An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

Sponsor

Irwin Cotler  Liberal

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 24, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in this debate today.

The issue for me on this bill is that we, as parliamentarians in coming to vote on this issue, need information. We simply do not have the information available to us to make an informed decision. The government, rather than providing the opposition, its backbenchers and Canadians with the necessary information to make that informed decision, has simply chosen to push Bill C-10 through for one reason or another. We owe it to our country, we owe it specifically to our children, to get answers from the government and the minister as to why the haste on this bill.

There are a number of issues I would like to see addressed. There are a number of substantive matters which I believe need answers and those answers have not been provided by the government.

The first thing that strikes me about Bill C-10 is that the bill is tailor-made for encouraging trafficking among youth. We are lowering the prohibitions in the law. We are basically stating that anywhere from 15 cigarettes to 30 cigarettes to 45 cigarettes, depending on how they are rolled, could be carried in a youth's jeans and sold at, say, $5 to $10 a piece, but we would have to catch that youth in an individual transaction in order to prove trafficking. It is very low level trafficking but at a large scale and it will make money. It may not necessarily mean that much money for the youth involved in the trafficking but the youth would probably make enough to support his or her own habit. That is the other aspect of the bill.

Bill C-10 would increase the influence of organized crime. It would perpetuate bigger profits. We are increasing demand through low level trafficking and all the other trafficking that goes to support it, and at the same time we are keeping the source of the marijuana illegal. What do we do? Prohibitions are down, but the profits are up. This would provide a wonderful opportunity for organized crime to expand. That is what Bill C-10 is all about.

A fundamental question would be why are we setting up the bill in this way, one which profits illegal enterprises and hurts our children? That is the consequence of the bill. I have not seen an answer. The Liberals have not refuted that that is the consequence of enacting this legislation.

The second question to which Canadians want an answer is the issue of impaired driving as a result of drug use. I spent a lot of my career in the attorney general's department as a prosecutor in constitutional law. Back in the late 1980s, the number of deaths and injuries on the highways was increasing.

Even back then the federal government was unwilling to take the necessary steps to stop this carnage. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and I am proud to say that Manitoba was a leader in this, we saw new initiatives to decrease impaired driving through administrative methods, administrative seizures of licences and administrative seizures of motor vehicles from those who drove after their licences had been suspended. These initiatives were tremendously successful.

The biggest challenge that Manitoba had was to convince other provinces that this was the right thing to do. It was not just the defence lawyers who were saying that it was unconstitutional and we should not do it, it was other attorneys general. The federal government was skeptical about it well into the 1990s. Yet if we look at the history of that initiative, most provinces have adopted that model, and to a good end. Fewer people are dying. Fewer children are being killed on the highways. Fewer adults are being killed and injured on the highways. This is a good thing, but we risk undoing the gains that we have made through hard, diligent work.

When we are encouraging an increase in the use of marijuana, the inevitable result will be an increase in the use of marijuana and driving. Why are we going down that road? We know that marijuana coupled with alcohol has a much more dangerous cumulative effect in terms of impaired driving. Having one marijuana cigarette and one or two beers is not the same as having three beers. There is a multiplier involved. The impairment is severe. We do not have an effective roadside screening device, or other devices, that will detect that.

Why are we proceeding at this time? We do not have those answers. Why are we putting hundreds and thousands of people's health and lives at risk by going down that road?

I do not have that answer. I cannot give that answer to my constituents because the government has failed to provide that information to me as their representative. How can I in good conscience tell my constituents not to worry, that the Liberals have some secret plan that will overcome this fear that their children may be injured on the highways and that their spouses may be killed on the highways? How can I tell them not to worry, that the Liberals have a secret plan?

That is not good enough. Canadians are entitled to know what response the government will put in place if the law goes into effect and impaired driving through the use of drugs is increased.

I have another concern to which I still do not have an answer. Many people view marijuana as a harmless drug. We could speak to virtually any drug addiction counsellor. Marijuana, especially with the THC content that it has now, is an extremely physically addictive drug. There is no debate about that issue any more. It is an addictive drug. I do not know on what scale it is addictive, whether it is the same as heroin, cocaine, crack or crank, but the guidance counsellors and addiction counsellors say that it is addictive.

We are not dealing with a harmless drug and yet we do not have a local or national strategy to deal with the problem. Why are these issues not being raised and answered so that I can go back to my constituents and say that the Liberals are prepared to allow their children to become addicted but that they should not worry because the Liberals have a secret strategy in place to address this, a national secret strategy, and we should trust them?

In view of the Liberals' record over the past couple of months, I cannot go back to my constituents and ask them to trust the Liberals. They are not worthy. They have not earned it. They have lost the trust of Canadians.

The other concern I have is the issue dealing with methamphetamine and the soaking of marijuana in methamphetamine. I do not know if members know how horrible a drug methamphetamine is. On the street it is called crank or white ice. American officials who I dealt with back in 1997 through 1999 warned Canadians that this was coming. It was devastating rural America. These law enforcement agencies told me that what crack did to urban black areas, crank or this white ice will do it to blue collar, white, rural, small town America and Canada. It is happening. It certainly happened in the United States. What crack did not complete, crank is finishing in our rural areas and in our small towns. It is a horrible problem.

I will tell the House what crank or methamphetamine does to people. People do not just go on a 12 hour run with methamphetamine. They go on 30 day runs where they virtually do not sleep for 30 days. Does anyone know how they go to sleep? They take heroine to calm down so they can go to sleep. It is a horrible addictive drug. Now organized crime is soaking marijuana with methamphetamine.

These labs are nickel and dime labs. They can be set up virtually anywhere. They are set up in hotel rooms, in rented rooms, anywhere. The ingredients are cheap and the process is simple. It is an explosive thing. It is a very dangerous thing to make methamphetamine. The explosions occur as quick as lightening and the death that follows from those explosions is immediate.

I have seen video tapes where the first responders go into a hotel room where the meth lab has been in the washroom and the explosion has occurred in the washroom. The person in the washroom is dead immediately. The person at the doorway staggers a step or two. The person on the bed who tries to make it to the door makes it about three or four steps. The gas kills immediately from those explosions.

We might say that those are the people involved in making this. Well, if we have no sympathy for those human beings, we should at least have sympathy for the first responders who open up the motel room door and are hit by that cloud. They die as surely as the drug dealers who are making the methamphetamine.

In 1997 and 1999, agencies in the United States told us that over 80% of all child welfare apprehensions in California were as a direct result of methamphetamine. There is an explosion in apprehending children from parents addicted to methamphetamine. I am certain that the rates would be similar in terms of crack use in urban America. Now we hear of the same problems developing in Canada.

The Americans back in those years were saying to us that they had outlawed the precursors, the ingredients to make methamphetamine, but the American drug dealers were coming across the border, especially from Montana, into Alberta, going into drug stores, literally cleaning out the shelves of over the counter drugs, boiling them down and using those ingredients back in the United States. We were oblivious to this problem. This problem is now hitting us with a vengeance.

One other area where methamphetamine has hit very hard in the United States, and it is finding its way into the same areas in Canada, is in our first nations communities. It has been a horrible problem in first nations communities across the United States and now it is coming here. We look at all the problems that some of our first nations communities have and now they are going to be met with this problem.

I am worried. We are moving in this direction with marijuana, marijuana soaked with methamphetamine which is addictive after one or two uses. It is almost certain that people will become addicted. Imagine kids trying marijuana soaked in methamphetamine, waking up and realizing they have a monkey on their backs, and it is a horrible monkey.

Where are the answers? The government has not provided me with those answers. How can I go back to my constituents and tell them not worry about these aspects because the Liberals have assured us that its drug policy will work? Will it work like their drug policy in east Vancouver, which now has the highest crime rate in property crime in North America second only to downtown Miami?

