House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was police.

Topics

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, in speaking to some of the police, especially in my home province of Saskatchewan, I have heard a huge concern that we are not ready for the bill.

I have already mentioned the fact that there are no roadside tests to find out whether someone driving a vehicle is under the influence of marijuana. We need to develop that. The police want that test developed. It is already a problem. The Liberal government has not addressed it and has not tried to get an effective test that would tell us whether somebody is under the influence of marijuana while driving.

The police are also telling us that there is increased drug use in our schools. My riding of Yorkton—Melville is a rural riding. We would think that maybe an urban school would be experiencing some of the problems, but crystal meth is becoming a huge problem even in some of the very small towns in my riding. The police, community groups, parents and churches, all of the people concerned with this, do not have a solution. They feel that the wrong message is now being sent with this bill that decriminalizes the use of small amounts of marijuana.

The police also have huge concerns about mixing alcohol with marijuana, which makes it even more difficult to detect. Also, it will put many people on our highways at risk from those who are under the influence of this. We do not have an effective test. Despite what the member for Malpeque said, we cannot get somebody to just walk the line and charge them accordingly. That will not stand up in court. It is almost laughable that the Liberals would suggest that maybe we would have the discretion of police officers to try to determine whether somebody is under the influence of marijuana. We need those roadside tests, as we have the police telling us right now.

I want to bring up something that was raised in a report by the RCMP, who said, “The link between marihuana cultivation and organized crime cannot be overemphasized”, adding that it has an extremely negative effects on our society. Crime is devastating many of our communities. It is impacting on people's lives. The police are raising this issue. There are huge profits associated with the drug trade, say the RCMP. Those people will simply laugh at a fine of $150 or $300.

Going beyond that, the huge profits made in these drug operations are resulting in more illegal weapons, in more guns and ammunition being imported into Canada. It is bringing in a lot of other things. It is increasing illegal immigration to Canada. It is financing illicit activities around the world. Possibly even terrorist activities are being financed by drug activities within Canada. These are comments made by the RCMP.

The RCMP concluded that “High profitability, low risk, and relatively lenient sentences continue to entice growers and traffickers...”. People are encouraged and enticed to get into these operations. Law enforcement agencies will have a very difficult time keeping our communities safe because of what is happening here today and the message that is being sent out.

We should be increasing our policing activities. We should be enforcing the laws that are presently in place. Instead, and I have said this before, we have put money, big bucks, into a useless gun registry rather than putting more police on the street to try to control some of these things.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to echo the comments of my colleague, the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville. Speaking as a former prosecutor, certainly the problem with prosecuting impaired driving when we do not have an approved roadside device or other device to measure the content of the drug or alcohol is a very difficult thing to do, whereas with .08 there is what is called a presumptive offence: that we are presumed to be impaired if we blow over .08. When we have just a straight impaired driving charge with no appropriate roadside detection device or other device, it is a very difficult thing to prosecute. One only needs to look at the Martin's annotated Criminal Code to look at all of the cases that deal with this issue and realize how easy it is to avoid conviction. I am very worried that we are doing the same thing here.

The second point I want to raise is the issue that the marijuana bill appears to me to be tailor-made for organized crime, that is, it encourages youth to use marijuana and indeed to traffic in marijuana and at the same time it leaves the source of the marijuana illegal and criminal, thereby in fact increasing the potential for profit for an organized criminal.

I am wondering whether my colleague sees that same association: that at the same time as we are increasing the use among children and thereby creating a bigger demand, we are keeping it illegal in order to raise profits for organized crime.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member makes an excellent point, a point that maybe has been missed by the Liberals in the House.

By having decreased fines for young people, this will encourage senior people to associate themselves with young people and get them involved in the drug trade. It is the same now with the Young Offenders Act. If older people can get younger people to go along with them in committing crimes, they maybe can get the sentences put on to the younger people. In many these cases sentences are much more lenient. It encourages a person to get involved. It encourages older people to involve youth in drug activities.

Also decriminalizing the whole possession of marijuana under 30 grams really sends the signal to youth that it is all right to experiment with a few of these things.

Thirty grams is 60 joints. That is a lot of marijuana. Many people do not realize that this is a significant amount of drug. With the high THC content now, that will have a very negative effect on our young people.

