House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-48.

Topics

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

As requested by the deputy government whip, the recorded division is deferred until Monday, October 20, after government orders.

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Discussions have taken place between all parties and there is an agreement to re-defer the recorded division requested on Bill C-48 until the end of government orders on Tuesday, October 21.

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

The Income Tax Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-38. On the Order: Government Orders

October 9, 2003--the Minister of Justice--Second reading and reference to the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs of Bill C-38, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

October 9th, 2003 / 4:35 p.m.

Outremont
Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That Bill C-38, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be referred forthwith to the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion to refer Bill C-38 to a special committee of the House before second reading.

I would like to remind the House that, in the Speech from the Throne, the government made a commitment to modernize the Narcotic Control Act.

Last May, in order to meet that commitment, I tabled a bill which launches a real reform. The purpose of Bill C-38 is to change law enforcement in Canada for the possession of a small quantity of cannabis and to increase penalties for the growing of large quantities of marijuana.

We must make one thing clear right from the start: it was never a question of legalizing marijuana and we are not now legalizing marijuana. It remains an illegal substance and offenders will be always be prosecuted and punished by law. What we are doing is changing the kinds of prosecution for certain offences by proposing new penalties and alternative procedures.

The new legislation will ensure that the law will be applied uniformly from coast to coast and will allow us to devote police resources to operations where they will be most useful.

This bill was not drawn up in a contextual vacuum. It is part of Canada's new drug strategy. A sum of $245 million was allocated to the fight against the root causes of drug abuse and to the promotion of health.

The government is increasing the funding for informing and raising the awareness of the Canadian public, especially young people, about the dangers of drugs.

This decision was made in full knowledge of the facts. We have done our homework. We have benefited from much research, consultation and debate.

The research goes back to the LeDain Commission, three decades ago. Two recent committee reports have also helped us understand the issue: the Senate's Special Committee on Illegal Drugs and this House's Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, chaired by the hon. member for Burlington.

Clearly, the current law is in need of reform to send a strong message that marijuana is illegal and harmful, but also to ensure the punishment fits the crime. We have to ask ourselves as a society whether it makes sense that a young person who makes a bad choice in life should receive the lasting burden of a criminal conviction. It means that the doors to certain jobs may be closed or they may have trouble travelling internationally.

With the reforms that I have introduced, the current criminal court process and resulting criminal penalties would be replaced with alternative procedures and penalties. Those convicted of possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana or one gram or less of cannabis resin will receive a ticket and a fine ranging from $100 to $400, depending on the circumstances. This fine would be higher in many cases than what offenders are receiving now. It is important to know that when a young person is facing a charge, his or her parents will be notified.

Police officers will retain the discretion to give a ticket or summons to appear in criminal court for possession of more than 15 grams of marijuana. The maximum in that case will remain a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. In addition, the new alternative penalties regime will not be available in cases of possession of over 30 grams. Those offences will result in criminal charges.

At the same time that we are modernizing our possession offence, we are taking aim at marijuana grow operations. We know that these large grow ops are sometimes located in residential areas. We know that criminal gangs are often behind those operations. This bill sends a clear message that we will not allow our neighbourhoods to be threatened by these grow ops and we will take strong action to combat organized crime.

Our bill provides for doubling the maximum sentence for large marijuana grow operations. It sets out a number of aggravating circumstances which would require courts to provide reasons for not imposing a prison sentence. With tougher legislation, and more efficient enforcement measures, we hope to put an end to this kind of activity.

I would now like to address certain questions that have been raised with regard to this bill.

First of all, there is the issue of impaired driving. This is not a new problem; I would remind the House that it is already a serious offence under the Criminal Code to drive when impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Thus, we must give the police the tools they need to identify drivers whose faculties are impaired by drug use.

The Department of Justice is currently circulating a consultation document prepared by a working group.

Secondly, there is the question of whether these reforms are reasonable, not only in the Canadian context, but also internationally.

Let us examine what is happening elsewhere in the world.

In some countries, possession of small amounts of cannabis is not a crime. In others, it remains a criminal offence, but it is not prosecuted. Some countries, including the United States, see active prosecution as a key element of their policy response to possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Although drug enforcement is a shared state-federal responsibility in the U.S., 12 states have laws decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis.

The state of South Australia, along with two Australian territories, have adopted fines for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana. Several evaluations to date in South Australia found no increase in cannabis use linked to its policy.

Similarly, in the U.S. no significant difference in cannabis use was found between those jurisdictions that decriminalized cannabis use and those that did not.

While we can learn from what others are doing, our reforms are designed to reflect the Canadian reality. We are taking a comprehensive approach recognizing that drug and alcohol abuse can take a heavy toll in human terms and cost our economy billions of dollars.

Earlier I mentioned that this motion would send this bill to committee before second reading. This demonstrates that the government is listening and willing to consider amendments to ensure we get it right.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, Firearms Registry.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to the minister's speech regarding the decriminalization of marijuana.

