House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was street.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the members of the NDP will be voting in favour of this motion.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Independent

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I vote no to the motion.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Independent

Carolyn Parrish Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I vote yes.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

October 18th, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.

Independent

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

I vote yes, Mr. Speaker.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee of Procedure and House Affairs.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 6:10 p.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

moved that Bill C-248, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (trafficking in a controlled drug or substance within five hundred metres of an elementary school or a high school), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the support of the whip of our party, my colleague from Niagara Falls, for seconding my bill.

It is a great pleasure to finally be debating Bill C-248 during this first hour of debate at second reading. Although, I introduced the legislation on four previous occasions, this is the first opportunity to have the legislation debated by members in this chamber.

The purpose of Bill C-248 is to impose mandatory prison sentences upon those convicted of trafficking in a controlled drug or substance within 500 metres of an elementary school or a high school. The mandatory sentences imposed would be one year or more for a first offence and two years or more for a subsequent offence.

These mandatory sentences apply to substances and amounts of substances as listed in schedules I, II, III, IV and VII of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but the bill also would set maximum sentences depending upon the substance and/or the amount of the substance.

For example, a maximum prison term of three years would apply to someone convicted of their first offence for trafficking in barbiturates and someone convicted for a subsequent offence in trafficking cocaine would face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The legislation specifically addresses a matter of justice and criminal law, but I do not wish for members of the House, or Canadians at large, to be misled into believing that the legislation is simply about getting tough on crime or waging a war on drugs. The bill is about health, mental health, education, social welfare and the future we offer our nation's children. Those are all areas for which Bill C-248 offers a key component to success. That is because its ultimate purpose is to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, our children.

Drug use among children and minors affects their health and their mental well-being. Drug use blocks their scholastic success and it impedes their ability to become contributing happy members of our society. Drug use among all ages, but particularly in children, threatens to rip apart families and entire communities, the very foundation of our society and our country's very future.

These are all facts upon which I know all members of the House will agree. It is our responsibility to offer children the best protection possible in their homes, in their streets and most definitely when they attend school. Drugs are a very real and dangerous threat.

A 2001 study found that over 47% of Manitoba students had used drugs at some point in their lives with nearly 40% reporting that they had used drugs in the previous year. This represented an increase from early studies in that province. The average age at which those students started using drugs dropped to 14.1, meaning children are starting to experiment with drugs earlier and earlier in their lives.

A similar drug survey of students in New Brunswick in 2002 indicated just 36% of students there could say that they never use drugs. In Ontario, just one-third reported no drug use. The Ontario statistics also indicated that one-third of the students had used at least one illicit drug in the past year. Cocaine and crack use, which had decreased during the eighties, is once again on the rise among Ontario students. Alarmingly, both cannabis and cocaine use is on the rise among seventh graders or children as young as 12 years of age.

Parents, teachers, principals, police, social agencies and entire communities work tremendously hard to create and maintain a safe and caring environment for Canadian children at school. It is a monumental task. It requires a constant vigilant and collaborative effort.

This effort to create safe and caring schools takes on many forms. Prevention, education and intervention are all critical to success. Yet so too is enforcement and deterrence.

Just as it would be a recipe for failure to combat drug use in our schools without education and awareness and relying solely upon punishment and enforcement, so too is it ineffective to educate and inform without adequate enforcement. In fact, the government's own national drug strategy called for effective enforcement.

Parents, educators and police forces need all the tools available to combat drug use among children and minors. At the very least, we as a society should be doing everything possible to help them.

At the very least, when parents send their child or teenager off to school each morning, they should have some assurance that all reasonable measures have been taken to keep their child safe from both physical harm and other detrimental influences to their health and mental wellness. This includes measures to restrict their children's exposure to and access to drugs in and around their school.

I readily accept the valid but unfortunate argument that there is no way to completely cut students off from drugs. If they really want to experiment with drugs or find a fix, they will manage to find it somewhere. But, and this is a very important point that underlies the very justification for the bill, that does not mean we have to make it easy for our kids to buy drugs. They certainly should not be readily available in and around the schoolyard.

