moved that Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to have the opportunity to discuss with my colleagues from all parties Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).
One of the quirks of the prorogation process is that private members' business reverts to the start of whichever stage it was at before prorogation. This offers me a unique opportunity to speak to my bill a second time at this reading and this time with the benefit of having heard each of the opposition parties speak to it as well.
Most of what I have to say today will be similar to my original comments in the House on June 5 of this year, but I will try to also take some time to respond to some of my opposition colleague's comments from that first hour of debate.
I was very encouraged to hear each of the opposition speakers express general support for the principle of the bill the first time around.
In drafting the bill, I made a specific effort to identify some common ground, a somewhat difficult endeavour given the increasingly partisan nature of this minority Parliament. Before I go any further, I will summarize the bill for the benefit of those who may not have had the time to review it yet.
As the summary of the bill outlines, Bill C-423 would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to require that a police officer must, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under this act against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient to refer the young person to an addiction specialist for assessment and, if warranted, treatment recommendations.
The second aspect of the proposed legislation is that if the young person enters into a treatment program as a result of such a referral and fails to complete the program, the outcome may be the start of judicial proceedings against that young person.
When I last spoke in the House about the bill, I began by trying to illustrate the scope of the problem. The cumulative societal cost of Canada's addictions problem is not only incredibly high, it is extremely complicated to determine. We are dealing with not only economic costs, but all types of subjective and incalculable personal and emotional costs that affect individuals, families and communities from coast to coast to coast.
During the previous debate, the justice critic from the Bloc, the member for Hochelaga, remembered examining in committee the cost of addictions to Canadian society. He said that economic studies showed that it could translate into $16 billion in lost productivity for Canada's GNP because of the investments needed in police forces and the negative repercussions on society.
The costs are hard to calculate. There are more than simple economic costs. There are many other consequences, for example, early death, drug induced mental illness, domestic violence, family breakdown, poverty, increased crime rates and I could go on. It is a very complicated issue. One of the things that further complicates it is that most of the issues and costs are interrelated.
It is an issue which affects our quality of life as a nation. The total cost represents a major withdrawal every single day from Canada's greatness in human terms.
There is a compound effect. The Canadian addictions industry is a sophisticated machine. Most kids start using drugs before the age of 18 and entry level products ease their fears. There is a variety of drugs that kids can get into that do not seem that scary to them, so they experiment.
I will comment, as an aside, that when the NDP member for Vancouver East spoke last time, she talked about schools “where kids are told...If you smoke marijuana you're going to become a cocaine addict”. She went on to say, “That is like saying that everybody who drives a car is going to kill somebody”.
First, I have never heard anybody explain the problem that way or express it that way, the fact that if one smokes marijuana, one automatically will become a cocaine addict. I think most reasonable people would look at it and say that once one starts with something, one is more likely to move on to something stronger down the road.
As for the car analogy, a more appropriate car analogy would be that not everyone who drives drunk is going to kill someone, but we still have laws against driving while drunk. I think most people would think that those laws are reasonable.
Talking about the compound effect, once these kids enter into the world of drug use, once they start using drugs, they eventually move on to increased frequency or stronger substances. They share these substances with their friends and talk about their experiences with their friends. At this point, early in the process, there is still no apparent downside. Some kids are drawn deeper into the drug world. Their involvement gets more formalized. They join gangs. The benefits for them are they get money, they have esteem and power among other benefits.
Then there are other kids who may not be gang material, but they become customers for life. They are addicted to the highs, but they need more and more of the substances to achieve those same highs. They fall into a world of petty crime and the habit of committing small crimes to feed their addictions. It becomes a spiral, escalating drug use and crime.
I recently had the opportunity to visit an addictions recovery centre in Edmonton. It is called the Our House. It is an award winning program that helps men deal with significant addictions issues. They stay for one year and the results are phenomenal. They have 32 people in this home. They stay for a year, and they do some wonderful work there.
I spoke with Patricia Bencz, the executive director of this group. She told me that only one out of 122 men who had gone through the program did not have a criminal record. This highlights that spiral and the relationship between drug use and crime that we need to address.
