House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was problem.

Topics

Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Motion No. 4
Ways and Means
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Pursuant to order made earlier this day, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on motion No. 4 under ways and means.

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

Vote #9

Ways and Means
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:07 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

November 14th, 2007 / 6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

moved that Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to have the opportunity to discuss with my colleagues from all parties Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).

One of the quirks of the prorogation process is that private members' business reverts to the start of whichever stage it was at before prorogation. This offers me a unique opportunity to speak to my bill a second time at this reading and this time with the benefit of having heard each of the opposition parties speak to it as well.

Most of what I have to say today will be similar to my original comments in the House on June 5 of this year, but I will try to also take some time to respond to some of my opposition colleague's comments from that first hour of debate.

I was very encouraged to hear each of the opposition speakers express general support for the principle of the bill the first time around.

In drafting the bill, I made a specific effort to identify some common ground, a somewhat difficult endeavour given the increasingly partisan nature of this minority Parliament. Before I go any further, I will summarize the bill for the benefit of those who may not have had the time to review it yet.

As the summary of the bill outlines, Bill C-423 would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to require that a police officer must, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under this act against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient to refer the young person to an addiction specialist for assessment and, if warranted, treatment recommendations.

The second aspect of the proposed legislation is that if the young person enters into a treatment program as a result of such a referral and fails to complete the program, the outcome may be the start of judicial proceedings against that young person.

When I last spoke in the House about the bill, I began by trying to illustrate the scope of the problem. The cumulative societal cost of Canada's addictions problem is not only incredibly high, it is extremely complicated to determine. We are dealing with not only economic costs, but all types of subjective and incalculable personal and emotional costs that affect individuals, families and communities from coast to coast to coast.

During the previous debate, the justice critic from the Bloc, the member for Hochelaga, remembered examining in committee the cost of addictions to Canadian society. He said that economic studies showed that it could translate into $16 billion in lost productivity for Canada's GNP because of the investments needed in police forces and the negative repercussions on society.

The costs are hard to calculate. There are more than simple economic costs. There are many other consequences, for example, early death, drug induced mental illness, domestic violence, family breakdown, poverty, increased crime rates and I could go on. It is a very complicated issue. One of the things that further complicates it is that most of the issues and costs are interrelated.

It is an issue which affects our quality of life as a nation. The total cost represents a major withdrawal every single day from Canada's greatness in human terms.

There is a compound effect. The Canadian addictions industry is a sophisticated machine. Most kids start using drugs before the age of 18 and entry level products ease their fears. There is a variety of drugs that kids can get into that do not seem that scary to them, so they experiment.

I will comment, as an aside, that when the NDP member for Vancouver East spoke last time, she talked about schools “where kids are told...If you smoke marijuana you're going to become a cocaine addict”. She went on to say, “That is like saying that everybody who drives a car is going to kill somebody”.

First, I have never heard anybody explain the problem that way or express it that way, the fact that if one smokes marijuana, one automatically will become a cocaine addict. I think most reasonable people would look at it and say that once one starts with something, one is more likely to move on to something stronger down the road.

As for the car analogy, a more appropriate car analogy would be that not everyone who drives drunk is going to kill someone, but we still have laws against driving while drunk. I think most people would think that those laws are reasonable.

Talking about the compound effect, once these kids enter into the world of drug use, once they start using drugs, they eventually move on to increased frequency or stronger substances. They share these substances with their friends and talk about their experiences with their friends. At this point, early in the process, there is still no apparent downside. Some kids are drawn deeper into the drug world. Their involvement gets more formalized. They join gangs. The benefits for them are they get money, they have esteem and power among other benefits.

Then there are other kids who may not be gang material, but they become customers for life. They are addicted to the highs, but they need more and more of the substances to achieve those same highs. They fall into a world of petty crime and the habit of committing small crimes to feed their addictions. It becomes a spiral, escalating drug use and crime.

I recently had the opportunity to visit an addictions recovery centre in Edmonton. It is called the Our House. It is an award winning program that helps men deal with significant addictions issues. They stay for one year and the results are phenomenal. They have 32 people in this home. They stay for a year, and they do some wonderful work there.

I spoke with Patricia Bencz, the executive director of this group. She told me that only one out of 122 men who had gone through the program did not have a criminal record. This highlights that spiral and the relationship between drug use and crime that we need to address.