It is no coincidence when a drug trafficker is hanging out across the street from the school or around the corner. These drug traffickers are purposely seeking out and preying upon our children. As a society, we must send a strong, clear message that this heinous behaviour will not be tolerated. The legislating of mandatory sentences for drug trafficking near a school would also help to send a message to children and teens that drug use is not an acceptable activity.

One of the consequences of the current debate over the decriminalization of marijuana has been a more cavalier attitude toward drug use among teens. It is a very intensive debate that the House has undertaken throughout the past couple of years. Certainly it is an issue of great social importance that should be debated in Canada's Parliament. Yet the debate over the use of so-called soft drugs like marijuana has sent mixed and ambiguous messages to our children about drugs. It is not clear to them that their parents and legislators are debating the decriminalization of possession, not the legalization of trafficking of marijuana. It is a huge distinction, but not one that may be immediately obvious to children and teens.

By legislating mandatory sentencing for trafficking of all drugs, narcotics and illicit substances, it will be made very clear to adults and children and alike that the activity contravenes criminal law. Currently even the Library of Parliament acknowledges that it is very difficult to obtain reliable statistics regarding sentencing in relation to drug related convictions. Furthermore, the Library of Parliament cites a second weakness in that the statistics on drug convictions and sentencing are limited in detail.

This provides yet another justification for Bill C-248. If parents, educators, police and community agencies are to effectively combat drug use among students, they must be equipped with all the facts. Currently the statistics on drug convictions are broken down into only two categories: either possession or trafficking. It would be much easier to identify the incidences of those specifically trafficking drugs to students through the sentencing provisions outlined in the bill.

At this point I would like to take a moment to address one of the arguments made by the Minister of Health against this legislation. Specifically, I would like to make it clear to members of the House that this legislation is targeted toward those adults who intentionally seek to sell drugs to children or minors, and I stress adults. When police conduct drug sweeps at schools, they are not simply seeking out students who are using drugs. These sweeps also help lead them to the adults responsible for getting those drugs to the school in the first place.

For example, a February 2002 drug sweep at a Toronto area school resulted in a number of adults being charged with trafficking. In another school's drug sweep in Victoria later that same year, 10% of those charged were adults and 25% were not even students at the school.

Instead of being charged, students are often brought to the school office by police to be dealt with by school authorities and their parents. The students may then face a suspension and in most cases further drug awareness and educational sessions.

Another of the health minister's arguments against Bill C-248 is his political opposition to mandatory sentencing. I am well aware that the ongoing debate between those who support mandatory sentencing for serious, violent crimes versus those who believe in a more rehabilitative approach to criminal activity has great bearing on this legislation.

However, the minister's doubts over the effectiveness of mandatory sentencing and deterring drug trafficking are just that: they are his doubts. In a study on sentencing, the Library of Parliament says that even criminologists are divided on the effect sentencing has on recidivism, for example.

The library's synopsis of the purposes of sentencing is comprised of seven main aspects. These include deterrence through fear of punishment for the crime and punishments against reoffending, something that Bill C-248 certainly addresses.

Sentencing also prevents crime by removing offenders, or in this case drug traffickers, from our society. A prison sentence also offers an opportunity to rehabilitate drug traffickers. We must not forget the need to hold offenders responsible for their actions, something the federal Liberal government is increasingly hesitant to do.

The government is also loath to consider the concept of punishment as a form of simple justice itself, yet let us ask the parent of a child who was introduced to a drug habit by a drug trafficker whether traffickers should be made to pay for their crime.

The final element of sentencing is denunciation, defined by the Library of Parliament in its study of sentencing as a means to influence public perception of the seriousness of specific crimes through the imposition of a greater or lesser penalty.

Yet in 1996-97, just 64% of those convicted of drug trafficking were sentenced to any jail time, just 64%. Worse, the median sentence was just four months. Probation was the most serious punishment in 24% of drug trafficking convictions, and 9% of drug traffickers got off lucky with just a fine. What kind of message about drugs does this send to our children?

If the health minister's unsubstantiated partisan arguments and his other arguments that are not supported by case law are any indication, then the cabinet appears unprepared to support Bill C-248.

Once again the federal cabinet is not prepared to stand up and protect the most vulnerable members of our society: our children.

