House of Commons Hansard #151 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was strategy.

Topics

Pacific Gateway Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I like what my colleague said and the way he answered the rather unfortunate question the Liberal member has just asked. I do not know if he has realized we are in the era of globalization. We do not need to be next door to every country in the world to do business with them. In this era, the planet is shrinking. No need to worry. When Quebec is sovereign, we will do business with everyone in the same way or even much better, since we will be representing ourselves.

There is, however, one aspect of C-68 that worries me. My colleague touched on it in expressing his reservations. I would like him to return to the option the government is again giving itself of infringing on provincial jurisdiction. We have to evaluate this reservation before supporting such a bill.

Pacific Gateway Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Clavet Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be brief. I thank my colleague, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

Indeed, the bill is not entirely clear about the provinces. I have mentioned this. I think this must be a preoccupation for provincial interests—in the case of the provinces—and we will have to make sure once and for all that they will be consulted when a potentially interesting strategy is being developed.

However, as history repeats itself, we sometimes wonder how the federal government could infringe on provincial jurisdiction, as it has a habit of doing.

Pacific Gateway Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC

Madam Speaker, the apparent purpose of todays's bill is to enhance Canada's competitiveness in the Pacific Rim. That is a laudable objective, but the government's current efforts to sell Ridley Terminals are not consistent with that objective. That is the issue I would like to address.

In a recent editorial, the Vancouver Sun commented on the sale of Ridley Terminals and said:

Selling Ridley Terminals for a pittance to a private operator, a junior miner with no operating revenue, without any apparent mechanism to guarantee fair and equitable treatment for all producers flies in the face of common sense and makes a mockery of Ottawa's pledge to make B.C. ports the gateway to Asia-Pacific trade.

In another article, the Vancouver Sun identified that company. It said:

The unidentified “B.C. company” teaming up with a junior mining firm to buy a federal coal terminal in Prince Rupert is an Ontario-based cement manufacturer headed by George Doumet, a low-profile Vancouver-based international businessman....

The article goes on to say:

Doumet has rarely been mentioned in the Canadian business media since Candou Industries, the holding company of the Doumet family of Lebanon, declared bankruptcy in 1983 in what was reported at the time to be one of the largest insolvencies in Canadian history.

This is curious, because there seems to be an unholy rush to move ahead with this sale. We have to wonder why. On September 29, the transport minister obtained an unusual cabinet order preventing Ridley's management from signing coal contracts longer than 18 months without his consent and is seeking cabinet approval to negotiate Ridley's sale on a hurry-up basis.

If we take another look at this company and Mr. Doumet, we have to wonder, why the rush? Justice Wood, in a decision on November 29, 1991, on another issue when Mr. Doumet or his companies were before the court, said:

The trial judge made an assessment on the question of whether the discrepancy between the share prices in 1983 and 1989 raised a reasonable inference of fraud or negligence and found that it did.

The folks that he is talking about are the folks that the government wants to sell Ridley to. The judge went on to say:

The judge below made an assessment of this question on the basis of the evidence before him, specifically that set out in Mr. Doumet's affidavit material. He concluded that that material disclosed that there is more than just a discrepancy between the 1983 sale price and the 1989 share price upon which the allegations of fraud are based.

The question is, why is the government in this rush to sell to this company? When we look at the order--

Pacific Gateway Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I am sorry to interrupt the member at this time, but it being 5:30 p.m, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' members as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 18 consideration of the motion 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 now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today in the House on the bill introduced by our colleague from Prince George—Peace River. Bill C-248 is interesting and raises a number of questions. It forces us to dig a little deeper in order to understand the purpose of this bill. We have some concerns.

The Bloc has no objections to this bill being referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Under the bill, every person who sells drugs within one kilometre of an elementary or a high school can be charged with an offence and, upon conviction, is liable, for a first offence, to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of one year and, for a subsequent offence, to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of two years.

We have questions about two issues. Since I was a defence lawyer for over 30 years, I want to raise at the very least a practical problem with Bill C-248.

Let us imagine that I have a client who is dealing drugs on a main street, not knowing there is a school on another street less than five hundred metres away. I am not saying it is right to deal drugs. This raises a serious question concerning mens rea . The Bloc Québécois is, of course, opposed to dealing drugs, and we cannot agree to allow illegal narcotics or other drugs to be sold without a permit. We know all the complications that can come from that.

