An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

Considering amendments (House), as of Dec. 14, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide for minimum penalties for serious drug offences, to increase the maximum penalty for cannabis (marihuana) production and to reschedule certain substances from Schedule III to that Act to Schedule I.

As well, it requires that a review of that Act be undertaken and a report submitted to Parliament.

The enactment also makes related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

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.

Votes

June 8, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
June 8, 2009 Passed That this question be now put.
June 3, 2009 Passed That Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
June 3, 2009 Failed That Bill C-15 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, before question period I was on my feet speaking about Bill C-15, which brings about mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences, most of which already incur a life sentence.

Instead of having judicial discretion, which has been exercised for many decades in this country on the issue of drug offences with certain exceptions, as my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out earlier in his remarks, most of the drug offences have a range of sentencing which the judiciary is trained and experienced in applying to the facts and circumstances of a particular case.

My colleague pointed out an anomaly that existed prior to the introduction of the charter of rights and talked about this matter being debated when he was in law school. It was also the law when I was in law school that there was a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for the importation of as much as a single marijuana cigarette. Someone coming across the border between the United States and Canada would be guilty, therefore, of importing marijuana into Canada and, upon conviction, the judge would have no choice but to impose a sentence of seven years imprisonment.

It was a matter of great consternation among law students in my day that there would be this manifest injustice in our law, that this was something that our law could contemplate, and yet individuals had been sentenced to seven years in jail for very minor offences, particularly when one thinks of the times when it was very common for people to go back and forth across the border.

My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh talked about the border between Windsor and Detroit where people go back and forth as a matter of course on an ongoing daily basis. Importation of that particular drug was a simple matter of people having a marijuana cigarette in their pockets, which would bring about a sentence of seven years imprisonment. People's lives were ruined by that law.

It was only the coming into law of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allowed a court to determine that this kind of penalty for that kind of offence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and was declared to be contrary to the then new Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We should not have to have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to have sensible laws.

What we are seeing here, though, is the bringing about of new laws to provide mandatory minimum sentences when the current law is adequate. Why do I say it is adequate? It is adequate because the punishment fits the crime whereas mandatory minimum sentences do not bring about a system where the punishment fits the crime or the punishment is fair.

The American Bar Association Justice Kennedy commission in 2004 called on Congress to repeal mandatory minimum sentences saying that they tend to be tough on the wrong people. What that means is the people who are receiving the mandatory minimum sentences are not the people who need to be severely punished for their crimes.

The United States has a lot of mandatory minimum sentences for crimes, including drug offences. What the United States sentencing commission concluded, and this is the Kennedy commission we are talking about, was that mandatory minimum sentences failed to deter crime and reported that only 11% of federal drug defendants were high level drug dealers, 59% of crack defendants were street level drug dealers, and 5% of defendants were high level crack dealers. In other words, the people who were getting nailed by the mandatory minimum sentences and filling up the jails in the United States were the small-time operators, the street-level operators, not the people who were the major drug dealers, the ones who, our government says, this bill is aimed at.

We are going to see the same thing happen here in Canada and I know the member for Edmonton—St. Albert also, I think, accepted that this might not have the right kind of effect, that it might not actually get the people we want.

So, we do have a problem with it for that reason, too, that it would not be a fair system. It would not comply with the needs for reduction in crime. This was the conclusion of our justice department in 2002.

Members might say that was seven years ago, that we have better evidence now. In fact, no evidence was presented to the committee, or to this House, to indicate and show that mandatory minimum sentences would in fact deter or influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way.

This is what the Department of Justice said in 2002 and I will quote it once again for members who are listening and for those watching the proceedings on CPAC:

Mandatory minimum sentences do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. A variety of research methods concludes that treatment-based approaches are more cost effective than lengthy prison terms. MMS are blunt instruments that fail to distinguish between low and high-level, as well as hardcore versus transient drug dealers.

In other words, the supposed targets of these crimes, the kingpins, those who are involved heavily in organized crime, would be in the best position to negotiate lighter sentences and no-sentence deals with prosecutors, and in fact would not be affected by mandatory minimum sentences.

