An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of April 16, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide for minimum penalties for serious drug offences, to increase the maximum penalty for cannabis (marihuana) production, to reschedule certain substances from Schedule III to that Act to Schedule I, and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • April 16, 2008 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

September 21st, 2011 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Delta—Richmond East
B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, the safe streets and communities act fulfills this government's commitment, as noted in the June 2011 Speech from the Throne, to reintroduce law and order legislation to combat crime and terrorism. As highlighted by the Minister of Justice, the bill is in five parts and brings together the criminal law reforms that were proposed in nine bills in the last session.

Amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are found in part 2 of the bill, from clause 39 through clause 51 inclusively. These amendments are the same as those proposed in Bill S-10, which was introduced in May 2010, passed by the Senate last December and died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved last March.

I also note that the government first introduced these amendments to address serious drug crimes as Bill C-26 in 2007 and again as Bill C-15 in 2009. We remain committed to enacting these reforms now included in the safe streets and communities act.

These amendments are not about imposing mandatory minimum sentences for all drug crimes. These amendments propose targeted, mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug crimes and ensure that those who carry out these crimes will be penalized. These amendments clearly send the message that Canadians find this type of criminal behaviour unacceptable.

A mandatory minimum sentence is the starting point for the judge's consideration of the appropriate jail term. Where a minimum sentence applies, the sentence imposed by the judge cannot be less. Presently there are no mandatory minimum penalties in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or CDSA. The CDSA provides for maximum penalties based on the prohibited activity involved as well as on the substances involved. The maximum penalty for the most serious offences involving the most dangerous drugs is life imprisonment.

The most serious drug offences in the CDSA, as measured by their maximum penalty, are trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importation and exportation and production in respect of schedule I drugs. What are those drugs? They are drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine, and schedule II drugs which are cannabis-related.

All of these offences involving Schedule I drugs are punishable by up to life imprisonment. The offence of trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking of cannabis in amounts over three kilograms is punishable by up to life imprisonment, as are the offences of importation and exportation of any amount of cannabis. The offence of producing cannabis in punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.

The least severe penalties in the CDSA for designated substances offences, up to 12 months imprisonment on summary conviction, are reserved for offences involving substances listed in schedules IV and V; that is, substances such as diazepam, or Valium, and secobarbital, Seconal. it should be noted, however, that most of the prohibited activities in the CDSA are legal if committed by someone possessing the proper licence, permit, or exemption.

There are some who do not agree with the drug-related amendments proposed in the bill. They are of the view that serious drug offences do not require a response such as that contained in this proposed legislation. However, serious drug crime is a serious problem in Canada and it requires a serious legislative approach. That is what we are bringing to this issue.

Marijuana cultivation offences have increased significantly in the past several years. According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia, my home province, in 2003 approximately 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases, or 4,514, were located in B.C. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%. Although the number of individual operations in B.C. levelled off between 2000 to 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced has increased from 19,729 kilos in 1997 to a seven year high of 79,817 kilos in 2003, due to the size and sophistication of individual operations.

Investigations by BC Hydro indicate the existence of thousands of possible marijuana grow operations. The increase in the illicit production of marijuana has occurred not just in B.C., of course, but across all of Canada.

Available RCMP data indicates a rise in synthetic drug production operations in the last 10 years. The RCMP indicates that there were 25 clandestine labs seized in 2002. In 2008, 43 clandestine labs were seized across Canada. In 2009, 45 clandestine labs were seized by various Canadian police agencies. The majority of labs seized were methamphetamine and ecstasy labs.

It is in part because of the existence of these illicit activities that the Prime Minister unveiled Canada's national anti-drug strategy in October 2007. The national anti-drug strategy provided new resources to prevent illegal drug use, including illicit drug use by young people, to treat people who had drug addictions and to fight illegal drug crime.

The strategy comprises a two-track approach, one which will be tough on drug crime and the other which will focus on drug users.

The national anti-drug strategy includes three action plans: preventing illicit drug use; treating those with illicit drug dependencies; and combatting the production and distribution of illicit drugs.

The action plan to combat the production and distribution of illicit drugs contains a number of elements, including ensuring that strong and adequate penalties are in place for serious drug crimes. It is within this context that the drug-related amendments of this bill are to be viewed. Moreover, these amendments follow through on one of this government's key priorities, which is combatting crime and making our communities safer for all Canadians.

As I have mentioned, domestic operations related to the production and distribution of marijuana and synthetic drugs have dramatically increased, resulting in a serious problem in some regions of Canada. The situation has reached such a point in some parts of Canada that law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed.

Illicit drug production can pose serious health and public safety hazards to those in or around them. They can produce environmental hazards, pose cleanup problems and endanger the lives and health of whole communities. They are lucrative businesses, and I use that term loosely, and attract a variety of organized crime groups. Huge profits are available with little risk to operators and these profits are used to finance other criminal activities.

The penalties for drug-related offences and the sentences imposed on offenders are considered by many to be too lenient and not commensurate with the level of harm imposed on communities by such operations. The reforms that the government is pursuing in this bill are meant to deal with these concerns.

As members are undoubtedly aware, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act contains a complex offence and penalty structure. Penalties depend on the nature of the prohibited activity and on the type of substance involved. The most problematic and dangerous substances are listed under schedules I and II and the most serious offences involving these substances attract the severest penalties, up to life imprisonment. As I have noted, the CDSA does not currently contain any minimum penalties. The drug-related amendments of the safe streets and communities act propose to enact such minimum penalties for specific offences.

The offences being targeted are: trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, production, importing, exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting drugs.

The drugs that would be covered are schedule I drugs, such as cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine, and schedule II drugs, such as marijuana.

The drug-related mandatory minimum penalty scheme proposed in the bill is based on the presence of specific aggravating factors, most of which are commonly present in serious drug crimes. The scheme would not apply to possession offences or to offences involving drugs such as diazepam or valium.

As I noted at the beginning of my remarks, the drug-related proposals contained in the bill reflect a tailored approach to MMPs for serious drug offences. Some further details about the targeted or tailored regime will assist hon. members in understanding the approach and supporting speedy passage of the bill, we believe.

For schedule I drugs, and that is heroine, cocaine, or methamphetamine, the bill proposes a one year minimum sentence for the majority of the serious drug offences if there are certain aggravating factors. The aggravating factors exist where: the offence is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with organized crime; the offence involved violence, or threat of violence, or weapons or a threat of the use of weapons; or the offence is committed by someone who was convicted or served a term of imprisonment for a serious drug offence in the previous 10 years. If youth are present or the offence occurs in a prison, the minimum sentence is increased to two years.

In the case of importing, exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting, the minimum sentence would be one year if the offence is committed for the purpose of trafficking or the person, while committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority or had access to an area that is restricted to authorized persons and used that access to commit the offence. The penalty will be raised to two years if the offence involves more than one kilogram of a schedule I drug. Again, these are drugs such as heroine, cocaine, or methamphetamine.

A minimum sentence of two years is provided for a production offence involving a schedule I drug. The minimum sentence for the production of schedule I drugs increases to three years where aggravating factors relating to health and safety are present. That is where: the person used real property that belonged to a third party to commit the offence; the production constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children who were in the location where the offence was committed or were in the immediate area; the production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area; or the person placed or set a trap.

For schedule II drugs, such as marijuana, cannabis resin, et cetera, the proposed mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, importing or exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting is one year if certain aggravating factors such as violence, recidivism or organized crime are present. If factors such as trafficking to youth are present, the minimum is increased to two years.

For the offence of marijuana production, the bill proposes mandatory penalties based on the number of plants involved: production of six to two hundred plants and if the plants are cultivated for the purpose of trafficking, six months; production of 201 to 500 plants, the penalty, one year; production of more than 500 plants, two years; and production of cannabis resin for the purpose of trafficking, one year. The minimum sentences for the production of schedule II drugs increases by 50% where any of the aggravating factors relating to health and safety, which I have just described, are present.

