House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drug.

Topics

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for his eloquent, although somewhat all over the map, speech.

I do have some evidence. I serve on the justice committee, as does my friend from Windsor who was in Vancouver with me at the end of April to hear actual evidence on how to deal with organized crime which, as this member knows, being from British Columbia, is a plague in southern British Columbia.

One of the witnesses we heard from was Michelle Miller, the executive director of Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity, or REED. The witness talked about front line workers. This is what she said about Bill C-15:

First on Rohypnol--

--which is the date rape drug:

--I absolutely support that as being part of the bill. I think that will help women, because some women, girls, and boys will be less likely to be drugged and raped.

So we have experts. We have heard from experts and we have heard from people who do speak on behalf of victims. I would like the hon. member to comment. He talked about compassion on this side of the House. He is right, there is compassion. I have great compassion for victims. I think the bill does speak to victims and I would like him to comment on that.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, the idea of going after Rohypnol, often referred to as the date rape drug, is well intentioned and needs to happen. There has been no argument from this side whatsoever that this drug needs to be taken off the streets, and those who use it need to be punished to the full extent of the law. If the law needs to be extended that way, then absolutely.

My colleague will also understand that the piece of the legislation that deals with Rohypnol is buried within this context of using minimum mandatory sentences to go after organized crime. The majority of my speech and my contention with the bill is the falsehood that is perpetuated that minimum mandatory sentences are an effective tool to deal with organized crime.

If the government would like to bring forward a straightforward bill on the use and application of the law on Rohypnol, the date rape drug, we are all ears. We are absolutely willing to work with the government any time. The use of this is insidious. It goes after people when they are in their most vulnerable state, and obviously our law enforcement has been proven ineffective in dealing with this right now.

There is a reasonable space to have in dealing with drug crimes in Canada. I believe it in my very bones. When this thing gets pushed, as we saw in the previous question, into political jingoism, that is where we go off the rails. That is where bad laws come from, not good.

If the member would like to talk about Rohypnol, absolutely. If he wants to work with the NDP, absolutely we are there.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments on the floor of the House.

I know the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, as a lawyer himself, would consider the views of the Canadian Bar Association to have some value in this debate. The national criminal law section of the Canadian Bar Association, which is made up of both prosecutors and defence counsel, is probably the element of the legal profession that is most intimately knowledgeable about the effect of criminal laws on what happens. Here is what it said in a written submission on the effectiveness of Bill C-15:

We believe the Bill would not be effective, would be very costly, would add to strains on the administration of justice, could create unjust and disproportionate sentences and ultimately would not achieve its intended goal of greater public safety.

That seems to me to be a comprehensive, reasoned and considered view. It is saying that the bill would not do what it is supposed to do. Being tough on crime, which is what the CBA is talking about, is not going to be effective if Bill C-15 is the means by which the government chooses to be tough on crime. It would do nothing additional by way of prevention and the percentage of money spent on prevention, some 2.5%, is so minuscule compared to the whole enforcement side. We have to find a better way.

I am really sorry to hear that the member for Edmonton—St. Albert does not recognize the views of his colleagues in the legal profession who know more about this than anybody else.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, with the exception of my colleagues who are here today, and as loath as I am to listen to lawyers, there seems to be an important need to address the comments made by those who actually watch the sentencing of the folks accused of crimes.

Community services, addiction treatment centres, and all of the rest of the front line social safety net, are getting torn up day after day. It seems to me that we either pay for it upfront or we pay a lot more in misery and dollars later on.

We see that with the prevention numbers. The government spends almost nothing on prevention or treatment. Almost all of its focus goes toward enforcement and policing, and even there it seems to have screwed up. The government missed its promise to the RCMP in terms of the number of officers it wants to put on the street. The government is having money issues.

In terms of listening to the lawyers, the ones who actually prosecute, when they work out sentences and try to enforce the laws that this place designs, they say that minimum mandatory sentences will not work.

That seems to me very compelling evidence. I do not think any lawyers' association in Canada would come forward and say that if it were not true. I do not see what vested interest they would have in lighter sentencing. They want to see these folks prosecuted as well.

The government has just chosen ideology over fact and it is unfortunate for all of us.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, when I was preparing notes for today, I began thinking about my experience when I was at university, in law school in Windsor, the best law school in the country by the way.

In that period of time, prior to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms being brought into play in Canada, there was a sentencing provision under the Criminal Code that if someone imported any drug, there was a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years.