Any drug legislation must be comprehensive in our country. For the government to just narrow it all down to decriminalization of marijuana is indeed irresponsible and reckless.

For four years I have been making every attempt to get the government to move toward a national drug strategy that works at the street level. In fact, the government followed a motion that we proposed in the House of Commons to establish a parliamentary committee to look at this issue of drugs.

We made a number of recommendations and lo and behold, at the time that the recommendations came forward, the government, rather than introduce a drug strategy, decided to throw a few million dollars at the two departments that were not doing a good job, namely, the Department of the Solicitor General and Health Canada.

The committee found that they did a deplorable job with the drug issue in this country. The government put a few million dollars into that and said that we had a drug strategy. Now it wants to decriminalize marijuana. That is not the way to go.

We are going to deal with the decriminalization bill, but we are still looking for that drug strategy. It is the responsibility of the government to at least acknowledge that there is a need for a drug strategy in the country. Merely dealing with the decriminalization of marijuana and not dealing with ecstasy, shrooms, or any other drug is reckless.

I want to put our position before the House which will be presented in committee.

We could agree to decriminalize five grams as minor possession of marijuana--five grams is equal to about seven joints of marijuana--providing the following conditions are met.

I must say that any member who stands in the House and says that it could be 10, 15 or 30 grams must understand that that is not minor possession. Individuals holding 15 grams of marijuana on them, which is probably up to 22 or 23 joints, is not minor possession. No one needs to carry 15, 20 or 23 joints with them.

The conditions that we want to see are as follows. We want to see 5 grams not 30 grams because it is 30. The minister says that it is really only 15 because there is a fine and then there is an option of a fine or a conviction from 15 grams to 30 grams. The fact is that it is really decriminalization up to 30 grams. That is the plan.

We must have an understanding with provincial governments and the legal industry that they must deal consistently with criminal offences for amounts over the decriminalization amount. We do not want to see, as soon as the bill is brought into play, someone getting caught with 18 grams or 32 grams and having the judge say that a criminal conviction will not be given for an extra two grams, and that something will be worked out.

If we start that all over again, we will be right back to where we started. We want a commitment that amounts over the decriminalization amount will be dealt with in the courts consistently throughout the country.

We want a progressive fine schedule to be in place. Fines and penalties will have to increase with the number of convictions.

I found it quite deplorable that the Prime Minister the other day basically said that he could have a joint in one hand and the amount to pay the fine in the other. That is the wrong message.

The fact is that if one is caught once there is a fine. If one is caught a second time there is a bigger fine. If one is caught a third time something else happens. It has to be progressive.

A consequence to non-payment of fines must be in place, the point being that if fines are not paid, what happens? Do we just let it go as the communities do in the case of speeding tickets or parking tickets? We want to see something done about that.

We want to see a national drug strategy put in place, not something merely dealing with the decriminalization of marijuana.

We want assurances that growing and trafficking marijuana will be criminal offences. We are glad to see that in the bill, and it must remain in the bill when it leaves the committee.

I was glad to hear the minister talk about drug driving laws and roadside assessments being in place, but he talked about a consultative document. We want assurances that those things will be in place, not just a consultative document that may be in place at some point.

In addition, we want to talk to the Americans on this issue in committee. We do not need any particular approval from the Americans to do this, but we have to understand that this is a touchy issue at the borders. We want some assurances in committee that a dialogue will happen. We will be inviting the Americans to talk to us because we want to hear their point of view.

There is little point in developing a process in this country if we are going to offend everybody south of us. I live in a border community and I see the traffic every day and the harm that is done by the inequity of the drug laws in our country.

There is a problem with the fine schedule in terms of charging youth less for possession. That is the wrong message to be sending to our youth. We must be consistent with the kind of fines we are going to assess.

There is work to do. My colleagues will support five grams, but the conditions have to be met. We will vigorously discuss this in committee. Members should not look for the committee to rush this through because we have no intention of doing that. We have lots of witnesses to hear from in committee. We have many amendments already prepared for the committee.

We do not intend to stall the process of the committee, but the Canadian Alliance will thoroughly analyze and discuss this with young people and others. We will thoroughly review the whole process before we give our consent to go ahead.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-38, which has just been introduced by the Minister of Justice. I will say right off the bat that we are in favour of supporting this bill. We are confident and we truly believe the minister when he says that in committee he will listen to members and make the necessary changes to better define the bill and make it more effective.

Our reality reflects the distinct character of Quebec and we want to share it with the minister and the members of the committee. We are sure that, as was the case with the Young Offenders Act to a degree, after hearing about those differences and the success we have had in Quebec, together we will be able to improve the bill before us.

I will talk about our reservations, but on the face of it, the very idea of decriminalizing simple possession is, in our view, the best solution for the short term because it deals with the most important issue by ensuring that people found in possession of cannabis will no longer have a criminal record.