There is a wide variety of estimates in terms of the correlation between criminal activity and drug use, perhaps 40% and 80% depending on the person being asked. It is a significant issue.

As for the solution, to understand this, we need to break the problem into logical components. No model is perfect, but it might be helpful to use a model when we talk about this. Our national drug strategy talks about three components: enforcement, treatment and prevention.

Thinking about those components, I will talk about the people who correspond to those groups. They involve the organization, and we can think of it as an industry, the illegal drug industry, the customers for that industry and the prospects. A fourth group is the rest of us who have a significant interest in seeing this problem tackled. When we speak of a business, this is not a business that we want to support. We want to kill it.

When we talk about the organizations, they refer to the gang leaders, the producers, the dealer network and everyone who supports that network. Enforcement must deal severely with this group to cutoff the supply. Through our national drug strategy, we have allocated $21.6 million over two years to tackle the problem on the enforcement side.

Then there are the customers, the individuals who use the drugs. We know that many of those are kids. Some will be promoted within the organization, the gangs, and move on to a life within that gang. Some, as I mentioned earlier, will simply become lifetime addicts. They will be customers for life so to speak.

Others will be involved in criminal activity separate from the organizations. They will steal to support their habit. They will become violent under the influence of some of the drugs that they are using. I will come back to this group in a few minutes because the private member's bill deals with a component of this group.

The third group is the prospects about which I talked. They are almost entirely composed of kids under 18 years old. The addictions industry, like any other business, targets for growth and it targets our kids. It is important, when we talk about any of these things in our approach to drugs, to talk about the idea of prevention.

To give an example of some of the things they do to target our kids, in my first speech I talked about Maralyn Benay from a group called Parents Empowering Parents. She is one of my constituents. She told me about a product called Strawberry quick, which is the street name for it. It refers to a pink version of crystal meth designed specifically to target young girls. This is what we are up against. This is what the parents of our children and young teenagers are up against, this type of marketing program toward our kids.

Obviously the main goal for this group of prospects, the people who have never used drugs before, is prevention. The national drug strategy sets out $10 million for prevention over two years.

I must point out that enforcement also impacts prevention. If people live in a small town, and I grew up in a town of about 5,000 people, they would know if there is a major producer or dealer in that town and they can be shut down, I guarantee that it is a positive step in the area of prevention through enforcement.

Then there is the rest of us. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking some Canadians are not affected by drugs. No Canadian is not affected by drugs. I talked about our kids being targeted, so some of us are parents and we are concerned about our kids growing up. Some people are victimized through crime. Obviously there is an impact on the health care system and the costs that we pay there and lost national productivity.

Where do we fit? We are the ones who need to drive the solution. There is an urgency to this and we need to grasp that urgency. I talked about Maralyn Benay and Patricia Bencz. They have grasped that urgency and are doing something about it.

Many groups in my community are doing just that. For example, the Mill Woods Community Patrol is an organization of volunteers from the community. They drive around on Friday and Saturday nights to specific trouble spots. They keep an eye on the community. They are coordinated with the police. If they see something suspicious, they can let the police know. That is an example of citizens making a difference in this area.

Other groups include the RCMP officers in Beaumont, a small town in my riding, who coordinate a DARE program. They go out and talk to kids and educate them on the dangers of drug abuse. Volunteers and youth organizations and drop-in centres, where kids can go and do things other than get involved in drugs and hang out on the street and places where they find trouble, even if they are not necessarily looking for it.

Then there are the people who I talked about earlier, Patricia and Maralyn, and the organizations that they are part of and organizations like that across the country which do similar work.

I want to thank these people and groups like theirs for the contribution they make because it affects the quality of life of all Canadians, including me and my family.

Now back to the customer group for the addictions industry.

Simple math tells me that the more customers there are for these drugs, the more the industry grows. The more the industry grows, the more it becomes another cycle and we wind up with more of these people using drugs. The more people we help with addictions, the more people we get off these drugs. The more customers we cut off for the industry, the more we starve the criminal organizations, both of the money they need and their eventual salespeople. Our national drug strategy rightly provides the most money, $32.2 million, to the treatment action plan to deal with this group of people.