In this period of time, the mid-1960s, late 1960s and early 1970s, being across from Detroit, Michigan, a great deal of personal use of marijuana was going on. Quite regularly, people would be moving back and forth across the border. It is the most active border in the world, actually, certainly in North America. Families and friends were moving back and forth. They were shopping on both sides of the border. There was entertainment and recreation on both sides of the border.

People were regularly being caught and accused of possession of marijuana and of importing it into Canada. Then they were automatically exposed to a sentence of seven years. There were a number of those sentences imposed. Fortunately, in most cases our prosecutors had the good will and the good sense to drop those charges. If the prosecutors moved at all, they would move on charges of simple possession. However, what happened was that a good number of people's lives were ruined, people who were sentenced to prison for seven years for what was a simple possession of marijuana.

That ended shortly after the charter came into effect. Our courts simply said that the consequences and the penalties were so disproportional that it amounted to an offence under section 12 of the charter in terms of it being cruel and unusual punishment. So that section was struck down.

Now, some 35 years later, we see the government taking us back to that type of era. Maybe that makes them feel good as Conservatives, but it certainly does not make for good public policy.

What we are going to see, although none of the penalties in Bill C-15 are as severe as seven years in terms of mandatory minimums, is a substantial abuse perpetrated on people who are drug abusers and those who are trafficking in marijuana at the lower end.

From the evidence we have heard repeatedly from our police forces, including the evidence we heard in the committee hearings for this bill, we know that the vast majority of people who are going to be caught by this legislation, who are going to be imprisoned for mandatory minimum periods of time, anywhere from six months to three years, are by and large users of drugs, whether marijuana or stronger drugs, who have gotten caught up in the whole cycle, the whole under-life of the drug trade, and who are in fact trafficking in order to feed their habit.

I think it is appropriate that we think about and understand how organized crime has taken over, almost exclusively, all of the drug trade in this country, and to a significant degree right across the globe. We have to see it as a pyramid, a very large-based pyramid with a very small, fine point at the top. The kingpins and the ones who really make the money off the drug trade are the very small numbers at the top, and then there is this huge base below.

Although we hear from the government that the intent of Bill C-15 is to target the traffickers and that little group at the top, the reality is it will not do that. We know that beyond any shadow of a doubt because exactly the same type of approach was taken starting 20 to 30 years ago in the United States. We have gone through a whole generation using this approach. The intent was the same, that is, to go after the kingpins, the real leaders, the ones who really make the money off the drugs. What happened and what continues to happen, other than in those states that have begun to repeal those laws, is that it was the base that was caught. It was the base that was imprisoned for extended periods of time. It was the base that overloaded the prisons, which took money from other social programs and dumped it into the prisons because it was the only way to keep up with the need.

As we heard, there are some small parts of the approach in Bill C-15, such as the date rape drug change, and moving those drugs into a controlled substance list in order to be better able to try to control it, that in fact would gather support from ourselves and I believe from the Bloc Québécois.

This bill really is about ideology from the Conservative government. It is about an ideological belief that if the government throws all this weight behind a punitive approach to controlling the drug trade, it will be successful. It is glossed over to some degree by saying, no, the government's intent is to go this way, but the reality is the government knows it is not going to work. The Conservatives have absolutely no evidence to show that this will work and they have overwhelming evidence to show that it will not work.

When we hear the demagogic comments from the member from Fort McMurray about victims and when we hear other Conservatives in this debate stand and talk about victims, it is shameful they are taking that approach. It is shameful the way they have conducted this campaign in the last number of elections because they lead the Canadian public, who are victims of organized crime, to believe that this is a solution. That is dishonest. It is totally out of keeping with what we know about how to deal with the drug problem. They continue to perpetuate that and that is shameful.

We know if we are going to deal with the drug problem, much as we dealt with alcohol abuse in terms of impaired driving, and much as we dealt with the campaign to try to reduce the consumption of tobacco, there are alternative methods, there are alternative programs that in fact are effective.

If we approach this as we in the NDP have argued, that the government look at prevention, that it look at enforcement, and only then go to the punitive, it would be effective. I can point to any number of countries around the globe that use that methodology to reduce drug consumption. In fact, even in those countries, there is an argument to be made that they could be doing more and be more effective in reducing it.

We can look at what has been done in this country to combat the consumption of tobacco and how effective that has been. The consumption of tobacco in this country has dropped from close to 50% at its peak, down to around 16% or 17% now. There is no reason to believe that we could not do the same thing with the consumption of illicit drugs and, in particular, with the consumption of marijuana and cannabis.