There is a wide variety of estimates in terms of the correlation between criminal activity and drug use, perhaps 40% and 80% depending on the person being asked. It is a significant issue.
As for the solution, to understand this, we need to break the problem into logical components. No model is perfect, but it might be helpful to use a model when we talk about this. Our national drug strategy talks about three components: enforcement, treatment and prevention.
Thinking about those components, I will talk about the people who correspond to those groups. They involve the organization, and we can think of it as an industry, the illegal drug industry, the customers for that industry and the prospects. A fourth group is the rest of us who have a significant interest in seeing this problem tackled. When we speak of a business, this is not a business that we want to support. We want to kill it.
When we talk about the organizations, they refer to the gang leaders, the producers, the dealer network and everyone who supports that network. Enforcement must deal severely with this group to cutoff the supply. Through our national drug strategy, we have allocated $21.6 million over two years to tackle the problem on the enforcement side.
Then there are the customers, the individuals who use the drugs. We know that many of those are kids. Some will be promoted within the organization, the gangs, and move on to a life within that gang. Some, as I mentioned earlier, will simply become lifetime addicts. They will be customers for life so to speak.
Others will be involved in criminal activity separate from the organizations. They will steal to support their habit. They will become violent under the influence of some of the drugs that they are using. I will come back to this group in a few minutes because the private member's bill deals with a component of this group.
The third group is the prospects about which I talked. They are almost entirely composed of kids under 18 years old. The addictions industry, like any other business, targets for growth and it targets our kids. It is important, when we talk about any of these things in our approach to drugs, to talk about the idea of prevention.
To give an example of some of the things they do to target our kids, in my first speech I talked about Maralyn Benay from a group called Parents Empowering Parents. She is one of my constituents. She told me about a product called Strawberry quick, which is the street name for it. It refers to a pink version of crystal meth designed specifically to target young girls. This is what we are up against. This is what the parents of our children and young teenagers are up against, this type of marketing program toward our kids.
Obviously the main goal for this group of prospects, the people who have never used drugs before, is prevention. The national drug strategy sets out $10 million for prevention over two years.
I must point out that enforcement also impacts prevention. If people live in a small town, and I grew up in a town of about 5,000 people, they would know if there is a major producer or dealer in that town and they can be shut down, I guarantee that it is a positive step in the area of prevention through enforcement.
Then there is the rest of us. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking some Canadians are not affected by drugs. No Canadian is not affected by drugs. I talked about our kids being targeted, so some of us are parents and we are concerned about our kids growing up. Some people are victimized through crime. Obviously there is an impact on the health care system and the costs that we pay there and lost national productivity.
Where do we fit? We are the ones who need to drive the solution. There is an urgency to this and we need to grasp that urgency. I talked about Maralyn Benay and Patricia Bencz. They have grasped that urgency and are doing something about it.
Many groups in my community are doing just that. For example, the Mill Woods Community Patrol is an organization of volunteers from the community. They drive around on Friday and Saturday nights to specific trouble spots. They keep an eye on the community. They are coordinated with the police. If they see something suspicious, they can let the police know. That is an example of citizens making a difference in this area.
Other groups include the RCMP officers in Beaumont, a small town in my riding, who coordinate a DARE program. They go out and talk to kids and educate them on the dangers of drug abuse. Volunteers and youth organizations and drop-in centres, where kids can go and do things other than get involved in drugs and hang out on the street and places where they find trouble, even if they are not necessarily looking for it.
Then there are the people who I talked about earlier, Patricia and Maralyn, and the organizations that they are part of and organizations like that across the country which do similar work.
I want to thank these people and groups like theirs for the contribution they make because it affects the quality of life of all Canadians, including me and my family.
Now back to the customer group for the addictions industry.
Simple math tells me that the more customers there are for these drugs, the more the industry grows. The more the industry grows, the more it becomes another cycle and we wind up with more of these people using drugs. The more people we help with addictions, the more people we get off these drugs. The more customers we cut off for the industry, the more we starve the criminal organizations, both of the money they need and their eventual salespeople. Our national drug strategy rightly provides the most money, $32.2 million, to the treatment action plan to deal with this group of people.
