Bill C-248 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (trafficking in a controlled drug or substance within five hundred metres of an elementary school or a high school)
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session and the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.
Jay Hill Conservative
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Second Reading and Referral to Committee
(This bill did not become law.)
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
November 23rd, 2005 / 5:25 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)
It being 5:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-248 under private members' business.
Call in the members.
Before the Clerk announced the results of the vote:
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
November 16th, 2005 / 6:25 p.m.
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, I do not really know where to begin tonight, but I want to begin first of all by expressing my thanks.
The Liberal member across the way says it does not surprise him at all. This is a serious issue, but that is the type of attitude, unfortunately, we get from the Liberal government when we talk about protecting the children of this country. That is the type of attitude that we can expect.
I want to thank my colleagues from the Conservative Party of Canada who have spoke in support of Bill C-248. Our justice critic from Provencher spoke during the first hour of debate and tonight there was the member for Palliser and the member for Langley. I thank all three of them for their support and for their kind words, and for standing up for children. That is what the bill is about. It is about standing up for children.
I was a little bit dismayed by the approach taken by my colleague from the Bloc Québécois who spoke tonight. I believe it was the justice critic for the Bloc in the first hour of debate who seemed to indicate that all private members' bills should have free votes. He was going to recommend to the Bloc Québécois caucus members that they support this bill, even though the Bloc has some concerns with it, to at least move it on to the standing committee on justice. I think that is wise.
I am not saying that the bill is perfect in its present form, but when it comes to defending our children, standing up for our children and protecting them from predators, it should be unanimous. Every member in the House would want to at least say, yes, this bill makes enough sense, and the issue is important enough that we want to send it to the committee for further study. At least we should send it that far.
Therefore, I was a little bit dismayed that the member from the Bloc who spoke tonight seemed to indicate that he personally was going to be voting against the bill. That was disappointing for me.
I wish to thank the members from the NDP, both during the first hour and the second hour of debate. Both of them indicated their willingness to support it. I suspect that is representative of their entire caucus of some 18 members.
So, it is with the Liberals. Clearly, as we have shown in this minority Parliament, we can pass this bill without the support of the Liberals. I would hope that it is going to pass. I would also hope that all Liberal members look into their hearts and think about what they are doing when they stand up to vote on Bill C-248, instead of just talking about getting tough on crime, as they have been doing the last while. They started talking about mandatory minimum sentences as if there is something to be said for that.
The justice minister has been all over this issue for the last number of months. First he is in favour of it, then he speaks against it. We do not know where he is coming from. What kind of signal does that send to the people in our schools, our teachers, our parents, the children themselves, and those people involved in law enforcement?
We have many laws in this country. The problem is they are not enforced properly. This will help. It will take the discretion away from the courts and away from the judges. We will no longer see house arrest where some animal that preys on our children in our schools is sent home with a slap on the wrist to watch colour TV.
That is what the bill is about. It is about sending a signal to organized crime and those who would prey on our children that if they do it within 500 metres of the sight of a school, they are in big trouble.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health is here again tonight. He led off the debate for the Liberals. He made a statement during his remarks that quite frankly appalled me. He suggested that one of the reasons the Liberals would not be in favour of mandatory minimum sentences, if we can believe this, is that drug dealers might be deterred from pleading guilty if they knew they would have to go to jail.
That is unbelievable and it is totally unacceptable in this country that the government's attitude would be that we do not want to put that in place because it might deter criminals from pleading guilty. We might actually have take them to trial. We might actually have to prove that they are preying on our children and send them away to the big house for a while. That is the attitude of the Liberals. They have the audacity to turn around and say that maybe they are thinking about getting tough on crime.
The government is on the side of the criminals. We are on the side of the victims and children. That is the way it will always be until we get a new Conservative government.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
November 16th, 2005 / 6:15 p.m.
Mark Warawa Langley, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a real honour to speak to Bill C-248. It is a bill that would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences of one year for a first offence and two years for a subsequent offence in cases where an adult is convicted of trafficking a controlled or restricted drug or a narcotic within half a kilometre of an elementary school or high school.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River for bringing this legislation to us and the member for Palliser, both hardworking members in this House, who are working hard to protect our children. We need to come up with appropriate and practical legislation that would deal with the problem.
We have just heard from a member from across the House with the typical Liberal rhetoric that we need to have education. Yes, we do. We must have a total package. However, we have a criminal element hanging out near schools and going after our children. To say that we are going to talk to them and tell them that the minimum sentences do not work, does not work. We have studies that show that. If we are going to ask them to stop selling drugs to our children, that does not work either.
This last summer, I spent time with the RCMP. I went through a one week training program, so that I could spend time with them on the bike squad. We spent a lot of time riding around, so I could see what was happening in my community of Langley, what was happening with homelessness, what was happening with the drug scene, and what was happening with prostitution.
I saw some sad scenes, but particularly, what I was saddened by was the number of youth who were being sucked into the drug culture. They would be hanging around the schools. It was the summer, so school was out. I found that a lot of parks are located near the schools. There is this practical aspect that there would be a school and a park in a similar vicinity, so that there is the use of both facilities by those attending school.
