House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was artists.

Topics

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, I am proud to present a petition today on behalf of several Canadians which calls for the reinstatement of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. The petitioners feel that the Canadian Airborne Regiment was wrongly disbanded by the government for the actions of a few when the regiment had in fact behaved in an exemplary fashion. For that reason, the petitioners want the reinstatement of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today with signatures gathered by the Wreck Beach community, friends and visitors. The petition relates to the Coast Guard and the purchase of a 20 year old British hovercraft for use at the Sea Island Coast Guard base. The petitioners note in regard to the purchase that this new hovercraft will not be able to effect medevac or to be used as a dive platform because it lacks a bow ramp. The petitioners call upon the government to provide the Coast Guard with the necessary new vessel capable of performing those operations.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I rise today to present three petitions with over 300 signatures from across the country. All three of these petitions call upon the government to defend the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman even to the extent of invoking the notwithstanding clause.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition to the House today, one that is signed by several hundred members of my constituency. The petitioners call upon the House to respect freedom of expression and freedom of religion by voting against Bill C-250. The bill has passed through the House now but it has not passed through the Senate, and perhaps our friends in the other place will take note of this petition.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

October 10th, 2003 / 12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in this debate about Bill C-38, a bill that would change how the judicial system deals with possession and production of marijuana.

My colleagues across the way have told us about the good intent of this bill: that it will decriminalize the actions of millions of Canadians; that it will provide opportunities for young people who might otherwise be burdened by a criminal record; and that it will relieve some of the congestion in our courts.

But I have to ask, at what cost will this be achieved?

I have several concerns about this bill and the government's attempt to fast-track it through the system, concerns ranging from the amount of marijuana that is decriminalized to the penalties and sentences for various offences. There are also numerous logistical issues involving the practical side of enforcing the proposed new law, which I feel must be addressed before legislation is passed.

Finally and most importantly, I am gravely concerned about the message that Bill C-38 will send to Canadians in general, but to our youngest and most vulnerable citizens in particular. I intend to explore each of these concerns in greater detail during the next few minutes in the hope that these issues will be noted and perhaps highlighted in the committee setting.

The bill establishes a new system of guidelines for the decriminalized possession of marijuana. From what I understand, the government has based these numbers on what it considers appropriate or reasonable amounts of marijuana for personal or recreational use.

Let us look at these numbers. Possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana gets one a $150 fine if one is an adult. Possession of between 15 and 30 grams of marijuana could get someone a fine or perhaps a summons for a summary offence. Possession of one gram or less of cannabis resin is good for a fine.

The implication here is that having between 15 and 30 grams of marijuana is considered reasonable for personal use, that the drug would not be meant for trafficking. Grams seem like a tiny unit of measure, and 15 to 30 grams does not sound like a lot to most of us. But depending on how much marijuana is used, that same 15 to 30 grams translates into 30 to 50 joints.

I know there are many parents and grandparents in this chamber. How many of them would think it acceptable or reasonable if they were suddenly to find 50 joints concealed in their son's or daughter's book bag or clothing? Unless that son or daughter were smoking up day and night, I think I would find myself wondering if some of those joints might be for sale or for purposes other than personal use.

Decriminalizing up to 30 grams of marijuana is the government's idea of responsibility. In contrast, my opposition colleagues feel that this number must be reduced to a maximum of 5 grams of marijuana if this bill is to become even remotely tolerable. This would equal between 5 and 12 joints, an amount far less likely to be for the purpose of trafficking. I personally believe that even 5 grams is too much and that Canadians are better served by a government that does not take lightly illegal drug use of any kind.

As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the penalties for possession and production of marijuana as outlined in Bill C-38 merit considerable questioning and review.

The proposed fines for possession are negligible and, as such, I suspect they will not act as an effective deterrent. An adult possessing less than 15 grams of marijuana will face a fine of $150, or $300 for possession of between 15 and 30 grams. That is about the same as one could expect to pay for a traffic infraction such as speeding. One look at the Queensway or any other major thoroughfare will give us a pretty good idea of how unintimidated drivers are by the prospect of such a small fine. Marijuana users will likely be similarly undeterred, making the fines ineffective.