The people in organized crime are telling everyone that if they are caught with drugs anywhere in Canada they should waive those charges into British Columbia because they will never go to jail. The laws are not being enforced there. The judges are not enforcing them. The efforts of other judges in other areas of the country are being undermined as these charges are being waived into British Columbia, and judges there simply do not seem to care.

We need things like sentencing guidelines or minimum sentences to establish a floor right across the country so that if some judges do not care about our kids and our communities, at least Parliament says that they had better do their jobs by following these sentencing guidelines or these minimums. Why do we not see that in the bill?

Those are some of the questions that I have been asked by my constituents. How do I go back to my constituents and tell them to trust the government when the government simply does not have the answers? If the government has the answers it has not yet decided to share them with the opposition and with the people who we represent.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments on Bill C-10 made by my colleague from Saskatoon—Wanuskewin. He raised a number of relevant points about this legislation, as have Conservative members one after another.

I am a little dismayed that the Liberal Party, which has put forward this legislation, is not debating it. That is the Prime Minister who has said that he is increasingly concerned about the democratic deficit, not only in the chamber, in the people's House of Commons, but at committee and in other areas where members of Parliament are engaged in other venues. He has said he is concerned about the democratic deficit and yet today we see this legislation before the chamber again. It is a retread. It is flawed legislation that was put forward by the Prime Minister's predecessor, Jean Chrétien. It is back once more, yet the Liberals will not even get up to try to defend it in this place.

One of the concerns the member touched on is that the fines and jail terms are too low. One of the concerns I have is that once again we see a situation where the government sees fit to bring forward a range of fines and/or jail time that encompasses maximums.

Concerning the production of marijuana, I would like to read into the record the fact that an individual found growing one to three plants faces summary conviction and a fine of not more than $500, or $250 for a young person. It was subsequently amended at committee, but the key words that people need to understand are “not more than”. Four to twenty-five plants would constitute a offence punishable by “up to” $25,000. Growing twenty-six to fifty plants would result in a sentence of “up to” 10 years. The maximum penalty for growing more than fifty plants would be 14 years.

This is one of the problems that we consistently see with government legislation brought to this place. There are no minimums. We have argued this time and time again. People who resort to criminal activity in this country--and production and trafficking is big business for big crime--have to understand that not only will there be a maximum sentence, they will face a minimum sentence if they are caught and are convicted of this crime. The police, the prosecutors and our justice system depend upon criminals getting the message that if they are caught they are going to be dealt with swiftly and severely for this type of criminal activity.

I wonder if my colleague from Saskatoon—Wanuskewin is as concerned as I am that once again we see the government bringing forward legislation that contains no minimums. Criminals can get away with a slap on the wrist and go through the revolving door right back out of the courtroom, right back to work, and laugh in the face of the police, the prosecutors and everybody who is working diligently to try to protect society. They are back out on the street conducting criminal activity, preying on our young children, the very future of Canada.

I for one am getting quite fed up with this type of activity and this type of attitude from the Liberal government. I have been in this place for 10 years. We have debated a lot of legislation dealing with the Criminal Code of Canada and criminal issues. Time and time again we see the results: the Liberal government talks a good talk but refuses to get tough on crime.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 4:55 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Madam Speaker, I know we have had reference thus far in the House today by individuals who have spoken of the tremendous impact it will have on lives and the harm that will be created. Others have brushed it off, saying that it is mostly a personal choice which affects maybe only the individuals themselves but has no affect on other people.

As we debate Bill C-10, which is legislation to amend the Contraventions Act to allow for certain offences to be prosecuted by means of a summons or a ticket and in short to decriminalize marijuana possession under 30 grams, I want to begin by making the point about the carnage created and the in the lives of other people in a couple of pretty significant ways. I will sketch them out off the top here.

In questions and comments in the House I have questioned the justice minister's concern about the carnage caused on Canadian roadways by impaired driving. I have drawn to the attention of the minister one of the many concerns raised by police chiefs, in particular by Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino when he spoke about the government's agenda to soften Canada's marijuana laws.

I asked a question of the minister some time ago. Julian Fantino, chief of police for Toronto, stated in a letter to me his many concerns about the government choosing to decriminalize marijuana. In that letter he referred to research indicating that if this bill were to come into place in the draft form as it was at that time, the number of drivers under 25 years of age under the influence of marijuana might increase by as much as 400%. That is the number of drivers under 25 years of age under the influence of marijuana or, in other words, driving while drunk.

Police Chief Fantino spoke of the added hazard this would then create on our roadways and highways. He spoke of the kind of unbelievable carnage and the grief and heartache families would experience when they lost a child, or a spouse, or a father or a mother because of somebody driving under the influence of marijuana. He spoke of the awful scene of a tragic accident where lives were lost.

I ask the question again today. Does the minister and the government not understand the tremendous carnage that could be caused on a yearly basis by such impaired driving? This is not only about oneself and a personal lifestyle habit. It is also very much about the very tragic impact it could have on others around us, as we are out on the highways and the byways.

Widely reported in the media over the last number of months has been the bad news about marijuana use and the violence and gang warfare, which is far too prevalent. The government's soft on drugs legislation before us today was referred to a special committee. We really had hoped the committee would show a lot more respect for the views of Canada's frontline police officers and emergency workers than the Liberal government has thus far.

Back on October 28, the Globe and Mail reported on a gang-style double murder in Toronto, with police officers directly tying that incident to a growing problem of marijuana and gang warfare in the city. I had an exchange with the member for Crowfoot earlier today about a poll that came out the very next day, on October 29 of last year. The media reported widely on a new poll which showed that marijuana use was higher than tobacco use among Canadian teens. That is significant and it is something we should all sit up, take note of and pay attention to, as I mentioned in my question to him.

We have the Liberal government promoting an aggressive campaign, with lots of dollars being put into it. Across the country we have posters, seminars, lessons and all kinds of messaging to dissuade youth from tobacco use. However, the proposed changes to marijuana legislation send the very opposite message.

Canada's frontline police officers remain distressed over the Liberal's soft on pot law. I have talked with them in my home riding of Saskatoon--Wanuskewin. The Canadian Professional Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have again written to the Prime Minister. They have asked for stronger legislation against the most serious drug related offences. Very bluntly, Canada's police officers are dismayed at the government's attempt to fast track this premature and seriously flawed bill.

The Conservative Party opposes Bill C-10, but it takes the position that if the Liberals are going to force it through, it must first set up a national drug strategy. Other members, at least from the Conservative Party, have referred to that today.

We need a national drug strategy that works at the street level in all our cities and all our communities across this great country. It must establish a progressive fine schedule with fines and penalties, increasing with the number of convictions, and significant consequences for non-payment of fines. That is not in the bill.

Minimum sentences are required to reinforce the seriousness of the crime of marijuana grow operations. Drug driving laws and roadside assessment must also be in place. We need to have a handle on that. We need to have that set up and ready to go before the legislation is passed. The police need legislation to enhance their enforcement powers in situations where drug impairment is suspected.

The very fact remains that the lower the penalties for drug use and drug running, the more lucrative this illegal activity will be. The more lucrative drug running is, the easier it will be for drug dealers to attract young people into this very dangerous and criminal activity.

The member from Calgary in his speech made clear, and I could not agree more, that the older ones will simply use the younger ones who will be more lightly prosecuted. They are the ones who will get off with a lighter sentence. They will be use them to be the stooges, the runners and those who take the hit. It will be simply an invitation to drug dealers to invite and lure younger people into this very dangerous and criminal activity. Those who already use marijuana will be more easily lured into trafficking.

New data indicating a rise in the number of teens using pot should be of grave concern. It is a serious issue, especially in view of the fact that recent polling indicates we have some real problems with greater use of marijuana than tobacco by teens in Canada. There has been reference to this by a number of people through the course of the day so far. Some of the questions and interventions have also revolved around this.

