moved that Bill C-248, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (trafficking in a controlled drug or substance within five hundred metres of an elementary school or a high school), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the support of the whip of our party, my colleague from Niagara Falls, for seconding my bill.
It is a great pleasure to finally be debating Bill C-248 during this first hour of debate at second reading. Although, I introduced the legislation on four previous occasions, this is the first opportunity to have the legislation debated by members in this chamber.
The purpose of Bill C-248 is to impose mandatory prison sentences upon those convicted of trafficking in a controlled drug or substance within 500 metres of an elementary school or a high school. The mandatory sentences imposed would be one year or more for a first offence and two years or more for a subsequent offence.
These mandatory sentences apply to substances and amounts of substances as listed in schedules I, II, III, IV and VII of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but the bill also would set maximum sentences depending upon the substance and/or the amount of the substance.
For example, a maximum prison term of three years would apply to someone convicted of their first offence for trafficking in barbiturates and someone convicted for a subsequent offence in trafficking cocaine would face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The legislation specifically addresses a matter of justice and criminal law, but I do not wish for members of the House, or Canadians at large, to be misled into believing that the legislation is simply about getting tough on crime or waging a war on drugs. The bill is about health, mental health, education, social welfare and the future we offer our nation's children. Those are all areas for which Bill C-248 offers a key component to success. That is because its ultimate purpose is to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, our children.
Drug use among children and minors affects their health and their mental well-being. Drug use blocks their scholastic success and it impedes their ability to become contributing happy members of our society. Drug use among all ages, but particularly in children, threatens to rip apart families and entire communities, the very foundation of our society and our country's very future.
These are all facts upon which I know all members of the House will agree. It is our responsibility to offer children the best protection possible in their homes, in their streets and most definitely when they attend school. Drugs are a very real and dangerous threat.
A 2001 study found that over 47% of Manitoba students had used drugs at some point in their lives with nearly 40% reporting that they had used drugs in the previous year. This represented an increase from early studies in that province. The average age at which those students started using drugs dropped to 14.1, meaning children are starting to experiment with drugs earlier and earlier in their lives.
A similar drug survey of students in New Brunswick in 2002 indicated just 36% of students there could say that they never use drugs. In Ontario, just one-third reported no drug use. The Ontario statistics also indicated that one-third of the students had used at least one illicit drug in the past year. Cocaine and crack use, which had decreased during the eighties, is once again on the rise among Ontario students. Alarmingly, both cannabis and cocaine use is on the rise among seventh graders or children as young as 12 years of age.
Parents, teachers, principals, police, social agencies and entire communities work tremendously hard to create and maintain a safe and caring environment for Canadian children at school. It is a monumental task. It requires a constant vigilant and collaborative effort.
This effort to create safe and caring schools takes on many forms. Prevention, education and intervention are all critical to success. Yet so too is enforcement and deterrence.
Just as it would be a recipe for failure to combat drug use in our schools without education and awareness and relying solely upon punishment and enforcement, so too is it ineffective to educate and inform without adequate enforcement. In fact, the government's own national drug strategy called for effective enforcement.
Parents, educators and police forces need all the tools available to combat drug use among children and minors. At the very least, we as a society should be doing everything possible to help them.
At the very least, when parents send their child or teenager off to school each morning, they should have some assurance that all reasonable measures have been taken to keep their child safe from both physical harm and other detrimental influences to their health and mental wellness. This includes measures to restrict their children's exposure to and access to drugs in and around their school.
I readily accept the valid but unfortunate argument that there is no way to completely cut students off from drugs. If they really want to experiment with drugs or find a fix, they will manage to find it somewhere. But, and this is a very important point that underlies the very justification for the bill, that does not mean we have to make it easy for our kids to buy drugs. They certainly should not be readily available in and around the schoolyard.
It is no coincidence when a drug trafficker is hanging out across the street from the school or around the corner. These drug traffickers are purposely seeking out and preying upon our children. As a society, we must send a strong, clear message that this heinous behaviour will not be tolerated. The legislating of mandatory sentences for drug trafficking near a school would also help to send a message to children and teens that drug use is not an acceptable activity.