There were a lot of drug dealers hanging around the parks. As we would ride into a park on the bikes, we would see these adult drug dealers selling drugs to the kids.
This bill would limit the distance that an adult drug dealer could be from a school. It would be half a kilometre. We would take a school and draw a circle around it, 500 metres, half a kilometre. We would say that “If you are an adult and you are a drug pusher, you do not go near the school. If you do, you are going to jail, and it will be at least one year”.
We have heard from the justice minister. We have heard from the member from the Liberal Party saying that this would not work. Liberals say they have these studies that say that minimum mandatory sentences do not work. Both the justice minister and that hon. member, who just spoke, have neglected to tell us that there are just as many studies that tell us that they do work as there are that tell us they do not work. It is a very limited number of studies. What we are asking for, and what the public is asking is for, is a common sense solution.
The member for Prince George—Peace River has come up with Bill C-248. It is well thought out. If this becomes legislation, drug dealers are quickly going to find out that they are going to pay a serious consequence if they sell their drugs near schools.
I serve on the justice committee. I have heard the justice minister say many times that our children are the most vulnerable. He has stated that we need to protect our children and if we have blown it with our children, we have blown it. I would agree with that.
What is the government tangibly doing? What is it doing to protect our children? Nothing. After 12 years in government, it has a legacy of being soft on crime. If individuals sell drugs to our children, what is the consequence? They receive probation, maybe a fine, or they have the drugs taken away from them.
As we see drugs being more prevalent within our schools, I hear from parents. We each have constituents who come to us, and I am sure that there are constituents who go to the Liberal MPs, and tell us stories about their children being afraid to go to school. One of the parents came to me and said, “my son is afraid to go into the washroom because if he goes in there they are doing drugs. They are selling drugs”. Our public school system is under attack because drug dealers are in the schools.
The schools have to be creative and find ways to keep the drug dealers out. They have the doors all locked and some of the schools have even gone to uniforms. Through education and creative measures schools have tried to keep the drug dealers out. We need to give the police enforcement tools. There must be a consequence if an adult drug dealer is hanging around the school and selling drugs to our children.
Ask any person in Canada if they think it is reasonable to let these drug dealers who are going after our children, our future generation, into our schools? The future of Canada is under attack by these organized criminal elements that are going after our children. They are going into our schools and going after our children. If we ask an average Canadian if it is appropriate to give them a slap on the hand if they are selling drugs to our children, the answer is absolutely not. There has to be a consequence.
We believe in the discretion of the courts. I believe in that. We have to honour and respect our courts. What we have now is the typical consequence, the typical sentence keeps going down and down. It has gone down to the point where there is no consequence for these people. A slap on the hand is not doing it.
I support Bill C-248. I ask every member in this House to support Bill C-248 because it indeed puts a very practical and very realistic consequence for selling drugs to our kids. It should not happen. Bill C-248 will stop it from happening. The word will get out among the criminal elements that they do not sell drugs near the schools. I encourage everyone to support Bill C-248.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
November 16th, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.
Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to stand in the House of Commons and speak on behalf of my constituents of Brampton—Springdale.
When we talk about the issue of safer streets, safer schools and safer neighbourhoods, that is a goal that all of us as community members try to work toward. It is one of the key goals we have in Brampton—Springdale.
Before I begin, I must take the opportunity to recognize the sincerity of the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River in bringing forward this legislation to penalize those who prey on our vulnerable children who should be able to live in an environment where they feel safe and secure.
What is unfortunate is that our government cannot support the bill based on the legal grounds that were laid out by my colleagues from Justice Canada. Research has consistently found that minimum sentences have little or absolutely no effect in deterring criminal activity.
However let there be no mistake that both myself, as the member of Parliament for Brampton—Springdale, and the Liberal government share the determination of the member to protect children from the harmful effects of drugs that cause so many problems for many Canadian families and their communities across the country.
I just want to reiterate one of the reasons that we must hold back our support for Bill C-248. The bill would contravene the fundamental principle of proportionality in sentencing. By proposing the same mandatory minimum penalty for trafficking in drugs that are found in different schedules of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, it disregards, among other things, the differences in health and safety risks associated with drugs that have been found in those particular schedules.
The fact is that research has consistently found that minimum sentencing has little or absolutely no effect at all in deterring criminal activity. It is essential to realize that to deter criminal activity we must get to the root of the problem and try to create safer streets, safer schools, safer neighbourhoods and, ultimately, safer communities for a safe nation.
I realize the sincere desire of the member of Parliament to penalize those who prey on children. I assure all hon. members that the government does share his determination, which is why Parliament set out in section 10 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act the purpose of sentencing for drug offences and the requirement that the court consider any relevant aggravating factors, including trafficking to any person under the age of 18 years, and trafficking in or near school grounds or any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of 18.
However I think it is important to recognize that it will take much more than tough penalties to make our Canadian schoolyards safe. Enforcement is one of the many areas where we, as parliamentarians and as Canadians, need to take action to protect the future of our country, which is our youth, from the devastating effects of substance abuse. We need to make major inroads in the areas of prevention, treatment and harm reduction. We can do that by working together.