Putting aside the harm it does on the road, the carnage on the highways, the violence, the drug trafficking, the gang warfare, et cetera that will be created by the very soft on pot legislation, we also know it will harm all Canadians. It is not just a personal thing where people can say that it is their business and that it does not affect anyone else. As has been drawn out a couple times already, it very significantly will affect businesses. The member for Provencher talked about this. When big companies want to get deliveries in pretty quickly, but are held up at the border, it costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars in the course of the day. It does not just affect the individual. When regimes are put in place with more serious surveillances, it affects good people all across the country, including business people. It will probably result in tighter border restrictions between our two countries.

I really do not know what constituency the Liberal government is trying to attract with this new approach to drug legislation. It certainly is not the law-abiding citizens back in my constituency who love their children, love their youth and who want to live in safe communities.

Bill C-10 has a detrimental effect, not only on the person who uses it. We know there are harmful ill effects from that, medically. There have been studies that have proved that. However, it also affects carnage on the highways with drugged driving. We do not have the regimes in place to prevent or to detect that. It also affects the violence and the gangs in terms of the increased criminal activity related to this. It is also a gateway to harder drugs. As well, it affects the business community. It affects anybody exchanging goods between Canada and the United States. Therefore, there are some pretty serious consequences.

I find most appalling that they are setting up this discrepancy or difference between adults and youth, and fining youth at a much lower rate. What kind of a message does that send to say that it is okay for young people do it, but if adults do it that is a more serious thing? I find it most disturbing when we have lighter fines for young adults. On one hand the Liberals are saying that they are trying to prevent youth from using drugs. On the other hand, they are effectively eliminating any real penalty for them if they do so.

When we look at any kind of legislation, we want to have something in place so the effective and proper enforcement can take place. In this case we do not have the resources in place for the police to crack down on organized crime that is profiting from lack of enforcement and will all the more as the bill is put into effect.

The legislation might in fact increase demand for marijuana and, therefore, make the illegal production and distribution of marijuana even more lucrative for organized crime, using our vulnerable youth in a greater way as their runners, stoolpigeons and so on. That is very troubling.

The fines set out in the bill are much too low. They are a light slap on the wrist. It is the cost of doing business, and no more. There is nothing that would deter somebody from becoming involved and moving clients on to harder drugs where there is an even more serious effect.

Also, a tremendous drawback with the bill, a flaw, a negative, is there is no increase for subsequent offences. As the member from Calgary said if somebody has done it once, that is one thing. However, if it is done again and again that obviously should be taken into account. For repeat offences, there should be more serious and tougher consequences along the way.

One might say that the Liberals have really liberalized Canada's drug laws without providing the proper kind of enforcement. That is always troubling. When we get into the billion dollar boondoggle, the gun registry, having not thought this through in advance--

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 4:50 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important and timely debate to have in the chamber today about the decriminalization of marijuana. After listening to some of my colleagues debate this issue, I am reminded that one of the reasons the government seems to be in a hurry to address this is it is trying to pretend there is a perception that the vast majority of young people believe that pot should be decriminalized.

I have had the opportunity to speak in high schools throughout my riding of Prince George--Peace River. I have found that young people are not unified on this particular issue. There is no big hue and cry from young people for the decriminalization of marijuana or for the full legalization of it.

I put three different options to young people: legalize it, and thus be able to tax it and treat it like alcohol, for example; decriminalize small amounts as Bill C-10 would do; or leave the status quo, where it is a criminal act and against the Criminal Code of Canada to possess marijuana. The young people were split on this issue, as I would suggest would be society at large. There was no clear consensus even among young people that we should rush pell-mell, full speed ahead, to decriminalize marijuana.

My colleague from Calgary has been active on university and college campuses across Canada speaking to young people. I wonder whether he has run into the same situation as I have in my riding.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 4:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, that was a very reasonable question.

I serve as the opposition critic for Canada-U.S. relations. In that capacity I have occasion to meet frequently with American law enforcement officials, legislators and administration policy makers. This issue of Canada liberalizing its marijuana and drug laws is very much on the radar screen of policy makers in Washington.

In the post 9/11 environment, we have a critical national imperative to make Americans comfortable with sharing an open border with Canada. For our economic survival we need to ensure an open border that right now encompasses $1.8 billion Canadian in daily trade. Bill C-10 would only increase pressure in Congress and in other sources of authority in Washington to increase border inspections and to increase the number of customs officers for surveillance of Canadian vehicles and passengers going into the United States, all of which would mean longer lineups, more hassles, and a greater cost for the Canadian economy.

I am afraid that this will have an unintended economic cost in terms of greater American border vigilance as they seek to intercept the increase in the supply of marijuana in Canada which they anticipate will be the unintended result of the bill. Let us be very mindful of that.

Let me make a related comment. It is interesting to note that three U.S. states, Oregon, Nevada, and one other, have had referendum campaigns on decriminalizing marijuana. They had very vigorous debates in those states. In each instance, the voters in those states decided to maintain the prohibition against production, trafficking, and possession of marijuana.

I am not suggesting that we should always govern ourselves according to American domestic policy trends, but we have to be mindful of them. When we look at the post 9/11 security environment and we add on to it the growing American unease about Canada as an exporter of drugs, particularly cannabis, into the United States, the bill is particularly unhelpful.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 4:25 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10 on behalf of my constituents of Calgary Southeast.

This has been an unusually difficult issue for me to analyze and on which to arrive at a position. I find the argument offered by libertarians in favour of the decriminalization of minor possession of marijuana or the decriminalization of marijuana all together reasonable and compelling.

Their argument is predicated on the notion that marijuana is not a harmful substance. Therefore, it does not damage the users of marijuana, is not addictive in a destructive sense, and does not endanger the broader common good or society. I find that a reasonable and compelling argument, although I am not sure that I agree with the predicate that marijuana is in all instances a harmless drug.

I balance that reasonable libertarian appeal on this issue against the personal experiences that I have heard from many constituents and other Canadians, particularly parents. Those who like myself do not have children do not have to worry about the difficulties that young people have growing up in today's society and perhaps are not as concerned about the deleterious effect of marijuana on young people.

However, I know many parents who believe very passionately, from their firsthand experience, that they lost their children, that their children became ensnared in an entire lifestyle that was unhealthy and unproductive, and that it was in fact destructive of themselves, their families and their relationships because of their principal use of marijuana.

It is my sense that a majority of my constituents believe that there should continue to be significant sanctions for the production, sale and possession of marijuana. On the other hand, most Canadians and most of my constituents do not believe that individuals who are arrested and in possession of one joint should face a lifetime criminal blemish because of perhaps an isolated mistake in their youth.

I do believe that this is a complex issue. I am quite frankly someone who sees things in black and white. This is one issue where I see reasonable arguments on both sides.

However, as I do more research on this issue and talk to more constituents, and look more closely at the bill, I have come to the conclusion that the bill is an inappropriate response to the desire to prevent an undue lifetime penalty of the burden of a criminal offence on someone. That is understandable and the bill simply goes too far.

Basically, Canadian society is seeking a balance on this issue and that is a reasonable thing to expect. I do not think this is a balanced bill.

Effectively, the bill seeks to decriminalize possession for amounts of under 30 grams, for all intents and purposes. The expert testimony is that 30 grams of marijuana can produce as much as 60 marijuana joints, which is certainly more than what most Canadians and certainly most parents would regard as minor possession.

Indeed, the position that the previous Canadian Alliance arrived at, which has now been adopted by the new Conservative Party, is a reasonable one. It is to decriminalize possession of cannabis for amounts of less than five grams, which is essentially one or two marijuana joints. That would be a reasonable balance. It would take into account the circumstances where young individuals made one small mistake in their lives. It is a desire to give them a second chance without burdening them for the rest of their lives with a criminal record.