In theory, however, it is the intent that each member of Parliament take into account his or her own opinions and those of constituents when considering private members' legislation, as we all know. Therefore, I am asking the members of the House to support Bill C-248 in giving parents, educators and community workers the backing they need to help protect our children from drug use.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his presentation and for the intent of the legislation he is proposing. I do not think anybody in this country would be opposed to removing drugs from schoolyards and reducing the abuse, but it is confusing to me that on the opposite side there tends to be some idea that there is a panacea in crime reduction or drug use reduction with minimum sentences.

I hear opposition members speak about their concern with gun crimes, but they do not support gun legislation. They are concerned with the abuse of children, as we all are, and again, they think the magic key is to raise the age of sexual consent. They do not want us to register our guns, but they would like us to register and control the kids' hormones. I do not know if that is possible.

Their belief is that minimum sentences are the response to everything. I think they would have us all go to jail for the original sin; maybe it would be five years when we are born.

I do agree, however, that it is a serious problem. I do agree and I would ask the member to comment on the fact that the judiciary now has the possibility of taking the locations of offences into consideration in sentencing in regard to if or when some trafficking is happening in the schoolyard.

His bill has some shortcomings when we talk about schoolyards. I do not see the difference between a schoolyard, a skating park, an arena, a swimming pool, a mall or any place where children would be the target. I do not see why we would come up with a measure like 500 metres, so that if a heroin dealer is selling heroin to kids 501 metres away from a schoolyard this bill would not apply, but two children exchanging a joint within a schoolyard would be subject to a minimum sentence. These are the weak parts of the bill.

I think there is an important part to remember. What I will ask him is whether in his mind the weakness now is that judges who are using their discretion in sentencing are not taking these locations or the way of operating into consideration. Can modifications be done there so that the judiciary would properly use or improve their use of mitigating factors when they consider sentencing for such outrageous offences as trafficking near schoolyards, playgrounds, swimming pools or other locations?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Sadly, Mr. Speaker, once again we see a fundamental philosophical difference between the Liberal Party of Canada, unfortunately the government of today, and the Conservative Party, the next Government of Canada.

I hope that people who are watching this debate at home tonight can clearly see this. I think it was exemplified by the comments made by my colleague across the way.

Very clearly, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable in our society, our children, my colleague is more interested in excuses, in providing discretion, in providing room to manoeuvre for the judges. At the end of all of that, his question was whether there was any chance that some modification could be made to the discretion already given to judges to take into account the fact that the trafficking might have been done close to schools.

I already have said in my speech what the reality is: we do not even have any statistics. We do not even know how much of the trafficking that is currently taking place in this country takes place within 500 metres of a schoolyard.

He asked, and I suppose quite rightly, what about a playground or all these other places? But we have to start somewhere. I am sick and tired, after 12 years of being in this place, of hearing the answer every time somebody in this House or this party raises an issue like this that it is too restrictive or that it is only one change to protect one group.

Why do we not start somewhere? Why do we not start with schoolyards?

There is a sense over there on the Liberal Party side that they are so concerned about the criminals' rights and they do not care about the children, for God's sake. I cannot believe they would not want to enact this legislation in order to provide some real deterrence.

If the member had been listening to my speech, he would have heard me say that the average sentence handed out to traffickers was four months, if they receive any jail time at all. As I said, no statistics are kept so we do not even know how much of that trafficking took place with children close to schools.

The average sentence was four months when the traffickers got any jail time at all. Four months. Is that the message we want to send? Is that how much we are willing to protect our children? By suggesting that the deterrent for these animals to prey on our children by pushing drugs at them will get them four months' incarceration? In some cases, they just get a fine.

I do not think so. I do not think that is the message we want to send. I think the average parent understands the need for mandatory sentencing to take away the discretion from judges so that these people go to jail.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

West Nova
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Robert Thibault Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I applaud my hon. colleague for his heartfelt desire to protect Canadian children and youth from dangerous drugs in our schoolyards. No one questions the motivation for this bill.

I can assure him that government members share his concerns about the threats posed by the rise in illegal drug use in this country. What we take issue with is the blunt tool with which he is attempting to address this problem.