The Government of Canada has already put forward a strategy designed to achieve those goals, and that is our Canada drug strategy.
The strategy that we currently have in place seeks to ensure that Canadians and our young people, the future of our nation, can live in a society that is free of the harm associated with problematic substance abuse. This strategy takes a balanced approach to both reducing the demand for drugs and the supply of drugs. It ultimately contributes to a goal all of us here are trying to achieve, and that is a healthier, safer community and environment through prevention, enforcement, treatment and other harm reduction initiatives.
To strengthen its capacity to address the growth of drug use throughout society, in 2003 the government renewed the Canada drug strategy and bolstered its funding with a new investment of $245 million over five years for ongoing measures to address the harmful use of substances. This includes an annual investment of $9.5 million in the drug strategy communities initiatives fund for the development of national, provincial, territorial and community based projects to address substance abuse and to promote public awareness of substance abuse issues. I am sure my colleagues are aware of the benefits of this particular drug strategy community initiatives fund.
Also included in our funding of $245 million was $14 million to be provided annually to the alcohol and drug treatment and rehabilitation program which would really work toward increasing the availability of effective substance abuse treatment. Young people are a primary target of all activities flowing out of Canada's drug strategy. As a former health care provider who has worked with individuals who have taken the wrong path, joined the wrong crowd or who perhaps experimented with substance abuse, I know firsthand that many of these initiatives put forward by Canada's drug strategy have actually worked.
We can take the example of some of the several public education campaigns that have been undertaken. Several of these initiatives are directly aimed at youth. They include an interactive “Be drug wise” website which has been accessed by a number of youth throughout the country. As we know, in the era of technology and the advancement of young people, they are very in tune with everything that is going on over the Internet. This is something that has provided a tremendous benefit to our young people.
We as a government, through Health Canada, have released a “Straight Talk About Marijuana” information booklet, both for youth and their parents, to address some of the common misconceptions that the use and effects of drugs have, as well as any potential legal consequences. We have tried to ensure that we get the information out to the people to whom it matters most.
In addition, the government has spearheaded the development of a national framework for action to reduce the harms associated with alcohol, drugs and other substances in Canada. Provincial, territorial and municipal governments and agencies, NGOs and many others, especially in my community of Brampton—Springdale, are coming together to develop and implement a framework that will work and that will ensure we have safer schools, neighbourhoods and communities and, ultimately, will be a positive step toward ensuring we have a structure and a national approach for preventing the use of drugs and substances among our young people.
In the process of doing this, many stakeholders across the country are sharing information about best practices and evidence based research to ensure that we can utilize optimally our Canadian tax dollars with programs that work for the intended audiences. Children and young people, urban, suburban, first nations, Inuit, Métis, whether they are gay or lesbian, from minority communities, street youth, rural youth, youth of all ages, of all socio-economic brackets and cultural backgrounds, are front and centre in this goal to ensure we work together collectively as a team to have safe neighbourhoods and safe communities.
Communities across the country are doing their part to advance Canada's drug strategy. Many of them have benefited from financial federal support that has been provided under the initiatives fund that was established in 2004. A number of initiatives have taken place whereby the western ministers of health, justice and public safety have met to address the growing concerns around the use and production of crystal meth, which some of my colleagues spoke to earlier.
I am not suggesting that the solutions we face in addressing this huge challenge are easy but we must ensure that we work together collectively as a team within the framework we have, which is the Canada drug strategy. We also must move forward to ensure we can address the issue of drug and substance abuse among our young people. We ultimately must work together to create a safe nation by building safer neighbourhoods, schools and communities.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
November 16th, 2005 / 5:45 p.m.
Dave Batters Palliser, SK
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to speak on behalf of the residents of Palliser to Bill C-248, which is a very innovative and bold step by the member for Prince George—Peace River. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to impose minimum prison sentences of one year for a first offence and two years for a subsequent offence in cases where a person is convicted of trafficking in a controlled or restricted drug or narcotic within 500 metres of an elementary school or high school.
That sounds perfectly reasonable to me and it is perfectly reasonable to most Canadians watching this evening. The member for Prince George—Peace River clearly is concerned, as am I, and as are my colleagues the member for Wild Rose and the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. I could list every member on this side of the House. We are deeply concerned about these issues. We are concerned for our kids in Canada. That is what the bill is about, a concern for families, support for law enforcement officers and a desire to see justice in Canada and the protection of victims and in this case the would-be victims.
I have been pushing the government on the issue of rescheduling crystal meth. For many months I have pushed to have crystal meth moved from schedule III to schedule I to enable judges to impose harsher sentences on those convicted of trafficking in crystal meth. Most members and most Canadians know that crystal meth is a menace in our society. Of those who take crystal meth for the first time, 85% become addicted. It is truly a terrible threat to our communities and our citizens.
I have met with parents, young addicts, police officers, community volunteers. I have seen the effects of the drug. I have received letters from some constituents. I will not share the contents of those letters, but suffice it to say they had rivetting stories of the impact the drug has had on their family members and friends. The stories are terrible beyond words.