On the other hand, if we were to adopt the five gram limit proposed by my party, we would still maintain a significant criminal law disincentive for the production and distribution of marijuana.

This is really a critical issue which the bill fails to adequately address; that is, the enormous proliferation of marijuana production in Canada and the involvement of organized crime in that field.

We have all read and seen the stories about the thousands of so-called grow operations that exist in disproportionate numbers in the Province of British Columbia. I think the bill fails to take that into consideration.

My colleague from Provencher points out that apparently some of these very prosperous grow operations were helpful in financing the recent leadership campaign of the right hon. the Prime Minister in acquiring memberships in British Columbia. There is now a very serious criminal investigation in that province.

If we were to decriminalize for amounts of 30 grams and under, essentially, we would be giving a green light to trafficking and a green light to a grow op production on the scale that we have before us today. In fact, these grow ops, which are fuelled by organized crime, are growing like top seed right now under the current law, which criminalizes any kind of possession or trafficking of marijuana.

It seems to me that if we were to send a signal that Parliament is less interested in prosecuting possession and trafficking of marijuana, we would only get more grow ops, which would mean more resources for organized crime. That seems to me a rather perverse, perhaps unintended, consequence of this bill.

Another aspect of the bill which I find troublesome is that it would create a two tier law. The Liberals always demagogue about the notion of two tier health care, but they seem to be rather attached to the idea of two tier criminal law. They have passed amendments in this place which make certain offences even greater offences if they are committed for particular reasons. Rather than simply making all acts of violence equally abhorrent under criminal law, they have identified acts that are motivated by certain subjective impulses as carrying greater penalties.

Similarly, in another field of course, we know that the government has legislated less strenuous penalties for people who violate the law based on race, which I find quite an outrageous offence against Canadian liberal democratic values. Similarly, in Bill C-10, the government would propose separate fines for the minor possession of marijuana for adults versus youth.

Surely we can all agree in this place that Canadians are equal under the law and that if a young person commits an adult crime, then he or she should face the consequences. To suggest that young people are somehow less responsible for their actions is demeaning. It creates all sorts of perverse messages and unintended consequences.

If a 17 year old is able to transport 60 joints, under this law, and face potentially a third less fine than somebody who is 18 years old, that means that 17 and 16 year olds would become pigeons for drug traffickers. That would be one of the perverse outcomes of this bill. In a sense, it would encourage drug traffickers to use younger people as stooges in their businesses. I do not understand why the government does not see this.

Furthermore, the government has actually decreased penalties for the production of marijuana in this bill through its schedule of fines related to the number of plants. Again, this is completely naive.

Grow operators can limit themselves to a potential fine of $25,000 for growing up to 25 plants, but if they have 26 plants they could face 10 years in jail. Guess what they are going to do? Instead of having one grow op with 100 plants, they are going to have four grow ops with 25 plants.

This is such an absolutely and transparently absurd understanding of human nature that we find in this bill. It is an incentive for marijuana producers to be even more stealthy in the amounts of marijuana that they grow to avoid the penalties under the law. The police, instead of identifying one significant grow op, are going to have to chase dozens and dozens of smaller ones that are established precisely to avoid the 26 plant limit in the law.

Similarly, the bill does nothing to assist police in cracking down on organized crime that is currently profiting from lax enforcement. The legislation will increase demand for marijuana and therefore make the illegal production and distribution of it even more lucrative for organized crime.

The fines set out in this bill do not increase for subsequent offences either. This is a major flaw. It seems that if we want the law to have an instructive capacity, to teach people, particularly young people, about what constitutes acceptable conduct, then we should increase the penalties with the number of repeat offences.

If a college student is caught with one marijuana joint, I personally do not believe that the person should face a lifetime criminal record, but if a young person is arrested and found to be a serial user and possessor of marijuana, chances are that there is more to it than just the possession. Chances are that the person is involved in trafficking or has a serious habit, and the law needs to assist in breaking that habit. I would propose that the bill see increased penalties and consequences for repeat offenders.

I have mentioned some of the deficiencies in the bill. My colleague from Crowfoot spoke about the need for a broader national drug strategy. I believe that there is compelling evidence, certainly anecdotal and I believe empirical evidence, that marijuana is--not in every instance, but can be in many instances--a gateway drug to more serious narcotics, narcotics that destroy and kill people.

If there is anybody in this place who thinks that the drug trade in narcotics is just a lifestyle choice and that we ought not to make any moral judgment about the use of such drugs, then I invite them to come down to the lower east side of Vancouver and literally see hundreds of mainly younger people whose lives have been completely, for all intents and purposes, sucked out of them by the addiction to narcotics.

I would venture to guess that virtually every one of the junkies on the lower east side of Vancouver whose lives have been destroyed will tell us that the first contact they had with drugs was with marijuana.

We have to be very alive to the connection between marijuana and the larger drug culture in terms of more serious narcotics. There is no national drug strategy attached to this bill. No provisions have been made to amend the proceeds of crime legislation. No provisions have been made to deal with damages to real estate through residential grow ops, a very serious problem. No legislation has been developed to curtail financial institutions from funding mortgages related to grow ops that would require them to exercise due diligence to stop the money laundering that occurs through these operations. No coordination has been proposed by the government to work with provincial welfare departments and federal authorities to stop welfare fraud, which is used to fuel the drug trade.

No commitment has been obtained from the judiciary to increase penalties within the limits set out in this bill in terms of maximum penalties, or to follow the established possession guidelines. No provisions have been made to deal with the increasing toxicity of THC content.

My colleague from Crowfoot discussed the fact that toxicity of cannabis today is several times greater than it was when the former minister of justice, the former minister of health and much of the frontbench of the government were recreational users of marijuana, according to their own admissions, in the 1960s. They look back at that as some kind of romantic period.

The former minister of health, Alan Rock, no longer a member of this place and now our ambassador to the United Nations, glories in his hippie days, hanging out with John Lennon and he snickers about illegal drug use. We can let him have his psychedelic romantic memories from his youth in the 1960s, but that has no relevance to the lives of young people today who are dealing with a product in cannabis that is 10 to 20 times more potent than when the current ambassador to the United Nations was a recreational user in the 1960s.

I would ask the members of the Liberal government to put aside their romantic attachment to this as the drug of the summer of love. I ask them to look at real families and young people whose lives are being negatively affected by addiction to what can in many instances be a very damaging drug. I would ask the government to reconsider the bill.

In closing, I would support amendments to the act that decriminalized possession of very minor amounts. I do not seek to penalize in perpetuity young people who make an occasional mistake, but we do need to use the law to stop the enormous and unchecked growth in the organized criminal drug trade in this country. Therefore, I will oppose this bill unless the government agrees to substantially amend it along the lines proposed by my colleagues.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 4:20 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, the short answer to the member's question is yes. We do need to look at all kinds of ways to get the message across to Canadians that it is wrong.

He is also right. Here we are on a Monday afternoon in the House of Commons. We have issues that are absolutely devastating, especially to my constituents, and the legislative agenda has us debating Bill C-10. That is fine.

We have BSE right now that is absolutely killing the cattle industry and the agriculture sector as a whole and we are here debating a bill to decriminalize marijuana. I guess the bill has to be debated but there are so many other things that should have the attention of the government but does not.

We have a billion dollar gun registry that is so ineffective that it is not preventing crime and yet over $1 billion will be pushed into the registry regardless of what effect it has. There will be dollars for that.

We have a softwood lumber industry with as many people in the unemployment lines now as there were months ago.

There are so many issues, especially the beef industry issue, that I feel I should be here debating but we are on Bill C-10.

I believe we need all the resources possible to educate the public. We have already seen many grow ops being raided. People with homes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or maybe even millions of dollars have cut out rooms in their basements for marijuana grow ops. If we were able to confiscate the money from this type of criminal activity the money could be put right back into fighting crime. Let us take the money that is tied up in these grow op houses and put it back into fighting crime and to educating Canadians about the harmful effect.

