House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was young.

Topics

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree that looking at the drug issue requires a comprehensive approach. We do need a national prevention campaign. Addiction is an illness and we need to provide treatment for those who are suffering with this addiction.

Part of this needs to involve the legal system as well. We do require penalties for trafficking and for grow ops. I am really pleased to see in the bill that we do have drug treatment courts. In the United States, only 16% of 17,000 drug court graduates nationwide have been rearrested and charged with a felony offence.

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her fine speech to the House. I would like to make a brief comment and then ask her a question.

For 20 years, we have waged war on smoking because it is bad for people's health. A great deal of legislation has been passed in various provinces. People can be fined for smoking in public places. In New Brunswick, it is illegal to smoke in a car in which there are young children.

Even though a law may be coercive, the amendments proposed in Bill C-15 will not just put traffickers in prison. They will also send a signal to young people in particular that smoking marijuana is harmful. It creates dependence and can be hazardous to health.

I ask my colleague whether it would not be useful to conduct exactly the same advertising campaign to prevent young people from smoking marijuana sold by traffickers?

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree. In a study recently published where Canada was one of four countries examined, the study showed that many Canadians did not know the health effects of using tobacco. Tobacco contains over 4,000 chemicals and 60 of these are known carcinogens. Canadians did not know that tobacco can affect their heart, cause cancer, breast cancer or cervical cancer.

The member raises an important point. In looking at drugs, we do need a national campaign that focuses on the health impacts of using cannabis or other drugs and how we can best prevent their use.

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take the floor on Bill C-15, which we have studied in committee. Even though my natural inclination might be to comment on the political news of the day, I shall refrain from doing so.

I sat on the committee formed early in the year 2000, when Conservative member Randy White was in this House and tabled a motion to allow us as parliamentarians to study the whole issue of the use of drugs for non-medical purposes. Naturally, in the course of this study, we spent many months hearing witnesses. This was going on at about the same time as the study being conducted in the other chamber, led by Senator Nolin, on the whole issue of the legalization of cannabis. Something became obvious to us, and this in a way is the problem with the Conservative government. Of course we do not advocate the use of drugs. I myself have totally abstained from them. I am perfectly aware that drugs can be extremely harmful in people’s lives. Certain drugs can even lead to an escalation phenomenon, that is, to dependence on and increased need for them. However, in this Bill C-15 which is before us, as in many of the Conservative government’s bills, we find this worrying inability to qualitatively distinguish between different phenomena.

We in the Bloc Québécois have no problem, for example, going after the traffickers who organize and maintain large-scale networks, who are involved in the exporting of opium or other types of drugs. If there is one party that has long been working against organized crime, it is indeed the Bloc. I myself was the first member to table an anti-gang bill, in 1997. My former colleague from Charlesbourg, Richard Marceau, an excellent parliamentarian, succeeded in convincing the government to remove the $1,000 note from circulation, it being agreed that this note made things easier for organized crime. This same colleague from Charlesbourg also succeeded, in the last days of the Martin government, in persuading the House of Commons to pass a bill to reverse the burden of proof for property obtained by crime.

The problem with Bill C-15 is not that it targets traffickers, or that it provides for longer maximum sentences for people who engage in the trafficking and exporting of drugs that do such great harm in communities. It is that it is incapable of distinguishing between different things.

Certain provisions of the bill are extremely disturbing. First, something we have said over and over again. It was mentioned by my colleague from Abitibi, an eminent member of the bar and a criminal lawyer for 30 years. In committee we asked for studies or scientific material showing that incorporating minimum sentences in the Criminal Code will be a deterrent. This is a philosophy of this government. In all the bills, the clauses proposed are accompanied by minimum sentences, ignoring the fact that this does not act as a deterrent. On the contrary, when there is plea bargaining, this encourages people to plead not guilty. As a result prosecutors will prefer to avoid charges that carry minimum sentences.

