Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue my speech on the bill. I spoke for just two minutes yesterday, so I will continue on today with the bill.
We had very knowledgeable speakers yesterday on this topic. They provided some very convincing arguments, I thought, why the bill is not a particularly good idea. I would like to cite more reasons for that being the case.
I think the bill came up through the Conservative Party process, the election process, the polling process. It probably polled the public and asked Canadians if they agreed with minimum sentences. Of course, the numbers went right off the radar and the Conservatives said we will have to bring in legislation along these lines.
Perhaps if the Conservatives had polled a focus group asking a different question, they might have received a different response. Had they looked at the reality of how mandatory minimum sentences have actually worked for 30 years in the United States and if they had looked at other aspects to this type of legislation, they might have received a different response in their polling.
For example, would they have asked people if they would support mandatory minimum sentences, if it was known that the United States was repealing its mandatory minimum sentences. California, New York, Michigan, Delaware, Massachusetts are all repealing their mandatory minimum sentences with other states considering the same.
We have a former counsel to the United States House of Representatives committee on the judiciary, Eric Sterling, who stated emphatically his decision to promote mandatory minimum sentences in the United States was probably “the greatest mistake of my entire career over 30 years in the practice of law”. What the Americans found was that the goal of the legislation to reduce drug use failed. The goal of safety in the communities failed. The goal of raising the prices of drugs and lowering the purity failed. The goal of reducing organized crime failed.
I know that we in Canada like to follow the United States, but clearly this is another example where we are totally out of step, where the Americans have tried the experiment and it has failed. Now the government for purely political and polling reasons wants to move in this area.
Let us look at what has happened under the mandatory minimum sentences in New York. We saw a dollar for dollar trade-off in increased expenditures for prisons versus higher education. That is really smart is it not, to spend money on prisons by taking away money from higher education. That is not a very smart use of taxpayers' money.
In addition, while drug use is pervasive among every social or economic group, 95% of all people incarcerated for drugs in New York were poor African Americans or Latinos.
In 1986, when the legislation was enacted, the Federal Bureau of Prisons expenditure was $862 million. Two years later, it was $1.2 billion. In 1991 it was $2.1 billion. Now the President's request for fiscal 2010 is over $6 billion.
That gives us an idea of how the expansion in prisons has developed in the United States. That is a mirror of what will happen here in Canada. At the end of the day we are going to be building a huge number of prisons. We are going to start privatizing them because that is part of the corporate ideology of the Conservative Party. It is to turn over public assets to the private sector so that it can get in the business and try to make a profit keeping people in jail. Clearly, that is a failed strategy.
Yesterday, it certainly brought out the lawyers in Parliament. We have five lawyers out of 38 members in our caucus. I heard from many lawyers yesterday and I must admit that it was a beautiful experience. They knew what they were talking about. They presented arguments and there are times when we should be listening to lawyers.
If there were ever a time, this would be one because they know the system. They understand the system and they were not all just from the NDP and the Bloc. There were members from the Liberal Party as well who spoke eloquently about this legislation. So maybe there are some lawyers over on the government side who just close their ears, close their eyes to this situation, because they are being told by their management that this is something they have to do for political purposes.
It was also pointed out yesterday that if we bring in the mandatory minimum legislation, it will bring an end to guilty pleas. Part of our system and the reason it works reasonably well at times is that people will plead guilty. When they are caught, they decide it is better just to plead guilty and be done with the charge. When we bring in legislation like this, guilty pleas will come to an end and is that something that we really want in our system? I am all in favour of tougher legislation. I am not easy on crime, but I want to see things that work and the government has brought in some pieces of crime legislation that will work. But this one in particular is one that will not work.
I want to give an example of something in Manitoba that has worked really well and that is the key here. We should be looking at dealing with issues where we can find evidence that it actually works. Winnipeg had the highest auto theft rate in Canada for a number of years. About four years ago the government auto insurer, because we have public auto insurance as they do in B.C. and Quebec, brought in a program to install immobilizers in cars. People were offered a $40 discount on their insurance if they installed immobilizers.
People did not buy in. Nothing happened. Did we conclude from that to scrap the program because it did not work? No, we took another look at it and said that offering the $40 discount was obviously not enough, but we had to solve the problem. We decided to pay for immobilizers in people's cars and we sent notices for people who drove high risk cars, and that by a certain date they had to have a free immobilizer installed. They then received the insurance reduction and guess what happened? In only two years we now, a couple of months ago, had one day where we had zero car thefts in Winnipeg.
One would think with an experience like that, other jurisdictions would come running and would want to know how we did it and would want to copy it. I would like to know why the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which is the national body dealing with insurance issues across the country, and other insurance companies would not be showing interest in that. Ontario, for example, is a very large private insurance market. Why would it not be encouraging that sort of a program? Maybe it will. Maybe we should be putting some pressure, and talking and encouraging the members to look at what happened in Manitoba, and perhaps encourage the big private insurance companies in Ontario to come out with a program like that.