Bill C-423 deals with one subset of this customer group, young offenders. It is a simple bill. It is only one page long, and apart from some editorial cleanup, basically adds two new phrases to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I want to be very clear that the bill in no way is an endorsement of the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it stands right now. I agree wholeheartedly with our campaign pledge to strengthen the act, something that cannot properly be done comprehensively through a private member's bill.

What I can do is strive for improvement in the legislation. Bill C-423 works with the existing provisions of the act to take a step forward. It is also consistent with our statement during the campaign that we need to give young people better opportunities for rehabilitation.

The first thing the bill does is add “referral to substance abuse treatment” to the list of extrajudicial measures available to police officers when dealing with young persons, particularly first time offenders accused of committing non-violent offences.

To give some context to this, the first 10 sections of the Youth Criminal Justice Act after the title and definitions, sections 3 through 12, are under a heading called “Extrajudicial Measures”. The changes that I am proposing both occur in section 6, but to fully understand the bill, one needs to review the principles and objectives laid out in sections 4 and 5.

One particularly important principle set out in section 4(c) is that:

—extrajudicial measures are presumed to be adequate to hold a young person accountable for his or her offending behaviour if the young person has committed a non-violent offence and has not previously been found guilty of an offence...

Section 6(1), the section impacted by the first change proposed by the bill, currently states the following:

A police officer shall, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under this Act against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient, having regard to the principles set out in section 4, to take no further action, warn the young person, administer a caution, if a program has been established under section 7, or, with the consent of the young person, refer the young person to a program or agency in the community that may assist the young person not to commit offences.

Bill C-423 adds the following at the end:

—or, if appropriate, an addiction specialist to assess whether the young person is engaged in substance abuse and, if so, to recommend a treatment program.

The rationale for this is, given the cycle of crime and the relationship between crime and drug use, it seems like an oversight to not have drug abuse treatment mentioned as one of the extrajudicial measures within the act.

The second part of my bill adds a new subsection (3) at the end of section 6. It reads:

If a young person has been referred to an addiction specialist under subsection (1), and, as a result of that referral, has entered into a treatment program, the failure of that young person to complete the requirements of that program shall be taken into consideration by a police officer in deciding whether to start judicial proceedings against that young person.

This is an absolutely crucial piece of the bill. The young person affected has been shown some grace by the police officer. For the sake of the illustration, I will use the word “he”. He has been given an opportunity, and he probably will not recognize that opportunity until he has had the chance to clean up, and he has to get away from drugs to do that.

The NDP member for Vancouver East expressed some concern about this. She compared it to the drug courts, which she does not support. She said:

Why would we make the intervention so late? Why would we wait until they have been charged and at the point of maybe being convicted to provide that as an alternative. It becomes almost a coercive kind of thing.

I want to make two points on that, the first one on late intervention. We need to intervene where the person is at, at the time. Sometimes we do not identify a problem until quite late in the game. We need to intervene wherever they are at. I do not think anyone would argue about the need for effective prevention and early treatment programs as part of an overall drug treatment strategy.

If we look at the bill in general, in this case the whole point of the bill in dealing with the Youth Criminal Justice Act is that it deals entirely with early intervention.

In terms of the coercion suggestion, I will quote from a couple of the members who spoke to the bill the last time it was debated. The Liberal member for Brant said:

In fact, an individual may well be more motivated to accept the necessary treatment if he is aware that his refusal to accept such treatment may result in a criminal charge or charges being laid against him.

I think that is a quote that supports what I am trying to do with this.

The member for Hochelaga said that this bill strikes a good balance between the possibility of rehabilitation and the vigilance required when people refuse to take advantage of opportunities they are given.

I want to appeal to my colleagues from all parties to continue to support this important legislation. I do want to reiterate the main purpose for this bill. It is not about punishment. It is about getting our young people the help they need at a time in their life when they may not realize they need it.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek the unanimous consent of the House to split my time with the member for Laval—Les Îles.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to split her time with the member for Laval—Les Îles?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the principle of Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).

As many members of the House are aware, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which the bill aims to amend, already permits police officers or crown counsel to refer a young person to an addiction counselling program instead of rushing him or her off to judicial proceedings.