More troubling still, it is certainly not with a prohibitionist drug strategy that we are going to succeed against organized crime and manage to deter people.

We had people appearing before us in committee from Washington and New York who had been tempted by mandatory minimum sentences but had unfortunately discovered that the states which adopted them were not the most successful at reducing drug use.

The bill itself does not distinguish between big traffickers from the underworld and occasional users. We know, of course, that it is best for people not to use drugs.

That being said, though, young people will not refrain from doing so just because the Criminal Code says that they should not. Would we not be better equipped as a society if we had prevention campaigns, if we encouraged addiction courts, and if we worked together with community groups involved in harm reduction?

What is worrisome about the bill is, first of all, the definition of trafficking. Take an arbitrary example. I am at a party with friends and someone hands me a joint of marijuana. In the eyes of the law, just passing it along is considered trafficking. A young person at an end of term party for students in political science could be charged. I said political science but it could be students at the École des hautes études commerciales, I do not mean to discriminate. We are incapable, therefore, of distinguishing small users from big traffickers.

We need to take a close look at the bill. A person can engage in trafficking, but that does not necessarily mean loading three containers in the port of Montreal. A recreational situation where people hand joints around could also result in a trafficking charge.

We need to look at the gradations in the penalties prescribed. The person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years. It is at the discretion of the judge. This is not a minimum sentence, and the maximum sentences are never a problem for us. It is up to the judge to assess the evidence, the circumstances and the context in which the offence was committed.

We are told as well that the prison term may be no less than—so it is a minimum penalty—six months when the offence is committed for the purpose of trafficking and there are fewer than 201 plants involved. A young person from the University of Ottawa sitting outside and offering a joint to one of his friends is liable to a sentence of six months.

I repeat that the Bloc does not encourage the use of any drug whatsoever. It is not part of the Canada food guide and we do not think it essential for self discovery or that it is a good habit. However, socially, will the problem of drug use be resolved with minimum sentences of six months to two years? This is what we tried to explain to the minister.

Individuals with considerable authority, such as criminologist Line Beauchesne of the University of Ottawa, and others, have studied the issue of drug use. We have difficulty with the fact that there are minimum penalties for trafficking and with the increments of these minimum penalties given the scope of the problem. We do not believe that, socially, this is the best way to discourage young people from using drugs.

This is one of the reasons we will vote against the bill.

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for his address. It seems to me that the government should be taking steps to break the mafia and the gangs that control the drug trade in the country. It is the money that drives this whole process.

The government is very quick to be bring in feel good bills to try to advertise to the public that it is doing something when it really is not. It should be dealing with the actual gangs and the criminal element behind the problem.

The previous Bloc member indicated that the Bloc was in favour of people, when they were sentenced to prison for say 36 months, staying in prison the full 36 months. It is only through this process that people can take advantage of the rehabilitation programs in the prison. If we keep letting people out halfway through their sentences, they are never going to finish their rehabilitation programs. I gathered he was speaking to that.

Does the hon. member have any further comments about that?

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. The member speaking before me was, I believe, the deputy justice and native affairs critic, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.

Unfortunately, I did not listen to his speech, but I believe he pointed out that the abolition of the one sixth of the sentence rule is part of the Bloc's platform, as adopted by the caucus in 2007. Thus, when there is a trial and the rules of justice are applied fairly and the sentence is known and underway, we do not believe that there should be the possibility of release when a sixth of the sentence has been served.

We believe in rehabilitation, we believe in two-thirds of the sentence and we believe that mechanisms must be in place for parole with follow-up in the community. However, we think it somewhat early to permit release when a sixth of the sentence has been served—especially since, when we examined this matter in the Bloc, we understood that this sixth of the sentence is administered sort of automatically. This adds to our concern, and it is certainly what the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue wanted to share with the House in his speech.

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in the report stage debate on an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which pertains mainly to the establishment of mandatory minimum sentences related to drug trafficking and the drug trade.