The problem is that it would move totally away from a rational, reasonable approach to dealing with drugs and the lack of an adequate drug strategy for this country.

There was an approach that was recognized as being valuable, a more balanced approach, the so-called four pillar approach, dealing with prevention, treatment, harm reduction and, yes, enforcement. Enforcement is extremely important. Unfortunately, the reality that has transpired in terms of what effort is being directed toward these four pillars is not a balanced approach. We are spending 30 times more on enforcement than we are on prevention. Drug prevention programs in this country account for 2.6% of the expenditure in relation to our drug strategy; whereas enforcement accounts for 73%. That shows that the priorities are wrong.

We want to reduce drug consumption in this country. We want to deter crime. We want to protect our citizens. That is the whole purpose: to protect the public, young people especially, and all those in our communities who could be harmed by the use of these harmful and addictive substances. However, we need to have a balanced approach, not the approach that has been adopted, that of having mandatory minimum sentences, which has been determined would not work.

Witnesses coming before Parliament, the 2 or 3 people out of the 16 who supported mandatory minimum sentences were asked to provide evidence or point to any study that would show that mandatory minimum sentence for drugs would be effective in deterring the use of drugs or the trafficking of drugs.

Not one person was able to show it was aware of any study. Here is a question that was asked. Has any study been found? I only want one that demonstrates that minimum prison sentences are good, correct and that they help with rehabilitation. Could someone answer that question? I would greatly appreciate it. Apparently, there is not. Witnesses were asked, but these did not come forward.

The majority of the witnesses that came before the committee wanted to scrap Bill C-15. Academics, lawyers, professors specializing in criminology, drug policy and psychology, a former judge, front line community workers and the criminal law branch of the Canadian Bar Association made up of defence council and prosecutors across the country said quite definitively that they did not believe the bill was effective. They believed it would be costly and ineffective and that it would not deter crime.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society, a national organization working with prisoners in the criminal justice system for over 100 years, are extremely interested in rehabilitation and criminal law matters. They are opposed to this because of the effects it would have on our system. We also have the benefit of the experience of our neighbours to the south, because they have had 30 years experience with mandatory minimum sentences. Their experience goes back a long time and they have dealt with drug sentences of significance. They are now looking the other way and starting to change their approach.

The American experts also oppose the effectiveness of this method of dealing with drug use and the pervasive, unfortunate and seriously criminally wrong trafficking of drugs. We already have laws that are doing the job of ensuring that people who are charged and convicted of drug trafficking have a sentence that is appropriate to the crime they have committed, to the circumstances and to the danger to society involved.

We hear the other side talking about the victims of drug crimes. We are well aware of these. Not only that, we are well aware that the judge who is sentencing in a situation like that will have those facts and circumstances before him or her and will use those powers to increase the sentence in any particular case.

We have had debate here today, indicating the extreme high cost, the effect on our correction system and the fact that there is zero proof that the bill will be effective in reducing crime or deterring the use and consumption of drugs, yet the bill is still before the House. I ask hon. members who plan to support the bill to change their minds and recognize that an evidence-based approach to legislation and public policy should be the order of the day and not some simple ideological approach, which seems to be behind the bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 3:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy the hon. member. We used to serve together on the public safety committee, and I always find his input and experience as both a provincial legislator and a lawyer helpful. However, with all due respect, I must disagree with his position with respect to Bill C-15.

The NDP is fond of submitting and arguing that 13 out of 16 of the witnesses who appeared before the committee were against the minimum mandatory sentences. I would like him to acknowledge a couple of simple points.

First, almost all of the witnesses were there at the invite of the NDP caucus, specifically the member for Vancouver East. They all said the same thing. The other thing they said, and this is critical, is that they were against prohibition. If they are against prohibition, they will be against minimum mandatory sentences. That is self-evident. If people are against it being illegal, they will be against minimum jail sentences.

Does the member support that? Does the member also support abolishing prohibition and making substances, including cocaine and methamphetamine, legal as the majority of those 13 witnesses said? He is looking for evidence that this law will work. Will he not acknowledge that while a person is incarcerated, he or she is unable to import, export or traffic in drugs during that period of incarceration?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to participate in the third reading debate of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I come to this debate surprised, once again. I am surprised by this place and the kinds of things that happen here, and I am surprised by the basis on which sometimes the government acts and sometimes this place acts.