I do not think I have to say any more on this. The RCMP has said the same thing, that the high profitability, the low risk and the lenient sentences will entice growers and traffickers, and will make it very difficult for law enforcement agencies. We have to listen to these people.

We pass laws in this place, laws that impact the entire country. We had better get it right, and Bill C-10 does not get it right.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member has said that 30 grams amounts to about 60 cigarettes. What I see happening, with this half measure being put forward by the Liberal government and by moving toward legalizing, is that people will use more marijuana.

What about the person who has 60 plus one marijuana cigarettes? Will the argument be made that why would the government penalize and put this guy in jail for having one more cigarette, when his buddy standing next to him has only 59 cigarettes? One goes to jail for 10 years and the other one does not.

The bill is so foolish, as it relates to the drug laws in the country. It is incredible that it will be supported by the backbench Liberals and passed. What does the member have to say about that argument?

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member makes a very good case. There are loopholes in this law. The Liberals say that they will allow officers to have discretion in some of these cases. This is a recipe for disaster. This will not work. By the way, some of the government's own backbench members have huge concerns with this.

The government should take into account the amendment I just raised, put this on a six month hoist and let us get it right.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, before getting into the bill, I want you to know that I am not holding the little mistake made earlier against you.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10 and the amendment before us. We will not be able to support the amendment because we think that the legislation should not legalize, as is often assumed incorrectly, but decriminalize marijuana.

In the next 20 minutes, I will try to clarify the confusion. I have met people who are part of civil society or groups, who think that, by adopting Bill C-10, parliamentarians are going to legalize marijuana. The Bloc Quebecois presented amendments at report stage, and we would like the bill to be passed. As I hope to prove, it is not very reasonable for young people who are arrested for simple possession of marijuana to suffer extremely serious legal consequences when they are looking for work or travelling.

Let us start from the beginning. Like the U.S., Canada has had a prohibitionist strategy over the past 80 years, in the sense that the possession and growing of marijuana are prohibited under drug legislation and punishable not only by a fine, but imprisonment under the Criminal Code.

Are we to understand that, while Canada has maintained a prohibitionist strategy for the past 80 years, it has in a way deterred large segments of the population from using marijuana? Obviously, the answer to this question is no. Despite this prohibitionist strategy prohibiting the use and possession of marijuana, there are extremely conclusive statistics.

The latest statistics have been presented to the justice committee and the special committee. As a member of the Bloc Quebecois, I represented my party at the committee which reviewed the whole issue of non-medical use of drugs. As hon. members may recall, a colleague put forward in this House a motion and, for one year, by order of the House, a special committee reviewed the whole issue of non-medical use of drugs.

The work done by the other House, with Senator Nolin, was perhaps a bit more elaborate then what we did in our committee, but both Houses reached the same conclusion. The prohibitionist strategy, which Canada followed for more than 80 years, did not give the expected results.

The statistics are clear. More than one in ten Canadians uses cannabis despite the fact that it is illegal. Over 30,000 Canadians are charged each year with simple possession of cannabis. In Quebec, the province I represent, 80% of those charged with simple possession of cannabis are adults.

So there is a clear gap between our legislative system and the statistical results on possession and use. When our committee considered the whole issue of drug use, it became quite clear that the legislative framework was completely out of date. There is a consequence to maintaining the prohibition, as set out in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code. Consequently, for decades—I am certain that my colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier will agree—Canada invested considerable resources in the war on cannabis possession.

In fact, when the parliamentary committee heard testimony from the RCMP and representatives of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, it realized that millions of dollars, as much as $500 million, had been invested in the war on drug possession. However the war on drugs in Canada has meant to a great extent a war on marijuana.

No one is saying that using marijuana is good. In terms of public health, we are well aware that the message we need to send young people in schools and everyone in our communities is that it is better never to use marijuana and, obviously, any other drugs.

However, it is not true that the use of marijuana justifies the repressive approach taken these past few years. That is the distinction we need to make.

And so, when we looked at the figures with the RCMP and the CCRA, we found that the repressive approach—which costs $500 million—does not justify the results it produces. Bill C-10 is not asking us to legalize marijuana. There will still be legal consequences for simple possession of marijuana and certainly for growing it. There will still be sanctions but they will be more in the nature of a ticket and fine system. People will be fined amounts ranging from $100 to $400, but they will not have criminal records. We all know what it means to have a criminal record.