It is important to note that the drug-related proposals of the bill are not limited to creating minimum sentences. Amphetamines, as well as the date rape drug GHB and Rohypnol would be transferred from schedule III to schedule I, thereby allowing the courts to impose longer sentences for offences involving these dangerous drugs.

The maximum penalty for producing marijuana would be increased from seven to fourteen years imprisonment. That is the maximum penalty, speaking about the other end of the scale now.

Last, I wish to point out that this legislation is not just about punishing drug offenders by enhancing the sentence provisions. The proposed legislation would allow the courts, including drug treatment courts, to exempt an offender from the mandatory minimum sentence that would otherwise be imposed where the offence involved no other aggravating factors other than a previous conviction for a serious drug offence, and the offender successfully completes a treatment program.

The proposed reforms to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act also require that within five years after the coming into force of these provisions, a committee of the Senate or of this House or a committee of both places undertake a comprehensive review of these provisions and their operation, including, my friend opposite will be pleased to hear, a cost benefit analysis of the minimum sentence provisions.

It is a fundamental principle of the Canadian sentencing framework that a sentence should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The Criminal Code provides that the purpose of sentencing is to impose sanctions on offenders that are just in order to contribute to the respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society, something we all want.

Accordingly, the objectives in sentencing are to denounce unlawful conduct, deter the offenders and others from committing crimes and separate offenders from society where necessary, as well as to assist in rehabilitating offenders, have them accept responsibility for their actions and repair the very real harm that they have caused to victims or the community.

I would submit to members of the House and to Canadians in general that the proposed drug related mandatory minimum penalties contained in this bill meet these requirements. These are strong measures but they are reasonable and they are meaningful, and a meaningful response to a problem that is increasing in and plaguing our cities.

The manner in which these minimum penalties would apply is intended to ensure that they do not result in grossly disproportionate sentences being handed down.

As parliamentarians, we are this country's lawmakers. It is incumbent upon us to see that our laws provide appropriate and adequate measures to address this very serious problem.

Some members of the House may be of the view that serious drug offences do not require a response such as the one contained in the bill. However, serious drug crime is a growing problem in Canadian cities and in smaller towns, and a serious legislative response is required.

The government has made tackling crime a priority in order to make our streets and our communities safer. This bill is a reasonable, balanced and narrowly structured approach which the government is taking toward realizing this goal.

I am certain that we will have the support of the majority of the members of the House for these measures. I ask everyone to please consider them carefully.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

June 5th, 2009 / 10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue my speech on the bill. I spoke for just two minutes yesterday, so I will continue on today with the bill.

We had very knowledgeable speakers yesterday on this topic. They provided some very convincing arguments, I thought, why the bill is not a particularly good idea. I would like to cite more reasons for that being the case.

I think the bill came up through the Conservative Party process, the election process, the polling process. It probably polled the public and asked Canadians if they agreed with minimum sentences. Of course, the numbers went right off the radar and the Conservatives said we will have to bring in legislation along these lines.

Perhaps if the Conservatives had polled a focus group asking a different question, they might have received a different response. Had they looked at the reality of how mandatory minimum sentences have actually worked for 30 years in the United States and if they had looked at other aspects to this type of legislation, they might have received a different response in their polling.

For example, would they have asked people if they would support mandatory minimum sentences, if it was known that the United States was repealing its mandatory minimum sentences. California, New York, Michigan, Delaware, Massachusetts are all repealing their mandatory minimum sentences with other states considering the same.

We have a former counsel to the United States House of Representatives committee on the judiciary, Eric Sterling, who stated emphatically his decision to promote mandatory minimum sentences in the United States was probably “the greatest mistake of my entire career over 30 years in the practice of law”. What the Americans found was that the goal of the legislation to reduce drug use failed. The goal of safety in the communities failed. The goal of raising the prices of drugs and lowering the purity failed. The goal of reducing organized crime failed.

I know that we in Canada like to follow the United States, but clearly this is another example where we are totally out of step, where the Americans have tried the experiment and it has failed. Now the government for purely political and polling reasons wants to move in this area.

Let us look at what has happened under the mandatory minimum sentences in New York. We saw a dollar for dollar trade-off in increased expenditures for prisons versus higher education. That is really smart is it not, to spend money on prisons by taking away money from higher education. That is not a very smart use of taxpayers' money.

In addition, while drug use is pervasive among every social or economic group, 95% of all people incarcerated for drugs in New York were poor African Americans or Latinos.

In 1986, when the legislation was enacted, the Federal Bureau of Prisons expenditure was $862 million. Two years later, it was $1.2 billion. In 1991 it was $2.1 billion. Now the President's request for fiscal 2010 is over $6 billion.

That gives us an idea of how the expansion in prisons has developed in the United States. That is a mirror of what will happen here in Canada. At the end of the day we are going to be building a huge number of prisons. We are going to start privatizing them because that is part of the corporate ideology of the Conservative Party. It is to turn over public assets to the private sector so that it can get in the business and try to make a profit keeping people in jail. Clearly, that is a failed strategy.

Yesterday, it certainly brought out the lawyers in Parliament. We have five lawyers out of 38 members in our caucus. I heard from many lawyers yesterday and I must admit that it was a beautiful experience. They knew what they were talking about. They presented arguments and there are times when we should be listening to lawyers.

If there were ever a time, this would be one because they know the system. They understand the system and they were not all just from the NDP and the Bloc. There were members from the Liberal Party as well who spoke eloquently about this legislation. So maybe there are some lawyers over on the government side who just close their ears, close their eyes to this situation, because they are being told by their management that this is something they have to do for political purposes.

It was also pointed out yesterday that if we bring in the mandatory minimum legislation, it will bring an end to guilty pleas. Part of our system and the reason it works reasonably well at times is that people will plead guilty. When they are caught, they decide it is better just to plead guilty and be done with the charge. When we bring in legislation like this, guilty pleas will come to an end and is that something that we really want in our system? I am all in favour of tougher legislation. I am not easy on crime, but I want to see things that work and the government has brought in some pieces of crime legislation that will work. But this one in particular is one that will not work.

I want to give an example of something in Manitoba that has worked really well and that is the key here. We should be looking at dealing with issues where we can find evidence that it actually works. Winnipeg had the highest auto theft rate in Canada for a number of years. About four years ago the government auto insurer, because we have public auto insurance as they do in B.C. and Quebec, brought in a program to install immobilizers in cars. People were offered a $40 discount on their insurance if they installed immobilizers.

People did not buy in. Nothing happened. Did we conclude from that to scrap the program because it did not work? No, we took another look at it and said that offering the $40 discount was obviously not enough, but we had to solve the problem. We decided to pay for immobilizers in people's cars and we sent notices for people who drove high risk cars, and that by a certain date they had to have a free immobilizer installed. They then received the insurance reduction and guess what happened? In only two years we now, a couple of months ago, had one day where we had zero car thefts in Winnipeg.

One would think with an experience like that, other jurisdictions would come running and would want to know how we did it and would want to copy it. I would like to know why the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which is the national body dealing with insurance issues across the country, and other insurance companies would not be showing interest in that. Ontario, for example, is a very large private insurance market. Why would it not be encouraging that sort of a program? Maybe it will. Maybe we should be putting some pressure, and talking and encouraging the members to look at what happened in Manitoba, and perhaps encourage the big private insurance companies in Ontario to come out with a program like that.

Our calculations are that we took an original hit by installing the immobilizers, but we were paying out such large amounts of money for stolen vehicles, damaged vehicles, not to mention the fact that people were being killed by people who stole cars and were involved in accidents, that we were able to cut this back in a substantial way. Clearly, there is a role here for the Insurance Bureau of Canada to learn by these examples and encourage their member insurance companies to do something to encourage private insurance companies in the rest of Canada to bring in a similar type of program.