What surprises me most is the inability and the refusal of the government and the Minister of Justice to provide any shred of evidence that this piece of legislation will have any of the effects they claim it will. There was an absolute inability by the Minister of Justice to provide one study that backs up that mandatory minimum sentences have any positive effect whatsoever on the illegal drug trade, that they have any effect whatsoever on the security of our communities, that they make any difference to the illegal drug trade in Canada.

We have gone over this time and time again. Members from this side of the House, this corner of the House, the member for Vancouver East, have asked time and time again for any study, any evidence that would show the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentences, especially with regard to drug crimes, and nothing has been forthcoming.

This has not gone unnoticed. The media have reported on it. There have been editorials in newspapers across Canada that the government has not been able to provide this evidence and has not done its due diligence. It has not done the work, and it has done this piece of legislation solely for crass political reasons.

I find it very difficult to support legislation that has no basis in fact. There may be people out there who believe this is a good idea, but my job as a member of Parliament is to examine the facts and to make sure we spend the time in this institution to debate issues, that when we put forward legislation and make changes to our criminal law, that they will to the best of our knowledge accomplish the goals that are acclaimed for them. We have none of that with this bill. We do not have that ability, because there is absolutely no evidence.

When the justice committee was studying Bill C-15, the member for Vancouver East was our New Democrat representative. The first witness to appear before the committee in its study of Bill C-15 was the Minister of Justice. The member's very first question for the minister was on this issue of whether there was evidence to support the claim that mandatory minimum sentences were an effective tool.

I will quote from the record of that committee where she asked the minister the following:

One question I have for you is this. What evidence do you or the department or your government have that mandatory minimums will work for drug crimes, and will you table that evidence? I think we need to see what studies you rely on.

They discussed a couple of other issues, and the minister did not address that first request. She asked again:

I respect your opinion on that, but my question is what evidence do you have that mandatory minimums for these drug crimes will actually work, that they're actually deterrents? What evidence is there?

There was no answer from the minister in his response to that question, so the member for Vancouver East asked again:

Do you have evidence?

The minister said:

We have the evidence that Canadians have told us that.

That was his response.

The member for Vancouver East asked again, “Any studies?” And the minister did not respond to that again.

She went on. She did not give up. She was determined to find out if there was at least one study that the government was relying on. A minute later, she said:

I take it you have no evidence, though, about mandatory minimums.

The minister responded again in the same way he had before. The member for Vancouver East said again:

But you have no evidence to offer.

And the minister still did not provide anything.

This was a regular theme through that committee and through that meeting. It was also an issue for witnesses who appeared. We know that the majority of witnesses who appeared before the committee did not support this legislation. The three witnesses who did support the legislation also could not provide any evidence or any studies that mandatory minimum sentences were effective in dealing with drug crime.

We went through that whole process, and no one from the government, the minister, or the witnesses who supported the legislation could provide any evidence that it would be able to accomplish any of its purported goals.

This is very, very serious. This is a blatant dereliction of duty. I cannot imagine. I said at the beginning of my remarks that this place sometimes shocks me. I am absolutely shocked that we would proceed with serious legislation like this without one piece of evidence, one study, to back up the need for this change in our criminal law.

We already have serious penalties for trafficking, exporting, importing and production for the purposes of trafficking. The maximum penalty for that is life imprisonment. There can be no penalty in Canadian law more serious than life imprisonment. That already exists for these crimes.

Many of the witnesses who appeared pointed to other studies and to other experiences that showed that mandatory minimum sentences were completely ineffectual.

The justice department's own study, in 2002, indicated that:

Mandatory minimum sentences do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way.

It was not the NDP who said that, it was not some drug-crazed hippy, the Department of Justice said that.

The minister claimed he could not produce any evidence. He could have produced evidence against his position, but he chose not to do that too. He chose not to listen to the evidence from his own department.

In 2005, the justice department also reported the following:

There is some indication that minimum sentences are not an effective sentencing tool...

Yet again, the Department of Justice said that mandatory minimum sentencing is not an effective tool. I wish the government had paid attention to the research and the work of its own department in this regard.