We are debating a specific motion that was moved by my colleague from Vancouver East, which would delete clause 3 from the bill. This section deals with nine mandatory minimums, eight of which deal specifically with marijuana.

It is pretty important that we talk about this because many Canadians have great difficulty with our existing marijuana laws. It has been an area where there have been many suggestions over many years about necessary changes to our laws, especially with regard to marijuana. Going into the area of mandatory minimum sentences around marijuana is something with which many people will have difficulty.

One aspect that I am particularly concerned about is the effect this law, should it pass and should this amendment fail, will have on compassion clubs that provide medical marijuana to thousands of Canadians. When other drugs, and more dangerous drugs, have been ineffective in treating their medical condition, the use of marijuana in various forms has been successful and extremely helpful to them.

I have visited the Green Cross Society in Vancouver and I have had friends who have dealt with the Compassion Club in Vancouver. I know of many instances where the use of marijuana has been extremely important to the successful treatment of a range of diseases. It has allowed people to get on with their lives in ways that other therapies and other drug therapies have been unsuccessful or more dangerous for them. It is very concerning to me how this law will complicate the services provided by compassion clubs.

What I find most disconcerting in this debate, however, is the inability of the government to provide any evidence whatsoever that mandatory minimum sentences will have the kinds of effects that it says they will in controlling the drug trade, for instance. The Conservatives have been asked numerous times to provide one study, any evidence of that.

When the minister appeared before the standing committee reviewing the legislation, the member for Vancouver East asked the minister this question and she received no response whatsoever. In fact, the member for Vancouver East asked the Minister of Justice no less than six times to provide evidence that mandatory minimum sentences were effective in dealing with drug crimes, that they actually worked, that they would have any of the benefits that he proposed. Six times he did not answer the question.

He did say that Canadians supported this approach, but he offered not one shred of evidence that mandatory minimums would have any effect on the drug crime situation in Canada. Probably he was unable to do that because such evidence just does not exist.

Why is the government hell bent on following this course of action when there is no evidence that what it has proposed will actually address the concerns of Canadians in this regard? It is unfortunate that we are going down this road when we cannot prove there is any efficacy whatsoever that the measures will have any effect on the situation at all.

On the other side of the argument about the ineffectiveness of this kind of regime, there is scads of evidence. In fact, at committee, Craig Jones of the John Howard Society talked about 35 peer reviewed published studies that showed mandatory minimum sentences had no effect and were completely ineffective in dealing with drug crime. He tabled 17 of those studies.

There is a whole body of evidence that shows this is the wrong approach in dealing with drug crimes. It is completely ineffective to deal with drug crime.

We have had many examples. We have seen the example of the United States, which got heavily into mandatory minimum sentences around drug crimes. The Rockefeller laws, as they are called, were introduced in New York state in the seventies. They have had exactly the opposite effect and have been completely ineffective in dealing with drug crime.

Other states moved away from mandatory minimum sentences because all they did was fill their prisons and they had no effect on the social conditions and on crime statistics. It has been tried in many jurisdictions and it has been a failure.

It is inconceivable that the Conservatives would go down this road at this point when there is such a body of evidence to the contrary of the effectiveness of this kind of legislation. As I said, the government and the minister have not provided any evidence whatsoever that this is an appropriate approach to deal with drug crime in Canada.

There are other options. Other countries have taken different approaches. One clear example is Portugal. In 2001 Portugal, in a nationwide law, decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. It was a decriminalization, not a legalization regime. Portugal remains the only European Union state with a law that explicitly declares drugs to be decriminalized.

Recently a study was done by Glenn Greenwald, for the Cato Institute, on Portugal's drug laws. I would recommend it to all members and to anyone else listening in on this debate to see exactly what has happened in Portugal.

One of the things that Mr. Greenwald does in his recent study is analyze the empirical data around this change. This is what he had to say about Portugal:

—the...empirical data...indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies—such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage—have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens—enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.