That is what the bottom line here is. Members of the Liberal Party, for whatever reasons, have decided to support this legislation and I think I know why that is, but given their druthers they would rather not.

The fact of the matter is that the members of the NDP, the members of the Bloc, and the members of the Liberal Party, in general, would prefer to support legislation where there is proof that we are going to get some results. That is the bottom line. Why would we be bringing in legislation that we know from the very beginning is not going to work?

I want to deal with some of the details of the bill. I would like to also point out, as my colleague the member for Churchill yesterday pointed out, how recreation centres are very important for getting people away from crime. We had in my constituency a community club called Kelvin community club. It had survived the Depression, so that will give us an idea of how resilient this little club was. As a matter of fact, Clara Hughes, an Olympic medallist in two sports, trained in that club and her mother lives just a few blocks from the club.

The mayor of Winnipeg, after promising not to close any community clubs, changed his mind and forced this little club to close. What they are now doing in Winnipeg, as they are in other areas, is they are developing these super centres where we have to get into our cars and drive two or three miles to get some exercise. When we grew up, there were little community clubs in our neighbourhoods. The kids could walk over to those clubs and exercise or play hockey or soccer, or whatever. They did not have to be super nice places; they were just very close to where people lived and people enjoyed them.

It is our destruction of these centres that is leading to more of the problems we see in society. We in the NDP have always said we have to deal with crime before it happens, not after it happens. Part of the program is to put money into community centres, like the Kelvin community club, to keep it going, to put money into programs to keep children active, to put money into the educational system, and to develop all sorts of programs to keep people away from activities that are going to lead them into trouble. That is a very important element in the whole area of prevention of crime rather than dealing with it afterward.

A member of the Bloc indicated yesterday that, in fact, treatment in prisons is not up to the level that it should be. If we have people in prison who were given a 36-month sentence, for example, then they should be kept there for the full 36 months, so they can finish their programs. It does not make sense to encourage people in prison to participate in programs when they end up getting out of prison halfway through the program. It is self-defeating.

So, I think we want to be tough on crime, but we want to be smart about it. We want to ensure that if we have programs and people are taking the programs then at least let them finish the programs before letting them out of prison.

Bill C-15 is an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Its enactment would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide for minimum penalties for serious drug offences, to increase the maximum penalty for cannabis marijuana production, to reschedule certain substances from schedule 3 to that act to schedule 1, and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Bill C-15 is the reincarnation of Bill C-26 from the 39th Parliament, with minor changes that would clean up the language of the bill. This is a good example why we should not be having elections every year, year and a half, because some of these bills that we are dealing with right now are going through their third Parliament. At the rate we are going, we are never going to see some of these bills finally put into law. In this particular case, I guess we do not mind. However, in some other cases, we would like to see them pass.

The bill was passed at that time, and it was referred to committee at the time of the election call.

In terms of the summary of Bill C-15, schedules 1, 2 and 3 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are the schedules that this bill deals with. They list illegal drugs in Canada that have progressively lighter punishments for possession, trafficking, obtaining, importing and exporting all illegal drugs. There are eight schedules in total.

Schedule 1 lists 18 substances and all their derivatives, which includes methamphetamines, opium and cocaine. An indictable offence for possession is punishable by a sentence not exceeding seven years. For trafficking, a person is liable to imprisonment for life.

Schedule 2 lists only cannabis, its preparations, derivatives and other similar synthetic preparations. An indictable offence for possession is punishable by a sentence not exceeding five years. For trafficking, a person is liable to imprisonment for life.

Schedule 3 lists 32 substances and includes amphetamines and drugs known as the date rape drugs. The NDP supports this particular element of the bill, as indicated by members yesterday.

The bill proposes minimum penalties for the production, possession, trafficking, importing and exporting of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs. The bill also moves the amphetamines, its 19 by-products and the date rape drugs from schedule 3 to schedule 1. Tougher penalties will be introduced for trafficking in the date rape drugs. As I said, we in the NDP certainly agree with that.

The maximum penalty for cannabis production would increase from 7 to 14 years imprisonment. Mandatory sentences are introduced for the production of even one marijuana plant: a minimum sentence of six months. I do not know how sensible that is. The legislation imposes six months imprisonment for any act of cultivation of cannabis irrespective of issues of violence and gang involvement.

In terms of marijuana, it is six months for the production of 1 to 201 marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking, and a one- to two-year mandatory prison sentence for the production and possession for the purposes of trafficking and importing and exporting.

I want to deal with what I see as an interesting aspect to this bill.

A member of the House was quoted, I believe in committee. He stated:

I suppose I will accept the representation made from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association that this bill is targeted to the so-called low-level distributor or low-level dealer. You may be correct that it may not be as effective as we would like in going after the kingpins.

That is what we should be doing.

I may accept that.

Who said that? None other than the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, the member of the Conservative Party who is proposing this bill.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

April 20th, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague across the way. He mentioned something about a committee to further look at something. I want to talk about some time that I spent with the hon. member on the justice committee in the second session of the 39th Parliament. I remember the day was March 11. Last spring the member and his colleagues, along with the Bloc Québécois, tabled a motion at justice committee that basically rendered that committee into a political stalemate where no legislation was discussed for the remainder of the spring.

The legislation that happened to be there was Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act. That legislation was never talked about because of the railroading of that motion. Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would have allowed for mandatory minimum prison sentences for people who deal drugs or who use guns in the commission of selling drugs. That motion railroaded Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct). Those are the kinds of bills that were waylaid.

Does the member honestly think that his born-again crime-fighting party, the Liberal Party of Canada, has any credibility left at all when it comes to saying the Liberals are actually going to get tough on crime? Why should Canadians trust the member and his party?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

March 27th, 2009 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate this afternoon on Bill C-15, which is an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This is similar legislation to legislation that was introduced in the last Parliament, Bill C-26, and as we know, the early call of the election ended the life of that bill. It died on the order paper. If it were as crucial as Conservatives would have us believe, I wonder why we went to that early election. They had a mandate for four years, given their own legislation, but they chose to prorogue that Parliament and go to an election. We could have dealt with this already in Parliament.

This bill, and we have heard a lot about it today, really is about establishing mandatory minimum sentences for a whole range of drug crimes. That is one of the controversial aspects of this legislation. We have heard from many folks in the debate already about the problems associated with establishing mandatory minimum sentences.

We have heard the member for Halifax explain that having one marijuana plant could lead to a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in prison under this legislation. These are the kinds of things that this bill is establishing.

There has been some conversation this afternoon about the aspect of the bill that deals with date rape drugs, and I know that currently, under the Criminal Code, date rape drugs are already treated very seriously. Inducing or administering a stupefying substance to someone is a very serious criminal offence already under the Criminal Code of Canada.

That issue kind of misses the point about this legislation. This is really about establishing mandatory minimum sentences on a whole range of drug crimes.

We know very clearly, from the experiences primarily in the United States but even some of our own, that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. They do not work to reduce drug addiction. They do not work to make our communities safer.

We can look directly to Canadian government reports, to reports from our own justice department, that talk about the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentences. In 2002 the justice department concluded that mandatory minimum sentences were least effective when it comes to drug crimes. Despite that conclusion of the justice department, we have a bill here that is entirely concerned with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

The report specifically said:

Mandatory minimum sentences do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. A variety of research methods concludes that treatment-based approaches are more cost effective than lengthy prison terms. MMS are blunt instruments that fail to distinguish between low and high-level, as well as hardcore versus transient drug dealers.

That is from the 2002 report “Mandatory Minimum Penalties: Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures”. That is advice from our own Department of Justice on the issue of mandatory minimum sentences, specifically when it comes to drug crimes. We need to pay attention to that advice.

We have seen what has been done in other jurisdictions, jurisdictions in the United States, some of which got very heavily into mandatory minimum sentences such as Michigan and California, and now they have backed away.