However, it does not do so explicitly and the bill would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act in a way which emphasizes this extra judicial alternative. In doing so, it explicitly acknowledges that addiction treatment rather than addiction punishment should be the Government of Canada's first priority.

Essentially, the bill acknowledges that drug addiction is, first and foremost, a mental health issue, not an issue of criminal justice. It is an important message to communicate explicitly to our law enforcement community. For this reason, I support sending this well-intentioned bill to committee for further scrutiny and refinement.

Nevertheless, however well-intentioned the bill may be, I am concerned that the present minority Conservative government does not truly understand or support the principle motivating the bill. To substantiate this worry, one need look no further than the government's recently announced anti-drug strategy that unnecessarily ratchets up the rhetoric of righteous wrath and retreats from the harm reduction measures favoured by Canadians.

Any strategy that focuses so much attention on the goal of punishment and so little attention on addiction treatment and harm reduction will not make our streets safer, our communities healthier or reduce our overpopulated prisons.

Canadians believe in a balanced approach to drug addiction. The heavy-handed approach recently advocated by the minority Conservative government is not in accord with the values of most Canadians or the fine principle at the heart of the bill. This is a worry worth expressing because, however well-intentioned the bill may be, if the Conservative government does not truly believe in the principles at the heart of the bill, little will be done for the well-being of young persons who get caught up in criminal activities because of a drug addiction.

There is little reason to pass a bill that recommends addiction counselling if the Government of Canada is unwilling to provide the resources necessary to fund such counselling. There is little reason to pass a bill that signals to our law enforcement community that the treatment of addiction is our top priority if the Government of Canada trumpets a heavy-handed, punishment focused approach to drug addiction.

As everyone in the House well knows, the present government is prepared to say anything to confuse Canadians on issues of principle and value and I am worried that any support expressed by the Conservative government for the bill will be one more instance of it trying to mislead Canadians about its true intentions.

Let us vote to send the bill to committee but let us be very clear on why we are doing so. The bill sends a strong signal that addiction should be treated as a mental health issue and not as an issue of criminal justice. We should all work to ensure that the present minority Conservative government always acts in accord with this principle.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-423. It is a very important bill for me, as it is for my colleague from Brampton West, who I would like to thank for sharing her time with me. She said that the bill was a mental health issue.

As legislators, we cannot overlook some of the underlying root causes of drug addiction and substance abuse among our youth and why youth end up in conflict with the law, things that I will address in my presentation.

Thus, the changes brought by these legislative measures to reform the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse) are very timely. Indeed, when we talk about giving law enforcement officials the power to recommend that a young person be assessed and treated for alcoholism or drug addiction, it is a question of his or her mental health.

In my opinion, this is indeed a question of social justice, if we really want to have a positive influence on young people today. Police officers are front-line workers who act to serve and protect. Among other things, this responsibility means protecting young people from themselves, in many cases. This bill, with certain amendments, can help our young people become active, responsible, contributing members of society.

The question is: how do we guide youth into adulthood with patience, understanding and love? This is a crucial part of the responsibilities we have assumed as legislators in developing thoughtful, workable and flexible medium and long term public policy.

I want to remind my colleagues that this bill also complements Health Canada's drug strategy and controlled substances program. This is a program that promotes initiatives to reduce or prevent the harm produced by association with drugs and alcohol. It operates under the mandate of several pieces of related legislation, including the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which came into force in 1996.

Part of this complete approach to working with our youth was a national drug strategy program renewed by the former Liberal government in 2003 with a $237 million investment over five years. The four pillars of our strategy included prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction. Had it been legislated, it would have been a vital part of any alcohol or drug program.

Research tells us that enforcement measures alone are not effective in combating drug use. Tackling youth crime cannot be done with a big stick, especially if we are dealing with a first-time offender.

One example of a harm reduction strategy that has been proven to work was a supervised injection site like the one in Vancouver, which, by the way, has now been put on life support by the Conservative government.

All this must be part of a larger strategy that includes access to housing, psychiatric treatment services, medical care, detox and treatment facilities, skills training and employment.

The Conservative government's new anti-drug strategy, which was announced on October 4, refers only to prevention, treatment and enforcement. It says absolutely nothing about measures to rehabilitate young people.

The $63.8 million that the Conservatives are spending over two years is an indication that they have nothing to offer to help young people, because all the Conservatives want to do is throw them in jail.