Make no mistake: substance use and abuse is cause for national concern. There have been significant increases in the use of alcohol and drugs, with 44.5% of Canadians admitting in 2004 to using cannabis at least once in their lifetime, up from 28.2% a decade earlier. The numbers can be even higher among Canadian youth.

The Canadian addiction survey, published in November 2004, found that more than half of teens aged 15 to 18 reported using marijuana at least once in their lifetime. That number rose to almost 70% among those 20 to 24 years old.

Marijuana is not the only drug of choice. The proportion of Canadians reporting any illicit drug use in their lifetime rose from 28.5% in 1994 to 45% 10 years later.

Of particular concern, the number of Canadians who reported having injected drugs at some point in their life has more than doubled from 132,000 to 269,000 over that same period.

Given the direct link between intravenous drug use and a host of health and social problems, substance abuse is not only a legal challenge but an enormous health and social challenge as well.

This is a challenge that costs the Canadian economy an estimated $18.45 billion, and that is according to a 1996 survey, which is almost 10 years ago. This represents a loss of $649 to every Canadian or 2.7% of the gross domestic product. If that were adjusted to today's figure, it would of course be higher.

While it is tempting to think that tougher minimum sentences for convicted drug dealers will fix this problem, locking them up and throwing away the key is not the solution. Do not get me wrong: enforcement plays an important role in deterrence and curbing the supply of street drugs in our communities. However, a recent study commissioned by the Department of Justice reviewed sentencing arrangements in a number of western countries and found that mandatory minimum penalties had no discernible effect on the crime rate.

Of equal concern, research shows that mandatory minimum penalties remove incentives to plead guilty, which also leads to increased trial rates, case processing times and workloads.

This money would be much better spent on prevention, treatment and harm reduction, both to individuals and the community. Time and again, these approaches have proven to be more cost effective. That is why our government has adopted a balanced approach to the problem, simultaneously reducing the supply, which is the target of this bill, and the demand for drugs.

Recognizing that we need to move further and faster on both fronts, in 2003 the Government of Canada renewed Canada's drug strategy with a new investment of $245 million over five years to strengthen measures to address the growth of substance abuse.

The key objectives of the renewed strategy are to: decrease the number of young Canadians who experiment with drugs; decrease the prevalence of harmful drug use; decrease the incidence of communicable diseases related to substance abuse; increase the use of alternative criminal justice measures, recognizing that traditional approaches alone are not solving the problem; decrease the illicit drug supply and address new and emerging drug trends; and decrease avoidable health, social and economic costs.

Four pillars provide the foundation for Canada's drug strategy to advance these goals: prevention, enforcement, treatment and harm reduction. Each pillar supports a number of activities.

Let me briefly explain how activities in these areas are helping to reduce the risk that children and youth will be exposed to and experiment with drugs or, where the grips of substance abuse have already taken hold, helping these young people get their lives back on track.

We know from our effective public education campaigns to reduce tobacco use that long-term sustained prevention messaging is critical to success.

So efforts to raise awareness among children and youth of the risks and consequences of drug use are a top priority under Canada's Drug Strategy.

Public education initiatives focussing on marijuana and alcohol represent the first phase of a longer-term strategy to educate youth and parents on substance use issues.

Another goal is to encourage informed and healthy decision making among Canadian youth.

As just one example, Health Canada recently launched “Straight Talk About Marijuana”, an information booklet for parents and youth to encourage open and honest frank dialogue about the drug and its effects. This fact filled booklet is based on extensive research, public opinion research conducted by Health Canada on youth between the ages of 12 and 19 to gain a better understanding of their awareness, their attitudes, knowledge and behaviour with regard to marijuana and other substances.

In addition to the public education efforts, the drug strategy community initiatives fund provides financial support in the areas of promotion, prevention and harm reduction for initiatives that address a wide range of issues regarding problematic drug use.

Under this fund, Health Canada provides $9.5 million annually for a broad cross-section of community based projects, understanding that people closest to the problem are invariably closest to the solution. Projects are tailored to the needs of specific age groups, key issues and regions of the country.