Then we look at what in fact is done. We spend this huge amount of money on enforcement and the punitive end, in terms of corrections in particular, and so little on the preventive end. In that regard, I want to draw to the House's attention what happened in the United States. In 1986, when the Americans began at a national level using mandatory minimums on drugs, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was expending $862 million for corrections, just at the federal level. Each state also has its own prison system. Just two years later, the amount jumped to $1.2 billion. Five years later, in 1991, it was $2.1 billion. In 2010, for the coming year, the request is for $6 billion to be spent on corrections. Over that 20 year period, if my math is correct, it has increased by a multiple of about eight.

We are going to see the same pattern here, although I have to say that the provinces are going to bear the brunt of it. As I said earlier, most of the mandatory minimums getting at that base are going to be in the six-month to 18-month range. All of those sentences, based on our relationship with the provinces, are spent in provincial prisons.

I want to emphasize what happened in the United States as the Americans moved mandatory minimums in at the state and federal levels. We heard evidence at the committee on this bill that in New York State, for every increased dollar that was spent on prisons and corrections in that state, a dollar was taken out of education in that state. There was a direct dollar-for-dollar correlation. Again, we have every expectation that is what is going to happen in Canada.

Because we will have to build additional prisons and increase the number of staff in the existing prisons, we are going to be looking at a shortage of tax dollar revenue for other social programs. Whether it be education or health, the dollars simply are not going to be there. That is particularly true given the current fiscal crisis and the economy overall.

There is another point I want to make about this. It was interesting to listen to the member for Mississauga South in terms of his analysis that this bill was somehow not going to do anything. Quite frankly, I hope he is right. I hope we do not see a significant influx of new inmates in our provincial and federal prisons. I have to say that I do not share that optimism. I believe we are going to attempt to enforce the terms of this bill right across the country in all the provinces and territories.

When we do that, we are going to see, in my estimation, increases at the provincial level of at least 10%, and it could be as much as 25%, in the incarceration rate in our provincial prisons. It will be less than that at the federal level. I can say this because we just had evidence as recently as a week ago in front of the justice committee of the impact that other legislation is going to have on the increase in population.

In spite of assurances from the Minister of Public Safety, the reality is that every one of our federal prisons is over-occupied already. We just had confirmation of that yesterday from Mr. Sapers, who is the federal Correctional Investigator. He said that any increase of any substance in the prison population at the federal level is dangerous. We do not have enough programming now.

We heard in front of the justice committee a week or so ago on another bill that we already have, in every single prison in this country at the federal level, cells that were designed for one person regularly over-occupied by a second person. We are at the stage where there are three inmates in cells that are only designed for one and that will continue to increase, not only because of this bill, although this is probably going to be the most significant one, but others the government has introduced.

In spite of what we heard from the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca that more prisons are being built, that is absolutely false. There was not a dime for new prisons at the federal level in this year's budget or last year's budget. There was an increase in spending simply to deal with inflation, but there was not a dime for new cells. As we continue to overload the prisons, we are going to see cells with three inmates when there should only be one.

We are at a stage where we are so far behind in international protocols that we have signed onto in terms of the occupation in our prisons that we are probably going to be faced shortly with a charter challenge. That is going to mean perhaps a number of prisoners being released earlier. It is certainly going to affect the sentencing and what our judges are going to do if that case ultimately goes ahead and is successful.

This bill will just lop on a whole bunch more new inmates. We come back to the argument that if we do that, at least we get them off the streets for a while. I have heard that repeatedly from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice at the committee. What we also heard repeatedly at the committee from police agencies across the country is if we take the person off the street, because organized crime has so much control over the drug trade, that person is simply replaced by someone else immediately. That is a phenomenon which is not unique to Canada; it is true right across the globe. If organized crime is involved in the activity, the person who went to jail is replaced by someone else immediately. It does not reduce the trade in drugs in this country one iota, not at all.

We have a policy that is going to increase the number of inmates. We have a policy that is going to cost a huge amount of money. It is not just the corrections systems. What is going to happen to legal aid? What is going to happen to the judiciary in terms of the number of judges we are going to need?

When faced with a mandatory minimum, people do not plead guilty. They may try to make a deal to get it dropped, but they do not plead guilty. Already as much as 50% of the cases in our courts are drug related. That is going to increase dramatically in terms of time consumption because people are going to stop pleading guilty, or if they do plead guilty, it is because the mandatory minimum was dropped. Therefore it makes the bill ineffective.