I have a problem with this part of the bill. We will be able to debate it in committee later on, but it is obvious that a person involved in drug trafficking might, like many others, not be aware that a school is located 500 metres away. In small communities, it is quite common for a school to be located off the main street.

There is more. We are gong to have a serious problem with this bill and it merits careful study in committee. The bill sets out minimum prison sentences. I do not know where my colleagues in the Conservative party come up with this, but they turn up here regularly with demands for minimum prison sentences.

To take one case as an example, today someone appears before a Quebec court for drug trafficking, marijuana for instance, and it is a first offence. No court, except in really exceptional circumstances, will ever impose a minimum one year sentence. He would have to have sold drugs by the pound, not done petty trafficking. We need to agree, because all cases are different. In this instance, a minimum is being imposed.

I have read in detail what the Minister of Justice has written. We were provided with certain information and we have made inquiries of the Justice Department as well. It appears to us that Bill C-248 might be contrary to the underlying principle of proportionality in sentencing. If the bill gets to committee, it will need to be examined very carefully before any minimum prison sentences are imposed, particularly considering the nature of the offence. We are not talking about trafficking in heroin or cocaine here, but about just any drug.

The bill talks of any person trafficking in a controlled or restricted drug or a narcotic. So it is talking of marihuana or very small quantities, not of large quantities, pounds or kilograms. It refers to any sort of narcotic sold within five hundred metres of a school. An individual found to be guilty should be punished for a criminal act and given a minimum prison sentence.

This strikes us as very heavy. The committee will have to debate this point.

We have always wondered about certain offences. Mandatory minimum prison sentences can not only create practical problems but give rise to appeals under section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This section concerns cruel and unusual punishment.

How will the court interpret these various cases? A person selling narcotics in a hotel would be sentenced to six months' probation or a $1,000 fine, while someone selling the same type and quantity of narcotic within five hundred metres of a school would be sentenced to a minimum of a year's imprisonment. No doubt, the court would be called on to determine whether the sentence was cruel and unusual.

We think it important to raise this point now. When we examine the bill in committee, we will have to work very hard to come up with a solution. The bill's aim to make it an offence to sell narcotics near schools is a very good one. However, the minimum one-year sentence is clearly a problem. We will have to look at that.

Generally, in determining sentences for drug-related offences, the courts must take into consideration all aggravating circumstances, for instance, the sale of narcotics or substances to a person under the age of 18, or trafficking at a school, on school grounds or other public places generally frequented by minors. However, this bill does not take extenuating or aggravating circumstances into account and would encourage rigidity in the sentencing process. We feel that is one of the biggest constraints that need to reviewed in committee.

We have already discussed minimum sentences. Our Conservative friends tend to submit requests for minimum sentences regularly. With all due respect to my colleagues in the Conservative Party, I find that constantly asking for minimum sentences is the wrong approach. In that approach, the focus is more on repression than on rehabilitation. In my opinion, that is not the right solution.

We will not vote against the bill because we find the idea of condemning the sale of drugs near schools an important and interesting one. However, in committee, we will be able to discuss at greater length the type of sentence that could be imposed on a person who commits this type of offence, which we condemn, of course.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Michael John Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak to the bill as it has some significance for me. It is an issue that concerns me a lot, as I know it concerns all members. I have spent some time in trying to understand this issue and have been involved in the this whole issue back home, the whole issue of controlled drugs and drug abuse, particularly drug abuse among children.

This concern is probably something that I inherited naturally from my father who was what I guess we could call a pioneer in the whole area of drug abuse and drug education, along with people in Nova Scotia like Marvin Burke and Ed Fitzgerald, great community people who did an awful lot of work while trying to educate people about drug abuse.

I wish to applaud my hon. colleague who proposed this for his desire to protect Canadian children and youth from dangerous drugs in schoolyards. No one questions that motivation. I can assure him that government members share his concerns about the threats posed by the rise in illegal drug use in our country.

We do take some issue with the tool with which he is attempting to address this problem, and I personally take issue with it, but let us make no mistake about it: substance 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. That is actually up from 28% a decade earlier.

The Canadian addiction survey, published in November 2004, found that more than half of teens aged 15 to 19 reported using marijuana at least once in their lifetime. That number rose to almost 70% among those aged 20 to 24. 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 of their life more than doubled, from 132,000 to 269,000, over the 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 challenge and a social challenge as well, a challenge that costs the Canadian economy an estimated $18.5 billion according to a 1996 study. That represents a loss of $649 for every Canadian or 2.7% of our GDP.