Michigan in particular had harsh anti-drug laws, most of them the harshest in the United States. They included quite a number of mandatory minimum sentences for almost all drug offences. In 2004 Michigan started to back away from that and repeal those provisions because it found it was not working. It was not solving the problems and it was creating other problems for that state. California has repealed mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offences. In fact, it is also now considering regulating marijuana, moving in a completely different direction from mandatory minimum sentencing.

Delaware and Massachusetts are also reviewing legislation around mandatory minimum sentences because they too have noticed that these kinds of mandatory minimum sentence regimes have not helped those states deal with the social impacts of drug use and addictions. They have not helped with the criminal aspects of the problem either.

One thing contemplated in the legislation is drug courts, and we have concerns about them. One of the problems with drug courts is that coercive treatment or mandatory treatment is often ineffective. We cannot force somebody into treatment unless they have made that personal commitment to go through that process.

Sometimes in drug courts people will agree to a treatment program as a way of avoiding jail time. That is not exactly the most effective way of going into a treatment program. People have to be there because they want to get better. They want to deal with the health implications of their addiction. It is a very difficult issue with which to deal.

We want to be careful about drug courts. There is some value in courts that have particular expertise in dealing with drug and addiction issues and those kinds of things. We want to ensure that our courts have those specialized skills. However, we have to be careful when it comes to coercing or requiring treatment. We know that is not effective.

There is also concern for our court system, for the progress of issues through our court system, clogging our court system as we deal with more mandatory minimum sentences. I want to read a quote from retired British Columbia judge, Jerry Paradis, who is a spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which is a group of law enforcement officers, some current, some retired, and some judicial and court officials who oppose drug prohibition regimes. Former Judge Paradis said:

Mandatory minimums are also a great motivator for trials, jamming up the courts. Unless a deal is struck, it is a sure bet that a charge carrying...minimum sentence will be fought tooth and nail.

We know that when people who are charged with a crime face a minimum sentence, they often want to go to trial. It reduces the number of options available to the legal system because people are facing a mandatory minimum sentence if they are convicted of that crime.

Most of our courts are in crisis. The delays are long and there is a growing concern about the course of justice in that system. We need to consider very carefully anything that further jams up our courts. There are concerns the legislation will do that as well.

We also have to be concerned about the population of our prison system. If we are talking mandatory minimum sentences, we will be putting more people in jail for longer periods of time. We have heard how half of the new mandatory minimum sentences in the legislation are two years or less, which means those who are convicted will serve time in provincial prisons. We have to wonder if the provinces are prepared for the increase in prison population, which the legislation may mean for their jurisdictions.

Getting people into prison has not always been shown as the best way of dealing with reducing crime in our society. Sometimes we have said that prisons are a great place to develop one's criminal network. It is not a great place for rehabilitation. We have to examine very carefully any legislation that will increase the population of our prisons.

A lot of the provisions, mandatory minimum sentences being on of them, are provisions that came out of the U.S.-led war on drugs. The criminal approach to dealing with addiction and drug crime has been shown to be a huge failure. As I have noted already, many jurisdictions in the United States continue to re-examine that.

We need, instead, an approach that deals with drug and addiction issues as a health issue. We need to ensure that people have available to them the medical attention and the treatment they need to deal with their addictions. If we put as many resources into that as we do into enforcement, we would see some very positive results for our society and for people who are our neighbours, friends and family members. We need to pay more attention to that.

We have heard how 73% of federal funding and funding related to the drug issue goes into enforcement work and much lower levels go into treatment, prevention and harm reduction. There is a very clear indication of the bias of the government when it comes to how to deal with issues related to drug use. I agree with others who have said that we need to turn those statistics around and ensure that we value each of those four pillars related to how to more appropriately deal with drugs and drug addiction in our society.

We need to fund the other pillars equally, as we do enforcement. The federal government has chosen to put all of its eggs in the enforcement basket and we have not seen effective returns on that expenditure.

Many people are questioning the drug prohibition regime that we are under. I want to quote from a letter that I found as I was researching this. It was written by the directing attorney of Prisoner Legal Services in the City and County of San Francisco's sheriff's office, a woman named Carol Ruth Silver. It is taken from her letter of resignation, which she tendered back on January 30 of this year. She stated:

—I have found myself having to bite my tongue in talking to some prisoners about their charges -- at least half of them with nonviolent drug charges. I find it difficult to discuss the financial or child custody problems of a prisoner, when I cannot look them in the eye and justify their being in jail. His or her incarceration is as a result of their own actions, but much more so as a result of a mistaken, unfair, and unjust set of laws which criminalize drugs in our society, based on the failed model of Prohibition of alcohol which we enacted and then repealed.

Each of such prisoners is in our jail only because of our bad politics of drug regulation. It is this set of policies which is the most direct cause of the continued excessive incarceration rates in the US.

This is an attorney working in the sheriff's office in a major United States city who could not continue in that position because of the problems that she had recognized stemmed from the regime of drug prohibition. She had to leave that position because she could no longer deal with the contradictions and the difficulties that placed her in as she tried to work in that office.

It is important to remember the history of alcohol prohibition. The United States went very seriously into alcohol prohibition back in the 1920s and 1930s and made it illegal, prohibited it, in exactly the same way that drugs are prohibited today in Canada. If we look at the history of what happened with alcohol prohibition, we will see not a close parallel but an exact parallel to what is happening in our society today with regard to drugs.

I want to give some examples that are in a report called “We Can Do It Again: Repealing Today's Failed Prohibition”, which is presented by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of law enforcement and court officials who are working on ending drug prohibition, and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation of the United States. They reviewed some of what happened under alcohol prohibition. If we go over these points, we will see the exact parallel to what is happening in our society today.

They note that sociologists who looked it in the United States noticed that alcohol became associated during the period of prohibition with a rebellious, adventurous lifestyle, which increased its desirability, especially among the young. A detrimental effect of prohibition was to increase alcohol's popularity.

They also note that alcohol, even though prohibition had been enacted, remained fully present in daily urban life and that in New York City before prohibition there were 15,000 saloons. Five years into prohibition, those saloons were replaced by as many as 32,000 underground speakeasies. There was a huge trend toward more alcohol consumption and a greater presence of alcohol in urban life after prohibition.

They further noted that when alcohol was prohibited, the alcohol that was available was in its most concentrated and potent form, a natural result of the costs involved in smuggling and concealing it.

They note that beer and wine were largely replaced by liquor in illegal speakeasies because of this trend. We have seen exactly that same trend with regard to drugs in our society. More potent drugs are more available now, directly as a result of these policies.

They note that under prohibition, providing liquor to meet the public demand required industrial scale production and distribution, and it was enormously profitable. The inevitable result was the creation of modern organized crime syndicates.

They also note that the Great Depression made things even worse as people looked for ways to replace lost income and lost jobs. They actually found employment with alcohol smugglers.

They note that under alcohol prohibition, the homicide rate reached unprecedented levels, as gangsters struggled for control of the very lucrative alcohol market by killing each other, police officers and any innocent citizen who stood in the way of their immense untaxed profits.

There could be no greater example or parallel than exactly what is happening in Vancouver today. I think 38 people have been shot as a result of the gang drug wars and approximately 17 people have been killed as a result of that.

The period of alcohol prohibition actually led to increased violence, increased organized crime activity and gang activity. We see exactly that same trend today.

They also note that public health suffered during the period of alcohol prohibition. In New York City, alone, there was a 525% increase in deaths related to alcoholism and alcohol poisonings during the first six years of prohibition because there was no oversight of the manufacture of alcohol. Bathtub gin, for instance, was often very dangerous and often blinded or killed people who imbibed. We have seen exactly the same thing with the bad drugs that are on our streets today during this period of drug prohibition.

They make the point that courts were clogged with alcohol prohibition related offences back during the period of alcohol prohibition in the United States. They also note that public respect for the rule of the law suffered greatly because the court process was slowed down and because there was such widespread disrespect for the law on alcohol prohibition. It had further ramifications about people's respect for the whole legal system. We have seen that in Canada as a result of our drug prohibition policies.