One of the consequences of the current debate over the decriminalization of marijuana has been a more cavalier attitude toward drug use among teens. It is a very intensive debate that the House has undertaken throughout the past couple of years. Certainly it is an issue of great social importance that should be debated in Canada's Parliament. Yet the debate over the use of so-called soft drugs like marijuana has sent mixed and ambiguous messages to our children about drugs. It is not clear to them that their parents and legislators are debating the decriminalization of possession, not the legalization of trafficking of marijuana. It is a huge distinction, but not one that may be immediately obvious to children and teens.
By legislating mandatory sentencing for trafficking of all drugs, narcotics and illicit substances, it will be made very clear to adults and children and alike that the activity contravenes criminal law. Currently even the Library of Parliament acknowledges that it is very difficult to obtain reliable statistics regarding sentencing in relation to drug related convictions. Furthermore, the Library of Parliament cites a second weakness in that the statistics on drug convictions and sentencing are limited in detail.
This provides yet another justification for Bill C-248. If parents, educators, police and community agencies are to effectively combat drug use among students, they must be equipped with all the facts. Currently the statistics on drug convictions are broken down into only two categories: either possession or trafficking. It would be much easier to identify the incidences of those specifically trafficking drugs to students through the sentencing provisions outlined in the bill.
At this point I would like to take a moment to address one of the arguments made by the Minister of Health against this legislation. Specifically, I would like to make it clear to members of the House that this legislation is targeted toward those adults who intentionally seek to sell drugs to children or minors, and I stress adults. When police conduct drug sweeps at schools, they are not simply seeking out students who are using drugs. These sweeps also help lead them to the adults responsible for getting those drugs to the school in the first place.
For example, a February 2002 drug sweep at a Toronto area school resulted in a number of adults being charged with trafficking. In another school's drug sweep in Victoria later that same year, 10% of those charged were adults and 25% were not even students at the school.
Instead of being charged, students are often brought to the school office by police to be dealt with by school authorities and their parents. The students may then face a suspension and in most cases further drug awareness and educational sessions.
Another of the health minister's arguments against Bill C-248 is his political opposition to mandatory sentencing. I am well aware that the ongoing debate between those who support mandatory sentencing for serious, violent crimes versus those who believe in a more rehabilitative approach to criminal activity has great bearing on this legislation.
However, the minister's doubts over the effectiveness of mandatory sentencing and deterring drug trafficking are just that: they are his doubts. In a study on sentencing, the Library of Parliament says that even criminologists are divided on the effect sentencing has on recidivism, for example.
The library's synopsis of the purposes of sentencing is comprised of seven main aspects. These include deterrence through fear of punishment for the crime and punishments against reoffending, something that Bill C-248 certainly addresses.
Sentencing also prevents crime by removing offenders, or in this case drug traffickers, from our society. A prison sentence also offers an opportunity to rehabilitate drug traffickers. We must not forget the need to hold offenders responsible for their actions, something the federal Liberal government is increasingly hesitant to do.
The government is also loath to consider the concept of punishment as a form of simple justice itself, yet let us ask the parent of a child who was introduced to a drug habit by a drug trafficker whether traffickers should be made to pay for their crime.
The final element of sentencing is denunciation, defined by the Library of Parliament in its study of sentencing as a means to influence public perception of the seriousness of specific crimes through the imposition of a greater or lesser penalty.
Yet in 1996-97, just 64% of those convicted of drug trafficking were sentenced to any jail time, just 64%. Worse, the median sentence was just four months. Probation was the most serious punishment in 24% of drug trafficking convictions, and 9% of drug traffickers got off lucky with just a fine. What kind of message about drugs does this send to our children?
If the health minister's unsubstantiated partisan arguments and his other arguments that are not supported by case law are any indication, then the cabinet appears unprepared to support Bill C-248.
Once again the federal cabinet is not prepared to stand up and protect the most vulnerable members of our society: our children.
In theory, however, it is the intent that each member of Parliament take into account his or her own opinions and those of constituents when considering private members' legislation, as we all know. Therefore, I am asking the members of the House to support Bill C-248 in giving parents, educators and community workers the backing they need to help protect our children from drug use.