I suspect that many Canadians at first glance would suggest that tougher minimum sentences for convicted drug dealers will fix the problem, or in other words, we should be locking them up and throwing away the key. I do not think that is the solution. I would not say that it is not part of the solution in some circumstances. I ask members not to get me wrong, as I think enforcement plays an important role in deterrence, and curbing the street supply of drugs in our communities has to be a priority.

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 leads to increased trial rates, case processing times and workloads. That costs money, money that would be much better spent on prevention, treatment and harm reduction both for individuals and the community. Time and again, these approaches have proven more effective.

That is why our government has adopted a balanced approach to the problem, simultaneously reducing both the supply of and the demand for these 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.

The key objectives are: 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 resolving the problem; decrease the illicit drug supply and address new and emerging drug trends; and obviously, decrease avoidable health, social and economic costs.

There are four pillars that provide the foundation for the strategy: prevention, enforcement, treatment and harm reduction. Each pillar supports a number of activities. Let me talk a little about how the activities in these areas help to reduce the risks that children and youth will be exposed to and help in whether or not they experiment with drugs at all.

Education and prevention do work. We know that. From my own involvement with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and through being involved in the Health Charities Coalition in the effort to reduce tobacco use, I have found that we can have an effect through education and advocacy, especially with younger Canadians.

We know that effective public education campaigns to reduce tobacco use produce long term, sustained, preventive improvements in our economy as well as in our health care system. Efforts to raise awareness among children and youth of the risks and consequences of drug use need to be a top priority of the Canadian drug strategy.

Public education initiatives focusing 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 Canada's youth.

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

In addition to 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 substance abuse. 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 solutions.

Projects are tailored to the needs of specific age groups, key issues and regions of the country. While some projects that are funded may be national in scope, the focus is on supporting approaches that communities decide will work best for them. These initiatives are delivered on the local level by front line workers.

Treatment and rehabilitation for substance abuse is an area of provincial and territorial responsibility as well. 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. Young Canadians are the key target group in both of these areas.

I am not suggesting the areas that I have talked about here are the panacea to Canada's growing drug problem, which is a challenge that is worldwide and is shared by many countries. However, the Government of Canada's responses to drug problems, including both demand and supply reduction efforts, are constantly reassessed to ensure their relevance and their appropriateness.

We do need to do more to ensure the safety of our children, particularly as it relates to drug and alcohol and to those who would take advantage of them. As I mentioned, my father and many other people in Nova Scotia, such as the Ed Fitzgeralds and the Marvin Burkes, have done a lot of work in this area of dealing with drug and alcohol addiction. Prevention and education go along with enforcement in making sure that we can improve the lives and the safety of young Canadians.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to speak on behalf of the residents of Palliser to Bill C-248, which is a very innovative and bold step by the member for Prince George—Peace River. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to impose minimum prison sentences 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.

That sounds perfectly reasonable to me and it is perfectly reasonable to most Canadians watching this evening. The member for Prince George—Peace River clearly is concerned, as am I, and as are my colleagues the member for Wild Rose and the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. I could list every member on this side of the House. We are deeply concerned about these issues. We are concerned for our kids in Canada. That is what the bill is about, a concern for families, support for law enforcement officers and a desire to see justice in Canada and the protection of victims and in this case the would-be victims.

I have been pushing the government on the issue of rescheduling crystal meth. For many months I have pushed to have crystal meth moved from schedule III to schedule I to enable judges to impose harsher sentences on those convicted of trafficking in crystal meth. Most members and most Canadians know that crystal meth is a menace in our society. Of those who take crystal meth for the first time, 85% become addicted. It is truly a terrible threat to our communities and our citizens.

I have met with parents, young addicts, police officers, community volunteers. I have seen the effects of the drug. I have received letters from some constituents. I will not share the contents of those letters, but suffice it to say they had rivetting stories of the impact the drug has had on their family members and friends. The stories are terrible beyond words.

With this bill the member for Prince George—Peace River seeks to protect children at school. The schools need to be sanctuaries for kids. They need to be temples of learning, whether it be Peacock, Central, Vanier or Riverview collegiates in Moose Jaw or Sheldon-Williams Collegiate in Regina, or elementary schools. Sadly, some predators prey on children younger than those in grade 9. They are in our elementary schools or outside our schools. Make no mistake that those people are predators. They have not simply made a mistake. Drug dealers prey on our most vulnerable citizens, the future of this great country.