Let us imagine a young man of 16 who has 5 grams of marijuana. This is a fictitious example, but it is real nonetheless. If we do not change the law, this young man who is going to smoke marijuana—and we know, medically speaking, that moderate use of marijuana is much less harmful than using drugs or tobacco—and who finds himself in possession of 5 grams of marijuana, would end up with a criminal record that would follow him for years, with all that can mean to a working person changing jobs.

We know that young people who are now 17, 18 or 19 are likely to have at least 5 careers while in the labour force. The days when a person worked for the same company for 25, 30 or 35 years are over. Today, both people and their jobs are mobile, meaning that every 5, 6 or 7 years, they change jobs. There are job-related consequences of having a criminal record, as there are consequences of having a criminal record with respect to travelling to the United States or elsewhere. We believe these consequences are out of proportion to an offence that has no victims.

Moreover, if we did a little test with our colleagues in Parliament and those in the galleries and asked how many of them were in possession of 2, 3 or 4 grams of marijuana, there would be at least a 1 in 10 chance of hitting the mark. I can see some knowing smiles and that does not make them bad citizens for all that. Perhaps if we asked the members how many of them have—experimentally—used marijuana, I am certain that hands would go up. We would not want these people to have a criminal record.

The bill addresses this issue. That is why the Bloc Quebecois will be voting in favour of this bill. Once again, I repeat, it is better never to use drugs. We do not need drugs in our systems. They are not natural. However, this does not mean that creating an offence for which a person would receive a criminal record—with criminal sanctions—would be desirable. That is the main reason we will support Bill C-10.

The parliamentary committee worked extremely hard. We looked at the whole issue for at least one year. We realized that, all in all, young people were not getting a lot of information.

The situation in Quebec is a bit different because various public health networks offer various community outreach programs, particularly within the CLSCs. Quebec adopted this model in the 1970s. Some of the CLSCs go into the schools and provide information on the consequences of drug use. Obviously, the distinctions between marijuana or cocaine and heroine are outlined. There are major distinctions to be made in terms of consequences. The point is, obviously, that people should get through life without using marijuana.

However, we are not here to judge. Just because a prohibitionist strategy has been in place since the 1980s does not mean that people are not using marijuana. We need to create a framework in which people can obtain information on which to base informed decisions about their lives, so they do start abusing marijuana.

Certainly, using a little marijuana to relax from time to time does not have much in the way of consequences. Moreover, and the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier will correct me if I am wrong, an editorial in The Lancet of November 1998 stated that moderate cannabis use had little effect on health and that the decision to ban or to legalize cannabis ought to be based on other considerations. This is, of course, a very serious and well-known British medical journal, an authority in its field, a learned scientific journal. The other considerations taken into account in this bill are, of course, the consequences of a criminal record on a person's life.

This is not a new debate. One of the reasons we will not be able to vote in favour of the amendment is that we appear, from what I have just heard, to require additional information.

I believe you were a student back in 1969, Mr. Speaker, if I recall correctly. I do not have much trouble imagining you with long hair and a luxuriant beard and a bit of a rakish air. That was the year the commission of inquiry known as the Le Dain commission was created. The member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier was not even born. He came into the world in 1970.

So, the Le Dain commission looked at the entire marijuana issue in 1969. I had the opportunity to meet a criminologist who was to become a leading light in her community, professor Bertrand. As far back as 1969, some felt that the prohibitionist regime in place in Canada—following the U.S. example—was not based on any practical reality.

Throughout our deliberations, we kept hearing from witnesses begging us to put an end to this system of offences which does far more harm than good. Something we did right in the parliamentary committee was to go to the United States, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands.

This afforded us the opportunity to see that, statistically speaking, there are prohibitionist strategies in place in certain countries. Let us compare, for instance, the 18 to 30 age group in the U.S. and the Netherlands. Can you imagine this: despite the ban in the United States, with all of its system of very strong repression, there are more people in the United States in that age group using marijuana than in the Netherlands?

Just because there is a prohibitionist system does not mean that young people are automatically deterred from using marijuana. For instance, look at the U.S. and the myth around the war on drugs, a myth that is upheld at the highest levels.

Think about the statements made by Presidents Reagan and Bush. Nevertheless, in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where the governments are much more liberal with respect to drugs, fewer young people use marijuana than in the United States.