In our opinion, this option is also one that best balances the need to reduce the harm due to consumption and the need to reduce the costs and problems associated with enforcement. Because Bill C-38 is aimed at decriminalizing the simple possession of cannabis, the Bloc Quebecois, as I said, will vote in favour of the bill.

This option presents many advantages. First, such a reform will inevitably result in huge savings in legal costs and other criminal justice system expenses. According to various studies, it is estimated that the fact that the simple possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence costs about $500 million a year in legal proceedings. It costs $500 million a year to process arrest cases and follow-ups to cases of simple possession of marijuana. Decriminalization could result in a substantial reduction in this cost of $500 million.

If the House will permit, I shall try to explain what decriminalization is. Some people, like the Canadian Alliance just now, are very much aware of this issue and so are we. Too often, the general public thinks that this bill means that young people, everyone, will be walking around with a joint, and there will be no more problems; life will be wonderful. But that is not it.

The difference between decriminalization and legalization is simple to demonstrate. Let us take an example that is easily understood by everyone listening: the highway safety code. If you are going 130, 140 or 150 km per hour on highway 417, sometimes there are police around; if they have you pull over, you are not a criminal, but you have done something illegal and you get a ticket; you pay the fine and that is the end of the matter.

If, each time a person did something illegal like not stopping for a red light or speeding, he or she were charged with a criminal offence, and had to appear in court—each time—our courtrooms would be even more clogged than they are.

What the minister is saying with this bill is that simple possession of a certain amount of marijuana is not permitted, it is still illegal. I will discuss quantities and sorts at greater length later. A person who speeds receives a fine, but not a criminal record.

I am certain that many parents who are listening to us today have children who have had bad experiences. In Quebec, I think that close to 50% of youth under 18 have had an experience with marijuana or soft drugs. Are they future criminals? Yet they get arrested and they get a record.

What happens when they get a record for making a mistake in their youth and getting caught with a joint? What if, one day, they wanted to go to the United States? They would have to get a pardon, which is a big hassle. If one day they became truck drivers and had to cross the border, they would have serious difficulties. If they wanted to become lawyers or police officers, with a police record they would be considered criminals.

Members of all parties have seen it all too often in their offices. This is not a political issue. Young adults come and tell us, “I got arrested 12 years ago, but never thought there would still be a record of that today. It is causing me all sorts of problems in my professional life. Am I a criminal?” No, these are not criminals, just young people who made a foolish mistake.

Our population has to deal not only with soft drugs but also with alcohol. Every year, alcohol kills 3.5 million individuals around the world, while tobacco kills approximately 750,000.

Even if there are no known cases of cannabis related deaths, this substance remains prohibited. How much is spent on alcohol awareness campaigns? I think it will not come as a surprise to anyone if I say that young persons under the age of 18 use it occasionally. The same is true of tobacco. Both these drugs are legal in our societies, and the social costs associated with them are much higher than those associated with cannabis.

That is why we think that this Parliament and this society must keep up with the times and ask themselves questions. Do we want to continue penalizing our adolescents and young adults by burdening them with a criminal record they do not really deserve? Will we keep overloading our courts with crimes which are not really crimes? Should possession continue to be prohibited? Yes, but under the Contraventions Act, by giving a ticket. Simple possession remains illegal, but is no longer criminal.

That is important to us. It is also important that the savings of $500 million a year from the tracking of criminal cases be reallocated to a good awareness campaign. The minister announced, earlier, plans for a $245 million campaign on Canada's drug strategy.

We believe, and this belief is based on blatant and tangible examples, that this $245 million should go to those who are knowledgeable, at the provincial and territorial level, where they deal directly with the people affected by drug use.

The $245 million is fine, but should be redistributed to the provinces to fund more effective awareness campaigns. Why give $245 million to the provinces? The firearms program was originally supposed to cost $2 million. We are now at $1 billion plus and the government still has no control over costs.

With regard to national awareness campaigns against smoking, we still do not know exactly how the federal government is spending the money. We only have to look at the results. We think that, given these disastrous results, the money must to given to the provinces.

Consequently, it is worth reminding members that, with this bill, the possession and production of cannabis are still illegal under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The approach to enforcing the law will be changed. It will now be governed by the Contraventions Act. A minor contravention will therefore be given to the offenders.

In what circumstances will these people get a contravention? The possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana would be liable to a $150 fine for an adult and $100 for a youth. For a youth, a $100 fine is already high enough that he or she would think twice before doing the same thing again.

I will provide some facts, since I am almost at the end of my presentation. One in 10 Canadians uses cannabis. Over 30,000 Canadians are accused each year of possession of cannabis. In Quebec, 80% of the accused are adults, not youth.

There is one very interesting bit of information. Currently, 84% of the population would be in favour of the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic and medical uses, for example. In May 2001, the Canadian Medical Association said in its review that arresting people for the possession of marijuana has more serious social consequences than the moderate use of the drug itself. Thus, arrest is more serious than use.

Consequently, we will support this bill. We hope that some corrections will be made, and we think that this is a step in the right direction.