We need to have some deterrence. Many members came to the House to reform our criminal justice system. We need to have some tools. The government needs to provide some deterrence. Our laws need to provide some deterrence against this type of activity, drug dealing to children near schools. Perhaps the best way to prevent people from preying on young people near our schools is with minimum sentences, with jail time. When people are incarcerated for dealing drugs to children we know that temporarily they are not going to be dealing drugs to kids. That may be the best form of prevention.

This should be a no-brainer, but many Liberals opposite have already spoken against the bill. I was surprised to hear some of the comments by the member earlier against minimum sentences. It should be a no-brainer, but it is not really surprising given the government's record of being soft on crime. It is soft on drugs.

We have seen the government's plan to decriminalize marijuana. That is something that certainly no police officer in this country wants to see. Police realize that marijuana is a gateway drug. Someone does not simply wake up one morning and say, “I think I am going to do crack cocaine today,” or “Today is crystal meth day”. It is a gateway drug.

It is just amazing. The government just does not get it. It took many months to reschedule crystal meth and the impact on individuals and families was huge in this country. The government has not yet acted to restrict the precursors, the key ingredients for crystal meth and that needs to happen. It is not surprising though, given the government's approach to crime.

We could go on about the $2 billion gun registry. The Liberals continue to pour good money after bad into a flawed plan that has not saved one life or prevented one crime involving firearms. They are supported by the member for Toronto--Danforth and the NDP in throwing the money away instead of putting it toward front line policing, education, drug awareness and treatment. These are all critical components.

The government has not protected our children by raising the age of sexual consent to 16. It thereby passively condones adults having sex with children who are 14 years old. Again the Liberal government, which has been in power for 12 years, has not protected Canadian children from predators, which is what we are trying to do here today. Conditional sentences for serious crimes, even violent crimes, is the record of the government opposite.

The member for Prince George--Peace River said that the bill is about health, mental health, education, social welfare and the future we offer our nation's children. He realizes that education and awareness are key components of what we need to do to stamp out predators and the drug problem in our society. He said that 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, but it has to have some teeth. It cannot just be empty promises like we are accustomed to hearing.

The Minister of Health is against this legislation. The member for Prince George--Peace River went out of his way to say he wanted to make it clear to members of the House that the legislation is targeted toward adults who intentionally seek to sell drugs to children or minors. He stressed adults.

The Library of Parliament synopsis of the purposes of sentencing is comprised of seven main aspects, which include deterrence through the fear of punishment for the crime and punishments against reoffending, something that Bill C-248 certainly does address.

I said earlier that perhaps the best way to ensure that predators are not preying upon Canadian children in schools is by incarcerating them so we know that they are not out in society. A prison sentence actually enables those individuals to get some rehabilitation. We can rehabilitate individuals and certainly we are not against that, but there needs to be some deterrence. We do not have to go far to know why.

Talk to the families of those people who are affected by crystal meth. Look into their eyes. Talk to police officers and community leaders about what crystal meth is doing to our kids, to our society and the future of this country. We are at war with drug dealers in this country. Maybe it is time to start treating it like a war and take some firm steps to ensure that individuals can no longer prey upon our children.

In August the Conservative Party formed a task force on safe streets and healthy communities. This task force travelled across Canada to meet with a broad cross-section of people, including victims of crime, community workers and front line law enforcement officers. Our goal is to gain a better understanding of the emergency crime issues facing our nation. I am very proud to be part of a party that has delved into these issues.

Let us hope all members do the right thing and send this bill to committee. They should consult with their constituents. If they do not vote for it and send it to committee, they will have to explain that to their constituents.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having this opportunity to speak to this private member's bill. I compliment my colleague for putting this issue forward.

Speaking on behalf of the citizens in the riding of Winnipeg Centre, let me point out that the top of mind issues for them are crime and violence and safety on the streets.

I am not a bleeding heart. I believe the pendulum has swung too far the other way to the point where the emphasis is too much on the rights of the criminal and not enough on the rights of the victim. I say that with no fear of contradiction of my own party's policy.