Young people between the ages of 14 and 18 will get an even better deal from the government if they are caught with marijuana. Youth fines, as proposed, are one-third less than the adult version. I question the reasoning behind this decision which takes already nominal fines and reduces them so they are more affordable for drug possessing youth.

The government should take a cue from the world of marketing, where it is known that young people often have access to more disposable income than adults and are less cautious in their spending. They wear expensive designer clothing, shoes and accessories, and they tote the latest in high tech communications devices and gadgetry.

The notion that a discount fine will deter youth from possessing marijuana is an absolutely ridiculous idea.

Still on the subject of sentencing, I have heard rumours that the minister may consider tougher minimum sentences for marijuana growers and for repeat offenders. I sincerely hope that this is more than a rumour because these issues have not been adequately addressed in the bill.

From a logistical standpoint, the government is trying to fast-track the bill through Parliament without ensuring that the provinces, municipalities and authorities have the proper tools in place to implement it. From what I have read, the bill does not provide extra money for policing, fine collection or any of the other inevitable administration costs.

As I mentioned earlier, my greatest concern about the bill is the message it sends to Canadians, particularly our youth. I hope this issue will be studied in great detail by the committee.

Before the bill was introduced there was a lot of talk about decriminalization and legalization: Which would the government choose?

When I talked to people in my riding, both adults and youth, I was disturbed to note that the terms were used interchangeably. I worry that should the bill pass, our young people will not differentiate between two definitions and as a result they will come away with the idea that buying, possessing and smoking marijuana is okay. That is a behaviour actually endorsed by the government.

I suggest to the House that it is irresponsible to even contemplate passing a bill such as Bill C-38 without first establishing a clear and comprehensive education campaign to inform our young people about what the bill is intended to do.

In Saskatoon, the city council is in the process of discussing a ban on public smoking. Similar bans have been adopted here in Ottawa and in other cities and towns across the country. It is a health and safety issue and, as such, the cities are trying to do what they can to discourage smoking. By virtue of making it okay to possess a smokable drug, decriminalizing marijuana is a backward step in this fight for improved health.

The government is sending mixed messages. It is telling Canadians not to smoke because it is bad for them and cigarette companies not to advertise because it can influence our young people, but marijuana, that is not criminal.

Yesterday the minister described Bill C-38 as the launch of a real reform. I suggest that the bill needs some real reform.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill which deals with the issue of decriminalizing marijuana.

I want to make it very clear that I absolutely cannot and will not support the bill. It is certainly not supported by most of my constituents.

I have examined and will continue to examine the issue of decriminalization under certain circumstances but under the terms laid out in the legislation, it is completely unacceptable, and I will explain in a little bit why.

However I first want to deal with the contradiction that the legislation, as it is presented here, provides for Canadians when we have heard so much talk about the importance of dealing with the seriousness of drunk driving.

Every day in Canada five people are killed and more than 200 people are injured due to drunk driving. There has been a great public effort to try to cut down and eliminate drunk driving, period.

After all the work on drunk driving, the government is proposing to decriminalize the use of marijuana in large amounts, up to 30 grams, and, at the same time, doing it before we have any kind of roadside test or reliable roadside assessment to deal with someone driving while under the influence of marijuana. It just seems absurd that any government would propose such a thing. All we are doing is expanding on the serious problem of drunk driving to include another very serious problem of driving while under the influence of drugs. To me it seems totally irresponsible that the government would propose that.

So much effort on the one hand to cut down on drunk driving; so lightly the government would put in place legislation that would make it so easy and, in effect, encourage driving while under the influence of marijuana. I believe that issue has to be dealt with before anyone will seriously consider supporting this legislation, and that certainly should be the case.

Certain requirements would have to be put in place before I could ever seriously consider any legislation to decriminalize marijuana and, as I said, they certainly are not in place in this legislation as it has been presented to the House. The legislation does not reflect the proposals put in place by the committee which spent months studying it.

