgary-West MLA Mike Ellis’s private member’s bill to register and restrict access to the presses and other equipment used by pharmacists to make pills?

Mr. Ellis, who as a Progressive Conservative is ex officio a sort of brother in arms, as it were, to the Wildrosers’ tireless defence U.S.-style gun laws, told the Legislature that his Bill 205, the Pharmacy and Drug (Pharmaceutical Equipment Control) Amendment Act, “is what Albertans have been asking for, for a long time.”

Perhaps so. There is certainly serious concern about the widespread and deadly misuse of homemade street versions of synthetic opioid drugs in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada. At any rate, MLAs of all political stripes agreed and members of all parties in the Legislature swiftly passed Mr. Ellis’s bill.

But what does this say about these two conservative parties’ attitudes about the rights of law-abiding pill press owners? What about their constitutional rights, like the right not to be locked up, as the gun lobby likes to put it, simply because the arbitrary pill-press grabbers don’t like them? And don’t I have the right to grind up perfectly legal cedar roots or bird droppings and make homeopathic pills for my own use if I wish?

One would almost think the conservatives in the Legislature, along with the members of other parties, had harm reduction and the needs of society in mind, quite unlike the position they take on wide-open gun ownership.

If you think this line of argument seems silly, would someone please explain how this law is any different from the proposals of the so-called “gun grabbers” to require law-abiding gun owners to register their weapons, and to restrict the right to ownership of certain kinds of weapons that are clearly designed only to kill human beings on an industrial scale? The idea of gun registration and regulation aroused hysteria among conservatives during the years the Harper Government used gun control as a wedge issue. The idea of pill-press registration and regulation? … Not so much.

In fact, Alberta’s new pill-machine law goes farther than oft-reviled Canadian “gun grabbers” ever proposed. It sensibly attempts to restrict ownership of pill presses, capsule fillers and drug mixers to people who can prove they actually need them to do socially acceptable work. If you’re not a pharmacist or a drug technician, it assumes you’re up to no good if you possess one of these things.

Mr. Ellis, a former police officer, would actually like to go further with this – I heard him on my local CBC station yesterday morning arguing that similar provisions ought to be included in the Canadian Criminal Code, which is federal legislation.

If as a society we really want to restrict ownership of pill-making equipment, this would probably be a good idea, since some smart defence lawyer is certain to argue that with its high fines and heavy jail time, not to mention the justifications advanced for this law, Mr. Ellis’s bill is in fact criminal law, and therefore ultra vires. Then we Alberta taxpayers will have to pay to defend a law that is constitutionally unsound on jurisdictional grounds, properly belonging only to the federal level of government.

As an aside, avoiding this kind of technical problem with new laws is one of the things the Canadian Senate is supposed to do, and often did until Stephen Harper’s Conservative government came along and whipped it like a red-headed stepchild. Maybe we could establish a Senate here in Alberta … on second thought, belay that idea.

As all of us who have been schooled in the ways of the Westminster Parliamentary system know well, it’s unusual for a private member’s bill to become law. It does seem to be happening more often nowadays, as governments like the aforementioned Mr. Harper’s used the technique to avoid the scrutiny of Parliament and its committees.

This is not what appears to have happened this time, though, or when Bill 204, then-Independent MLA Deb Drever’s private member’s bill to allow victims of domestic violence to break leases to protect their safety, became law in December.

Nevertheless, there are sound reasons why bills that are intended to actually become law should start their journey to that status with the support and resources of the government. Not least among them is that thanks to the competence of government legislative drafters, they are less likely to fail in the courts once passed, and thus to waste the public’s money defending flawed legislation enacted in unseemly and politically motivated haste.

Mr. Ellis’s bill courts such a fate.

What is most interesting about this development is how the approach taken by Mr. Ellis makes sense to Wildrosers and conservatives of all kinds when it comes to pill-manufacturing equipment, but not for firearms, which unlike pill presses and cap fillers are specifically designed to kill things.

I’m sure someone will be happy to step forward to explain, presumably in the insulting tones characteristic of Canada’s recently empowered gun enthusiasts.

In the mean time, I am waiting for some “property rights advocate” to remind us: “First they came for the pill machines, and I said nothing, then they came for the bottle cappers…”

This post also appears on

Join the Conversation


  1. re: ‘What is most interesting about this development is how the approach taken by Mr. Ellis makes sense to Wildrosers and conservatives of all kinds when it comes to pill-manufacturing equipment, but not for firearms, which unlike pill presses and cap fillers are specifically designed to kill things.’


    The observation above is only possible because right wing political leaders and gun owners argue from a fundamentalist, ideological perspective that is immune to logic.

    I know…I know… Climenhaga has to be reasonable, even though it’s loony logic defending gun free-for-all. But jeez.

  2. I remember the good old days of Puerto Rican gold, Afghani hash laced with opium and Berkeley sunshine available in gelatin or blotter format. But the fentanyl pills available these days scares the crap out of me. I’ve warned my university kids to *not* take any pills. They say ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’. I’m just hoping they take the message seriously.

  3. Deborah Drever’s bill was a joke and will protect no one. It is unenforceable at law and will put more women at risk because landlords will be less likely to rent to people in difficult circumstances.

  4. First off the fact that a private members bill passed shows that all parties supported this bill and therefore had broad support. Unfortunately just like the gun registry the pill press registry will not keep them out of criminals hands. Hand guns have had very restricted access since I believe 1934 and yet they are still the most popular choice of criminals. Enough said. Have a good day:-)

  5. The logicial fallacy is not lost on a significant portion of Wildrose here. More laws to protect adults from themselves is a Canadian tradition some wish to break.

    The issue with Wildrose though is the various factions within it, amongst them the populists and the vestiges of Social Credit, which is probably the largest bloc within Wildrose and a significant one within the PCs. Couple that with the social conservative paternalist and the social libertarians are outnumbered.

  6. And if we had a more liberal availability of handguns criminals would have less power. Only extreme socialists want to ban them to their own peril.

  7. I’m in the midst of re-watching my collection of The West Wing on DVD, and I’m just into of Season Two. The season began with the aftermath of a shooting which ended Season One, and left the President and one of his senior staffers (Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman) wounded, Lyman critically. In a press briefing, Press Secretary C J Cregg (Alison Janney) discussed thirty-some-odd fatal shootings that occurred that same night, and said (this is about a minute & a half, and it comes near the end)…

    1. If it wasn’t for a gun, who knows what would have been the end result when a terrorist with a gun started shooting up our Canadian Parliament. The issue with guns, like the issue with pill presses, isn’t so black or white.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.