While some projects that are funded are national in scope, the focus is on supporting approaches that communities decide will work best for them. The initiatives are delivered at the local level by front line workers.

Treatment and rehabilitation for substance use is an area of provincial and territorial responsibility. However, Health Canada plays a constructive role by providing $14 million annually under its alcohol and drug treatment and rehabilitation program to participating provinces and territories to help improve access to effective treatment and rehabilitation. Youth are key target groups in both of these areas.

I am not suggesting that the areas I have outlined are the panacea to Canada's growing drug problems, a challenge shared by countries all over the world. The Government of Canada's responses to drug problems, including both demand and supply reduction efforts, are constantly reassessed to ensure their relevance and appropriateness.

It is for precisely that reason, the lack of relevance and appropriateness, that I cannot support Bill C-248. Justice Canada has clearly delineated the many shortcomings of this bill from a legal perspective. It appears it would have little, if any, impact on reducing drug supply.

When you consider that it does not do anything to reduce demand either, it is my view that this bill does not deserve further consideration.

Accordingly, although the hon. member had good intentions in introducing this bill, it is in the interest of Canadians that I oppose it.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak on Bill C-248, introduced by our colleague from Prince George—Peace River.

It will come as no surprise to hear me begin my remarks by saying that the Bloc Québécois opposes drug use. In our opinion, all drug use, particularly that by children, is bad. We also believe that an anti-drug strategy cannot consist solely of amendments to the Criminal Code and tougher penalties. A completely different aspect, meaning prevention, education and awareness, is also extremely important.

This morning in committee, my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh used, in a completely different context, the example of drinking and driving. We can use this same example here. The substantial decrease in drinking and driving—unfortunately, it has not been stamped out entirely—is largely due to our public awareness and education campaigns. We must do the same thing with regard to drug use, and target, in particular, young people in Quebec and Canada.

There is no need for me to go back over the points raised by my colleague from Prince George—Peace River. However, it bears repeating that he would like to see a minimum prison sentence of one year for a first offence and two years for a subsequent offence in cases where a person is convicted of trafficking in a controlled or restricted drug or a narcotic within 500 metres of an elementary school or a high school.

As a father of two wonderful seven-year-old boys, I strongly support any initiative to keep drugs away from schools and places that my children may frequent either now or when they are older.

However, we do have some concerns with the bill as introduced by our colleague from Prince George—Peace River. It is not clear that the individual trafficking in narcotics, be it near a school, church, office, police station or fire station, thereby intends to set up shop there. It is possible for someone to sell drugs in a prohibited area without knowing that there is a school nearby.

I have a dandy anecdote to tell here. In 1992 an individual involved in boxing was getting ready to commit armed robbery at a doughnut shop where several police officers were taking a break, which proves that stupidity is universal.

The bill introduced by the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River does not clearly establish mens rea , or the intention to commit the crime, in other words, to sell the narcotics within some defined perimeter of a school. In the absence of mens rea , how can anyone be convicted of a criminal offence?

I hope the hon. member is listening to the elements I am raising and that he will take them into account during Bill C-248's legislative progress.

Since we are opposed to substance abuse by children and the sale of narcotics to children, and because the bill is only at second reading stage, I would say to the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River and to all the hon. members in this House that at this stage we have many reservations not only about the absence of mens rea , but also about the imposition of minimum sentences. As I have already said many times, we have nothing against the introduction of minimum sentences in bills before the House.

I introduced some into Bill C-2 on the protection of vulnerable persons. However, in this case, I am not sure this is the appropriate solution. As far as I am concerned, the absence of mens rea also prompts several reservations.

I would suggest to my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois that they nevertheless support Bill C-248 at this stage. We will refer it to committee and hear from various experts and witnesses on the aspects I have just raised and on other issues as well. I am sure my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh will also have something to add.

Let us send the bill to committee and see what can be done to fight drug trafficking—especially when it comes to children. And let us make sure that thanks to the work that will be done in committee—if the bill gets that far, as I hope it will—these problems will be resolved and the bill will be improved. I promise the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River that the Bloc will work with him to improve this bill so that it can be passed.