Here is a different approach of decriminalization to drug laws, a far different approach than the Conservative government is taking in Canada, which has had success. The empirical data has shown this to be a successful approach to all the goals we seek for Canada such as decreasing drug use, crime, deaths from drug use and sexually-transmitted diseases, all kinds of positive value out of taking this kind of approach.

Others have done the analysis. They have compared alcohol prohibition to our drug prohibition policies. They have shown that the alcohol prohibition, which we know to have been a huge failure in North America, had all the same problems that drug prohibition has today. The measure that we are debating today falls clearly into a prohibition category of legal approaches.

We need to take that history seriously. We need a government that is willing to look at that history, to analyze it and act in light of what we already know in terms of how these kinds of policies affect drug policy and drug crime.

We know we will not change drug crime and gang crime in Canada unless we go to the profitability of the drug trade in Canada. There is nothing in the legislation that addresses why people make so much money selling drugs in Canada. There is nothing in it that says that somebody we put away for a minimum mandatory sentence will not return to the drug trade after that. In fact, a lot of them do return to the drug trade afterward, with a better network and with more skills from having been in prison.

However, the other reality is the person we send to prison on a drug trafficking charge is replaced almost immediately by another person who is willing to be involved because the profitability is so high. Until we grapple with how we address that issue, we are not going to make progress on dealing with drug crime in our society and dealing with the other issues that stem from it.

The government can show not one scrap of evidence that the approach to using mandatory minimum sentences is going to improve our society and is going to meet any of its goals, let alone the goals of Canadians, with regard to drug crime. That is the key reason I will not be supporting the legislation.

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Burnaby—Douglas is very familiar with the circumstances of the bill.

Many of the young people in some of the aboriginal communities who leave their reserves to go to the big cities like Vancouver often drift into an unhealthy and unsafe lifestyle due to the lack of support when they are in those cities. Since we do not have programs in place to support these young people, some of them end up contracting HIV/AIDS as a result of drug use or other lifestyle issues and then go back to their home communities.

I wonder if the member could comment on what he sees as being important in terms of treatment for young people who get involved in the drug trade and then end up having to go back to their communities.

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, we need a multi-pronged approach to dealing with drug issues in our society. In Vancouver we often talk about the four pillar approach to drug issues: prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction. Sadly, however, all we have seen from the government is emphasis on the enforcement pillar.

Any stool that has four legs and one is bigger than the other will only fall over and be unsuccessful as a stool. Therefore, this four pillar approach requires equal treatment of all of the pillars.

We know that prevention and treatment are absolutely crucial to having an effective drug policy. Unfortunately, when an addict in Canada seeks treatment, more often than not they are told that they need to go on a waiting list before treatment is available so they put off that treatment. We know that is a loss right at that very moment. We know that every time we put someone on delay after they have made a decision to go into treatment we have lost the opportunity to deal with that addiction.

We also know that when they get out of treatment they need specialized support and specialized housing. However, if we send them back into the same circumstances they left when they were addicted, then they will have lost all the benefits of their treatment. We need to ensure we have a broadly based treatment program and one that extends beyond the actual drug treatment process itself to ensure success.

We also need to ensure we stress harm reduction. Unfortunately, despite the many studies that have shown harm reduction to be an effective tool in dealing with drug issues, the government has often failed to appreciate that evidence and has not given great support to harm reduction measures.

However, in Vancouver and in Burnaby we know the importance of harm reduction. Places like the safe injection site in Vancouver are very effective.

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have just a brief question. I was interested in the member's comments this afternoon.

The member certainly recognized the fact that this bill does not contain all the measures that need to take place to improve the quality of life for people who find themselves in this position.

Would the approach of decriminalization not create a situation where we are softening rules around what is a threshold drug and, by so doing, would it not expand the use of drugs and require more than treatment and intervention to improve?