Finally, the report concludes that during the period of alcohol prohibition in the United States, vital services and programs had to be cut because, in addition to the expensive costs of prohibition enforcement, government budgets were deprived of tax revenue from alcohol sales, from alcohol industry workers' salaries, and the properties where alcohol was produced, stored and consumed.

Because the alcohol industry was underground, it was not taxed and it affected government revenues in a serious way, a way that would have assisted in dealing with some of the social problems that can normally be associated with alcohol. We see that today in our society with regard to drug prohibition issues.

Concerns about drug prohibition and ending drug prohibition are not way out there. The Fraser Institute, a fairly conservative think tank in Vancouver, back in 2001 called for an end to drug prohibition. It was said in very strong terms. It did not mince words about how inappropriate and costly this continued approach was to our society.

Also, the Health Officers' Council of British Columbia has called for a major social initiative around coming up with better drug regulation policies. We are not talking about removing all drug regulations. We know there still needs to be a regulatory regime in place, but an appropriate one. The health officers of British Columbia have also raised concerns about drug prohibition as a strict policy and have said that we need to face the health implications and get on with coming with a better regulatory regime in Canada. I do not believe the bill is a step in that direction, which is the way we should go.

I look forward to seeing our society fully engage in that kind of process in the very near future. The time when we should be working on these issues in a very serious way has passed.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

moved that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak to Bill C-15 today.

Members will recall that, in November 2007, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-26, which proposed a number of mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that appropriately high sentences are imposed on those who commit serious drug offences. This bill reintroduces those same provisions.

As we all know, the Prime Minister unveiled Canada's new national anti-drug strategy in October 2007. The national anti-drug strategy provides funding to prevent the consumption of illegal drugs, particularly among young people, to treat addictions and to fight drug-related crime.

This strategy has a two-pronged approach: the first focuses on a tougher response to drug-related crime and the second on victims.

The national anti-drug strategy includes three action plans: preventing the consumption of illegal drugs, treating addictions, and tackling the production and distribution of illegal drugs.

The action plan to fight the production and distribution of illegal drugs contains a number of elements, including sufficiently severe penalties for serious drug-related offences.

That is part of the context in which this bill should be seen. It takes action on one of the government’s major priorities, which is to attack crime, and especially organized crime.

The purpose of this bill is not to provide minimum obligatory penalties for all drug-related offences. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is quite complex when it comes to various offences and punishments. The punishment depends on both the kind of crime committed and the substance involved. The most dangerous substances that cause the greatest problems, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine, are included in schedule I of the act, and crimes related to them attract the most severe penalties, up to life imprisonment.

Cannabis and related substances are included in schedule II. Crimes involving them attract less severe penalties. In the case of trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, sentences of up to life imprisonment are only imposed in regard to quantities of at least three kilograms. Production of cannabis is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The least severe penalties of a maximum of 12 months in prison upon summary conviction are reserved for crimes involving substances listed in schedules IV and V. It should be noted, however, that most of the activities forbidden by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are legal if the person involved has the necessary licence, permit or exemption.

For example, the marijuana medical access regulations, which took effect on July 30, 2001, provide a complete procedure for people who suffer from certain health problems to apply for a permit to possess or cultivate marijuana for medicinal reasons with the approval of their physician or, in some cases, of a specialist. The number of plants that an authorized person is entitled to cultivate is based on a formula related to the amount of dried marijuana the person needs every day.

Some hon. members might think it is unnecessary to provide for minimum penalties like those in the bill in order to punish serious drug-related offences. However, these crimes are a growing problem in Canadian cities and stricter legislation is absolutely necessary.

We should remember as well that the security of Canadians is one of our government’s highest priorities. Their security is threatened by organized crime groups involved in the production and trafficking of drugs. These activities lead to increased crime, violence and danger to law enforcement officers.

Drug trafficking and production are also the largest sources of illicit money for organized crime groups.

Profits from the sale of drugs, estimated to be in the billions of dollars per year in Canada, are used to finance a host of other criminal activities.

According to the Statistics Canada Juristat bulletin entitled “Crime Statistics in Canada, 2004”, offences related to the cultivation of marijuana more than doubled during the last decade, going from approximately 3,400 in 1994 to 8,000 in 2004. According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia, approximately 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases were located in B.C. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%. Even though the number of marijuana grow operations in British Columbia stabilized between 2000 and 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced went from 19,720 kilograms in 1997 to 79,817 kilograms in 2003—a seven-year record—because of the size and proficiency of the operations.

Investigations by British Columbia Hydro revealed that at a certain point there may have been up to 17,000 marijuana grow operations. The increase in illegal marijuana production activities did not occur only in British Columbia, but everywhere in Canada. Even though we have no national data on the production of synthetic drugs, RCMP data indicate a constant increase in production operations. The RCMP carried out seizures in 25 synthetic drug production operations in 2002, in 51 operations in 2003, 60 in 2004, and 53 in 2005. Of these 60 seizures in 2004, 17 involved ecstasy production and 40, methamphetamine production. Of the 53 seizures in 2005, 60% involved methamphetamine production operations and 30% involved ecstasy production operations. The seizures of ecstasy and its components went from 1.5 million tablets in 2001 to more than 70 million tablets in 2006.

Illegal drug use can hurt us all. We are seeing that when it comes to methamphetamine producers and users. Unlike better-known drugs—heroin, cocaine, and marijuana—methamphetamine presents unique challenges. Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. Its production does not involve crop cultivation. In fact, one needs no special knowledge or training to produce it, and the chemical ingredients are relatively cheap and easy to obtain. As a result, the production of this drug is attractive to both pushers and addicts.

Methamphetamine also poses a threat to enforcement authorities, which have to fight both small, secret labs and huge labs controlled by drug-trafficking organizations.

The small labs produce relatively small amounts of methamphetamine and are generally not affiliated with major drug trafficking organizations. A number of factors have served as catalysts for the spread of small labs, including easy access to recipes on the Internet. Indeed, widespread Internet usage has facilitated the dissemination of technology used to manufacture methamphetamine in small labs. This form of information sharing allows wide dissemination of these techniques to anyone with computer access.

Aside from marijuana, methamphetamine is the only widely used illegal drug that users can make themselves. Given the relative ease with which manufacturers or cooks can acquire recipes and ingredients, and the unsophisticated nature of the production process, it is easy to see why this highly addictive drug is spreading.

Methamphetamine production operations also pose serious public safety and health hazards to those in and around them. These operations can result in serious physical injury from explosions, fires, chemical burns and toxic fumes. They produce environmental hazards, pose cleanup problems and endanger the lives and health of community residents.

The collateral damage caused by methamphetamine includes impacts on families, school staff, students, law enforcers, fire fighters, paramedics, health care practitioners, businesses and property owners. These individuals suffer indirectly from meth use.

First responders may be exposed to production byproducts—the danger of fire or explosion—and may be the target of violence and aggression from addicts.

Communities in general may be exposed to violence, property damage, identity theft, decreased public safety, contamination of public areas from the disposal of cooking byproducts, and an unreliable or decreased workforce that impedes the safety of co-workers.

As you can see, Mr. Speaker, the use and production of illicit drugs can have serious adverse consequences for users, producers, families, law enforcement agencies, first responders and the community.

It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to make the laws in Canada, and we must ensure that those laws provide for appropriate measures to address serious problems. And make no mistake, drug use in Canada is a very serious problem. Some aspects of the situation have grown worse in recent years, and it is our duty to act in the face of this growing threat.

In response to the dangers posed by increased production and the worsening drug problem, the government introduced this bill, which proposes mandatory minimum penalties for those who produce and sell this drug.