Our calculations are that we took an original hit by installing the immobilizers, but we were paying out such large amounts of money for stolen vehicles, damaged vehicles, not to mention the fact that people were being killed by people who stole cars and were involved in accidents, that we were able to cut this back in a substantial way. Clearly, there is a role here for the Insurance Bureau of Canada to learn by these examples and encourage their member insurance companies to do something to encourage private insurance companies in the rest of Canada to bring in a similar type of program.
That is what the bottom line here is. Members of the Liberal Party, for whatever reasons, have decided to support this legislation and I think I know why that is, but given their druthers they would rather not.
The fact of the matter is that the members of the NDP, the members of the Bloc, and the members of the Liberal Party, in general, would prefer to support legislation where there is proof that we are going to get some results. That is the bottom line. Why would we be bringing in legislation that we know from the very beginning is not going to work?
I want to deal with some of the details of the bill. I would like to also point out, as my colleague the member for Churchill yesterday pointed out, how recreation centres are very important for getting people away from crime. We had in my constituency a community club called Kelvin community club. It had survived the Depression, so that will give us an idea of how resilient this little club was. As a matter of fact, Clara Hughes, an Olympic medallist in two sports, trained in that club and her mother lives just a few blocks from the club.
The mayor of Winnipeg, after promising not to close any community clubs, changed his mind and forced this little club to close. What they are now doing in Winnipeg, as they are in other areas, is they are developing these super centres where we have to get into our cars and drive two or three miles to get some exercise. When we grew up, there were little community clubs in our neighbourhoods. The kids could walk over to those clubs and exercise or play hockey or soccer, or whatever. They did not have to be super nice places; they were just very close to where people lived and people enjoyed them.
It is our destruction of these centres that is leading to more of the problems we see in society. We in the NDP have always said we have to deal with crime before it happens, not after it happens. Part of the program is to put money into community centres, like the Kelvin community club, to keep it going, to put money into programs to keep children active, to put money into the educational system, and to develop all sorts of programs to keep people away from activities that are going to lead them into trouble. That is a very important element in the whole area of prevention of crime rather than dealing with it afterward.
A member of the Bloc indicated yesterday that, in fact, treatment in prisons is not up to the level that it should be. If we have people in prison who were given a 36-month sentence, for example, then they should be kept there for the full 36 months, so they can finish their programs. It does not make sense to encourage people in prison to participate in programs when they end up getting out of prison halfway through the program. It is self-defeating.
So, I think we want to be tough on crime, but we want to be smart about it. We want to ensure that if we have programs and people are taking the programs then at least let them finish the programs before letting them out of prison.
Bill C-15 is an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Its enactment would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide for minimum penalties for serious drug offences, to increase the maximum penalty for cannabis marijuana production, to reschedule certain substances from schedule 3 to that act to schedule 1, and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
Bill C-15 is the reincarnation of Bill C-26 from the 39th Parliament, with minor changes that would clean up the language of the bill. This is a good example why we should not be having elections every year, year and a half, because some of these bills that we are dealing with right now are going through their third Parliament. At the rate we are going, we are never going to see some of these bills finally put into law. In this particular case, I guess we do not mind. However, in some other cases, we would like to see them pass.
The bill was passed at that time, and it was referred to committee at the time of the election call.
In terms of the summary of Bill C-15, schedules 1, 2 and 3 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are the schedules that this bill deals with. They list illegal drugs in Canada that have progressively lighter punishments for possession, trafficking, obtaining, importing and exporting all illegal drugs. There are eight schedules in total.
Schedule 1 lists 18 substances and all their derivatives, which includes methamphetamines, opium and cocaine. An indictable offence for possession is punishable by a sentence not exceeding seven years. For trafficking, a person is liable to imprisonment for life.
Schedule 2 lists only cannabis, its preparations, derivatives and other similar synthetic preparations. An indictable offence for possession is punishable by a sentence not exceeding five years. For trafficking, a person is liable to imprisonment for life.
Schedule 3 lists 32 substances and includes amphetamines and drugs known as the date rape drugs. The NDP supports this particular element of the bill, as indicated by members yesterday.
The bill proposes minimum penalties for the production, possession, trafficking, importing and exporting of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs. The bill also moves the amphetamines, its 19 by-products and the date rape drugs from schedule 3 to schedule 1. Tougher penalties will be introduced for trafficking in the date rape drugs. As I said, we in the NDP certainly agree with that.
The maximum penalty for cannabis production would increase from 7 to 14 years imprisonment. Mandatory sentences are introduced for the production of even one marijuana plant: a minimum sentence of six months. I do not know how sensible that is. The legislation imposes six months imprisonment for any act of cultivation of cannabis irrespective of issues of violence and gang involvement.
In terms of marijuana, it is six months for the production of 1 to 201 marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking, and a one- to two-year mandatory prison sentence for the production and possession for the purposes of trafficking and importing and exporting.
I want to deal with what I see as an interesting aspect to this bill.
A member of the House was quoted, I believe in committee. He stated:
I suppose I will accept the representation made from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association that this bill is targeted to the so-called low-level distributor or low-level dealer. You may be correct that it may not be as effective as we would like in going after the kingpins.
That is what we should be doing.
I may accept that.
Who said that? None other than the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, the member of the Conservative Party who is proposing this bill.