The minimum requirements for change that would have to be made to this legislation before I could consider seriously supporting it are the following. First , when it comes to summary conviction fines, they would apply to five grams or less, not to the 30 grams, which is a very large amount of marijuana and is an amount more commonly connected with someone trafficking, as some of my colleagues have mentioned.

Second, we would need a clear understanding with the provincial governments, and in fact with the legal industry which would have to exist to consistently deal with criminal offences under the decriminalization amounts. In other words, someone caught with 35, 40 or 50 grams would face criminal convictions in the courts of all provinces. We would have to be comfortable with the set limit.

The government is proposing a limit of 30 grams. I can imagine what would happen in court if someone were charged with the possession of 32 grams. The judge would probably say that under the Criminal Code it is unfair to charge someone who has 32 grams even though the law put the limit at 30. The amounts would certainly come into play. It is critical that does not happen and therefore the provincial governments would have to agree to the level that is set, which certainly should not be, in my opinion, more than five grams, and not the thirty grams proposed in the legislation.

Another requirement would be for a progressive fine schedule to be put in place. Fines and penalties would increase based on the number of convictions and not just the same fine again and again.

The proposal in the legislation that young people receive a lower fine for possession of amounts under 30 grams than older people is absurd. What kind of message does that send to our young people? It sends a message to them that smoking marijuana cannot possibly be harmful, and I absolutely disagree. Marijuana is a very dangerous drug and our young people should be discouraged from using it. However, this legislation would, in effect, encourage young people to use marijuana because it sends the message that it is not harmful. That is wrong and I think that has to be changed before the legislation can be supported.

A national drug strategy would have to be in place. One would think that with all the good work the committee did and all the minds that have been working on this in the justice department, they would have focused on putting in place a national drug strategy, some kind of an overall, overarching strategy to deal with the very serious problem of drug use in this country.

So far what has been the government's response to this serious drug problem? It has opened up a shoot-up site in Vancouver so people can legally break the law right on the streets of Vancouver. I do not think that is appropriate. There are some very serious problems with that and we have seen them in other countries.

That is not a drug strategy. That is admitting failure. That is government saying that it cannot deal with this serious problem and it simply cannot win, so it will not even try. That is absolutely unacceptable and it is shameful that a government would say that about a problem as serious as drug use. We know all of the social hardships that are a result of drug use and yet the government's response is to open up shoot-up sites with no national drug strategy. I think that is absurd.

To focus on the problem of marijuana use first without focusing on other serious drugs, in some cases more harmful drugs, is another case of the government setting the wrong priorities. We cannot try to deal with a problem like this bit by bit, piece by piece, in a completely unorganized fashion. That is not something that will work. Canadians know that. I am surprised the government does not know that.

Another issue which I think will be even more difficult to deal with if this legislation actually passes is the issue of drug trafficking and grow ops. We know these problems have damaged and caused great hardship in many communities across the country. Certain areas of our towns and cities have been harmed quite dramatically by having grow ops and trafficking in the area.

The law of the country has to be clear and workable to where grow ops and trafficking are considered to be and are serious criminal offences. When one is talking about decriminalizing the possession of amounts up to 30 grams, the line will be blurred between those who have marijuana for their own use and those who have marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. That is just making the problem more difficult to deal with. It is not really helping to fix the problem.

For those reasons and others I will not be supporting the legislation. We will continue to encourage the government to make amendments to fix these things and deal with the problem of trade with the United States. The Americans have made it clear that if we decriminalize, as is proposed in this legislation, we will have more trade problems, problems in moving goods across the border. We already have trade problems that are devastating the agriculture industry and the softwood lumber industry. We do not need that to be broadened out to other industries. Yet the Americans have said that this will do that.

Let us deal with these problems. If the government were to deal with all of these issues I mentioned, then I would consider the legislation. I still think that decriminalizing marijuana sends a message to our young people and Canadians that it is not as harmful as in fact I believe it is.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, I would like to speak briefly to Bill C-38, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I have found the debate very interesting today. There are many concerns with the bill that the NDP shares with many other members of the House. It is a contradictory and confusing piece of legislation at the present time. It has widespread criticism from all sides of the political spectrum.