With this bill the member for Prince George—Peace River seeks to protect children at school. The schools need to be sanctuaries for kids. They need to be temples of learning, whether it be Peacock, Central, Vanier or Riverview collegiates in Moose Jaw or Sheldon-Williams Collegiate in Regina, or elementary schools. Sadly, some predators prey on children younger than those in grade 9. They are in our elementary schools or outside our schools. Make no mistake that those people are predators. They have not simply made a mistake. Drug dealers prey on our most vulnerable citizens, the future of this great country.
We need to have some deterrence. Many members came to the House to reform our criminal justice system. We need to have some tools. The government needs to provide some deterrence. Our laws need to provide some deterrence against this type of activity, drug dealing to children near schools. Perhaps the best way to prevent people from preying on young people near our schools is with minimum sentences, with jail time. When people are incarcerated for dealing drugs to children we know that temporarily they are not going to be dealing drugs to kids. That may be the best form of prevention.
This should be a no-brainer, but many Liberals opposite have already spoken against the bill. I was surprised to hear some of the comments by the member earlier against minimum sentences. It should be a no-brainer, but it is not really surprising given the government's record of being soft on crime. It is soft on drugs.
We have seen the government's plan to decriminalize marijuana. That is something that certainly no police officer in this country wants to see. Police realize that marijuana is a gateway drug. Someone does not simply wake up one morning and say, “I think I am going to do crack cocaine today,” or “Today is crystal meth day”. It is a gateway drug.
It is just amazing. The government just does not get it. It took many months to reschedule crystal meth and the impact on individuals and families was huge in this country. The government has not yet acted to restrict the precursors, the key ingredients for crystal meth and that needs to happen. It is not surprising though, given the government's approach to crime.
We could go on about the $2 billion gun registry. The Liberals continue to pour good money after bad into a flawed plan that has not saved one life or prevented one crime involving firearms. They are supported by the member for Toronto--Danforth and the NDP in throwing the money away instead of putting it toward front line policing, education, drug awareness and treatment. These are all critical components.
The government has not protected our children by raising the age of sexual consent to 16. It thereby passively condones adults having sex with children who are 14 years old. Again the Liberal government, which has been in power for 12 years, has not protected Canadian children from predators, which is what we are trying to do here today. Conditional sentences for serious crimes, even violent crimes, is the record of the government opposite.
The member for Prince George--Peace River said that the bill is about health, mental health, education, social welfare and the future we offer our nation's children. He realizes that education and awareness are key components of what we need to do to stamp out predators and the drug problem in our society. He said that just as it would be a recipe for failure to combat drug use in our schools without education and awareness, and relying solely upon punishment and enforcement, so too is it ineffective to educate and inform without adequate enforcement. In fact, the government's own national drug strategy called for effective enforcement, but it has to have some teeth. It cannot just be empty promises like we are accustomed to hearing.
The Minister of Health is against this legislation. The member for Prince George--Peace River went out of his way to say he wanted to make it clear to members of the House that the legislation is targeted toward adults who intentionally seek to sell drugs to children or minors. He stressed adults.
The Library of Parliament synopsis of the purposes of sentencing is comprised of seven main aspects, which include deterrence through the fear of punishment for the crime and punishments against reoffending, something that Bill C-248 certainly does address.
I said earlier that perhaps the best way to ensure that predators are not preying upon Canadian children in schools is by incarcerating them so we know that they are not out in society. A prison sentence actually enables those individuals to get some rehabilitation. We can rehabilitate individuals and certainly we are not against that, but there needs to be some deterrence. We do not have to go far to know why.
Talk to the families of those people who are affected by crystal meth. Look into their eyes. Talk to police officers and community leaders about what crystal meth is doing to our kids, to our society and the future of this country. We are at war with drug dealers in this country. Maybe it is time to start treating it like a war and take some firm steps to ensure that individuals can no longer prey upon our children.
In August the Conservative Party formed a task force on safe streets and healthy communities. This task force travelled across Canada to meet with a broad cross-section of people, including victims of crime, community workers and front line law enforcement officers. Our goal is to gain a better understanding of the emergency crime issues facing our nation. I am very proud to be part of a party that has delved into these issues.
Let us hope all members do the right thing and send this bill to committee. They should consult with their constituents. If they do not vote for it and send it to committee, they will have to explain that to their constituents.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
November 16th, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today in the House on the bill introduced by our colleague from Prince George—Peace River. Bill C-248 is interesting and raises a number of questions. It forces us to dig a little deeper in order to understand the purpose of this bill. We have some concerns.
The Bloc has no objections to this bill being referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Under the bill, every person who sells drugs within one kilometre of an elementary or a high school can be charged with an offence and, upon conviction, is liable, for a first offence, to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of one year and, for a subsequent offence, to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of two years.
We have questions about two issues. Since I was a defence lawyer for over 30 years, I want to raise at the very least a practical problem with Bill C-248.
Let us imagine that I have a client who is dealing drugs on a main street, not knowing there is a school on another street less than five hundred metres away. I am not saying it is right to deal drugs. This raises a serious question concerning mens rea . The Bloc Québécois is, of course, opposed to dealing drugs, and we cannot agree to allow illegal narcotics or other drugs to be sold without a permit. We know all the complications that can come from that.