Of course, we agree that there needs to be information and public health policies. I hope my friend, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, will agree with me that, if we want there to be fewer young people smoking marijuana—even though they may not be his target clientele—it is important for this information to be available with respect to different aspects of public health. Naturally, this is not the role of the federal government.

The member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier also pointed out at every opportunity in committee that we could not talk about a national drug strategy. It is not the role of the federal government to implement a national drug strategy. It is the role of educational establishments, parks and communities; in other words, the municipalities and provincial governments. We do not think the federal government is the best interlocutor when it comes to drugs, except maybe for aboriginal people, toward whom we acknowledge the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility. For the rest, we do not think this is the federal government's responsibility.

That is so true. When we discussed this national strategy, we looked at the federal government's expertise and found that the government that knows the least about the issue of drug use is the federal government. I am asking the Minister of Veterans Affairs to bring before cabinet the idea of investing in transfer payments and making sure the money gets to the provinces so that they can make the best use of it.

Once again, there is no correlation with a prohibitionist strategy. There are at least 10% of Canadians, according to statistics and national public health surveys. Moreover, I wonder if all the ministers in this House have not, at least once, tried cannabis. Obviously, it is not my place to be an inquisitor and ask the question directly. I believe we would be well advised, as parliamentarians, to ensure that we have a new legislative system, which is what we are considering in Bill C-10.

In closing, I would like to say something about the question of international treaties. As we know, Canada is not a country where international law can produce immediate change. For international law to have an effect in Canada, we must vote on ratification. That stands in contrast to some countries where international treaties are automatically incorporated into national law—Canada is not that type of country. For international treaties to have an impact, those treaties must be ratified.

As the House is aware, Canada ratified two treaties during the 1970s concerning what were known at the time as psychotropic drugs. That was the term used in the treaties.

I will end with three points. The Bloc Quebecois worked very hard on the special parliamentary committee on the non-medical use of drugs and on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, so that Bill C-10—Bill C-38 as it was then—would be amended.

We support Bill C-10 because we believe that the legislative system must be changed and that it is not rational for people accused of simple possession of marijuana to find themselves with a criminal record. We hope that money will be made available to the provinces in order to assist in the distribution of as much information as possible about the consequences of drug use. We believe that people should not use drugs and that they do not contribute to personal growth.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I noticed in the fairly fine speech by the member from the Bloc that he detracted from his argument in regard to enforcement, the strength of that enforcement and whether we should continue to fight the use of drugs.

He also talked about former President Reagan trying to fight drugs and President Bush continuing the fight on drugs in the United States through a hard enforcement action. However he failed to mention people like Bill Clinton who did not do anything either. The fight on drugs was ongoing while Bill Clinton was the president.

Does the member believe that it is just individual political people who are causing the problem or is it the United States as a whole? I think he should clarify that.

The second point concerns what has happened in Vancouver. I do not know whether Montreal is going the same way but in Vancouver the municipality and possibly the province decided that we needed to have safe injection sites so people could use whatever drugs they wanted, in particular heroin but also marijuana, free from police activity.

It sounded like a good idea but the United Nations and the World Health Organization, or the committees that work on drugs, said that Canada was not only contravening international standards and regulations in regard to setting up drug use centres but that it was a bad idea. The World Health Organization and the United Nations have said that drugs are bad and that their use needs to be fought. Why would the member argue that drugs should be more readily available and allow everybody to use them if they want?

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that our colleague needs to qualify his statement.

I have said it before and I will say it again, when representatives of Canada Customs, which along with the RCMP is responsible for drug detection, appeared before the committee, they said that, despite the fact that $500 million had been invested in the war on drugs in Canada, year after year, no more than 10% of drugs in circulation are intercepted by the agencies responsible for law enforcement.

As a society, we need to ask ourselves if it is logical to invest so many resources in prohibition, when our control over the amount of drugs in circulation is disproportionate to the amount of resources we invest.

Second, there is a strategy I do believe in, as the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, and that is the harm reduction strategy. I would prefer to live in a society where no one takes drugs. I tried drugs once in my entire life, but other than that, I have never smoked cigarettes or taken drugs. I know that this is not true for everyone.

We believe the following about safe injection sites. If people shoot up, it is better for them to do it somewhere safe, in the presence of health professionals and in as controlled an environment as possible, and that dirty needles not be circulated among users.