The government acts as if it is only one joint or two joints that people are smoking. However, where are they getting this drug? They are getting it from organized crime.

The government says that if we decriminalize it and allow people to grow their own then it will no longer be organized crime any more. That shows that this is a government that does not have a clue how to fight this kind of crime and how to recognize the problems that we have in this country.

I appreciate the question from the member for Skeena. Yes, let us fight crime using the criminals' resources. Let us shoot the money back into fighting crime. Let us take the gun registry and absolutely get rid of it.

We have a budget coming up. We have a new Prime Minister. I ask the Prime Minister to show Canadians that he understands what is happening out there and get rid of the gun registry. If he wants to fight crime and he wants gun control, all he has to do is tell people that if they perpetrate any type of crime using a firearm they will be on a registry and they will never own a firearm again. That is the gun registry that I can accept. It is not going to cost anything.

If the Prime Minister wants to have gun control he should tell Canadians that we will stop the illegal smuggling of guns that are coming across the border daily and that we will have a greater commitment to stopping them, because we do not.

Instead, we are debating Bill C-10 on how we should tell Canadians and young people that marijuana is not all that bad. Shame on that government.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 4:20 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Canadian Alliance Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, when we look at the one billion dollar-plus gun registry; the softwood lumber committee adjustment fund of some $55 million for British Columbia where very little of it has gone to the people in the communities that need it at this stage of the game, some 450 days later; the ad scams, some $450 million program; shoot-up sites in big cities like Vancouver; and then we get legislation, such as Bill C-10, which will likely exacerbate the problem; it appears to me that the government needs to change its priorities.

How does the member for Crowfoot feel about a suggestion that the firearms registration be cancelled and that the government cut its losses and put future funds that would have gone into that ridiculous program into crime prevention, including developing an adequate roadside test for marijuana use and firm enforcement of existing marijuana laws? Would that not make a whole lot more sense to Canadians?

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 3:55 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today and debate Bill C-10. Only a number of weeks ago, we in the House had the privilege of debating Bill C-10 at report stage. At that time I stood in the House and brought out some of our major concerns about the bill. I brought out some of the concerns we have with a government that is moving toward decriminalization.

I really believe that deep down the government is moving toward legalization of marijuana. Although this bill does not make it legal, we are moving in that direction. The government is moving in that direction and to that I say shame. I say shame on stepping forward and coming up with a program or a plan that would tell people, tell Canadians and tell young people that using marijuana is not all that bad, not even as bad as not wearing your seat belt and not as bad as drinking. It is just not that bad, says the government, because the level of fines the government has included in this bill sends the wrong message to Canadians.

First, let me mention that about two years ago a committee was struck to study drug use and our drug strategy. It was called the Special Committee on Non-medical Use of Drugs. At that time my leader asked me to sit on that committee. We had a government that was bent on recognizing a drug problem in our country and felt that the answer to the drug problem was to build safe injection sites, clean places where people could shoot illegal drugs into their veins. The government felt that it would certainly help solve a drug problem that is even more prevalent in our nation today.

Besides a drug strategy, there was another part of what that committee was studying, which was whether, because heroin on the streets is so dirty, the government should provide clean, pure heroin to drug users in what we would call a heroin maintenance program, that is, should heroin addicts be given clean, pure heroin free or at a greatly reduced price? It would then be guaranteed that the drugs were clean and it would help prevent problems down the road.

I have a problem with that type of philosophy. I have a problem with that type of strategy of the government. I believe it is the wrong message. I believe it is the wrong way of dealing with the drug problem. Certainly the longer we went on in that committee, the more we realized that the government had no plan. It had no indication and no idea of how to fight one of the problems that hurts so many families, hurts so many Canadians and hurts productivity.

Therefore, our committee began to travel. We travelled across the country. Indeed, we travelled to many countries. We went to Germany and Switzerland and we travelled to Amsterdam. Many times on that trip I had the opportunity of looking into the eyes of young people who had lost hope. I had to keep telling myself that somewhere those young children had mothers or fathers who cared for them and loved them. Yet these young people had lost any type of hope and any type of opportunity that they ever might have been able to attain.

As I went into that committee, I did not know how much of a problem this drug use was in my constituency. I have what is basically a rural riding. I found out very quickly and to my own shame that this is not only a problem in the urban centres. It is a problem that is throughout our country and too many people have given up on it.

I believe the government has given up. I believe the government has looked at it, thrown its hands up in the air and said, “We surrender”. It has said that it has no plan so it will try to help in some type of so-called harm reduction. Again, that sends the wrong message: that as long as people shoot drugs in a clean environment it will be all right, that as long as people shoot drugs that are clean they do not have anything to fear.

That is not the case.

At the time, the government was committing $4 million to safe injection sites and pilot projects. When it came to bringing up the point of having more resources for detox centres, my colleague, the member for Langley--Abbotsford, and I went to that committee and said that we were committed to fighting drugs. We asked that we make sure that if people needed or wanted adequate help they were going to be able to get that help.

We heard the member from Calgary talk about the number of break and enters because of people needing money for drugs. When we brought up the point that perhaps we should have detox centres right within the prisons, we were met with total opposition. The government asked why we would want to put detox centres in prison, why we would want to bring people down off their drugs while they were in prison. It was almost like the government felt that would be going against their rights. We have a prison system that believes in zero tolerance, yet when we go there we see that this is indeed not the case.

Then, right in the middle of the study, one day the government suddenly dropped the whole ball on the question of decriminalizing marijuana right on the table of our committee. It upset the whole strategy and plan that we were going through as far as hard drugs were concerned. It suddenly became the focus point. It became the focus point of the minister and the government. It became the focus point of the media. Every media call was saying to us, “Forget the safe injection sites and forget the heroin problem. What is the committee going to do about marijuana now?”

It really pre-empted the committee's study when suddenly the minister told us what the government was going to do. He said the government needed to move toward decriminalizing marijuana. There was the committee, set up to study marijuana, set up to study illicit drug use, and the minister pre-empted it and basically rendered everything we had studied and brought forward inconsequential, because, he said, “This is what the government is going to do”.

Now we see legislation, Bill C-10, that again is what the government is planning to do. Let me make it very clear that this opposition party, the Conservative Party of Canada, is going to oppose this type of open-ended decriminalization that basically sends the wrong messages and tells Canadians this is all right.

What would this bill do? It would establish a new system of fines for possession of marijuana. Right now we have a problem with courts that are not bringing down any type of deterrent sentences for marijuana use. We have a problem with courts that are in some cases giving a little slap on the wrist and putting people back into society. There has to be some recognition that the status quo is not working right now.

The government said initially that possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana should be punished by a fine of $150, and for youth, by a fine of up to $100. I can tell members that this type of sentencing, this type of fine, will be no deterrent to anyone starting to use marijuana.

We believe we need to send the message to Canadians that marijuana is harmful, marijuana is illegal, marijuana should not be tried, and they should stay away from all these mind-altering drugs. This type of legislation does nothing to do that.

I ask Canadians and I ask the government, when was the last time that any court sentenced anyone to a maximum fine on a drug charge? If I get a seat belt violation while puttering around in rural Alberta, I am going to get hit harder than I would if I were caught smoking a joint of marijuana.

Again we say that this type of summary offence and this type of sentencing show how out of touch the government is with what is going on out there. I had the opportunity over the last couple of weeks to travel throughout my constituency and speak to different RCMP detachments. In the southern part of my riding, Strathmore and Gleichen, the new part that will become part of Crowfoot, I asked the members of those detachments how prevalent drug use is in their communities. Again, drugs are the driver of crime. As my colleague from Calgary, a former police officer, has said, drugs are what drive crime. When I look at these kinds of fines and sentences, I realize the government has no commitment at all to deterrence.