This private member's bill speaks specifically of the impact that criminals have when operating near a school yard. It asks for special emphasis in terms of the criminal justice system in recognizing that added social threat. I can speak to that from personal experience. There are regions in the inner city core area of downtown Winnipeg where street crime and violence have reached epic proportions. People are absolutely fed up. Right next door to some of the worst hot spots for outbreaks of crime and violence are elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools and the University of Winnipeg.

Those individuals operating under the radar so to speak, whether they are dealing drugs, organizing prostitution or exploiting our youth in the sex trade, et cetera, and are doing so within the proximity of a school, should be treated with extra vigour by the courts through the criminal justice system.

I asked for the opportunity to join in the debate today to point out that some regions have made some progress by giving special authority to police officers and the courts to address regional outbursts. I am thinking specifically of Montreal. When gang violence was reaching epic proportions, the city augmented the authority of police officers so they might curtail that activity and not be hog-tied as it were and not have to fold their arms and watch the activity take place and have to meet a stringent burden of proof in order to interrupt that activity. That is what I am calling for in the riding of Winnipeg Centre.

Recently I wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice asking him to meet with the Attorney General of Manitoba to authorize special powers, even on an interim basis, so that police officers could do their job more effectively. That means something as simple as being able to interrupt that activity without meeting the burden of proof which exists today. Some would call this an infringement on rights and freedoms, but I think it is a fair trade-off in the case of some of the outrageous activity that goes on in my riding, in the inner city in close proximity to elementary schools and junior high schools.

If it ever comes to choosing between the rights of the criminal and the rights of kids to go to school free of interference by criminals in their neighbourhood, I will err on the side of the kids every time.There should not even be a debate about it in the House of Commons.

The member who put forward this bill did so in good faith to address a specific nuisance in his own community. I am here to tell everyone that same situation can be found all across Canada, from the downtown east side in Vancouver to the inner city of Winnipeg, to Toronto, to Montreal. We have to interrupt this growing trend.

If there is any lesson we can learn from the inner cities of other countries, and I sometimes look at the crime and violence in the United States that has blighted communities, it is that we need to intervene now while the problem is still manageable.

I am not proud of this but I have had residents come to my office to tell me that they do not allow their children to sleep in bedrooms with outside walls for fear of stray bullets coming through the walls and hurting their children. It is terrible to have to consider that the drug related gun play in some communities has reached the point that a mother has to consider where in the house the child will sleep that night to be free from danger stemming from the gun play going on.

I am not saying that it is gun play that always results in someone being hurt. Sometimes it is just these guys playing with their guns in the back alleys. Almost every night gunfire can be heard on the streets of the inner city of Winnipeg and it is punks firing off their guns in the back lanes virtually free of interference.

I will vote and be proud to vote for anything that will give our law enforcement officers the right tools to curtail this activity, and I see no contradiction in that.

I cannot imagine anyone in the House speaking openly against an initiative that would give our law enforcement officers the tools they need. The beauty of private members' business is that it is always a free vote, in my party at least. Some people have different ideas and believe we need to deal with the crime and the root causes of crime. However if we are going to look at a lasting solution, obviously we need to have balance in the way we view these things.

However there does come a time when citizens need to put down their foot and say, “We have been patient, we have been understanding and we have tried our best to meet the social ills that may be the underlying root causes of the violence that is breaking out on our streets but it is time to put safety first”. Once the streets are safe, then we can address the underlying root causes.

I do not think we can fix the problem in the midst of the maelstrom of illegal activity that happens on a day to day basis. We need to move in with swift and harsh justice to make the streets safe and then take a step back and put in place the foundations for addressing the underlying root causes of poverty, poor housing, et cetera, which may be what generated the social ills that we see in the inner city.

I wanted to take this opportunity today in the twilight moments of this Parliament to emphasize, once and for all, that when I hear the citizens of the inner city riding of Winnipeg Centre tell me that their number one concern is crime and safety on the streets, I will do all I can to support measures that will address their concerns so they can raise their children in an environment that is safe and not feel threatened in their own back yard.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to stand in the House of Commons and speak on behalf of my constituents of Brampton—Springdale.

When we talk about the issue of safer streets, safer schools and safer neighbourhoods, that is a goal that all of us as community members try to work toward. It is one of the key goals we have in Brampton—Springdale.

Before I begin, I must take the opportunity to recognize the sincerity of the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River in bringing forward this legislation to penalize those who prey on our vulnerable children who should be able to live in an environment where they feel safe and secure.