We will support this bill at second reading stage in order to send it to committee so that we may work on it. Depending on the changes made in committee, I will indicate at third reading whether or not we will continue to support it. I reserve the opinion of the Bloc Québécois for third reading. Nonetheless, let us send it to committee and do a good job on it.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the private member's bill that we are debating this evening is fairly straightforward in its attempt to address a problem that I believe all members of the House recognize. Some of us perhaps have more knowledge than others, but certainly the member for Prince George—Peace River has drawn that to the attention of all of us. As we heard from his speech this evening, we are certainly aware of the problem of drug abuse. As parents, both he and I agree that it is always a particular concern when that drug abuse involves children.

The bill is framed in such a way as to introduce, into the offences that already exist, minimum penalties. Generally, as a party, we have been opposed to the use of minimum mandatory sentences across the board. We have recognized that there are occasions when in fact they can be useful as part of an overall strategy of controlling criminal behaviour.

As my friend from the Bloc pointed out in his speech, we have already referred to this once in the House today. The use that we made of minimum mandatory sentences to deal with the crime of impaired driving was one that we can point to with some degree of satisfaction as having been successful. However, we have to be very careful to place undue emphasis on the role that the use of minimum mandatory sentences vis-à-vis impaired driving charges had in the overall success of that strategy.

In all the studies that I have seen, the reality is that the role that we played as a government in public education was much more influential in changing people's behaviour than the use of the minimum mandatory sentence. I will not deny that is was a factor because it was part of the education.

Therefore, when groups like MADD or police forces went out into the community and said that if people are caught in a state of impairment from alcohol while they are driving, here are the types of penalties they are going to be faced with. It helped them in that education process and in fact it was quite successful. We also have to recognize, and this again is a reflection of the fact that the use of minimum mandatory sentences is not by any means and far away from a panacea.

We have seen in 2004, that in spite of having those penalties, impaired driving convictions for the first time in more than seven years actually spiked up. It is the first time that we have actually seen an increase. I think that is more of a reflection that we have tended to as a society to step back a little. We have not been as aggressive in pushing an education program. There are not as many ads on TV or in the newspapers. That is not because of any lack of work by MADD because it has continued to be a strong proponent of an education program and in fact conducting that education program as often as it can.

However, there has been a step back and we have seen a spike in the number of convictions without any change in the law as a result of that. The law remained constant with the minimum mandatory sentence in it. We have to be conscious of when it can be used and how it is used. I have concerns about using it in these circumstances. I think it would be appropriate for us to be looking at the bill in light of further investigation.

Like the Bloc Québécois, I intend to recommend to members of our caucus that we support it at second reading, even though I want to say publicly here that I am opposed to minimum mandatories in almost all cases. I believe, particularly in this one, that I will hold that position, but I am open enough to say that we should send it to committee. In committee we will hear additional evidence with regard to the possibilities of amendments that would be satisfactory to the member for Prince George—Peace River and to the rest of the committee, and then bring it back to the House for ratification.

I want to point out one of the proposals that I may be making. It would look at having specific sentencing guidelines that would be in line with mandatory directions to the court of taking circumstances into account if the drug were sold in the vicinity of an elementary or secondary school. On the other hand, if we look at the existing law, we are very close to those guidelines already being mandatory in terms of the considerations that the courts have to make when sentencing an individual convicted of this offence.

The other possibility may be to say that we are in a situation where this is of such scale that we have to use minimum mandatories for a period of time, but put in a mandatory section in the bill, an ultimate law, that would sunset it after a specific period of time. Again, that may be a recommendation that I will be making to my colleagues in committee.

There is no questioning the intention behind this bill. All parties acknowledge the problems that we have with drugs, particularly among our youth and children. We are willing to address the issue more specifically. Hopefully, in committee, we can come to a resolution that will satisfy all parties. I expect my party to be supportive, to send it to committee, and at that point to have further investigation and come to a resolution.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Prince George—Peace River has been a tireless advocate of judicial reform and has tabled many worthy initiatives during his many years as a member of Parliament. I might indicate that protection of children and the advancement of children's interests have always been at the top of his list. I am very proud to be associated with him in the same caucus and to work with him on these very important issues.