I have already talked about the fact that this sends the wrong message to Canadian youth. I talk to some of the teachers and principals at schools and they say young people already believe that marijuana has been legalized. Again, this is the wrong message coming out of the House. It is the wrong message coming out of the Parliament of Canada, but that is what young people believe.

The question is, how do we enable our law enforcement officers to go out there and uphold the law? Anyone who is caught at a check stop for drinking and driving realizes that when a person blows into the breathalyzer and is told he or she is over the legal limit of alcohol, the police have substantive evidence that they can bring to any court to say the person blew over .08 and was impaired.

I can only imagine the types of trials dealing with drugs that are going to take place because of this legislation. The question will be whether the person was impaired or was over any legal limit. How are officers going to explain it? Are they going to say they tried to make them walk the line and they were not able to do that? Is that going to hold up in court? I can say absolutely that this bill is going to make it very difficult for any prosecutor to prove that someone was driving while impaired with marijuana. There will be much more use of marijuana. We will see it in our driving, on our highways and in our cemeteries. We will see it with people who are buried because someone was driving while stoned.

I had a chance to chat with the member for Yellowhead about crystal meth. We have a problem in some of our provinces. Even in my constituency of Crowfoot we are seeing much more crystal meth being brought in and used. That is why one of the things we are looking at is a private member's bill to deal with precursors of all the ingredients that go into making crystal meth. We are also looking at ways to help families that are being torn apart by people who use crystal meth.

Today I do not want to get into the argument on whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug, but I want to say that we are seeing marijuana being used with other drugs to heighten the high. The member for Yellowhead told me about marijuana being soaked or dipped in crystal meth and then smoked for a better high. I met with police officers who say that sometimes people soak toothpicks in it. They are driving trucks, the toothpicks are in the visor, and they will just suck on toothpicks that have been laced with crystal meth.

We are seeing more and more drugs out there all the time because we have not sent the right message on marijuana or on any type of drug; we have not sent the right type of message. We are reaping what we have sown. Unfortunately we are reaping it with kids, with families breaking up, with productivity going down and with education opportunities being lost. In every high school across the land, we are seeing the effects.

We should have the courage in this place to put in tough laws that show we really care about the effect these kinds of drugs are having on Canadians.

At committee I recall a question being asked of one of our witnesses: “Do you believe that people who are caught with marijuana will pay their fines?” At that time we were talking about a $500 fine as a deterrent. A number of witnesses said no. They did not know how we could force anybody to pay a fine.

In that committee we had a blackboard behind us. We wrote down things that we believed had to happen if there ever were to be decriminalization. We talked about the roadside tests. We talked about having the methodology for determining if someone is under the influence of any type of narcotic or marijuana. We talked about fines as a deterrent. We also discussed whether we could structure something that would force people to pay their fines, or would it just be another fine that would never be collected. We referenced tying it to the driver's licence, but that would come under provincial jurisdiction.

This is a bill that does not set out how we force people to pay these fines. People simply will not pay them. Until I hear someone on the government side say that we have a way to do roadside tests, we have the ability to have substantive fines in place, we have the ability to make sure those fines are paid, I do not really want to hear any more about the road we are on in decriminalizing marijuana.

The use and possession of marijuana must remain illegal. Canadians must realize that not only is it illegal but that there must be a substantive fine to show the damage and the harm that it can cause.

Every year police officers take the DARE program to schools. They talk to young Canadians about the damage that is caused by violence and drugs. There are ads on television and in newspapers showing the terrible effects of drugs. There are some good drug abuse education programs happening. However we have a government that wants to move toward decriminalization and in effect is telling Canadians that it is not as bad as we once thought it was.

Someone gave me a piece of information a while back which talked about the difference between today's marijuana and the marijuana of 30, 40 or 50 years ago. The high that one gets from the drug now is so different and yet we are saying that it is time to decriminalize it. The marijuana now is so powerful, with B.C. bud and some of the other types of marijuana, in toxicity levels. It is so much different from that of the 1960s during the hippie movement and the 1970s and 1980s when I was growing up and in high school. It was harmful then but it is much more harmful now. We knew it was wrong then and we know it has no benefits today, but we want to make it easier for young people to possess.

The government is wrong. The government has missed the mark. That is why this party does not support Bill C-10.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 3:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Calgary for his speech. He is one who has been in the field as a police officer and has dealt in the past, day after day, with the effects of all kinds of drug use. Certainly, marijuana use back then was the drug of choice and very prevalent in the city in which he lived.

He mentioned part of something with which my question deals. When I look at legislation like Bill C-10, I think what is the upside? What are the positives of the bill that would bring a government, as he already mentioned, to sit down and consider taking us down the road toward legalization, toward a much more liberalized way of dealing with drugs?

We do not have a drug strategy in our country. A couple of years ago a committee was struck, the non-medical use drug committee, to study drug strategy. Not since the 1970s, with the Le Dain Commission, had there been any type of study of the drug strategy. When we come out with Bill C-10, which brings out summary offences and has a fine structure, what is the upside? Does he see any upside in the bill?

Another point I would like him to make reference to is what message is being sent to the children? We heard in another member's speech that in one small community of about 7,000 people, already 780 possession charges have been stayed. Charges have been laid, but the courts have stayed those charges pending the outcome of Bill C-10. Therefore, we have young people running around, many who believe we already have legalized marijuana. Many of them believe we have said that pot is not that harmful, that it will not hurt them, and that is why the government is working toward legalization. I agree with those members who have said that this does not make marijuana legal, but the public believes that it does.

Therefore, could he comment on the upside of this, if there is any, and could he comment on what our messaging to our young people is?

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 3:30 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am appreciative of the fact that I can stand in this House and deal with this particular topic.

Being a former police officer for over 20 years, I have seen the usage of marijuana and other drugs and how they can affect, not only the lives of those who have used it and their families, but also society.

I can recap one situation. I was patrolling in the streets of Calgary one evening and a vehicle in front of me, which had just driven out of one of the local bars, was all over the road. I stopped that particular vehicle to determine if the driver was impaired. I thought he was impaired by alcohol. He was placed on the final breathalyzer test and actually blew under the limit, advising me as a police office that he wasn't impaired by alcohol. He had been smoking marijuana at the same time. It was a small quantity of marijuana that he had actually smoked but with the enhancement of the alcohol, his ability to drive was severely hampered.

That is what is happening in too many driving situations today. The roadside testers do not have the ability to detect the use of marijuana on the breath of a driver. In fact, there are accidents happening where drivers are impaired by a drug and not by alcohol. They often, unfortunately, slip through the checkstops and never end up being charged.

There is major problem with the direction that the government is taking when it comes to the legalization or the decriminalization of marijuana, even small quantities. The small quantity, up to 30 grams, is enough to impair any driver. Any person getting behind the wheel of a car would be considered a hazard. And if there is alcohol mixed with that, it is even worse.

I think that sends the wrong message to Canada's youth. Unfortunately, I can recall the statement of a previous Prime Minister who made reference to “marijuana brownies”. That remark was irresponsible and absolutely uncalled for. For it to come from the top person of the land was offensive.

The use of marijuana is not a joke. The use of any drug is no joke. It destroys family. It destroys even those outside the purview because it is costly in treatments and it is costly to fix the damage that is being done by those who are using drugs.

I will relate another situation. Some say that it is not an addictive drug. I beg to differ with that comment. I have arrested individuals who went on house break-in sprees just to get enough money to buy marijuana. The marijuana of today is not what it was 50 years ago or 40 years ago. It is a lot different. It is addictive in many of its forms. It is also being mixed with other more lethal drugs nowadays that make it even worse.

An individual who had been responsible for 400 house break-ins got to the point, just to support his marijuana need, of even using violence if he was confronted by people in the house he happened to enter, which was not very often. However, two or three times is two or three times too many. He kicked an elderly woman so he could make a clean escape with the goods he had stolen from her house.