What is unfortunate is that our government cannot support the bill based on the legal grounds that were laid out by my colleagues from Justice Canada. Research has consistently found that minimum sentences have little or absolutely no effect in deterring criminal activity.

However let there be no mistake that both myself, as the member of Parliament for Brampton—Springdale, and the Liberal government share the determination of the member to protect children from the harmful effects of drugs that cause so many problems for many Canadian families and their communities across the country.

I just want to reiterate one of the reasons that we must hold back our support for Bill C-248. The bill would contravene the fundamental principle of proportionality in sentencing. By proposing the same mandatory minimum penalty for trafficking in drugs that are found in different schedules of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, it disregards, among other things, the differences in health and safety risks associated with drugs that have been found in those particular schedules.

The fact is that research has consistently found that minimum sentencing has little or absolutely no effect at all in deterring criminal activity. It is essential to realize that to deter criminal activity we must get to the root of the problem and try to create safer streets, safer schools, safer neighbourhoods and, ultimately, safer communities for a safe nation.

I realize the sincere desire of the member of Parliament to penalize those who prey on children. I assure all hon. members that the government does share his determination, which is why Parliament set out in section 10 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act the purpose of sentencing for drug offences and the requirement that the court consider any relevant aggravating factors, including trafficking to any person under the age of 18 years, and trafficking in or near school grounds or any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of 18.

However I think it is important to recognize that it will take much more than tough penalties to make our Canadian schoolyards safe. Enforcement is one of the many areas where we, as parliamentarians and as Canadians, need to take action to protect the future of our country, which is our youth, from the devastating effects of substance abuse. We need to make major inroads in the areas of prevention, treatment and harm reduction. We can do that by working together.

The Government of Canada has already put forward a strategy designed to achieve those goals, and that is our Canada drug strategy.

The strategy that we currently have in place seeks to ensure that Canadians and our young people, the future of our nation, can live in a society that is free of the harm associated with problematic substance abuse. This strategy takes a balanced approach to both reducing the demand for drugs and the supply of drugs. It ultimately contributes to a goal all of us here are trying to achieve, and that is a healthier, safer community and environment through prevention, enforcement, treatment and other harm reduction initiatives.

To strengthen its capacity to address the growth of drug use throughout society, in 2003 the government renewed the Canada drug strategy and bolstered its funding with a new investment of $245 million over five years for ongoing measures to address the harmful use of substances. This includes an annual investment of $9.5 million in the drug strategy communities initiatives fund for the development of national, provincial, territorial and community based projects to address substance abuse and to promote public awareness of substance abuse issues. I am sure my colleagues are aware of the benefits of this particular drug strategy community initiatives fund.

Also included in our funding of $245 million was $14 million to be provided annually to the alcohol and drug treatment and rehabilitation program which would really work toward increasing the availability of effective substance abuse treatment. Young people are a primary target of all activities flowing out of Canada's drug strategy. As a former health care provider who has worked with individuals who have taken the wrong path, joined the wrong crowd or who perhaps experimented with substance abuse, I know firsthand that many of these initiatives put forward by Canada's drug strategy have actually worked.

We can take the example of some of the several public education campaigns that have been undertaken. Several of these initiatives are directly aimed at youth. They include an interactive “Be drug wise” website which has been accessed by a number of youth throughout the country. As we know, in the era of technology and the advancement of young people, they are very in tune with everything that is going on over the Internet. This is something that has provided a tremendous benefit to our young people.

We as a government, through Health Canada, have released a “Straight Talk About Marijuana” information booklet, both for youth and their parents, to address some of the common misconceptions that the use and effects of drugs have, as well as any potential legal consequences. We have tried to ensure that we get the information out to the people to whom it matters most.

In addition, the government has spearheaded the development of a national framework for action to reduce the harms associated with alcohol, drugs and other substances in Canada. Provincial, territorial and municipal governments and agencies, NGOs and many others, especially in my community of Brampton—Springdale, are coming together to develop and implement a framework that will work and that will ensure we have safer schools, neighbourhoods and communities and, ultimately, will be a positive step toward ensuring we have a structure and a national approach for preventing the use of drugs and substances among our young people.