The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act do more than just impose minimum penalties. The bill contains a provision that would enable certain offenders who ordinarily would be subject to mandatory minimum penalties to take part in a program given by what is called a drug treatment court.

A drug treatment court is a substance abuse intervention model that operates within the criminal justice system. Drug treatment courts provide judicially supervised treatment in lieu of incarcerating individuals who have a substance use problem that is related to their criminal activities, for example, drug related offences such as drug possession, use or non-commercial trafficking and/or property offences committed to support their drug use, such as theft or shoplifting.

Individuals may need to meet other requirements specific to individual courts or court systems to be deemed eligible for admission. Eligible accused persons must choose between the drug treatment court program and traditional criminal justice process, which can result in various dispositions ranging from fines to incarceration.

Typically, formal admission into a drug treatment court program requires the individual to plead guilty to his or her charges. If an individual fails to comply or participate in all aspects of the drug treatment court program, consequences range from an official reprimand or revocation of bail to termination of the program and the handing down of custodial or community supervision sentences.

Although a drug treatment court program is applicable only when eligible offenders choose it and give their consent, drug treatment courts constitute a form of coercive treatment. A well designed and properly implemented drug treatment court model has a number of key facets. The first is early identification of those who meet the program eligibility criteria and early treatment. Second, it includes access to several types of programs that treat the offender's problems with substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs, and mental health issues.

Third, there is extensive ongoing judicial contact with each participant. Fourth, there must be intensive supervision and drug testing to monitor and ensure abstinence from all intoxicants, coupled with positive reinforcement for compliance and sanctions for non-compliance. Fifth, a partnership is needed between drug treatment courts and community based organizations in order to improve program effectiveness. Sixth, there must be continuing education for those involved in the field, in order to improve the program's effectiveness. Seventh, a non-adversarial approach must be used in the court system to ensure both public safety and the rights of program participants. Eighth and last, comprehensive evaluation will monitor program objectives and measure effectiveness.

Compared to traditional criminal justice approaches, the intent of a drug treatment court is to permit motivated clients to avoid incarceration and other sanctions and to allow them access to treatment services more quickly due to dedicated resources. It is also to encourage clients to remain in treatment until completed, through intensive and frequent monitoring and supervision by the court.

Participating in a drug treatment court program is intensive and demanding. It includes court attendance up to twice a week, random urine testing, and attendance and treatment from daily to weekly as clients progress through the program. Although some participants start treatment in a facility, they all attend outpatient programs.

At some sites there is a primary treatment provider, whereas at other sites various community agencies deliver treatments. The drug treatment court team follows the client's progress closely. There are preliminary meetings set up to detect problems and find possible solutions to difficulties, to client relapse and to non-compliance. Coming before the court enables the client to inform it of his progress, and for it to reinforce compliance and progress made, and to sanction non-compliance or set new conditions or interventions with a view to helping the client break out of the crime-dependence cycle.

The drug treatment court programs show great promise and their results will be monitored. This important bill has been drafted in such a way as to not have any impact on treatment programs.

Canadians are calling for the criminal law system to set proper penalties for the commission of drug-related crimes. This bill responds to that desire and will provide for severe but fair minimum sentences.

Extension of Sitting Hours
Routine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad that the hon. member raised the question about the justice committee. At the justice committee, the meetings have not been adjourned by the Conservative chair. It is the Liberal vice-chair who has refused to call votes and who has adjourned the meetings. It is not the Conservative chair, so the fault lies there.

The Liberals do not want to conduct the business there either. The only motion they are willing to consider is one that has nothing to do with legislation whatsoever. They wish to have another one of their side show legislative committee inquiry Star Chambers.

However, in the process what bills do those members not want to deal with? What bills are they obstructing? They obstructing Bill C-25, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which is long overdue, something which Canadians want to have dealt with, something that was referred to the committee. They want to study something else instead. There is Bill C-26, drug penalties, which has been there for some time and something with which Canadians want dealt. They would rather study something else instead of that. There is Bill C-27, identity theft, again is other legislation. Three items of legislation are before that committee. We would like to see them out of that committee and into the House so we can pass sit.

Guess what? The opposition parties, in their ongoing campaign to delay and obstruct our justice agenda, our getting tough on crime agenda, continue to find excuses to delay that, including having their Liberal vice-chair adjourn every meeting and not allow it to proceed on to the important business of that legislation. That is the problem. It is that kind of delay and obstruction that resulted in over 1,400 total delays to our justice bills in the first session of Parliament.

It is those kinds of delay and obstruction tactics that make it necessary for us to seek the kind of permission, which the rules contemplate, for additional hours because we have a tremendous amount of work to do, a very full legislative agenda. It just seems that some do not want to show up to do that work.

June 5th, 2008 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

The committee has not had a formal meeting since March 11 where any legislation has been discussed. We have Bill C-27, Bill C-25, Bill C-26, not to mention the number of private members' bills. Before March 11 the committee had been meeting extra hours just to get through the legislative backlog.

May 29th, 2008 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Thank you, Minister Clement, for appearing here today. I've listened to your presentation carefully, and in fact I've followed every public utterance I could find that you've made. This issue of what's going on in the downtown eastside is very dear to my heart.

There are a number of comments I'd like to make. I think what's really at the heart of this debate, what is disturbing to me and a growing number of people in Canada, is how the Minister of Health makes a decision based on public policy. You have said that it's a difficult decision to make. But what's at the heart of this debate is how you as the Minister of Health make a decision about whether or not Insite continues and how you respond to the recent court case.

I find this very disturbing. On the one hand, you have continually said that you are seeking more information, that you want more studies. Even today in your presentation you have said that you'll be looking for new evidence or new assessments. On the other hand, you are asking the Minister of Justice to appeal the important decision that was made on Monday in the B.C. Supreme Court. Moreover, the so-called anti-drug strategy that your government brought in has clearly dropped harm reduction. Now you're trying to say that harm reduction is part of the other three pillars, but it was clear what the continuum was. I don't think anybody doubts that the government consciously dropped harm reduction. That's being cut out of your program. When we look at Bill C-26, which brings in mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes, we can that see the direction you are going in is enforcement. That's where the priority is.

I think we face a very serious situation. As the Minister of Health, you are in effect denying all of the research that has been done. I don't think it's acceptable that a minister should be able to cherry-pick one police officer or one study that wasn't even peer-reviewed.

Yes, there are diverse opinions, but your job as the minister is to weigh up all of the evidence, just as Justice Pitfield did, who is actually a conservative judge. I find this very disturbing. It raises questions about how the government is making public policy decisions.

Second, I think it is problematic when things are presented as either/or. Somehow if you're for harm reduction, you're against treatment. No one is saying that treatment is not a critical part of the solution. We need more treatment. But as we heard earlier today, to have low-threshold programs that draw in chronic and hard-to-reach users is a critical public health policy. I don't understand why you don't get that. I really don't.

The only conclusion I'm left with is that it has to do with an ideological agenda that you cannot deviate from. The research would show us that engagement at the street level leading to other interventions—treatment, detox long term—is part of the continuum. So I can't understand why you don't intellectually understand this.

The four-pillar approach that was begun in Vancouver was a bottom-up approach. It's quite concerning that a government would refute all of the work that's gone on at both the local and provincial levels. We now have everybody on board with this in B.C. and across the country. You're now the last remaining barrier to Insite's continuation.

I have two questions for you. Even if treatment were available to everybody who needed it, the most extensive programs, we'd still probably be capturing only 10% to 20% of the people who need it. What is the obligation for the remaining 80%?

The World Health Organization has guidelines that make it clear that, as public health policy, we have a responsibility to keep people free of disease and to keep them healthy. That's what Insite and harm reduction programs are partly about.

Are you not abandoning your responsibility under the WHO guidelines as the Minister of Health? Even if you're putting everything you can into treatment, you're still leaving a lot of people outside the loop, particularly those people who are very difficult to reach.