Therefore, I am so pleased that he had the foresight and the vision to address a very serious concern that is set out in Bill C-248. I want to congratulate him for his excellent work on this issue and I want to lend my voice of support for the bill.

I also want to note that the justice critics for the Bloc and the NDP will be recommending to their members to bring this forward at second reading. That is the responsible way to go. There are always issues with private members' bills, but if we can agree essentially on the principle, then we can get the matter into committee and work out some of those issues. We can work those out together and so I am very encouraged. Unfortunately again, we have the Liberals offside in terms of wanting to protect children.

On the issue of the age of consent, the Liberals have raised every possible reason why this country should not join the ranks of other civilized nations and increase the age of sexual consent to 16. They bring forward every single reason to ensure that sexual predators still have their way with our children. One has to wonder why that happened when there are clear mechanisms to ensure that we can protect children and yet respect our Constitution. However, the Liberal government consistently takes a negative approach.

The purpose of this bill is to impose minimum prison terms of one year for a first offence and two years for a subsequent offence in cases where a person is convicted of trafficking in a controlled or restricted drug or narcotic within 500 metres of an elementary school or high school.

I served in the provincial department of justice in Manitoba in the constitutional law branch. I eventually became the director, but I was working with another director who is now a very influential federal justice lawyer, and he was working on exactly the same issue. We were frustrated at that time with the failure of the federal government to address the issue of trafficking in schools. This is exactly the proposal that my colleague from years back came up with. There were substantive problems that we had from a division of powers position because the most natural place for this bill to be is within federal jurisdiction and under this act. We tried in many ways to see whether we could bring forward legislation.

My colleague has brought forward legislation and I am very pleased, after this many years, almost 15 years or more. The bill would create a safe place in a school. So many children simply want to go to school, get an education, and leave the problems of the street behind. Our children face tremendous problems on the street.

Children need a safe place but many teachers and principals are unable to provide that safe place because they know that the Criminal Youth Justice Act simply does not provide the penalties that are necessary. This legislation would create that small area of safe space where a child can learn without being pestered by drug dealers.

Drug dealers understand the law much better than we ever give them credit for. They follow these proceedings. They know where they can effectively sell drugs with a minimum of bother and fuss and those areas where there are problems.

On a national scale, we see the manufacturing of drugs and the growing of drugs in Canada increasing by leaps and bounds compared to the United States. Criminal organizations understand that it is easier to do business in Canada because there are virtually no penalties. In the City of Vancouver, for example, 1 in 13 drug dealers goes to prison. Compare that with the American situation where the average sentence for a grow op dealer is seven years and usually it is much higher than that. Grow op dealers and methamphetamine labs come to Canada.

On a smaller scale, and this is what my colleague is trying to address, if an area is safe because there are increased penalties, drug dealers stay away. Drug dealers keep that in mind. Perhaps we should do that on a national basis but there does not seem to be any will on the part of the government to create mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug dealers across this country.

Let us start by taking a small step to protect our children. What could be more reasonable than that? My Liberal colleagues have said that this will be very difficult. Will it be 501 meters or 499 meters? Speaking as a former crown attorney, I am prepared to take that chance. I would prove that it was within 500 feet if that was the kind of sentence available. We need to give crown attorneys and the police the tools they need and they will use them. There is an idea that if we go down this road and have mandatory minimum sentences, drug dealers will not plead guilty. Well, we would then go to trial and that is what the courts are for.

The reason drug dealers are pleading guilty today is because there are no sentences. What is the sense? Drug dealers regularly discuss with each other the best place to go to plead guilty when they are caught red-handed dealing drugs, especially major drug deals. Where do they go? They go to the province of British Columbia and try to get into a Vancouver court. The charge is waived into Vancouver by the federal Department of Justice, whether the individual is originally from New Brunswick, or Manitoba, or Saskatchewan. These dealers set up residence in British Columbia, go to court and receive a conditional sentence. They walk out of court having been told to keep the peace but there is no way to effectively enforce a conditional sentence. Dealers think B.C. is a nice place to live so they set up business.

Is it any wonder that we have somewhere in the range of 10,000 grow ops in the lower mainland of British Columbia when across the line there are three or four cases a year in the United States? The difference is in the sentencing.