He was a marijuana user with a habit. He wanted money, no matter how he could get it. In this particular case, he went out to get it by entering houses unlawfully. He stole the goods of ordinary people that were sometimes artifacts that they had saved from one generation to the next. He sold them for peanuts so he could support his drug habit.

I find it reprehensible to think that our government is moving down a path that will make marijuana usage more acceptable by lowering fines and by taking away what should be strong court action to deter this kind of activity. Unfortunately, our government has not taken into account the societal needs of restriction or abstinence from this kind of drug.

Those individuals in the highest governmental position in the land are condoning the use of marijuana. They are saying that marijuana brownies or chocolate brownies could be used to the same degree, but they are also starving our law enforcement agencies from enforcing the law that would restrict those who want to violate the law by distributing and growing this particular drug.

What does it take to crack down on organized crime? It takes organized police action across the country and internationally. To have organized police action we need a national drug strategy. We need strong communication links between police agencies within the country. We need strong communication links to police agencies outside the country. These grow operations and marijuana distribution links are outside the country. They are not just in Canada. People are getting fat off of this kind of activity. Lawyers will go to any length to defend them because they know there are lots of bucks involved in the drug trade.

This legislation could very well increase the demand for marijuana. Bill C-10 could make the illegal production and distribution of marijuana even more lucrative because it is such a minor measure. It is more enticing to those who want to use marijuana. It is more enticing to those who distribute it knowing they would get more of their product out. They would grow their quantities of marijuana in a more aggressive way because the legislation would allow them to do so.

Enforcement agencies always have a hammer that they can hold over individuals who use marijuana. They could use this hammer as a lever to charge those who use small quantities or use it as a lever to determine where individuals receive it or who is pushing the drug in the community. However, that lever has been watered down more and more. The police no longer have that as an advantage to enforce the law. That is a travesty in itself.

The legislators on that side of the House are aware of what they are doing when they diminish the effectiveness of law enforcement to determine who on earth is pushing a serious drug in the community.

If we look at the fines that have been set out, we know right away these are minor fines, especially with young people. I noticed that a 14 year old youngster was caught recently in Alberta. He was looking after one of these grow ops. What will they do with him? The law really will not affect him a whole lot. However, because he is a youngster, he is subject to more leniency within the system because the fines attached to the legislation are considerably different than what they were years back. Law enforcement agencies do not have the leverage over those who even possess small quantities of this product.

Let us now turn to industry itself. Because of the messages being sent from the government side, industry has another fight on its hands, whether it is the trucking industry, or heavy equipment operators or machine operators. Employers are very concerned about the increased use of marijuana by machine operators. Now, many of them insist that their employees take tests and if they are using marijuana, they are not acceptable.

Fortunately with that drug, it stays in the blood stream for a few days and random tests, or even more than random tests, will detect the drug in their systems. However, the problem is that people are using it while operating equipment and while driving trucks on our roadways. Even within police and security fields, there are all kinds of restrictions about usage of marijuana, but the government is not following through with its legislation. Industry and others are bearing the brunt of government legislation that tends to want to make things more lenient.

Where do we go from here? Bill C-10 does not address the issues broadly across our society. It seems to only address those who want to use this substance and makes it lighter on them. The message being sent to our youngsters is that this is an acceptable way to go.

We in the House have a lot on our plates with which we have to deal. As members of the opposition, we are dealing with the scandals on the government side and are spending our time rooting out the truth. We have to look at our farmers who are suffering. These are issues that have grave importance. We are the highest taxed OECD country. It actually is crippling our productivity and our economic growth.

Our health care system has all kinds of demands on it and it is disintegration. The provinces want this to be dealt with too, on a national level. These are answers that come out of this Parliament. On top of all that, our military is in a state of decay. Yet here we are in the House dealing with Bill C-10 on the possession of marijuana.

Where are we going when it comes to our priority list? I cannot understand it. What is our priority list? Is it investigating a scandal? It should be. Let us get down to the bottom of it right now before an election. Is it fixing medicare? No. Is it restoring our military, our troop strength and equipment? No. These are not the subject of a lot of bills when we look at what has gone through the House, but there sure has been a lot of time spent on bills like Bill C-10. All we are talking about in this bill is making the smoking of dope easier. Basically that is where we are.

I think the bill is not worthy of support and I will ask my colleagues not to support it. We should be putting our efforts into something that has much more significance.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

March 8th, 2004 / 3:15 p.m.
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The Speaker

The Chair is satisfied that this bill is in the same form as Bill C-10B was at the time of prorogation of the 2nd session, 37th Parliament.

Accordingly, pursuant to order made Tuesday, February 10, 2004, the bill is deemed adopted at all stages and passed by the House.

(Bill read the second time, considered in committee, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 1:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, before getting into the bill, I want you to know that I am not holding the little mistake made earlier against you.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10 and the amendment before us. We will not be able to support the amendment because we think that the legislation should not legalize, as is often assumed incorrectly, but decriminalize marijuana.

In the next 20 minutes, I will try to clarify the confusion. I have met people who are part of civil society or groups, who think that, by adopting Bill C-10, parliamentarians are going to legalize marijuana. The Bloc Quebecois presented amendments at report stage, and we would like the bill to be passed. As I hope to prove, it is not very reasonable for young people who are arrested for simple possession of marijuana to suffer extremely serious legal consequences when they are looking for work or travelling.

Let us start from the beginning. Like the U.S., Canada has had a prohibitionist strategy over the past 80 years, in the sense that the possession and growing of marijuana are prohibited under drug legislation and punishable not only by a fine, but imprisonment under the Criminal Code.

Are we to understand that, while Canada has maintained a prohibitionist strategy for the past 80 years, it has in a way deterred large segments of the population from using marijuana? Obviously, the answer to this question is no. Despite this prohibitionist strategy prohibiting the use and possession of marijuana, there are extremely conclusive statistics.

The latest statistics have been presented to the justice committee and the special committee. As a member of the Bloc Quebecois, I represented my party at the committee which reviewed the whole issue of non-medical use of drugs. As hon. members may recall, a colleague put forward in this House a motion and, for one year, by order of the House, a special committee reviewed the whole issue of non-medical use of drugs.

The work done by the other House, with Senator Nolin, was perhaps a bit more elaborate then what we did in our committee, but both Houses reached the same conclusion. The prohibitionist strategy, which Canada followed for more than 80 years, did not give the expected results.

The statistics are clear. More than one in ten Canadians uses cannabis despite the fact that it is illegal. Over 30,000 Canadians are charged each year with simple possession of cannabis. In Quebec, the province I represent, 80% of those charged with simple possession of cannabis are adults.

So there is a clear gap between our legislative system and the statistical results on possession and use. When our committee considered the whole issue of drug use, it became quite clear that the legislative framework was completely out of date. There is a consequence to maintaining the prohibition, as set out in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code. Consequently, for decades—I am certain that my colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier will agree—Canada invested considerable resources in the war on cannabis possession.

In fact, when the parliamentary committee heard testimony from the RCMP and representatives of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, it realized that millions of dollars, as much as $500 million, had been invested in the war on drug possession. However the war on drugs in Canada has meant to a great extent a war on marijuana.

No one is saying that using marijuana is good. In terms of public health, we are well aware that the message we need to send young people in schools and everyone in our communities is that it is better never to use marijuana and, obviously, any other drugs.

However, it is not true that the use of marijuana justifies the repressive approach taken these past few years. That is the distinction we need to make.

And so, when we looked at the figures with the RCMP and the CCRA, we found that the repressive approach—which costs $500 million—does not justify the results it produces. Bill C-10 is not asking us to legalize marijuana. There will still be legal consequences for simple possession of marijuana and certainly for growing it. There will still be sanctions but they will be more in the nature of a ticket and fine system. People will be fined amounts ranging from $100 to $400, but they will not have criminal records. We all know what it means to have a criminal record.