If the courts are going to continue to push for the mandatory minimum, which I believe they are going to do, the time consumption is going to go up dramatically for these cases. We are going to need more judges, more prosecutors, more police to be in court for longer periods of time. There has been no budgeting for that either.

There is a boycott right now in Ontario of the legal aid system because of the low rates that are being paid and it is the most extensive plan in the country. We are faced with that as another problem.

My colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley talked about unintended consequences. I would like to believe that the Conservatives do not know about these unintended consequences, but we told them. Our political party has told them. All sorts of experts have told them. The Conservatives are so ideologically driven that they are going to go ahead with the bill, and to the shame of the Liberals, they are going to support them. I cannot understand what the Liberals are doing, other than for straight partisan politics and not wanting to be seen as weak on crime. It is bad strategy on their part. It is bad for the country.

In summary, this is a bad bill. It is bad public policy. It is not going to do what it is supposed to do. It is absolutely useless and we should all be voting against it.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague across the way. I have a great deal of respect for the hon. member. However, what I heard was a lot of information on issues outside of the bill. Let us just remind members what we are exactly looking at.

There are a number of provisions within the bill that Canadians across the country, from coast to coast, have called for over the last number of years. Finally they have a government that has acted, and it seems like enough members of Parliament support the efforts that so many Canadians want.

First, there is a one year mandatory prison sentence for those people who deal drugs on the street when they do it combined with the efforts of an organized criminal organization or they carry a gun or some type of a weapon in the process of trying to traffic those drugs.

Second, there is a two year mandatory minimum sentence for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine to our young people. I am certain, Madam Speaker, you have followed with interest the epidemic of our young people who become addicted to drugs and in some cases have their lives destroyed as a result of drug addiction. It concerns me that we would not, as parliamentarians, believe a two year sentence is not an appropriate sentence for somebody who would give a substance that would destroy the lives of young people.

There are three other provisions and I will get through them quickly. We have a provision that involves people who have more than 500 plants of marijuana in a grow op, so those are organized crime events. Also there is the date rape drug. We are going after those people who are trafficking the date rape drug. I cannot imagine that any parliamentarian would stand in this place and say that we should not protect our young men and women from this drug, which only has one purpose. What would the hon. member have to say about that?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, let me do it in the reverse order.

First, I have already indicated in my speech that the use of the bill to deal with the date rape drug Rohypnol is one we would support.

As much as my colleague from Vancouver East and I have some disagreement over this, I at least would be willing to support the continued use of the drug courts as means of diverting people from the correction system. There are parts of the bill that we would support.

Where the fault lies in the bill is that it is a bit of a camouflage for what it really does, which is increase the use of mandatory minimums in the drug prosecution area. It does not work and it will have such dire consequences on the judicial system, the criminal justice system and the corrections system. It does no good to move that way. It is a gross disrespect for our judiciary as well.

The member made the points about drugs being sold around schools and other places where there are children and where drugs are sold and a gun is involved. Our judges are giving sentences that are appropriate for that type of conduct, but it is typical of the government, all the way up to the Prime Minister. We have seen how disrespectful he is to our judiciary. The Conservatives know they are being disrespectful and they are intentionally being disrespectful. However, they have absolutely no studies to show that in a factual situation when people are convicted of selling drugs in schools that they will get a penalty that is at least as high as the mandatory minimum that they put in. They have not done any studies on that whatsoever, but the evidence would show that.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a whole lot of time for the comments of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He and I have worked together for many years on justice issues.

I want to direct his attention to a section of the bill, which, to me, manifests in some way kind of a cynicism. It has led me to the conclusion that much of the bill is part of a sequence of a shameless litany of posturing and pretence on the part of the government, that what it is doing by tweaking little pieces of the Criminal Code every two or three weeks is somehow increasing public safety, that by increasing a sentence in some minor way, the bad guys out in the street will know.

I asked a question in the House to see how many members knew what the sentence would be for an armed robbery, and nobody knew. We are the legislators and we do not even know what the existing sentence is, yet we think the relatively uneducated criminals out on the street will know the penalties. I do not think so.