On the other side of the equation, people who are concerned about this legislation can produce many studies showing that these are ineffective and inappropriate tools.

The John Howard Society appeared before the standing committee that was studying the bill. It provided summaries of 17 studies from the United States and the United Kingdom on mandatory minimum sentences, lengthy sentencing terms, and recidivism, which all found that longer prison terms do not reduce recidivism. They do not stop crimes from being committed. Surely that has to be the goal of this legislation. The John Howard Society cited 18 other studies, which it did not provide summaries of, that came to the same conclusion.

Detailed analysis from the United States Sentencing Commission, which was presented at committee, found that mandatory minimum sentences go after low-level criminals and they are ineffective in deterring crime. Mandatory minimum sentences are even ineffective in who they target in the criminal community. They go after what is called “the low hanging fruit”, the minor players. The big players who are causing the serious problems, the ones who cause serious disruption in our society, the ones who make the huge profits, are not touched by this kind of legislation.

That evidence came from the United States Sentencing Commission, when it looked at its own failed attempts to use these laws in the United States.

The reality is that the United States did fail. Back in 1973, New York pioneered these kinds of mandatory minimum sentences. They were called “the Rockefeller laws”, and they were a colossal failure. New York, California, Michigan, Delaware, Massachusetts, all the states that went into mandatory minimum sentences are now repealing them. They found that they did not make their communities safer, they did not stop involvement in crime, and they sucked up huge amounts of taxpayers' dollars for the prison system, usually at the expense of the education system.

We know mandatory minimum sentences have been a failure just by examining the evidence from the U.S., which went heavily into this process. Why the Conservative government would use a process similar to the failed process in the United States is beyond me when the evidence is so clear.

We heard at the standing committee from former counsel to the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Eric Sterling, who said clearly and emphatically that his decision to promote mandatory minimum sentences earlier in his career was probably “the greatest mistake of my entire career of over 30 years in the practice of law”.

This is a very distinguished lawyer, who worked in the Congress of the United States, who is a counsel to a congressional committee, the Committee on the Judiciary, who is basically recanting his position in favour of mandatory minimum sentences. Surely this is the kind of experience we should be learning from, not completely dismissing and ignoring as the government has chosen to do.

We know that mandatory minimum sentences have failed to reduce drug use and failed to increase safety and security in communities. They have raised the prices of drugs, increased the profitability of the drug trade, and they have lowered the purity of the drugs. They have increased organized crime in the communities in the states where they have been implemented.

We also know from evidence presented at the committee from a woman named Deborah Small from Break the Chains, that in the state of New York where these laws were implemented, they targeted the poor and racialized minorities. She testified at the committee that “while drug use is pervasive among every social or economic group, 95% of the people incarcerated for drugs in New York were poor African Americans and Latinos”.

They target the most vulnerable people in our society. The big traders still get away with the crimes they commit.

When before the committee, Mr. Sterling also pointed out the huge expenditures that these laws require for enforcement and incarceration. He said:

In 1986, when we enacted the mandatory minimums, the Federal Bureau of Prisons' expenditure was $862 million. It went up to $994 million the next year. Two years later, it was $1.2 billion... In 1991, it was $2.1 billion.

The President's request for fiscal 2010 is over $6 billion.

There is an astronomical increase in prison costs related to these laws. Why would we go down that road when we know the cost and the ineffectiveness of them and when there is no evidence?

I think it is very important to consider all these issues when we are looking at this legislation. One of the bizarre aspects of this bill is that there is mention of drug treatment courts buried in it. Somehow this is supposed to be the saving grace of this legislation.

I think drug treatment courts are an important step to take. I am not sure that everything has been written yet about their efficacy in dealing with drug crimes. The jury is still out on them, as well. The reality is that there are only six drug courts in Canada, so they are very limited in scope.

The reality, too, is that with drug treatment courts we need the treatment spaces to make it effective. With any drug strategy, we need treatment spaces to make any effective progress. We know that there are not enough treatment spaces, and that is probably because we spend 73% of our resources on enforcement and only 14% on treatment in the area of drugs. We have to reverse that before we are going to make any progress at all.