I have a problem with this part of the bill. We will be able to debate it in committee later on, but it is obvious that a person involved in drug trafficking might, like many others, not be aware that a school is located 500 metres away. In small communities, it is quite common for a school to be located off the main street.
There is more. We are gong to have a serious problem with this bill and it merits careful study in committee. The bill sets out minimum prison sentences. I do not know where my colleagues in the Conservative party come up with this, but they turn up here regularly with demands for minimum prison sentences.
To take one case as an example, today someone appears before a Quebec court for drug trafficking, marijuana for instance, and it is a first offence. No court, except in really exceptional circumstances, will ever impose a minimum one year sentence. He would have to have sold drugs by the pound, not done petty trafficking. We need to agree, because all cases are different. In this instance, a minimum is being imposed.
I have read in detail what the Minister of Justice has written. We were provided with certain information and we have made inquiries of the Justice Department as well. It appears to us that Bill C-248 might be contrary to the underlying principle of proportionality in sentencing. If the bill gets to committee, it will need to be examined very carefully before any minimum prison sentences are imposed, particularly considering the nature of the offence. We are not talking about trafficking in heroin or cocaine here, but about just any drug.
The bill talks of any person trafficking in a controlled or restricted drug or a narcotic. So it is talking of marihuana or very small quantities, not of large quantities, pounds or kilograms. It refers to any sort of narcotic sold within five hundred metres of a school. An individual found to be guilty should be punished for a criminal act and given a minimum prison sentence.
This strikes us as very heavy. The committee will have to debate this point.
We have always wondered about certain offences. Mandatory minimum prison sentences can not only create practical problems but give rise to appeals under section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This section concerns cruel and unusual punishment.
How will the court interpret these various cases? A person selling narcotics in a hotel would be sentenced to six months' probation or a $1,000 fine, while someone selling the same type and quantity of narcotic within five hundred metres of a school would be sentenced to a minimum of a year's imprisonment. No doubt, the court would be called on to determine whether the sentence was cruel and unusual.
We think it important to raise this point now. When we examine the bill in committee, we will have to work very hard to come up with a solution. The bill's aim to make it an offence to sell narcotics near schools is a very good one. However, the minimum one-year sentence is clearly a problem. We will have to look at that.
Generally, in determining sentences for drug-related offences, the courts must take into consideration all aggravating circumstances, for instance, the sale of narcotics or substances to a person under the age of 18, or trafficking at a school, on school grounds or other public places generally frequented by minors. However, this bill does not take extenuating or aggravating circumstances into account and would encourage rigidity in the sentencing process. We feel that is one of the biggest constraints that need to reviewed in committee.
We have already discussed minimum sentences. Our Conservative friends tend to submit requests for minimum sentences regularly. With all due respect to my colleagues in the Conservative Party, I find that constantly asking for minimum sentences is the wrong approach. In that approach, the focus is more on repression than on rehabilitation. In my opinion, that is not the right solution.
We will not vote against the bill because we find the idea of condemning the sale of drugs near schools an important and interesting one. However, in committee, we will be able to discuss at greater length the type of sentence that could be imposed on a person who commits this type of offence, which we condemn, of course.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2005 / 7 p.m.
Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-248, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, trafficking in a controlled drug or substance within five hundred metres of an elementary school or a high school.
The bill would provide that every person who, within 500 metres of an elementary school or a high school, traffics in a substance included in schedules 1, 2, 3 or 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is liable to a mandatory minimum penalty of one year for a first offence and to a mandatory minimum penalty of two years for a subsequent offence.
The maximum penalties, however, were left untouched by the bill. In other words, Bill C-248 provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for trafficking in a substance included in schedules 1 and 2. The maximum penalty is 10 years where the offender traffics in a substance included in schedule 3. As for trafficking in a substance included in schedule 4, the maximum penalty is three years. Finally, an offender trafficking in a substance included in schedule 2 in an amount that does not exceed the amount set out for that substance in schedule 6, is liable for a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.
As can be understood from the penalty scheme I have just described, Bill C-248 contravenes the fundamental principle of proportionality in sentencing. This principle states that a penalty imposed on an individual must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the responsibility of the offender. This principle led to drugs being classified in specific schedules to reflect the severity of their harmful effects. Yet Bill C-248 proposes the same mandatory minimum penalties for trafficking of different drugs.
For example, a first time offender trafficking cocaine is liable to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Whereas a first time offender trafficking in barbiturates is liable to a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment. Bill C-248 proposes to punish both of these offenders with a minimum mandatory one year imprisonment for the first offence and a minimum mandatory two years imprisonment for any subsequent offence.
This is one of the reasons why I cannot support the penalty scheme that is proposed by Bill C-248. Moreover, Canada has traditionally used mandatory minimum penalties with restraint, unlike the party opposite that suggests we should use them all of the time. We prefer an individualized sentencing approach that gives the courts not only the discretion to fashion a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and to the conduct of the offender, but also the opportunity to consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
There is a wide variety of circumstances that could influence the sentencing of an offender found guilty of trafficking drugs. For example, courts have considered in such cases the offender's health, the fact the offender was on the low end of the responsibility spectrum or the fact that the offender has children and is the sole provider. Bill C-248 disregards the existence of mitigating and aggravating factors and contributes to introducing rigidity into the sentencing process.