Prevention and awareness programs are good in and of themselves, but no prevention program will help young people who are in difficulty, who are living in poverty, who feel as though they are on the margins of society and who are isolated. You cannot prevent a child from falling simply by placing a barrier in front of a door, because the child will find a way to get around that barrier.

According to statistics compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information in its 2002 profile of the health of Canadian adolescents, 16% of grade 8 students admitted that they had gotten drunk at least twice. Among grade 9 and 10 students, the figure rose to 31% and 44% respectively. In 2000-01, 31% of young men and women aged 12 to 17 admitted to having used—

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Unfortunately, the time has run out. Resuming debate, the honourable member for Hochelaga.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the great pleasure of taking part in this debate. I believe that we should credit our colleague for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for presenting a bill that I believe is balanced.

This bill is based on what is known in Quebec as the harm reduction strategy. Before incarcerating a young person, this strategy calls on us to recommend a certain number of measures. Resorting to incarceration has a social cost. We must examine the factors, reasons and the paths taken by young people which sometimes lead them to commit crimes.

In Quebec, I have often had the opportunity to discuss this with my colleague for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who was a former minister of justice, solicitor general and even a minister responsible for public safety. Since the 1980s, all governments in the National Assembly have applied a strategy known as “the right measure at the right time”. Our colleague for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont is quite right to remind us that we must deal with the young person before the courts are forced to hand down a sentence. His bill, which seeks to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is a bill with a lot of common sense.

Clause 6 of the bill provides the possibility, in some circumstances, of using extrajudicial measures. The commitment to use an addiction treatment is highly defendable at a social level. Obviously we must ensure that the provinces have that responsibility. They are the ones responsible for planning addiction treatments. In Quebec, this is handled through health agencies and social services. It is important to ensure that resources are provided and treatment is available.

As an aside, we must commend hon. members who present such great ideas. Measures like the one proposed by the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont should spread in the Conservative Party caucus. I must say, the member for Edmonton is like a rose among thorns and I wish him a stronger voice in his party so that he may rub off on his colleagues, the Minister of Justice, in particular, who, unfortunately, sometimes tends to consider repression somewhat unnecessarily.

The Bloc Québécois has always been very interested in the issue of addiction and the attitudes that should be adopted toward drugs. I want to remind my colleague that his former colleague, Randy White, presented in this House a motion that was passed unanimously, if memory serves me well. We created a committee to review the whole issue of drug use for non medicinal purposes. I was on that committee. My colleague was on it as a member of the Canadian Alliance Party. The Parliamentary leader of the New Democrats was also on the committee.

We were dismayed to find out that 90% of the public resources we vote on in the House of Commons were being used for law enforcement. There were very few measures and budgets available for prevention. This has to change. Obviously when offenders commit acts repeatedly and are a threat to society, we have to encourage incarceration. Nonetheless, we are well aware that in most cases, young offenders are offenders who commit acts because they are in a difficult family situation or they are social outcasts.

In many cases, they disengage from society because they are living in poverty.

In that sense, I think that our colleague's proposal is a good one. However, if this bill, which offers an alternative solution to prosecution, is to be truly effective, we as a society must talk about how we plan to fight poverty.

Members of the Bloc Québécois are very interested in the issue of poverty. Personally, I have taken an interest because I represent a riding where poverty is rampant. My colleague from Québec has also taken an interest. Our human resources development critic, the member for Chambly—Borduas, has taken an interest too. We think that as parliamentarians, there are five things we need to do.

First, it is unacceptable that Canada—that is, the federal government—is one of the only governments that does not prohibit discrimination based on social condition in either the Canadian Human Rights Code or the Canadian Human Rights Act. Eight provinces have legislation that prohibits discrimination based on social condition, but the federal government does not.

Second, the members of the Bloc Québécois believe that we need measures related to banking. I went to the United States to study the Community Reinvestment Act, which was passed in 1977. It requires financial institutions to offer credit to disadvantaged communities. When it comes to access to credit in my riding, banks in my neighbourhood cleared out in the 1990s. Some communities have a very hard time getting financing or microcredit because the banks are not interested in those things. We also need to talk about excessive ATM fees.