Appearing before the committee, Chief Vernon White of the Ottawa police said, “I'm not a treatment specialist, I'm not a psychologist, to be fair, but I can tell you as a cop and as a parent and as a community member that there are some people out there who need this”, meaning treatment, “and we don't have near the capacity for those who want it, let alone those we need to persuade to take it”.

Even the police are acutely aware of the lack of treatment spaces. We need to make sure we have a treatment space for someone addicted to drugs that they can get into the moment they make the decision to seek treatment. If we miss that moment, we have missed the boat. We know it will be weeks and months before that possibility comes around again.

Until we can make that connection between the determination to seek treatment and the availability of a space, we will continue to fail these people and our communities, and we will fail to make any progress on these issues. That is a huge continuing failing of our approach on this issue.

This bill limits judicial discretion, and I, for one, want to stand up for the ability of our judges to have discretion when they come to sentencing, when they come to do their important work. They are the ones we charge to sit and listen carefully to all the testimony and assess the circumstances presented. I want to make sure that judges have the ability to use their discretion. That is what we ask them to do. It is a tough job. Sometimes they make mistakes—we all do—but I have great faith in our judges to make those decisions. I am very skeptical of constant attempts to limit the discretion of judges when it comes to sentencing. That is what this mandatory minimum sentencing bill will do with regard to these drug crimes.

I believe prohibition is a failure. We know the historical record shows that alcohol prohibition was a huge failure. If people would care to trace the parallels between alcohol prohibition programs, that whole legal framework, and drug prohibition, they will see the very direct parallels.

During alcohol prohibition in the United States there were huge problems with gang violence. There was all that mythology about gang violence associated with the alcohol trade during prohibition. It is exactly what we are seeing in Canada now, thanks to drug prohibition and the huge profitability of the illegal drug trade. Until we deal with the issue of the profitability of black market drugs, we will never be able to address the problems of crime, the social problems that arise from drug use.

When we look at the record of alcohol prohibition, we see the safety issues associated with black market alcohol production, such as exploding stills, which caused huge problems and burned people's homes down. We see those same kinds of problems with marijuana grow ops or crystal meth labs in our communities today. Exactly the same kind of effect that we know was caused by alcohol prohibition is happening now because of drug prohibition.

We saw huge family dislocation in the period of alcohol prohibition and we are certainly seeing that now with respect to criminal activity and addiction issues associated with the drug trade. We saw a lot of untreated addictions back in the period of alcohol prohibition and we are seeing it today. When a substance is illegal, there is a huge stigma about acknowledging one's addiction and seeking treatment for it, because of the criminal activity that is usually related to it. We need to address that issue as well.

During the period of alcohol prohibition, we also saw huge problems associated with the kinds of illegal products that were produced and the poisonous nature of some of them. Certainly we have seen that today with impure drugs and the problems they cause for drug users in our communities.

If we look at the historical record and try to learn from the experience of alcohol prohibition, we would see the failure of drug prohibition. We would even have a model for how to approach rectifying that situation.

We need to address the issue of profitability. One member likes to ask the question, “Is it not good to put a drug dealer off the street and into jail for a number of years, and does it not make our community safer just by doing that?” No, it does not, because the moment we put one of those people in jail, there is somebody ready to take his or her place. The reason someone is ready to take that person's place is because it is so profitable to be involved in the illegal drug trade.

Until we address that issue, it does not matter how long we put somebody away for, we have missed the boat on addressing the issue and the real problem. We need to take that very seriously.

I do not think there is anyone in the House who does not want to address the very serious problems related to drugs and the use of drugs in our society. I am certainly one of them, but I want to do it on the basis of what is effective, what will make the important changes, and what will ensure people get the help they need. The road that the Conservatives have chosen is one that has been proven to be wrong, that they cannot support with any evidence as to its efficacy, and we need to hold them accountable.

I have heard quietly from some of my Liberal colleagues that they do not like this bill but they are going to vote for it anyway because they think it is popular in the community. I want to challenge them to do the right thing. They know this is not going to make their communities safer. This is not going to address the problems that people are concerned about in their communities. Why pretend otherwise?