Motion in Amendment
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

No, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. member chose to look at some of the evidence and to look at the study from Portugal, he would see evidence that that is just not the case. In the analysis of Portugal's experience, which has gone on for eight years, we see that is not the case. Having decriminalized all drugs, not just marijuana and so-called softer drugs, but all drugs, including cocaine and heroin, Portugal has seen very positive outcomes from that step.

The government should be looking at and examining that kind of evidence. Rather than introducing measures that have no evidentiary support, it should be looking at measures that can be proven to be successful in reaching the kinds of goals that all Canadians want to reach around drug use, drug policy and drug crime. We do not have that approach with this legislation, which makes it very flawed legislation and legislation that will not improve the situation here in Canada, and that is why New Democrats are not supporting this legislation.

St. Paul, Alberta
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the town of St. Paul. This is a town and community that I am tremendously proud to call my home. Communities like St. Paul continue to be the backbone of rural Canada.

Whether it was the humble roots laid down by the original French and Métis settlers, the first generation Ukrainian immigrants who braved the dangerous trip west in the hopes of a better future, or the Cree Nation that inhabited the area, St. Paul des Métis comes from a rich and diverse history. I can assure the House that small towns and rural areas like St. Paul will always remain front and centre in our government's policies.

One hundred years of history has built this town, given it a unique identity and made it a treasured home to thousands. Those who call St. Paul their home and who have grown up and raised their families there are proud to have done so.

I know that future generations will help build another 100 years of history. As we begin our celebrations, let us all look to a bright future for the town of St. Paul.

Once again, I congratulate the people of St. Paul and I hope they enjoy the celebrations.

National Certification Exam Award
Statements By Members

June 2nd, 2009 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate one of my constituents, Craig Spencer.

Craig was recently honoured by the Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists with the prestigious National Certification Exam Award.

A recent graduate of the University of British Columbia, Craig now works in Toronto and greatly enjoys working with the older adult population to help develop and deliver effective communication solutions.

These highly trained individuals assist in the treatment and assessment of communication disorders. Whether it is working with a hard of hearing child or a person recovering from a stroke, these professionals work tirelessly to help.

On behalf of the House of Commons, I would like to extend sincere thanks to Craig and all health care professionals in the field as we celebrate Speech and Hearing Awareness Month.

Hunger Awareness Day
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, June 2 is National Hunger Awareness Day. As the unfortunate result of the global economic crisis and the Conservative government's poor handling of it, Quebec's and Canada's food banks are no longer able to keep up with the requests for help from people who are becoming poorer and poorer.

The Bloc Québécois wants to pay tribute to the staff and volunteers of community organizations such as the food banks. We know how much they are involved in providing front line services to those affected by the recession.

In order to support them in their undertakings, in our second recovery plan, the Bloc Québécois is calling upon the government to place $300 million in trust to enable Quebec, among other things, to help the innocent victims of this financial crisis. In these difficult times, we must ensure the survival of those who are bearing the brunt of financial practices that are disconnected from reality. In the spirit of justice, we must share the wealth and support communities as they mobilize their efforts in order to meet people's basic need to have enough to eat.

Pension Plans
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has completely abandoned the forestry communities of the north. It should not have to take a demonstration by thousands of forestry workers to get the government's attention.

Now take the workers from Abitibi. Not only are they fighting for their jobs and their communities, they are fighting for the pensions they have paid into for decades.

Now to show the absolute indifference of the government, compare it to the way it stood up day after day in the House of Commons to defend the CPP mandarins who skimmed off millions of dollars in bonuses while running the Canada pension plan into the ground.

The difference is very clear. It is a question of which side one is on. The Cadillac Conservative government is on the side of the fat cats. It is not representing the workers in Iroquois Falls. Thunder Bay or Kenora.

The New Democratic Party will continue to fight for forestry workers and protect the pensions that they have paid into.