A case in point, the bill was introduced by the government on May 27, 2003, just one day after it launched an appeal against an Ontario court ruling declaring that people with medical exemptions have legal supplies of the drug. It was a very obvious contradiction right at the outset.

The bill seeks to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana but toughen penalties on large marijuana grow operations. At present, being arrested for possession or carrying marijuana is an up to seven year jail sentence.

We would like to look at what implications the bill may have on possibly unexpected persons. The provisions of the bill are quite simple. Cannabis possession and production will remain illegal in Canada. The current criminal court process and resulting criminal penalties would be replaced with fines for possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana and one gram or less of cannabis resin.

The bill would give law enforcement officers the discretion to give a ticket or issue a summons to appear in a criminal court for possessing 15 to 30 grams of cannabis.

We have a new four tier method of punishing people. An individual found growing one to three plants would face a summary conviction offence with a fine of up to $5,000 or 12 months in jail. For 4 to 25 plants, it would constitute an offence punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 or 18 months in jail. Growing 26 to 50 plants would result in a sentence of up to 10 years and the sentence for growing more than 50 plants would be up to 14 years, which is double the current maximum penalty.

It is rather an odd way of going about things. It is saying that a little bit is all right and a bit more is less all right. It seems to miss the point in terms of sending messages to people in terms of the use of marijuana.

The bill misleads Canadians and it perpetuates the myth that the criminal law can resolve the problems relating to drugs. The NDP would say that there may be a fear that increased penalties on cultivation could in fact push the price of marijuana up making it more difficult for people who use marijuana for medical purposes.

We would say that a stiffer regime of penalities may ironically reinforce organized crime and force out the small operations, and that there is still an emphasis on enforcement. We have a concern that ticketing will actually increase the demand of police resources at the local level.

There are no provisions in the bill for amnesty for Canadians who currently have a criminal record from cannabis convictions. There are approximately 600,000 Canadians who have criminal records for simple marijuana possession. There may in fact be people in the House who have criminal records for marijuana. I have not done any checks but that is a possibility and certainly there are members of our family who may have it.

As we move ahead and begin to understand marijuana in a different way then obviously we must have some kind of mechanism in place to clear the record on some of these supposed criminal offences.

Bill C-38 presents a contradictory and confused approach. That is the fundamental message that we want to send. On the one hand it purports to offer a measure of decriminalization, but the political rhetoric and system of penalties outlined actually points to a tougher and wider enforcement stance.

Another objection is that we fear that increasing penalties on growing marijuana will push up the price. For medical purposes this could cause even more problems for people who are in need of it for pain management.

There is too much emphasis on enforcement in our estimation. It is feared that ticketing would increase the demand for police resources at the local level.

Approximately 100,000 Canadians use marijuana. There is no evidence that the ticketing scheme or tougher sentences would reduce that number.

I wish to conclude by speaking a little about the medical use of marijuana. The Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs did not deal with marijuana for medical purposes. The NDP wishes to draw attention to the serious problems and flaws in the federal government's medical marijuana program. The current regulations of the program are very restrictive, overly bureaucratic, and severely limit the access for Canadians who have a legitimate need for therapeutic purposes. The NDP believes that these unnecessary restrictions should be lifted.

The recommendations of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs in this regard make very good sense and we would like to see them adopted.

The bill still needs work. The NDP has been very supportive of the work done by the committee on drug use and has worked hard on a consensus basis to bring about more progressive laws on this front. We will continue to work to make this a better bill in committee.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the notion of decriminalizing marijuana. I do so at a time when it is probably bringing more confusion not only to this country and especially to the teenagers of our nation but also to the nation south of us.

I have been involved in some meetings in high schools over the past year and that is one of the very hot topics there. Students are quite anxious to see this happen and just to prove it they have already ramped up their use of marijuana. It is a known fact that marijuana use in high schools has already increased because of this proposed legislation.

John Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House, recently remarked about our Prime Minister. He had something to say that we should listen to very carefully. He said that Canadians are concerned about the behaviour of their Prime Minister and the joking that he has done with this issue. Our Prime Minister said:

I don't know what is marijuana. Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have money for my fine and a joint in the other hand.