Sometimes the use of mandatory minimum penalties can pose charter risks under section 12, the cruel and unusual punishment section. For instance, in Smith, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the mandatory minimum penalty for importing narcotics. In the opinion of the court, the mandatory minimum penalty was contrary to section 12 of the charter because it covered numerous substances of varying degrees of dangerousness and totally disregarded the quantity of the drug imported. The court also thought that mandatory minimums completely disregarded as irrelevant the purpose of a given importation and the existence or not of previous convictions for offences of a similar nature or gravity.
Research into the effectiveness of mandatory minimum penalties has shown that they do not have any obvious special deterrent or educative effect and are no more effective than other well-structured sanctions in preventing crime. This was confirmed in a comprehensive study commissioned by Justice Canada in 2001 which found that there was no correlation between crime rate and the severity of punishment.
A recent study, also commissioned by the Department of Justice, which summarizes findings from a review of sentencing arrangements in a number of western countries, found that studies that have evaluated the impact of mandatory minimum penalties found no discernible effect on crime rate.
Past experiences taught us that mandatory minimum penalties can have negative effects on the administration of our criminal justice system and that they imply significant costs for provincial and territorial correctional authorities and the Correctional Service of Canada. Research also shows that mandatory minimum penalties remove incentives for anyone to plead guilty and thereby increase trial dates, case processing times and workloads.
In conclusion, I cannot support Bill C-248 as it advances penalties that are not proportionate to the gravity of the offence and to the conduct of the offender and would deprive courts of discretion in fashioning a fit sentence by taking into account aggravating and mitigating factors.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2005 / 6:50 p.m.
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Prince George—Peace River has been a tireless advocate of judicial reform and has tabled many worthy initiatives during his many years as a member of Parliament. I might indicate that protection of children and the advancement of children's interests have always been at the top of his list. I am very proud to be associated with him in the same caucus and to work with him on these very important issues.
Therefore, I am so pleased that he had the foresight and the vision to address a very serious concern that is set out in Bill C-248. I want to congratulate him for his excellent work on this issue and I want to lend my voice of support for the bill.
I also want to note that the justice critics for the Bloc and the NDP will be recommending to their members to bring this forward at second reading. That is the responsible way to go. There are always issues with private members' bills, but if we can agree essentially on the principle, then we can get the matter into committee and work out some of those issues. We can work those out together and so I am very encouraged. Unfortunately again, we have the Liberals offside in terms of wanting to protect children.
On the issue of the age of consent, the Liberals have raised every possible reason why this country should not join the ranks of other civilized nations and increase the age of sexual consent to 16. They bring forward every single reason to ensure that sexual predators still have their way with our children. One has to wonder why that happened when there are clear mechanisms to ensure that we can protect children and yet respect our Constitution. However, the Liberal government consistently takes a negative approach.
The purpose of this bill is to impose minimum prison terms of one year for a first offence and two years for a subsequent offence in cases where a person is convicted of trafficking in a controlled or restricted drug or narcotic within 500 metres of an elementary school or high school.
I served in the provincial department of justice in Manitoba in the constitutional law branch. I eventually became the director, but I was working with another director who is now a very influential federal justice lawyer, and he was working on exactly the same issue. We were frustrated at that time with the failure of the federal government to address the issue of trafficking in schools. This is exactly the proposal that my colleague from years back came up with. There were substantive problems that we had from a division of powers position because the most natural place for this bill to be is within federal jurisdiction and under this act. We tried in many ways to see whether we could bring forward legislation.
My colleague has brought forward legislation and I am very pleased, after this many years, almost 15 years or more. The bill would create a safe place in a school. So many children simply want to go to school, get an education, and leave the problems of the street behind. Our children face tremendous problems on the street.
Children need a safe place but many teachers and principals are unable to provide that safe place because they know that the Criminal Youth Justice Act simply does not provide the penalties that are necessary. This legislation would create that small area of safe space where a child can learn without being pestered by drug dealers.
Drug dealers understand the law much better than we ever give them credit for. They follow these proceedings. They know where they can effectively sell drugs with a minimum of bother and fuss and those areas where there are problems.
On a national scale, we see the manufacturing of drugs and the growing of drugs in Canada increasing by leaps and bounds compared to the United States. Criminal organizations understand that it is easier to do business in Canada because there are virtually no penalties. In the City of Vancouver, for example, 1 in 13 drug dealers goes to prison. Compare that with the American situation where the average sentence for a grow op dealer is seven years and usually it is much higher than that. Grow op dealers and methamphetamine labs come to Canada.
On a smaller scale, and this is what my colleague is trying to address, if an area is safe because there are increased penalties, drug dealers stay away. Drug dealers keep that in mind. Perhaps we should do that on a national basis but there does not seem to be any will on the part of the government to create mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug dealers across this country.