My second question is this. What is your understanding of low-threshold services? I'll stay away from the term “harm reduction” because it's like a big, red flag at this point. But what is your understanding, as the Minister of Health, of low-threshold services, and what is your government doing to provide those kinds of important low-threshold services to this drug-user population?

Criminal Code
Government Business

April 18th, 2008 / 1 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member and I have different perspectives on the legislation.

This bill is overkill. No one here is disputing the fact that Canadians want to experience safety, that they want to go to bed at night and not worry about a number of things. There is no evidence that anything in the bill would make us safer. On the contrary. We could make some strong arguments that the purview of the bill and what it represents would create a global community so focused on incredible security measures that it fosters greater destabilization.

What is security? Security is being safe. Security is about having enough food to eat every day. Security is having a roof over one's head. These are also basic forms of security.

Where I depart from the member is the Conservative government has an obsession with legislation that is focused on a law and order approach, that everything will be solved by some new little boutique bill or a big bill such as Bill C-26 on mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and that this somehow will answer all the problems in our society.

There is a fundamental difference in what I am speaking about and what the member is speaking about, but I certainly respect his opinion.

With respect to Maher Arar, I do not care whether it was the previous government or the Conservative government, but it happened in our country and we all bear responsibility for what happened to him. I am glad there finally was an apology. However, if we do not understand what happened and if we are unable to link it back to this bill and how we have dismissed the liberties of people and have taken away the due process of law, then what have we learned? That is the question I put forward.

This is why NDP members cannot support the legislation.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

April 17th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, in last fall's throne speech, our government presented five clear truths to Canadians.

We said we would get tough on crime, maintain our prosperous and vibrant economy, improve the environment and health of Canadians, strengthen our federation and restore Canada's place in the world. Over the past few months we have made significant progress in all of these areas with lowering taxes and debt, extending the military mission in Afghanistan, and passing the Tackling Violent Crime Act to get tough on crime.

This week is indeed stronger justice system week. We have been successful so far in moving forward on our plan to tackle violent crime with Bill C-31, a bill to amend the Judges Act which has been sent to the Senate, and Bill C-26, our anti-drug law which passed second reading.

However, we will not rest on our laurels. Today and tomorrow we will wrap up our stronger justice system week by hopefully returning our bill on criminal procedure, Bill C-13, to the Senate. We also hope to debate our bill to reinstate modified provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act, Bill S-3, as well as Bill C-45, dealing with our military justice system.

Next week's theme is “putting voters first” because MPs will be returning to their ridings to consult Canadians in their communities.

The following week, we will be examining another priority: “improving the environment and health of Canadians”.

As members already know, our environmental plan announced in the throne speech was adopted by the House last fall.

There is, however, more to be done. We will start by debating Bill C-33. This bill requires that by 2010, 5% of gasoline, and by 2012, 2% of diesel and home heating oil be comprised of renewable fuels. This bill will help reduce greenhouse gases and represents an important part of our legislative plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.

In addition, we will begin debate on two very important bills concerning food safety and consumer and health products in Canada, namely Bill C-51 to modernize the Food and Drugs Act and Bill C-52to establish An Act respecting the safety of consumer products.

Taking together, these two bills represent an extraordinarily tough and thoroughly new approach to consumer safety. I hope that the opposition will work with the government to ensure these pass through the legislative process in a quick and timely fashion.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

April 16th, 2008 / 6 p.m.
See context

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading of Bill C-26.

The Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip now has the floor.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

April 16th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

That is right, Mr. Speaker. As I said, we have a number of under-resourced programs with well-meaning professionals who are trying to provide the support, advice, treatment and counselling that is necessary, but they are unable to access resources anywhere.

I spoke of Mr. Willard Pine, the aboriginal elder in my community, who s trying to provide support. He said that he could provide all kinds of support if he only had the resources to give the people who came to him what they needed, for example, the kind of housing they so they could get their lives back on track and begin to participate.

To crank up the criminal justice system and to think that minimum mandatories will make any kind of dent in the huge challenge of trying to ensure everybody who calls themselves a Canadian citizen has the wherewithal to make a decent life for themselves will not be done with Bill C-26.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

April 16th, 2008 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put on the record a few thoughts that might differ somewhat from those of the previous speaker. I do not necessarily think that simply getting tougher when it comes to these kinds of behaviour and simply providing for minimum mandatory sentences is actually going to do the trick. I do not think that is actually going to respond to what everyone knows is a serious, complicated and difficult challenge confronting us, our communities, our families and people who are trying to live ordinary lives by going to work and looking after themselves.

On this side of the House we are not saying that there is not a problem, but it is a question of how we define that problem and how it is we go about trying to fix it.

We look across the border and into the backyard of our neighbour, the United States, and we see the results of the war on drugs that has been playing out there. There are very mixed results, most of which from what I have read are not as positive and as substantial as one would expect, given the focus that has been on that tact.

Will the approach in Bill C-26 fix this problem? On the one hand, yes, Canada has an underworld, a crime scene that benefits the availability and the trafficking in illicit drugs. On the other hand, we have communities of people who are affected by this and get themselves mixed up in it for a myriad of reasons, not simply because they want to do drugs. There are other approaches that would better respond to some of the very difficult challenges that oftentimes are the forces behind people who find themselves engaged in a behaviour that is not in their best interest or supportive of their health and well-being.

Recently I went to Calgary on a poverty tour. That city is the epitome of the new economy that is growing in this country, an economy that is driven by big oil and big gas. I remember discovering at the bottom of the huge buildings this terrible culture of poor people who cannot find housing.

I spent some hours one evening in one of the big shelters that has been put in place to try in some small part to deal with this problem. In Calgary on any given night, there are some 3,500 to 4,000 people sleeping on the streets, while the city of Calgary, recognizing that it has a problem, is passing laws to make it illegal for them to sleep in places that might be available to them.

In Calgary, there are people who have risen to the challenge and are providing some beds and shelter for folks. They are providing enough shelter for some 1,500, and on a really cold night when parked and idling buses are used, perhaps there is enough shelter for 1,600 or 1,700, but this leaves over 2,000 people still looking for a place to protect themselves from the cold, looking for a place to get a meal so that they have the sustenance to survive the next day.

When I was there I watched one shelter bed down some 1,200 people on gym mats. Many of those people are struggling with addictions. Many of them are struggling with mental health issues.

A significant number of young people went out there because they were attracted by the new economy and jobs about which everybody had talked. Some found work, but did not find a place to live and sleep. There was no housing.

What I discovered later on in the evening was some of those folks, in their attempt to deal with the very difficult and often frightening situation in which they found themselves, to deal with hunger after a day of snacking on food that was neither sustaining nor nutritious and to deal with some very severe weather, had turned to drugs. I am told that with crack and crystal meth, which is the drug of choice, they would not feel the cold or hunger and they would not be afraid.

Is the answer to this situation to bring in harsher penalties in the criminal court system, or is it to deal with these folks and invest in programs of harm and risk reduction, treatment and counselling? Maybe it is like missing the nose on one's face, but would it not make sense for the government to take some of the energy and effort that it puts into this place and begin to invest in housing, ensuring that people have decent, affordable and safe housing, as suggested by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities? It seems every other week the government brings in yet another tough crime bill to deal with social, societal and community issues and the failures of communities. If people have this housing, they can then cook for themselves. Maybe they can get some training and get into a job. Would that not make more sense? It certainly does to me.

If we are going to try to deal with particularly the real victims of an industry that is out of control at the moment, this it is the kind of thing one might want to do. In my community, as the member from London just suggested, we have a number of agencies trying desperately to respond to difficulties, to the needs of citizens, of brothers and sisters and of family members who need some help with all kinds of issues. Those issues ultimately may lead to them to abusing or misusing drugs to survive from one day to the next. It would make more sense to spend money on those issues rather than the way it is spent now.