The goal of the harm reduction strategy, in setting up safe injection sites, is to put people in contact with health professionals and ensure they use drugs in the safest environment possible. We hope that the creation of drug injection sites will help these people to stop using.

One thing is clear, if we leave people to their own devices, in an environment without nurses, social workers or health professionals, those who overdose may die. However, when a doctor, health professional or nurse is present, users who overdose can be saved.

Clearly, our goal is abstinence.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand on behalf of the people of Yellowhead and speak to this issue, which is important especially in the Yellowhead area which has been dealing with the problem over the last number of years, as long as I have served them as their member of Parliament. I think it will go on for a considerable amount of time.

What we first have to ask is: Who is driving this agenda? Why are we having a debate today on this legislation? Why is the legislation saying what it is saying and who thinks our society should go soft on narcotics?

My colleague from the Bloc, who just spoke, suggested that it would be great to have an abstinence with regard to the use of marijuana and there are others who are saying that would be a great thing. However the legislation sends the message that it is wrong to criminalize everyone for simple possession. To some degree that may be true but the message in the legislation goes beyond that. It sends the message that we should go soft on drugs, that we should go soft on marijuana, particularly for youth. One section in the legislation actually states that the fine should be reduced if one is a youth or a student. That message is loud and clear to the youth in my riding, which is unfortunate.

I want to go back to the question of who is driving the agenda. Why is the legislation coming forward the way it is? Is it the parents who are calling for the decriminalization of marijuana? I do not think so. Is it the police? No. We have heard from the police forces and they are saying no. They are the frontline officers who deal with this on a daily basis and they are saying no. It is also not coming from our communities.

Canada has three orders of government, municipal, provincial and federal, all with specific roles. One would think that on something as important as this, which would have an impact on every man, woman and child and for a considerable amount of time, that those orders of government would be dialoguing with regard to this legislation, that those who are closest to the problem, the municipalities, would be bringing forward their recommendations, then it would come to the provinces and then up to the federal level. That is not really the case.

This legislation is driven on the federal side. This is federal legislation. The municipalities are not being heard. In fact, the message coming from the municipalities in my riding is that this is a bad legislation and that the problem is intensifying. The legislation is sending them the wrong message. The Liberal government is saying that we should go soft on drugs.

It is very difficult when one is sending that message to a municipality or a school system. I was chair of a school board in a regional school division so I know firsthand the complexities of the problems those individuals face within the school system.

Last fall when I talked to some of those principals, who I know very well, they told me that the problem was that drug use had increased significantly because the message getting through to students was that marijuana was almost a legalized substance. They do not follow the legislation as closely as we do here and therefore do not know how it would impact them.

When the Senate came out over a year ago recommending that we legalize marijuana and this legislation says that we should decriminalize it, the message getting through to the individuals walking the street was that Canada should go soft on drugs and that it was not a big problem.

It is a big problem. It is a huge problem in Yellowhead. Last week CBC had a documentary showing just how intense the problem was along the Yellowhead Highway. It is not something we are proud of in Yellowhead but it is not something that we are prepared to run and hide from and neglect dealing with.

Yesterday at the airport I was talking with one of the mayors from one of the communities in my riding. He was saying how the mayors felt somewhat ashamed of the black eye the drug abuse and drug use in their communities was giving them. They were questioning whether they should have gone forward with the documentary on the CBC. I encouraged them by saying that we either had to stand up against the abuse and misuse of drugs in our society or fold our cards and walk away from it and to think of what our society would look like 10 years from now when would we see the actual intensity of the problem that is happening.

It is not so much the marijuana problem in my riding, although that is a serious problem, as it is the drug busts on a routine basis of grow ops within the riding. The amount of damage that is causing is unbelievable. In fact, the very first year that I was a member of Parliament the drug use and abuse became so intense that there were vigilante threats coming from our society to those individuals who were known in the community to be causing a problem. I come from a rural area where most neighbours know each other. They know who the drug users are and they know where the problems are coming from.

This group was so intent on theft and on breaking in to supply the money to be able to deal with the habit that they were addicted to it became very intense. Vigilantism came to the forefront. We had to call in K division to be able to push back against the drugs. That was done. It is settled in one area but it just spilled out along the highway a little further to our neighbouring communities. This problem is absolutely severe.