In the process of doing this, many stakeholders across the country are sharing information about best practices and evidence based research to ensure that we can utilize optimally our Canadian tax dollars with programs that work for the intended audiences. Children and young people, urban, suburban, first nations, Inuit, Métis, whether they are gay or lesbian, from minority communities, street youth, rural youth, youth of all ages, of all socio-economic brackets and cultural backgrounds, are front and centre in this goal to ensure we work together collectively as a team to have safe neighbourhoods and safe communities.

Communities across the country are doing their part to advance Canada's drug strategy. Many of them have benefited from financial federal support that has been provided under the initiatives fund that was established in 2004. A number of initiatives have taken place whereby the western ministers of health, justice and public safety have met to address the growing concerns around the use and production of crystal meth, which some of my colleagues spoke to earlier.

I am not suggesting that the solutions we face in addressing this huge challenge are easy but we must ensure that we work together collectively as a team within the framework we have, which is the Canada drug strategy. We also must move forward to ensure we can address the issue of drug and substance abuse among our young people. We ultimately must work together to create a safe nation by building safer neighbourhoods, schools and communities.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a real honour to speak to Bill C-248. It is a bill that would impose mandatory minimum prison sentences of one year for a first offence and two years for a subsequent offence in cases where an adult is convicted of trafficking a controlled or restricted drug or a narcotic within half a kilometre of an elementary school or high school.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River for bringing this legislation to us and the member for Palliser, both hardworking members in this House, who are working hard to protect our children. We need to come up with appropriate and practical legislation that would deal with the problem.

We have just heard from a member from across the House with the typical Liberal rhetoric that we need to have education. Yes, we do. We must have a total package. However, we have a criminal element hanging out near schools and going after our children. To say that we are going to talk to them and tell them that the minimum sentences do not work, does not work. We have studies that show that. If we are going to ask them to stop selling drugs to our children, that does not work either.

This last summer, I spent time with the RCMP. I went through a one week training program, so that I could spend time with them on the bike squad. We spent a lot of time riding around, so I could see what was happening in my community of Langley, what was happening with homelessness, what was happening with the drug scene, and what was happening with prostitution.

I saw some sad scenes, but particularly, what I was saddened by was the number of youth who were being sucked into the drug culture. They would be hanging around the schools. It was the summer, so school was out. I found that a lot of parks are located near the schools. There is this practical aspect that there would be a school and a park in a similar vicinity, so that there is the use of both facilities by those attending school.

There were a lot of drug dealers hanging around the parks. As we would ride into a park on the bikes, we would see these adult drug dealers selling drugs to the kids.

This bill would limit the distance that an adult drug dealer could be from a school. It would be half a kilometre. We would take a school and draw a circle around it, 500 metres, half a kilometre. We would say that “If you are an adult and you are a drug pusher, you do not go near the school. If you do, you are going to jail, and it will be at least one year”.

We have heard from the justice minister. We have heard from the member from the Liberal Party saying that this would not work. Liberals say they have these studies that say that minimum mandatory sentences do not work. Both the justice minister and that hon. member, who just spoke, have neglected to tell us that there are just as many studies that tell us that they do work as there are that tell us they do not work. It is a very limited number of studies. What we are asking for, and what the public is asking is for, is a common sense solution.

The member for Prince George—Peace River has come up with Bill C-248. It is well thought out. If this becomes legislation, drug dealers are quickly going to find out that they are going to pay a serious consequence if they sell their drugs near schools.

I serve on the justice committee. I have heard the justice minister say many times that our children are the most vulnerable. He has stated that we need to protect our children and if we have blown it with our children, we have blown it. I would agree with that.

What is the government tangibly doing? What is it doing to protect our children? Nothing. After 12 years in government, it has a legacy of being soft on crime. If individuals sell drugs to our children, what is the consequence? They receive probation, maybe a fine, or they have the drugs taken away from them.

As we see drugs being more prevalent within our schools, I hear from parents. We each have constituents who come to us, and I am sure that there are constituents who go to the Liberal MPs, and tell us stories about their children being afraid to go to school. One of the parents came to me and said, “my son is afraid to go into the washroom because if he goes in there they are doing drugs. They are selling drugs”. Our public school system is under attack because drug dealers are in the schools.

The schools have to be creative and find ways to keep the drug dealers out. They have the doors all locked and some of the schools have even gone to uniforms. Through education and creative measures schools have tried to keep the drug dealers out. We need to give the police enforcement tools. There must be a consequence if an adult drug dealer is hanging around the school and selling drugs to our children.