Let us start by taking a small step to protect our children. What could be more reasonable than that? My Liberal colleagues have said that this will be very difficult. Will it be 501 meters or 499 meters? Speaking as a former crown attorney, I am prepared to take that chance. I would prove that it was within 500 feet if that was the kind of sentence available. We need to give crown attorneys and the police the tools they need and they will use them. There is an idea that if we go down this road and have mandatory minimum sentences, drug dealers will not plead guilty. Well, we would then go to trial and that is what the courts are for.
The reason drug dealers are pleading guilty today is because there are no sentences. What is the sense? Drug dealers regularly discuss with each other the best place to go to plead guilty when they are caught red-handed dealing drugs, especially major drug deals. Where do they go? They go to the province of British Columbia and try to get into a Vancouver court. The charge is waived into Vancouver by the federal Department of Justice, whether the individual is originally from New Brunswick, or Manitoba, or Saskatchewan. These dealers set up residence in British Columbia, go to court and receive a conditional sentence. They walk out of court having been told to keep the peace but there is no way to effectively enforce a conditional sentence. Dealers think B.C. is a nice place to live so they set up business.
Is it any wonder that we have somewhere in the range of 10,000 grow ops in the lower mainland of British Columbia when across the line there are three or four cases a year in the United States? The difference is in the sentencing.
What I am trying to say in this particular case is that minimum mandatory prison sentences do work. We have seen the evidence between what is happening in Canada and what is happening in the United States in terms of drug use and drug dealing.
This is a small step but it is an important step for the safety of our children. For once the Liberals should do the right thing and put the interests of children ahead of drug dealers and gunmen.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2005 / 6:35 p.m.
Richard Marceau Charlesbourg, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak on Bill C-248, introduced by our colleague from Prince George—Peace River.
It will come as no surprise to hear me begin my remarks by saying that the Bloc Québécois opposes drug use. In our opinion, all drug use, particularly that by children, is bad. We also believe that an anti-drug strategy cannot consist solely of amendments to the Criminal Code and tougher penalties. A completely different aspect, meaning prevention, education and awareness, is also extremely important.
This morning in committee, my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh used, in a completely different context, the example of drinking and driving. We can use this same example here. The substantial decrease in drinking and driving—unfortunately, it has not been stamped out entirely—is largely due to our public awareness and education campaigns. We must do the same thing with regard to drug use, and target, in particular, young people in Quebec and Canada.
There is no need for me to go back over the points raised by my colleague from Prince George—Peace River. However, it bears repeating that he would like to see a minimum prison sentence of one year for a first offence and two years for a subsequent offence in cases where a person is convicted of trafficking in a controlled or restricted drug or a narcotic within 500 metres of an elementary school or a high school.
As a father of two wonderful seven-year-old boys, I strongly support any initiative to keep drugs away from schools and places that my children may frequent either now or when they are older.
However, we do have some concerns with the bill as introduced by our colleague from Prince George—Peace River. It is not clear that the individual trafficking in narcotics, be it near a school, church, office, police station or fire station, thereby intends to set up shop there. It is possible for someone to sell drugs in a prohibited area without knowing that there is a school nearby.
I have a dandy anecdote to tell here. In 1992 an individual involved in boxing was getting ready to commit armed robbery at a doughnut shop where several police officers were taking a break, which proves that stupidity is universal.
The bill introduced by the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River does not clearly establish mens rea , or the intention to commit the crime, in other words, to sell the narcotics within some defined perimeter of a school. In the absence of mens rea , how can anyone be convicted of a criminal offence?
I hope the hon. member is listening to the elements I am raising and that he will take them into account during Bill C-248's legislative progress.
Since we are opposed to substance abuse by children and the sale of narcotics to children, and because the bill is only at second reading stage, I would say to the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River and to all the hon. members in this House that at this stage we have many reservations not only about the absence of mens rea , but also about the imposition of minimum sentences. As I have already said many times, we have nothing against the introduction of minimum sentences in bills before the House.
I introduced some into Bill C-2 on the protection of vulnerable persons. However, in this case, I am not sure this is the appropriate solution. As far as I am concerned, the absence of mens rea also prompts several reservations.
I would suggest to my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois that they nevertheless support Bill C-248 at this stage. We will refer it to committee and hear from various experts and witnesses on the aspects I have just raised and on other issues as well. I am sure my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh will also have something to add.
Let us send the bill to committee and see what can be done to fight drug trafficking—especially when it comes to children. And let us make sure that thanks to the work that will be done in committee—if the bill gets that far, as I hope it will—these problems will be resolved and the bill will be improved. I promise the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River that the Bloc will work with him to improve this bill so that it can be passed.
We will support this bill at second reading stage in order to send it to committee so that we may work on it. Depending on the changes made in committee, I will indicate at third reading whether or not we will continue to support it. I reserve the opinion of the Bloc Québécois for third reading. Nonetheless, let us send it to committee and do a good job on it.
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business
October 18th, 2005 / 6:30 p.m.
Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health
Mr. Speaker, I applaud my hon. colleague for his heartfelt desire to protect Canadian children and youth from dangerous drugs in our schoolyards. No one questions the motivation for this bill.
I can assure him that government members share his concerns about the threats posed by the rise in illegal drug use in this country. What we take issue with is the blunt tool with which he is attempting to address this problem.