It is not so much the marijuana problem as it is the methamphetamine problem. Methamphetamine has only been around for about a decade. It is important that we understand just what this drug will do to our society if left alone and we just turn a blind eye to it.

In our school system they are lacing the marijuana with methamphetamine. The drug experts have told me that 46% of those who smoke methamphetamine for the first time will be addicted for life. For those who smoke it twice, over 90% will be addicted for life. This is an unbelievably toxic product that is very addictive and is permeating our society in Yellowhead.

In Alberta where I come from four out of the five worst communities for drug use are in my riding. Therefore I am not speaking off the top of my head. I experience it when I go into the communities. I talk to the mayors and reeves and the school people.

I was at a meeting just before Christmas where they were talking about this problem. They were throwing their hands in the air saying “We have to do something about it. We are not prepared to just sit back and let the RCMP deal with this problem”. They brought the school division in, the health authorities, the RCMP and social services. All of the different services within the community came together in a meeting to decide how they were going to deal with it. They decided that they had to link arms as a unit to be able to push back against the abuse and misuse they were seeing of marijuana and methamphetamines.

We heard in a debate here today that marijuana use is not a gateway drug. I suggest that it is a gateway drug. It is said that those who smoke cigarettes, those who get involved in alcoholism and those who smoke marijuana all lead to methamphetamine abuse which is also being laced in cocaine and other drugs within our communities.

We have to deal with these serious problems. Therefore we have a decision to make as leaders in the House. We can just stand back, put forward legislation and not deal with it, or we can put forward legislation that will deal with the problem, which is what I encourage us to do. However this legislation sends the wrong message, a message saying that anyone under 18 years of age will only receive a fine of $100. That is the maximum fine, by the way. I did not realize that until I spoke to some of my colleagues who were sitting on the committee who said that it was the maximum fine for simple possession up to 30 grams, which is about 60 cigarettes. The maximum fine is $100 but the minimum fine could be $10 or $25. The problem is that our courts are not dealing with this.

It is fair game and I think it is a good healthy debate to say that if the courts are not dealing with it perhaps we should give it to the frontline workers, the RCMP, and give them the resources to push it back.

The message should not be that we go soft on it. It should be that we are sick and tired of the courts not dealing with it. It is time that we took it out of the courts and gave it to the frontline people so they can push back aggressively against the misuse of this narcotic that will be there as long as we are here in Canada.

We need to start protecting and standing up for our youth. We need to begin looking after our society before this problem gets so intense that we are not able to deal with it. I am saying that the methamphetamine problem that I have described has only been here for a decade. What happens if we leave it alone for another decade? Imagine the intensity of the problem. If this legislation spins us into that, we would be making a terrible mistake to pass it in the House at the present time.

My colleague said that we should give it six months and then look at it again. He wants us to wait a little longer before we drive this country down a road on which we should not be driving. Let us send a message to the organized crime dealers and the grow ops in our ridings that we are not prepared to take it any longer.

I am concerned about the issue from another perspective. The people of Yellowhead have this problem and, as their member of Parliament, I am in the process of having a private member's bill drafted which would give the RCMP the tools that they need to deal with the methamphetamine problem. Products that go into the cooking of methamphetamine can be purchased from any drug store. Anyone who has the Internet can find out how to do it in a flash. This is happening at an unbelievable rate, not only in my riding but in ridings across the country. The RCMP should have legislation that would allow it to charge anyone found in possession of those ingredients. We need to start there.

In the last couple of months there have been a couple of drug busts in my riding. One involved a $50,000 grow op operation and another involved a $3 million operation in a community in Drayton Valley. We cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. We have to send the message that we are sick and tired of allowing our youth to be victimized by this product. As far as the methamphetamine problem is concerned, it not only involves youth, it involves people of all ages and in all professions. We need to have a national drug strategy. We need to bring forward legislation that will support our RCMP in its endeavours.

I was talking to another member of Parliament who represents the neighbouring community of Morinville. As a point of interest, he went down to the courthouse and asked how many stayed sentences for simple possession of marijuana were in the court system. Morinville is a rural community of 7,000 people. The number of stayed sentences was 782. If that was extrapolated across the country, we would realize the intensity of the problem and the fact that we need to do something about it.

Colleagues from all sides of the House want to go soft on this because everybody is doing it and they claim it is not a big deal. It is a big deal and we had better do something about it. If we do not do something about it now it will continue to victimize our society in ways we have never thought of.