Bill C-423 deals with one subset of this customer group, young offenders. It is a simple bill. It is only one page long, and apart from some editorial cleanup, basically adds two new phrases to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
I want to be very clear that the bill in no way is an endorsement of the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it stands right now. I agree wholeheartedly with our campaign pledge to strengthen the act, something that cannot properly be done comprehensively through a private member's bill.
What I can do is strive for improvement in the legislation. Bill C-423 works with the existing provisions of the act to take a step forward. It is also consistent with our statement during the campaign that we need to give young people better opportunities for rehabilitation.
The first thing the bill does is add “referral to substance abuse treatment” to the list of extrajudicial measures available to police officers when dealing with young persons, particularly first time offenders accused of committing non-violent offences.
To give some context to this, the first 10 sections of the Youth Criminal Justice Act after the title and definitions, sections 3 through 12, are under a heading called “Extrajudicial Measures”. The changes that I am proposing both occur in section 6, but to fully understand the bill, one needs to review the principles and objectives laid out in sections 4 and 5.
One particularly important principle set out in section 4(c) is that:
—extrajudicial measures are presumed to be adequate to hold a young person accountable for his or her offending behaviour if the young person has committed a non-violent offence and has not previously been found guilty of an offence...
Section 6(1), the section impacted by the first change proposed by the bill, currently states the following:
A police officer shall, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under this Act against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient, having regard to the principles set out in section 4, to take no further action, warn the young person, administer a caution, if a program has been established under section 7, or, with the consent of the young person, refer the young person to a program or agency in the community that may assist the young person not to commit offences.
Bill C-423 adds the following at the end:
—or, if appropriate, an addiction specialist to assess whether the young person is engaged in substance abuse and, if so, to recommend a treatment program.
The rationale for this is, given the cycle of crime and the relationship between crime and drug use, it seems like an oversight to not have drug abuse treatment mentioned as one of the extrajudicial measures within the act.
The second part of my bill adds a new subsection (3) at the end of section 6. It reads:
If a young person has been referred to an addiction specialist under subsection (1), and, as a result of that referral, has entered into a treatment program, the failure of that young person to complete the requirements of that program shall be taken into consideration by a police officer in deciding whether to start judicial proceedings against that young person.
This is an absolutely crucial piece of the bill. The young person affected has been shown some grace by the police officer. For the sake of the illustration, I will use the word “he”. He has been given an opportunity, and he probably will not recognize that opportunity until he has had the chance to clean up, and he has to get away from drugs to do that.
The NDP member for Vancouver East expressed some concern about this. She compared it to the drug courts, which she does not support. She said:
Why would we make the intervention so late? Why would we wait until they have been charged and at the point of maybe being convicted to provide that as an alternative. It becomes almost a coercive kind of thing.
I want to make two points on that, the first one on late intervention. We need to intervene where the person is at, at the time. Sometimes we do not identify a problem until quite late in the game. We need to intervene wherever they are at. I do not think anyone would argue about the need for effective prevention and early treatment programs as part of an overall drug treatment strategy.
If we look at the bill in general, in this case the whole point of the bill in dealing with the Youth Criminal Justice Act is that it deals entirely with early intervention.
In terms of the coercion suggestion, I will quote from a couple of the members who spoke to the bill the last time it was debated. The Liberal member for Brant said:
In fact, an individual may well be more motivated to accept the necessary treatment if he is aware that his refusal to accept such treatment may result in a criminal charge or charges being laid against him.
I think that is a quote that supports what I am trying to do with this.
The member for Hochelaga said that this bill strikes a good balance between the possibility of rehabilitation and the vigilance required when people refuse to take advantage of opportunities they are given.
I want to appeal to my colleagues from all parties to continue to support this important legislation. I do want to reiterate the main purpose for this bill. It is not about punishment. It is about getting our young people the help they need at a time in their life when they may not realize they need it.