The impact of clause 8 of the bill says that the mandatory minimum, which the government is flaunting as the centrepiece of the bill, cannot even be asked for, used or applied unless the attorney general of the province gives notice before the plea, before the arraignment—

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Always the plea.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Yes, the plea of the accused before the court. The minimum sentence cannot be used unless notice is given of intent to prove the factors. No attorney general will take the time to prove the factors when it comes to the little guy. When it comes to the big guys, how could we naively think they would get away with a custodial sentence of less than a year to begin with?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River and I have worked on a number of justice issues. I know he has identified this as a point, as has his colleague from Mississauga.

I wish I could share their optimism. I think there are attorneys general across the country, much as in the ideological bent of the Conservative government, who will give directions to the prosecutors at the local level to give notice that they will be attempting to use the mandatory minimums on a regular basis. We hear that they will only use it when they are going after the top end of that pyramid, about which I talked. I am not that optimistic this will happen.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague, as somebody who has a lot of experience in these areas, a couple of simple questions.

Does he not think that one of the great challenges of the federal government is to work with provinces to ensure that provincial institutions, where the majority of inmates are serving two years less a day, have the resources to ensure inmates have access to skills training and drug and alcohol treatment?

Also, one of the great challenges of our country is the prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Fifty per cent of inmates are deemed to have FAS or FAE. This is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in children. Their average IQ is about 78 and it is entirely preventable.

Does my colleague not think FAS, FAE and the measures I mentioned to work with the provinces is one of the most pressing issues of our country and if we address these issues, then we will go a long way to preventing a lot of crime and reducing our inmate population?

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, there is no question, the answer is yes. One problem at the provincial level is the sentencing is usually of a relatively short nature. Because they have so little programming, hardly anybody gets any treatment at the provincial level.

At the federal level, we find it is quite usual, even in lengthy sentences of more than five or seven years, that people do not get treatment with those kinds of conditions until the last six months or a year. It is not long enough, and we know that.

I want to make one other point. About three years ago, a member from the Correctional Service Department came before the public safety committee come forward and said that more than 50% of all the people incarcerated that year were suffering from not just mental health problems, but severe psychiatric level mental health problems and that they should not be in our prisons, but in psychiatric institutions, where they would get daily treatment for their severe conditions. We are not even touching that group at all, and they eventually get out.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:50 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity today to join in the debate on Bill C-15, an act that has the effect of imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences.

I listened with great interest to my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, explain the rationale behind the bill, if there is such a rationale, which is an attempt to somehow, through minimum mandatory sentences, increase public safety in our country, and the failure of this bill to have that effect.

Lest we be under any illusions, we should know one thing. The starting point is a current law when it comes to offences under our Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The seriousness of the penalties already exist. The maximum sentence for trafficking, exporting, importing and production for the purposes of trafficking in schedules I and II in the act is life imprisonment.

There is no doubt that our criminal law already takes extremely seriously this type of crime. The law recognizes that this kind of activity can be seriously detrimental to individuals and to our society. That is the maximum sentence.

The fact is the appropriate sentence for an individual case is a matter for the discretion of a judge. The judge will use his or her judgment in accordance with the law, legal precedent and the facts and circumstances of each case to define an appropriate sentence. What this law does is say that Parliament will say, regardless of the circumstances, the individual, the facts of a particular crime, there will be a mandatory minimum.

Here is what Justice John Gomery said about the previous bill to the same effect. I think parliamentarians know a lot about Justice Gomery and his inquiry into the scandal related to the activities of the previous government, the Gomery Inquiry. Mr. Justice Gomery said, “This legislation basically shows a mistrust of the judiciary to impose proper sentences when people come before them”.

However, it does more than that. It fails to follow the principle that our judges have been given an important task in determining not only the guilt and innocence of an accused, but also the appropriate sentence under the supervision of appeal courts.

The bill also fails to follow a principle of governance, that decisions should be evidence-based. If the Conservatives are going to say that the bill will protect the public, as we have heard speakers from the other side say, then let us see the evidence that supports this.

In fact, the justice department said in 2002 that mandatory minimum sentences did not appear to influence drug consumption, which is one of the things people are concerned about, or drug-related crime in any measurable way. If we are talking about being tough on crime, the bill, according to the justice department in 2002, is not going to influence drug-related crime in any measurable way.

Where is the evidence to support any notion that Bill C-15 would in fact reduce drug consumption or drug crime? If we do not have that, what are we doing seeking to push through a bill that is going to do something that is harmful, and I will get to that in the rest of my speech, costly and ineffective in reducing crime, or doing the thing we want to do, which is to influence a reduction in drug consumption?

That is the problem with this bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
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1:55 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have 14 minutes when the debate resumes.