My staff has told me that Canada is spending 73% of its drug policy budget on enforcement rather than putting money into treatment, where we spend 14%. We spend 7% on research on some of these issues. We spend the least amount on prevention and harm reduction.

From talking to people in my community of Sault Ste. Marie, for example, we have a program run out of the Indian Friendship Centre. Willard Pine, an elder, spends hours and puts in all kinds of effort into working with people who find themselves and their families caught up in addictions of one sort or another. He told me that if he had the resources to bring in more people and to build a better program, he could save more people. He said that he could get more people back on the straight and narrow and into housing and training programs. After that, he could get them into the workplace. They could then look after themselves and contribute in the way that we know they want to. When we sit down and talk with them heart-to-heart, we know they want to do that.

I am not suggesting for a second that we do not have a big problem and that we do not have challenges in our communities. However, we have ways we could be responding that would be more effective than simply cranking up the criminal justice system, putting in harsher penalties and ensuring that anyone who would come before the courts would find themselves in jail longer, which is what this will do.

There is really no proof that mandatory minimums are effective and appropriate measures to reduce drug use and crimes related to drugs. Most evidence shows the opposite. Bill C-26 does not address the core issue of why people use drugs which is what I was just saying.

Bill C-26 would increase the imbalanced and over-funded enforcement approaches to drug use in Canada without reducing crime rates or drug use. It would abandon successful measures such as harm reduction and grassroots education programs. It would move toward the expense of a failed U.S. style war on drugs, which spends tens of billions a year on enforcement and incarceration while crime rates and drug use soar. It would lead to greater incarceration rates and greater burden on the courts.

I suggest there are other approaches. They may take more creativity and effort on behalf of all of us, but if we put our efforts and our resources behind those kinds of treatment, harm reduction and prevention, I believe we would be further ahead than the result of Bill C-26 will provide to us.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

April 16th, 2008 / 3:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to provide some input into Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

Some years ago, I was the chair of a health subcommittee looking at the time at what I think was Bill C-7, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That particular act dealt with very similar things, such as the scheduling of various drug categories, sentencing, and the concerns that had been expressed by the Americans and other countries about the transborder point that Canada provided for other countries to get drugs into the United States and Mexico.

It took about two years before there could be some resolution of this subcommittee within the health committee to come to some understanding about what we could do to curtail the flow of drugs and get Canada out of the situation where it was clearly shown to be a transshipment point for drugs into other countries.

During that time, I recall hearing from a large number of witnesses, including the policing authorities, medical and health experts and some of the advocacy groups dealing with NGOs. These arguments were made then, back in 1995.

As a matter of fact, at the time I gave my speech in the House at third reading, the lead speaker could still give a 40 minute speech. I gave a 40 minute speech on this issue and still was not able to fully cover all of the thoughts that I thought should be put on the table for the benefit of members so they could simply understand the forces involved with the whole issue of drugs. It is, as I found, extremely easy to make argument one way or the other depending on the examples one uses.

When I looked at this bill I thought it had to be looked at in terms of the specificities. There are recommendations for a basic toughening up of the penalty regime with regard to certain offences. If we talk about that in generalities, we could make a very good, long speech about the pros and cons.

However, let us look at the specific provisions. I would like to just mention them. The first one is a one year mandatory prison sentence to be imposed for dealing drugs, such as marijuana, when carried out for organized crime purposes or when a weapon or violence is involved.

If we discuss that scenario alone, I have a feeling that people are going to have some difficulty arguing that there should not be some sort of penalty regime in place because of the seriousness, the nature and the description of the offence, and the potential for that being involved in other things. Therefore, a one year mandatory prison sentence with regard to dealing drugs carried out for organized crime purposes, or when a weapon or violence is involved, is not draconian in my view. It is a responsible approach to a serious situation.

In fact, back in 1995 when we dealt with this, it was a big stretch, a big hurdle, because people were asking why we would want to get involved in this. We talked about all kinds of issues and there were all kinds of debates, because nobody was really being hurt, it was only small drugs, only marijuana or something like that.

However, in the years since we have been dealing with criminal justice issues, particularly as they relate to drugs and organized crime, we have become more and more sensitive to the fact that there are consequential implications to drug activity and organized crime: innocent people do in fact get hurt; communities become less safe; the economy suffers; and moneys from these illicit activities get involved in other illicit activities. This is a cycle that is continuing to undermine the value system within our society and the principles within our justice system, which continue to be eroded and nibbled away at simply by ignoring the realities within our communities.

I do not think anybody here should be worried about being painted as someone who is trying to throw in jail all people who commit crimes, but rather, are there the tools?

I am a big believer in judicial independence. We want to give the latitude to judges because every case has to be looked at on a case by case basis. I am sure if we talk to most Canadians about the issue of selling drugs and the relation to organized crime activities in the context of using weapons and violence with that activity, I think it makes some reasonable sense in the context of the values of Canadians.

Another item of change in the penalty regime is a two year mandatory prison sentence to be imposed for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamines to youth, or dealing those drugs near a school or an area frequented by youth. There are a couple more drugs, but ostensibly we are dealing with the most serious of drugs. This involves some fairly bad people, those who are selling these drugs and targeting our youth, the vulnerable in our society who often, for whatever reason, are under a fair bit of pressure, maybe a little rebellious but they think it is cool. There are people who take advantage of the weak in our society. That is the approach to take in looking at these things, that for those who prey on the weak in our society, whether they be young people, whether they be seniors, whether they be the disabled, whether they be the mentally challenged, when people in our society take advantage of those who are unable to protect their own interests, we need to deal with it.

We are talking about drug dealers dealing in hard drugs, bad drugs, for criminal purposes. Again it is a two year mandatory minimum prison sentence. Going to jail is a serious issue and two years is not an insignificant amount of time. I think of Brenda Martin right now who for over two years has been in a Mexican jail simply waiting for a disposition of her case.

Sometimes in the criminal justice system things take a long time. I would think that Canadians would certainly want to look very carefully at and be very supportive of mandatory prison sentences when hard drugs are being peddled to those who are unable to make wise decisions.

There is also a two year mandatory prison sentence being proposed for the offence of running a large marijuana grow operation of at least 500 plants. Most members have familiarized themselves with the problems of grow ops. In my own community of Mississauga, a number of these places have been found. They are not just bad people who are growing marijuana and making lots of money. What they are doing is fronting their operations with people who are desperate for some money. They are fronting it with people who have no idea about the laws, but they are there because they are being taken advantage of. They are put at risk. The real tragedy is that the people who are really behind these operations are getting the money out of these operations and are using that money to finance other illicit operations.

Grow ops are a significant problem in Canadian society. I doubt that there is going to be any disagreement, no matter which party it is in this place, that a two year mandatory prison sentence for those responsible for these large grow houses is appropriate.

There is a further penalty proposed, a maximum penalty for cannabis production. It would increase from seven to fourteen years' imprisonment. I have no doubt that there will be a lot of discussion about marijuana. I remember at the hearings that we had, people were giving us evidence that today's marijuana, compared to when I was in university around 1970, is 10 times stronger, simply because of the growing techniques and the ability to adjust the THC content, the tetrahydrocannabinol content. They can play around with those things.

I doubt this debate will ever cease. There will always be people who simply associate marijuana with a recreational drug: harm reduction, who cares, nobody really gets hurt. Well, I am pretty sure that those people who sell marijuana are also peddling other very dangerous and serious drugs. This takes a lot of looking at and I certainly would like to hear more from members about their views.

Finally, tougher penalties are proposed to be introduced for trafficking GHB and flunitrazepam, commonly known as date rape drugs. Day after day we hear about incidents. Again, we are talking about people who are taking advantage of other human beings for their own selfish purposes and they are breaking the law.

It is not just a cliché to say that we want to be tough on them. We want the justice system to be fair and strong. We want to make absolutely sure Canadians understand that the protection of their rights and freedoms is something that this Parliament will continue to work for. Bill C-26 makes a significant contribution in giving Canadians those assurances.