Let us imagine a young man of 16 who has 5 grams of marijuana. This is a fictitious example, but it is real nonetheless. If we do not change the law, this young man who is going to smoke marijuana—and we know, medically speaking, that moderate use of marijuana is much less harmful than using drugs or tobacco—and who finds himself in possession of 5 grams of marijuana, would end up with a criminal record that would follow him for years, with all that can mean to a working person changing jobs.

We know that young people who are now 17, 18 or 19 are likely to have at least 5 careers while in the labour force. The days when a person worked for the same company for 25, 30 or 35 years are over. Today, both people and their jobs are mobile, meaning that every 5, 6 or 7 years, they change jobs. There are job-related consequences of having a criminal record, as there are consequences of having a criminal record with respect to travelling to the United States or elsewhere. We believe these consequences are out of proportion to an offence that has no victims.

Moreover, if we did a little test with our colleagues in Parliament and those in the galleries and asked how many of them were in possession of 2, 3 or 4 grams of marijuana, there would be at least a 1 in 10 chance of hitting the mark. I can see some knowing smiles and that does not make them bad citizens for all that. Perhaps if we asked the members how many of them have—experimentally—used marijuana, I am certain that hands would go up. We would not want these people to have a criminal record.

The bill addresses this issue. That is why the Bloc Quebecois will be voting in favour of this bill. Once again, I repeat, it is better never to use drugs. We do not need drugs in our systems. They are not natural. However, this does not mean that creating an offence for which a person would receive a criminal record—with criminal sanctions—would be desirable. That is the main reason we will support Bill C-10.

The parliamentary committee worked extremely hard. We looked at the whole issue for at least one year. We realized that, all in all, young people were not getting a lot of information.

The situation in Quebec is a bit different because various public health networks offer various community outreach programs, particularly within the CLSCs. Quebec adopted this model in the 1970s. Some of the CLSCs go into the schools and provide information on the consequences of drug use. Obviously, the distinctions between marijuana or cocaine and heroine are outlined. There are major distinctions to be made in terms of consequences. The point is, obviously, that people should get through life without using marijuana.

However, we are not here to judge. Just because a prohibitionist strategy has been in place since the 1980s does not mean that people are not using marijuana. We need to create a framework in which people can obtain information on which to base informed decisions about their lives, so they do start abusing marijuana.

Certainly, using a little marijuana to relax from time to time does not have much in the way of consequences. Moreover, and the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier will correct me if I am wrong, an editorial in The Lancet of November 1998 stated that moderate cannabis use had little effect on health and that the decision to ban or to legalize cannabis ought to be based on other considerations. This is, of course, a very serious and well-known British medical journal, an authority in its field, a learned scientific journal. The other considerations taken into account in this bill are, of course, the consequences of a criminal record on a person's life.

This is not a new debate. One of the reasons we will not be able to vote in favour of the amendment is that we appear, from what I have just heard, to require additional information.

I believe you were a student back in 1969, Mr. Speaker, if I recall correctly. I do not have much trouble imagining you with long hair and a luxuriant beard and a bit of a rakish air. That was the year the commission of inquiry known as the Le Dain commission was created. The member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier was not even born. He came into the world in 1970.

So, the Le Dain commission looked at the entire marijuana issue in 1969. I had the opportunity to meet a criminologist who was to become a leading light in her community, professor Bertrand. As far back as 1969, some felt that the prohibitionist regime in place in Canada—following the U.S. example—was not based on any practical reality.

Throughout our deliberations, we kept hearing from witnesses begging us to put an end to this system of offences which does far more harm than good. Something we did right in the parliamentary committee was to go to the United States, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands.

This afforded us the opportunity to see that, statistically speaking, there are prohibitionist strategies in place in certain countries. Let us compare, for instance, the 18 to 30 age group in the U.S. and the Netherlands. Can you imagine this: despite the ban in the United States, with all of its system of very strong repression, there are more people in the United States in that age group using marijuana than in the Netherlands?

Just because there is a prohibitionist system does not mean that young people are automatically deterred from using marijuana. For instance, look at the U.S. and the myth around the war on drugs, a myth that is upheld at the highest levels.

Think about the statements made by Presidents Reagan and Bush. Nevertheless, in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where the governments are much more liberal with respect to drugs, fewer young people use marijuana than in the United States.

Of course, we agree that there needs to be information and public health policies. I hope my friend, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, will agree with me that, if we want there to be fewer young people smoking marijuana—even though they may not be his target clientele—it is important for this information to be available with respect to different aspects of public health. Naturally, this is not the role of the federal government.

The member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier also pointed out at every opportunity in committee that we could not talk about a national drug strategy. It is not the role of the federal government to implement a national drug strategy. It is the role of educational establishments, parks and communities; in other words, the municipalities and provincial governments. We do not think the federal government is the best interlocutor when it comes to drugs, except maybe for aboriginal people, toward whom we acknowledge the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility. For the rest, we do not think this is the federal government's responsibility.

That is so true. When we discussed this national strategy, we looked at the federal government's expertise and found that the government that knows the least about the issue of drug use is the federal government. I am asking the Minister of Veterans Affairs to bring before cabinet the idea of investing in transfer payments and making sure the money gets to the provinces so that they can make the best use of it.

Once again, there is no correlation with a prohibitionist strategy. There are at least 10% of Canadians, according to statistics and national public health surveys. Moreover, I wonder if all the ministers in this House have not, at least once, tried cannabis. Obviously, it is not my place to be an inquisitor and ask the question directly. I believe we would be well advised, as parliamentarians, to ensure that we have a new legislative system, which is what we are considering in Bill C-10.

In closing, I would like to say something about the question of international treaties. As we know, Canada is not a country where international law can produce immediate change. For international law to have an effect in Canada, we must vote on ratification. That stands in contrast to some countries where international treaties are automatically incorporated into national law—Canada is not that type of country. For international treaties to have an impact, those treaties must be ratified.

As the House is aware, Canada ratified two treaties during the 1970s concerning what were known at the time as psychotropic drugs. That was the term used in the treaties.

I will end with three points. The Bloc Quebecois worked very hard on the special parliamentary committee on the non-medical use of drugs and on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, so that Bill C-10—Bill C-38 as it was then—would be amended.

We support Bill C-10 because we believe that the legislative system must be changed and that it is not rational for people accused of simple possession of marijuana to find themselves with a criminal record. We hope that money will be made available to the provinces in order to assist in the distribution of as much information as possible about the consequences of drug use. We believe that people should not use drugs and that they do not contribute to personal growth.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member makes an excellent point, a point that maybe has been missed by the Liberals in the House.

By having decreased fines for young people, this will encourage senior people to associate themselves with young people and get them involved in the drug trade. It is the same now with the Young Offenders Act. If older people can get younger people to go along with them in committing crimes, they maybe can get the sentences put on to the younger people. In many these cases sentences are much more lenient. It encourages a person to get involved. It encourages older people to involve youth in drug activities.

Also decriminalizing the whole possession of marijuana under 30 grams really sends the signal to youth that it is all right to experiment with a few of these things.

Thirty grams is 60 joints. That is a lot of marijuana. Many people do not realize that this is a significant amount of drug. With the high THC content now, that will have a very negative effect on our young people.

I do not think I have to say any more on this. The RCMP has said the same thing, that the high profitability, the low risk and the lenient sentences will entice growers and traffickers, and will make it very difficult for law enforcement agencies. We have to listen to these people.

We pass laws in this place, laws that impact the entire country. We had better get it right, and Bill C-10 does not get it right.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 1 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are definitely not in favour of the amendment.

For a clear understanding of what is going on here this morning, I should point out that we are dealing with Bill C-10, formerly C-38, which was studied in parliamentary committee—