The third measure is very important. We do not believe that we can fight poverty without addressing the housing issue. I was very sad to read the report submitted by the United Nations rapporteur on housing in Canada. The report illustrates to what point we have abandoned the homeless. At least 300,000 people in Canada are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. Yet the government, sadly, allocated no additional funds in its latest budget to homelessness and affordable housing.

As a fourth measure, the Bloc Québécois has introduced bills urging the government to use the actuarial surpluses from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to allow the provinces to launch initiatives and build affordable housing, in cooperation with the municipalities.

Fifth, the Employment Insurance Act must be reformed in order to allow people in transition between two jobs to access the EI program. That is an appalling legacy left over from the former Liberal government. Under that government, a program that allowed 90% of workers to access employment insurance—which they themselves had paid for, since it is not an assistance program, but rather an insurance program—in the end, allowed coverage for only about one-third of all workers.

The bill presented by my hon. colleague is a good bill. He belongs to the progressive wing of the Conservative Party. There will always be members against him, for him and like him. We will vote in favour of this bill, although it does not go far enough. We still need to come up with a plan to address poverty. This is the duty of all members of Parliament. Nevertheless, this in no way diminishes the hard work of my colleague in presenting such a bill. I would like to assure him that all members of the Bloc Québécois will support this bill.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-423. When the bill first came forward in the last session of Parliament, I spoke to it as well. I would like to thank the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for reintroducing his bill and quoting back to us what we said the first time around. I guess he looked it up in Hansard. I will try not to repeat what I said then.

I want to thank the member for bringing forward the bill. It has been brought forward with good intentions. It has been brought forward on the basis that we need to have diversion programs. When young people become involved in the criminal justice system, it can become very divisive and very costly. The outcome is often more negative and has a greater impact not only on the individual involved, but on society as a whole. The principle of diversion particularly for issues related primarily to health, such as addiction or mental health issues, is a very important and positive thing.

I certainly want to echo the comments of my colleague from the Bloc and the Liberal members who spoke as well. However, we do need to see this bill in the larger context of what is taking place. While I support the measures put forward in the bill as something that could be a step in the right direction, unfortunately, the member is part of the government caucus that is taking a giant step in the wrong direction when it comes to dealing with drug issues.

The Conservative government recently unveiled its so-called anti-drug strategy. There are many, many people across the country who are incredibly disturbed and alarmed at the fact that the Conservative government has dropped the whole notion of harm reduction from its anti-drug strategy. In fact, the government is focusing on more enforcement and supposedly on prevention, education and treatment.

When we look at the strategy which was unveiled a couple of months ago, it is $64 million over two years, which anyone in this Parliament would know is a very small amount of money. I think it is $10 million of the $64 million that is earmarked supposedly for education. That is a very, very small contribution from the federal government in terms of what actually needs to be done to provide important education and prevention programs, particularly for young people across the country.

I am very concerned that while on the one hand we have this small initiative from one member of the government, it is going to be completely overshadowed and obliterated by a huge initiative that is under way from the Conservative government that is focused almost exclusively on addressing substance use issues, specifically issues around drug use from a law enforcement point of view.

As the member from the Bloc pointed out, and we were on the same special committee on the non-medical use of drugs, we learned from the Auditor General that 95% of federal funds related to drug use are actually earmarked toward enforcement. The Auditor General questioned in her audit what was the effectiveness of those funds and what were the outcomes in terms of improving the health and safety both of individuals and of local communities which have been impacted by this issue.

I have to be very frank and say that I saw nothing in the federal strategy that was just unveiled that moves us in a different direction. In fact, it is reinforcing this direction of a law enforcement model. It worries me deeply that the Conservative government is basically copying the U.S. war on drugs, which has been a huge failure financially, politically and socially. Locking people up in jail and chasing more and more dollars through enforcement is not the answer. It is a failed model. People understand that, and yet this is what the government has now embarked upon.

In doing so, it is dropping a very successful principle and a set of programs in Canada that revolve around harm reduction. They revolve around being realistic, having a common-sense approach to dealing with substance use, focusing on the well-being of individuals, and improving the health status of people and getting people to a point where they can make healthy choices.

I believe that the bill before us today may assist us in doing this. That is why I think it is very worthy of support, but I feel that it is going to be completely overshadowed by this other strategy in which the money is going in a completely opposite direction.