Ask any person in Canada if they think it is reasonable to let these drug dealers who are going after our children, our future generation, into our schools? The future of Canada is under attack by these organized criminal elements that are going after our children. They are going into our schools and going after our children. If we ask an average Canadian if it is appropriate to give them a slap on the hand if they are selling drugs to our children, the answer is absolutely not. There has to be a consequence.

We believe in the discretion of the courts. I believe in that. We have to honour and respect our courts. What we have now is the typical consequence, the typical sentence keeps going down and down. It has gone down to the point where there is no consequence for these people. A slap on the hand is not doing it.

I support Bill C-248. I ask every member in this House to support Bill C-248 because it indeed puts a very practical and very realistic consequence for selling drugs to our kids. It should not happen. Bill C-248 will stop it from happening. The word will get out among the criminal elements that they do not sell drugs near the schools. I encourage everyone to support Bill C-248.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

To wrap up the debate, we have the sponsor of the bill, the member for Prince George--Peace River.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not really know where to begin tonight, but I want to begin first of all by expressing my thanks.

The Liberal member across the way says it does not surprise him at all. This is a serious issue, but that is the type of attitude, unfortunately, we get from the Liberal government when we talk about protecting the children of this country. That is the type of attitude that we can expect.

I want to thank my colleagues from the Conservative Party of Canada who have spoke in support of Bill C-248. Our justice critic from Provencher spoke during the first hour of debate and tonight there was the member for Palliser and the member for Langley. I thank all three of them for their support and for their kind words, and for standing up for children. That is what the bill is about. It is about standing up for children.

I was a little bit dismayed by the approach taken by my colleague from the Bloc Québécois who spoke tonight. I believe it was the justice critic for the Bloc in the first hour of debate who seemed to indicate that all private members' bills should have free votes. He was going to recommend to the Bloc Québécois caucus members that they support this bill, even though the Bloc has some concerns with it, to at least move it on to the standing committee on justice. I think that is wise.

I am not saying that the bill is perfect in its present form, but when it comes to defending our children, standing up for our children and protecting them from predators, it should be unanimous. Every member in the House would want to at least say, yes, this bill makes enough sense, and the issue is important enough that we want to send it to the committee for further study. At least we should send it that far.

Therefore, I was a little bit dismayed that the member from the Bloc who spoke tonight seemed to indicate that he personally was going to be voting against the bill. That was disappointing for me.

I wish to thank the members from the NDP, both during the first hour and the second hour of debate. Both of them indicated their willingness to support it. I suspect that is representative of their entire caucus of some 18 members.

So, it is with the Liberals. Clearly, as we have shown in this minority Parliament, we can pass this bill without the support of the Liberals. I would hope that it is going to pass. I would also hope that all Liberal members look into their hearts and think about what they are doing when they stand up to vote on Bill C-248, instead of just talking about getting tough on crime, as they have been doing the last while. They started talking about mandatory minimum sentences as if there is something to be said for that.

The justice minister has been all over this issue for the last number of months. First he is in favour of it, then he speaks against it. We do not know where he is coming from. What kind of signal does that send to the people in our schools, our teachers, our parents, the children themselves, and those people involved in law enforcement?

We have many laws in this country. The problem is they are not enforced properly. This will help. It will take the discretion away from the courts and away from the judges. We will no longer see house arrest where some animal that preys on our children in our schools is sent home with a slap on the wrist to watch colour TV.

That is what the bill is about. It is about sending a signal to organized crime and those who would prey on our children that if they do it within 500 metres of the sight of a school, they are in big trouble.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health is here again tonight. He led off the debate for the Liberals. He made a statement during his remarks that quite frankly appalled me. He suggested that one of the reasons the Liberals would not be in favour of mandatory minimum sentences, if we can believe this, is that drug dealers might be deterred from pleading guilty if they knew they would have to go to jail.

That is unbelievable and it is totally unacceptable in this country that the government's attitude would be that we do not want to put that in place because it might deter criminals from pleading guilty. We might actually have take them to trial. We might actually have to prove that they are preying on our children and send them away to the big house for a while. That is the attitude of the Liberals. They have the audacity to turn around and say that maybe they are thinking about getting tough on crime.

The government is on the side of the criminals. We are on the side of the victims and children. That is the way it will always be until we get a new Conservative government.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 6:30 p.m. the time provided for the debate has expired. Accordingly the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.