What I am trying to say in this particular case is that minimum mandatory prison sentences do work. We have seen the evidence between what is happening in Canada and what is happening in the United States in terms of drug use and drug dealing.

This is a small step but it is an important step for the safety of our children. For once the Liberals should do the right thing and put the interests of children ahead of drug dealers and gunmen.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West
Ontario

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-248, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, trafficking in a controlled drug or substance within five hundred metres of an elementary school or a high school.

The bill would provide that every person who, within 500 metres of an elementary school or a high school, traffics in a substance included in schedules 1, 2, 3 or 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is liable to a mandatory minimum penalty of one year for a first offence and to a mandatory minimum penalty of two years for a subsequent offence.

The maximum penalties, however, were left untouched by the bill. In other words, Bill C-248 provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for trafficking in a substance included in schedules 1 and 2. The maximum penalty is 10 years where the offender traffics in a substance included in schedule 3. As for trafficking in a substance included in schedule 4, the maximum penalty is three years. Finally, an offender trafficking in a substance included in schedule 2 in an amount that does not exceed the amount set out for that substance in schedule 6, is liable for a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.

As can be understood from the penalty scheme I have just described, Bill C-248 contravenes the fundamental principle of proportionality in sentencing. This principle states that a penalty imposed on an individual must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the responsibility of the offender. This principle led to drugs being classified in specific schedules to reflect the severity of their harmful effects. Yet Bill C-248 proposes the same mandatory minimum penalties for trafficking of different drugs.

For example, a first time offender trafficking cocaine is liable to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Whereas a first time offender trafficking in barbiturates is liable to a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment. Bill C-248 proposes to punish both of these offenders with a minimum mandatory one year imprisonment for the first offence and a minimum mandatory two years imprisonment for any subsequent offence.

This is one of the reasons why I cannot support the penalty scheme that is proposed by Bill C-248. Moreover, Canada has traditionally used mandatory minimum penalties with restraint, unlike the party opposite that suggests we should use them all of the time. We prefer an individualized sentencing approach that gives the courts not only the discretion to fashion a sentence that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and to the conduct of the offender, but also the opportunity to consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

There is a wide variety of circumstances that could influence the sentencing of an offender found guilty of trafficking drugs. For example, courts have considered in such cases the offender's health, the fact the offender was on the low end of the responsibility spectrum or the fact that the offender has children and is the sole provider. Bill C-248 disregards the existence of mitigating and aggravating factors and contributes to introducing rigidity into the sentencing process.

Sometimes the use of mandatory minimum penalties can pose charter risks under section 12, the cruel and unusual punishment section. For instance, in Smith, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the mandatory minimum penalty for importing narcotics. In the opinion of the court, the mandatory minimum penalty was contrary to section 12 of the charter because it covered numerous substances of varying degrees of dangerousness and totally disregarded the quantity of the drug imported. The court also thought that mandatory minimums completely disregarded as irrelevant the purpose of a given importation and the existence or not of previous convictions for offences of a similar nature or gravity.

Research into the effectiveness of mandatory minimum penalties has shown that they do not have any obvious special deterrent or educative effect and are no more effective than other well-structured sanctions in preventing crime. This was confirmed in a comprehensive study commissioned by Justice Canada in 2001 which found that there was no correlation between crime rate and the severity of punishment.

A recent study, also commissioned by the Department of Justice, which summarizes findings from a review of sentencing arrangements in a number of western countries, found that studies that have evaluated the impact of mandatory minimum penalties found no discernible effect on crime rate.

Past experiences taught us that mandatory minimum penalties can have negative effects on the administration of our criminal justice system and that they imply significant costs for provincial and territorial correctional authorities and the Correctional Service of Canada. Research also shows that mandatory minimum penalties remove incentives for anyone to plead guilty and thereby increase trial dates, case processing times and workloads.

In conclusion, I cannot support Bill C-248 as it advances penalties that are not proportionate to the gravity of the offence and to the conduct of the offender and would deprive courts of discretion in fashioning a fit sentence by taking into account aggravating and mitigating factors.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.