That is something like going to the airport and saying “Yes, I have a bomb in my shoe and one in my hip pocket”. We know not to do that. It would seem to me that a Prime Minister of a nation would know not to make that kind of joking remark in any place in the world where it might be reported back.

I believe that was a harmful statement and it is misleading to our youth. I believe it is degrading to our nation, this Parliament and to the Prime Minister himself. I was quite sorry to hear that he would make that kind of a statement.

John Walters of the United States also said:

Canada is the one place in the hemisphere where things are going the wrong (way) rapidly. It's the only country in this hemisphere that's become a major drug producer instead of reducing their drug production.

That is very true and it is a sad commentary on our nation. It is a sad commentary on our government and on those who want to push this relaxation of the war on drugs through the House.

Recently in committee, my hon. colleague from Langley--Abbotsford admitted and said to the committee that this is a touchy issue when it comes to border relationships with the United States. After our experience with BSE and our experience with other agricultural subsidies placed on products by the United States, it would seem that we would learn our lesson. It would seem that we would try to be decent and good neighbours to those to the south and not be so insulting to them as what we have found ourselves being.

The hon. member from Langley--Abbotsford also said that there is little point in developing a process in this country when we offend everybody south of us. That is extremely important and one of the major problems with the idea of decriminalizing marijuana. It is going to create all kinds of border problems and relationship problems with our friends in the United States.

This bill says that it is okay to smoke and possess 15 grams or less of marijuana, or at least it is not a criminal offence. It is okay to smoke it, but it is not okay to possess too much. It is not okay to grow. It is not okay for a lot of things and so the message is very mixed. One of the messages that concerns me more than perhaps any of the others is the mixed message or the reverse message that is going out related to the health of people who use marijuana.

We have all kinds of misinformation coming to us that says this practice is not harmful. We all know that is not true. We know that it has to be harmful.

I am reminded of a time, back in the last century, in the 1950s. I was not too old at that time, but I remember as a young lad going to church. I do not remember which man said it, but I remember being taught that should I take up the habit of smoking cigarettes, it would be harmful to my body.

We know from the fifties all the way to the nineties that was disputed. There were many people of supposed wisdom who diffused that claim. Then all of a sudden, we began to reckon with all the cancer deaths from smoking cigarettes. Finally, we had a number of class action suits against tobacco companies because of the harm that tobacco smoke had caused so many people. Now this was a known fact and they were suing the tobacco companies because there was no warning label.

This is one of the most ridiculous things that has ever happened in the history of enlightened society. For a half century anybody with, as my dad used to say, the sense God gave a goose would know that cigarette smoke could not be helpful to one's body, that it would be harmful.

As my hon. colleague mentioned earlier, we, including firemen, use masks and guards to protect us from all kinds of other fumes and smoke. We know it is not helpful to breathe that into our lungs, yet we are allowing our teenagers to believe it is quite all right.

It would be a tragedy if the House of Commons were to adopt the bill and send that skewed message to the young people of our nation who will then, no doubt, be returning to ask for help through the health system because of the long term problems this will no doubt cause with the new high power brand of marijuana which can now be produced in grow houses.

The lingering effects of marijuana smoke are something far more treacherous than alcohol. When someone drinks alcohol and becomes intoxicated, it is only a matter of hours until the body cleans itself up, the intoxication is gone and the body is back to normal. I am told the effects of marijuana smoke linger for days, not just hours, and a person could literally be intoxicated from marijuana smoke for all time. That would therefore decrease the performance of our students, decrease the ability to handle automobiles, machinery, to do jobs, to think, to speak, all these things.

My colleague from Calgary East pointed out that it was a student discount.

I recently bought a new automobile. One thing that caused me to buy that new automobile was a discount on the penalty for buying it. In other words, for not having cash, I could now get a very discounted rate on the interest I would be charged if I bought it before I had the cash. Therefore, because the penalty for buying it early was lessened, I bought it.

We have thousands of teenagers. Because they see the penalty is lessened, they are getting the student discount. Because it is no longer a criminal offence, they are buying into the false idea that smoking marijuana is just fine. I cannot support such a discount.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the House ready for the question?

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?