I was my party's senior critic for health during the discussions on the medical use of marijuana. What is interesting is that the government brings forward legislation that would go soft on marijuana, but on marijuana for medical use it brought forward the idea of licences for those who use it for medical purposes. Individuals licensed to use this product for medical purposes could have grow ops in their backyards or basements.

However there are a few problems with that. There would be no way to determine exactly how much those licensed people would be growing. Professional counsellors in my riding have told me that this could be a problem. They said that licensed individuals growing this product for medical purposes could now traffic in it. They could supply five different individuals with marijuana at a cost of $300 a week, and it would not be used for medical purposes. How would we control that?

Not only do we have a problem there, but marijuana is much different today than it was 20 or 30 years ago when the THC level was 3%. It is now up to 33%. The toxicity of the product is much different now. That was the problem with the Flin Flon experiment where the seeds were taken off the street. The government realized, once the product was grown and some tests were done, that there were 165 different varieties growing from its experimental plot.

If that is what it had with the product that it was experimenting with, saying that it was going to be used for medical purposes, my question is, who knows what the toxicity level is for the crop that is being grown and licensed to be grown for this government?

I can say that nobody knows, not the Minister of Health, not Health Canada, no one. That is a very serious medical marijuana problem because it has not been licensed. That is why the Canadian Medical Association says it has not jumped through the litmus test and has not had the proper testing to prove that it is the product of choice.

We can get it in the form of a pill in any pharmacy across the country. But when we talk to those who want it for licensing to be able to have a grow op in their own house or backyard, they will say they do not want to take it in a pill form, they want to smoke it. There is another problem with that because it has twice the toxicity as far as tar level and problems for health down the road.

I am not saying that medical marijuana is all bad. I am saying that it has not jumped through the hoops. We should be doing the proper testing before we allow it to be grown. If we grow it, we should know the toxicity level of the stuff we are growing. If we do not do those things first, we are making a terrible mistake.

Medical marijuana is a serious problem. When we think about it, we are having a real problem with Health Canada letting in natural food products. These are just natural food products--vitamins and minerals--from the United States. It is a product called Empower Plus used for bipolar disorder. It is being stopped at the border not allowed in for individuals who are using it for their own consumption.

The problem I have with that is that we are told it is not licensed to be used as a natural food product in Canada. Compare that with what the government is doing with marijuana and it is saying that there is some consistency. This is absolutely ridiculous. We are licensing marijuana with no proof whatsoever of what it can do as far as being a benefit to the user and yet we are stopping natural food products from coming into the country with which there is absolutely no problem and from which there is a tremendous amount of benefit.

In fact, I have had reports from individuals who have had this held up by Health Canada and because of that they have gone into depression and committed suicide in at least two cases already. This is absolutely crazy. This government is so far out of touch from its electorate and the people it is trying to serve.

We see what is happening with the World Health Organization. There is a treaty that was signed to reduce the amount of tobacco use but not ratified. We must ask ourselves, why would the government sign this treaty against tobacco use and yet not ratify it? We have this mixed message all over the place, especially when the World Health Organization also said that we should be involved in pushing back against drugs. Yet, we have a piece of legislation that is going the other way on this whole idea.

All of us in the House must soberly ask ourselves, what are we doing with this piece of legislation. Why are we doing this? Do we understand the impact that it will have on our youth and society?

The amendments that we tried to bring forward are very clear. Decriminalization may be fine up to five grams, which is three to six cigarettes, but the fines should not be $100 for youth and $150 for adults. They should be significantly higher than. We want to give the power to the RCMP to deal with the problem as aggressively as possible because the courts have failed to do it.

I am sick and tired of being a member of Parliament and giving up power to the courts. We are not taking the responsibility that we have been entrusted with by the individuals who put us into office in this place.

It is time that we stand up in this place and give ourselves a little more credit for who we are trying to represent and give ourselves a little more authority to deal with the problem. We should not skirt around our responsibility by giving it to the courts. I am sick and tired of a Prime Minister who stands up and says that the time does not fit the crime, that we have to go soft and a criminal record is a problem.

I would be much more proud of a Prime Minister who would stand up and say that we have a problem in this country and we are going to fix it, and that we are sick and tired of the courts not dealing with it, and if the courts will not deal with it we will.