In my riding of Vancouver East, substance use and the drug issue concern many people. We have seen the visibility of drug use in our local communities. We have taken very important measures. In fact, we had to fight tooth and nail to get programs up and running, such as the heroin prescription trials, and Insite, the safe injection facility, and other harm reduction programs, but they have very strong support in the local community. They have support from the local police department, the city council and the business associations, because people recognize that to rely on enforcement just simply does not work and does not actually change what is going on in those local communities.

Locking up drug users and throwing away the key is not the answer to dealing with substance use issues, yet Insite, the safe injection facility in the downtown east side, is very much under threat of closure. Why? Because it appears that the Conservative government is hell bent on what is really an ideological program. I see this as our biggest problem.

Unfortunately, the government has committed itself and has boxed itself into this ideological position that law enforcement is the primary answer to substance use and drug use. That is what the government wants to push. That is what the government thinks is going to get it votes and support, but I think it is really an old game that is being played out, because we do know that people are fearful of drug use, particularly when their children and youths are involved in experimenting with drugs.

As for the idea that we turn young people into criminals, the idea that we use enforcement as this heavy-handed tool and it somehow is going to solve the problem, I think it has been shown to be a failure. Yet this is the direction that the government is taking.

In speaking to this bill today, I want to be very clear on the record that we reject this larger strategy that the government has adopted and seems to be moving forward on very rapidly. We should be standing courageously to support the kinds of programs that have worked in this country and that Canada has become known for around the world.

I know many of the front line workers and organizations in Vancouver who work very closely with drug users, with youth and youth at risk on the streets and with youth who are facing addiction issues and mental health issues. I can tell members that they know from years of experience that relying on enforcement tools and not having a balanced, comprehensive approach is not going to work.

I want to call on members of the House to stand up and support the need to have harm reduction continue in this country. In fact, I have called for a network of MPs who might be interested in such a proposition, to show that there is very broad support from MPs, community groups, professionals, academia, health care professionals and certainly from users themselves to make sure that harm reduction programs and the emphasis on public health and on dealing with this as a health issue is at the top of the agenda, not pushed down to the bottom of the agenda.

The bill is worthy of going to committee, but let us be aware of the serious dangers that lie ahead with the Conservative government's anti-drug strategy. Let us be aware that it will penalize people and it will target people. It is a failure and we should stop it from happening.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House once again on behalf of the constituents of Crowfoot to speak in support of Bill C-423.

I commend my Alberta caucus colleague, the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, for his efforts on behalf of young Canadians in our province and indeed all across the country. He has worked very hard on this file and, may I add, for a considerable amount of time, and finally has reached the point of presenting legislation before the House. I urge all members of the House to pay close attention to what he is proposing in the bill, as it will help youth at risk.

It is a pleasure to stand with former colleagues who served on the non-medical drug committee with me. We have heard two or three of them speak here today. They have voiced some of their concerns.

The Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party are disappointed that this bill does not give free needles to youth. The Bloc Québécois and the NDP are somewhat disappointed that it does not talk about safe injection sites for our youth. They are disappointed that it does not speak to providing clean drugs for youth because sometimes the drugs on the street are dirty. Those are the kinds of policy initiatives they looked at and considered and for which in some cases they were advocates during the time of that committee.

However, what Bill C-423 does is propose to provide Canada's police with the option of referring a young person to an addiction specialist for assessment and, if warranted, treatment recommendations. This would provide our front line police officers with another tool for dealing with youths alleged to have committed one or more crimes.

Very often it becomes obvious to front line police officers who respond to a crime that the perpetrator, possibly a young offender, is actually a victim of substance abuse. The officer may realize that the substance abuse is the reason for the alleged crime and the young person's possible involvement in the commission of that crime.

Rather than shuffling the youngster off into the judicial system or possibly into the penal system, my colleague from Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, with this private member's bill, is providing us with an alternative measure. He is suggesting that we, as a government and indeed as a society, seize the opportunity to try to rescue the young person from the chains, the bondage and the horrors of substance abuse.

My colleague wants to save as many young Canadians as possible. My constituents and I commend him for this very noble attempt. We support him in that attempt.