Make no mistake: substance use and abuse is cause for national concern. There have been significant increases in the use of alcohol and drugs, with 44.5% of Canadians admitting in 2004 to using cannabis at least once in their lifetime, up from 28.2% a decade earlier. The numbers can be even higher among Canadian youth.
The Canadian addiction survey, published in November 2004, found that more than half of teens aged 15 to 18 reported using marijuana at least once in their lifetime. That number rose to almost 70% among those 20 to 24 years old.
Marijuana is not the only drug of choice. The proportion of Canadians reporting any illicit drug use in their lifetime rose from 28.5% in 1994 to 45% 10 years later.
Of particular concern, the number of Canadians who reported having injected drugs at some point in their life has more than doubled from 132,000 to 269,000 over that same period.
Given the direct link between intravenous drug use and a host of health and social problems, substance abuse is not only a legal challenge but an enormous health and social challenge as well.
This is a challenge that costs the Canadian economy an estimated $18.45 billion, and that is according to a 1996 survey, which is almost 10 years ago. This represents a loss of $649 to every Canadian or 2.7% of the gross domestic product. If that were adjusted to today's figure, it would of course be higher.
While it is tempting to think that tougher minimum sentences for convicted drug dealers will fix this problem, locking them up and throwing away the key is not the solution. Do not get me wrong: enforcement plays an important role in deterrence and curbing the supply of street drugs in our communities. However, a recent study commissioned by the Department of Justice reviewed sentencing arrangements in a number of western countries and found that mandatory minimum penalties had no discernible effect on the crime rate.
Of equal concern, research shows that mandatory minimum penalties remove incentives to plead guilty, which also leads to increased trial rates, case processing times and workloads.
This money would be much better spent on prevention, treatment and harm reduction, both to individuals and the community. Time and again, these approaches have proven to be more cost effective. That is why our government has adopted a balanced approach to the problem, simultaneously reducing the supply, which is the target of this bill, and the demand for drugs.
Recognizing that we need to move further and faster on both fronts, in 2003 the Government of Canada renewed Canada's drug strategy with a new investment of $245 million over five years to strengthen measures to address the growth of substance abuse.
The key objectives of the renewed strategy are to: decrease the number of young Canadians who experiment with drugs; decrease the prevalence of harmful drug use; decrease the incidence of communicable diseases related to substance abuse; increase the use of alternative criminal justice measures, recognizing that traditional approaches alone are not solving the problem; decrease the illicit drug supply and address new and emerging drug trends; and decrease avoidable health, social and economic costs.
Four pillars provide the foundation for Canada's drug strategy to advance these goals: prevention, enforcement, treatment and harm reduction. Each pillar supports a number of activities.
Let me briefly explain how activities in these areas are helping to reduce the risk that children and youth will be exposed to and experiment with drugs or, where the grips of substance abuse have already taken hold, helping these young people get their lives back on track.
We know from our effective public education campaigns to reduce tobacco use that long-term sustained prevention messaging is critical to success.
So efforts to raise awareness among children and youth of the risks and consequences of drug use are a top priority under Canada's Drug Strategy.
Public education initiatives focussing on marijuana and alcohol represent the first phase of a longer-term strategy to educate youth and parents on substance use issues.
Another goal is to encourage informed and healthy decision making among Canadian youth.
As just one example, Health Canada recently launched “Straight Talk About Marijuana”, an information booklet for parents and youth to encourage open and honest frank dialogue about the drug and its effects. This fact filled booklet is based on extensive research, public opinion research conducted by Health Canada on youth between the ages of 12 and 19 to gain a better understanding of their awareness, their attitudes, knowledge and behaviour with regard to marijuana and other substances.
In addition to the public education efforts, the drug strategy community initiatives fund provides financial support in the areas of promotion, prevention and harm reduction for initiatives that address a wide range of issues regarding problematic drug use.
Under this fund, Health Canada provides $9.5 million annually for a broad cross-section of community based projects, understanding that people closest to the problem are invariably closest to the solution. Projects are tailored to the needs of specific age groups, key issues and regions of the country.
While some projects that are funded are national in scope, the focus is on supporting approaches that communities decide will work best for them. The initiatives are delivered at the local level by front line workers.
Treatment and rehabilitation for substance use is an area of provincial and territorial responsibility. However, Health Canada plays a constructive role by providing $14 million annually under its alcohol and drug treatment and rehabilitation program to participating provinces and territories to help improve access to effective treatment and rehabilitation. Youth are key target groups in both of these areas.
I am not suggesting that the areas I have outlined are the panacea to Canada's growing drug problems, a challenge shared by countries all over the world. The Government of Canada's responses to drug problems, including both demand and supply reduction efforts, are constantly reassessed to ensure their relevance and appropriateness.
It is for precisely that reason, the lack of relevance and appropriateness, that I cannot support Bill C-248. Justice Canada has clearly delineated the many shortcomings of this bill from a legal perspective. It appears it would have little, if any, impact on reducing drug supply.
When you consider that it does not do anything to reduce demand either, it is my view that this bill does not deserve further consideration.
Accordingly, although the hon. member had good intentions in introducing this bill, it is in the interest of Canadians that I oppose it.