That is the kind of Prime Minister we need. It is about high time that we started having that kind of leadership in this country. We have had a leadership vacuum for a decade and we have to fix it.

I hope there is an election come April and the people of Canada have an opportunity to vote. I would be excited about going to the people of Yellowhead on this issue alone. I would love to see a Liberal candidate come into my riding and explain this piece of legislation to the people who are victimized by the narcotic use in my riding.

I am sick and tired of it. I believe everyone in the House is as well. The drug problem is not unique to Yellowhead. If members do not have it in their backyards, they are going to, and members in this House need to understand that very quickly.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member for Yellowhead is still entitled to 10 minutes of questions or comments after question period. Statements by members.

Commonwealth Day
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Susan Whelan Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to draw the attention of the House to Commonwealth Day.

Today's Commonwealth is home to more than 1.7 billion people in 54 countries, large and small, spread across every continent and ocean in the world.

This year's Commonwealth Day theme “Building a Commonwealth of Freedom” is about finding ways to overcome barriers to freedom, such as oppression, terrorism, hunger, poverty, disease and ignorance.

As a founding member, in 1931, Canada is one of the Commonwealth's strongest supporters and promoters. The dynamic and vibrant networks of partnerships that exist among the Commonwealth give the organization its unique strength in promoting democracy, development and cooperation.

Today is a day to mark and encourage the efforts that Commonwealth partners are making towards greater and lasting freedom for all. The Government of Canada congratulates the Commonwealth for its work.

Mental Health
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, last Friday, RCMP Corporal Jim Galloway was laid to rest in Sherwood Park, Alberta. He was killed by Martin Ostopovich, a paranoid schizophrenic, who could not afford the $300 per month for medication to control his delusions, which involved a hatred of authority figures. He killed Corporal Galloway with a gun that he was legally permitted to own. A judge said his illness was under control.

Martin should not have had to pay for the drugs to control his illness and should have been regularly monitored. He should not have been permitted to own firearms and could have been institutionalized for his own health and safety, and that of others.

Harsh suggestions? Ask the schizophrenia societies of Canada. Freedom does not encompass the right to irrational destruction of self or others.

I hope that the deaths of Corporal Jim Galloway and Martin Ostopovich will finally cause changes in our care of the mentally ill. My sincere condolences to both families.

Kofi Annan
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to Mr. Kofi Annan, a Nobel peace prize winner and the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, and to welcome our esteemed guest to Canada.

Kofi Annan is serving a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations. This is certainly a reflection of the Secretary-General's deep commitment to revitalizing and reforming the UN.

Mr. Annan has been a strong advocate of human rights, the rule of law, and the universal values of equality, tolerance and human dignity found in the United Nations charter.

As Secretary-General, Kofi Annan has managed several delicate political situations: the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria; an agreement to resolve a stalemate between Libya and the Security Council; forging an international response to the violence in East Timor; the certification of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon; and further efforts to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their differences through peaceful negotiations.

Congratulations on your achievements, and welcome to Canada, Mr. Secretary-General.

Sponsorship Program
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, I received a letter from Claude Lebel, president of the Festival forestier de Senneterre, in which he wrote:

We recently learned about the cancellation of your government's sponsorship program. This leads us to fear for the financial survival of our event.

—Last year, we received a sponsorship of $7,500—

For ten years we have gone to great lengths to provide our fellow citizens and our visitors with a top quality event—

—it is never easy to finance such an event, particularly in a region like Abitibi.—

The Festival forestier contributes significantly to economic and social development.—The Festival plays an important role in the community and has made it possible for the Canadian government to inform citizens of its priorities, programs and services.

Transportation
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, since arriving in Ottawa, I have heard from numerous stakeholders about the need for the federal government to commit to improving rail services.

Recently, in a meeting with the mayor of Stratford, and in a letter from the mayor of St. Marys, it was made clear to me that local rail service is an area of much concern.

Rail service is very important to the people of southwestern Ontario. Tourism and manufacturing industries rely on the rails. The railway lines are what helped to bring prosperity to this region of the country and, if the federal does its part, can promise to deliver continued success for the future.

If Canada is to meet the lofty goals set out under the Kyoto protocol then, surely, safe, efficient and environmentally-friendly rail lines will be a major part of meeting these obligations.

Instead of cutting back service, the federal government needs to commit to provide the resources necessary to offer the best level of service possible.