I regularly have the opportunity to speak with front line police officers in all corners of the constituency of Crowfoot. They want to help protect the young people they encounter who have a substance abuse problem. Some drugs are so powerful that even trying the drugs once or twice can lead to an addiction. In fact, many of these young Canadians can become addicted with one use of drugs such as crystal meth.

Sometimes the young person has never had real access to an alcohol or drug abuse treatment program. They do not even know that there is real help available for them. When it comes to kicking a habit, they just realize that they have an addiction.

If the young person enters into a treatment program because of a referral under this process and the young person fails to complete the program, then in most cases the youth will have to deal with that very same judicial process. Where I come from, we can support that.

We agree that we should try to save our youth from the ravages of substance abuse. We also agree that there should be consequences for the youth who fails to take advantage of the opportunities the bill would provide him, the opportunities for help.

Bill C-423 is consistent with our government's national drug strategy. Canada faces some very serious drug problems. One of the most troubling is the growing number of our youths who are becoming involved in drugs. What is more disturbing is that this appears to be happening at a younger and younger age.

For the members from the Bloc and the NDP, I know that we were all united as a committee when we saw that this was becoming almost an elementary school problem in some cases, or a young people's problem. Not only youth but all age groups have addiction problems.

Communities across Canada have identified youth drug use as a priority concern. For some communities, the lure of highly addictive drugs such as crystal meth presents a real challenge for their youth. Our government is listening to those concerns and we are working actively to respond to them.

My colleague from Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont is using the powers that his constituents have elected him to use to combat this complicated drug problem. He has drafted Bill C-423 to help communities in his riding, communities in my riding and communities all across the country and in the ridings of every member of Parliament. The member has recommended a targeted approach with Bill C-423.

Our government's drug strategy establishes goals and priorities that are both clear and measurable. We are investing $64 million in new funding for a national anti-drug strategy. This strategy provides a focused approach to address illicit drug issues.

It is based on three clear action plans: first, preventing illicit drug use, with $10 million over two years; second, treating illicit drug dependency, with $32 million over two years; and third, combating illicit drug production and distribution, with $22 million over two years. Our government strategy is in the areas of prevention, treatment and enforcement.

Our efforts in the area of prevention will focus on youth. As well as a public awareness campaign, this will include community based drug use and crime prevention initiatives. We could spend our entire time speaking about the opportunities that we have in prevention, but the drug strategy does more than that. It also will target the production of drugs in Canada, including marijuana grow ops and clandestine labs. We will target those organized criminals who exploit for profit and attack our youth and other vulnerable citizens through drug dependency.

The plan does more. The public often views the police role as one of enforcement only. Our government recognizes their excellent work in the area of drug prevention, but as well we pay attention to their broader contribution to dealing with community problems. With Bill C-423, we are encouraging our front line police officers to assist the Canadian youth they encounter in the course of their crime-fighting duties. Sometimes our police officers are the first citizens who have to deal with a youth in conflict. They sometimes are keenly aware that what the young person really needs is some form of substance abuse treatment.

The measures in Bill C-423 will give them that treatment, but they will do more than that. These measures can be carried out within the budget resources of our government's national anti-drug strategy. We will be providing funding to the Department of Justice to support extrajudicial measures and treatment programs for young people in Canada who get into a conflict with the law and have a drug related problem.

We are working with all those concerned about Canada's youth, people from both the private and the public sector and across different disciplines, including health, education and the justice system. As the government, we are also interested in working with my colleague to get the job done. Bill C-423 does that. This member is standing up for our drug addicted or drug afflicted youth. Again, I am pleased to stand up with him in an attempt to save the lives of young Canadians who have trouble with substance abuse.

My colleague recognizes that our police officers have already for a long time been a key resource in dealing with the drug problems facing our communities. We will continue to rely upon their contribution. Bill C-423 recognizes the whole role that the police can play in linking youth with drug and addiction problems to those who can help on the treatment front.

There is a particular element to this bill which we need to ensure is consistent with the purpose and principles governing the use by police of the extrajudicial measures set out in section 6 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, namely, the requirement in Bill C-423 that police take into account whether the youth has complied with the treatment program when considering whether to charge the youth for the original offence.

This bill provides a valuable and additional tool to help young people overcome their problems and make our communities safer. I wish my colleague, the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, every success with the positive change that Bill C-423 provides.