We are not sent here to pretend to produce solutions. We are here to do a job, to examine what comes before us and make decisions based on the best evidence we can get.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would really like to thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas for an outstanding contribution to this debate on Bill C-15.

His remarks are intelligent. They are rational. They are thoughtful. It is not all wound up in playing this game of fear with people. It is about honesty, and I just want to say that if more people debated like the member for Burnaby—Douglas, this would be a heck of a lot better place. So I would really like to thank the member for a terrific overview that he gave on this bill and what its problems are.

One thing that did strike me is that, on the one hand, we have a solution that is coming down from the top. We have a Conservative government that is laying on this heavy-handed regime of mandatory minimums, yet on the other side we have something like Insite, a safer injection facility in east Vancouver, on East Hastings Street, that was actually a grassroots approach. It came from the community. This is a community that began to take on the issue and find ways to solve the serious problems we were facing in east Vancouver with drugs. Yet this is the same government that is trying to shut it down.

It just seems so at odds that, on the one hand, we have things that are actually working and that are saving people's lives, literally, and the Conservatives are trying to do everything they can to shut them down. They are appealing the court decision, trying to shut down Insite, and on the other hand, trying to layer on this very radical approach of mandatory minimums, as the member says, with no evidence that it will ever work.

I wonder if he would comment on those two approaches. I know what I believe is the right one, but what are his thoughts about that?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today and talk on the subject of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. I am proud to stand here with my colleagues from the New Democratic Party to oppose the bill.

I would like to spend a bit of time talking about the bill and also talking about some of the proposals and the perspectives that we in the New Democratic Party have been sharing in the House. I would like to engage in this discussion from the perspective of a young person and also as the critic on youth issues for my party.

It is exciting to have the chance talk on a bill in which many people reference youth, young people. However, once again, it is often in the negative context, talking about young people who get into trouble or young people who are facing the challenges of addiction. Rather than talking about the proactive and preventive steps we ought to be taking when we are talking about young people, we are in fact focusing on the punishment piece and focusing on truly continuing to burden many young people who already face challenging situations or who perhaps are at risk.

There are a number of aspects of the bill that we find extremely problematic. First of all is the discussion that has been quite vivid here in the House on the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. That is a big part of the bill that is in front of us today.

However, as we have heard from many people, mandatory minimum sentences have been proven not to work in cases of drug crimes. They certainly do not serve to deter organized crime and the intense activity in which so many people in the black market are involved.

In fact, mandatory minimums would encourage a focus on small dealers and low-level traffickers and would involve an increased amount of time and resources being put into police sweeps targeted at the small dealers rather than perhaps engaging more extensively at what is happening around us by some of the larger players out there.

Also, mandatory minimums are problematic for the fact that they have been noted to target visible minorities. I want to specifically refer to the way in which they target, certainly in the context of Canada, aboriginal people.

As someone who represents a riding which is made up of 70% aboriginal people, first nations and Métis, I recognize that this would have a tremendous negative impact on the region that I represent. Already we have some of the highest incarceration rates. I know this from the opportunities I have had to visit the communities that I represent and based on the stories that I have heard. People talk about their sons, their fathers, their husbands who have either been in jail or are in jail or have in some way fallen on the other side of the law.

I note that in many of our prisons there is a disproportionate number of aboriginal people, especially when we consider that aboriginal people make up a smaller percentage of the overall population. That is so important to recognize. We talk about the justice system being blind, but based on the tremendous research that has taken place, it is clear that it is far from blind. We should be looking with a very critical eye at policies and legislation that could continue to contribute to the inequality that results from the way justice is currently served in our country.

Another real concern that we have in the NDP with respect to this legislation is the move away from public health prevention and harm reduction, especially the removal of the elements of harm reduction in the anti-drug strategy that the Government of Canada has espoused in the past. This is especially problematic given the imbalance it creates in terms of looking only at punishment after the fact instead of dealing with the subtler issues that are at play, the issues that so many people with addictions across our country are dealing with. We should also be looking at preventive measures.

I was especially astounded to look at the percentage of funds that go toward the different aspects of a drug strategy. If Canadians were to hear about these percentages, they would be quick to point out the extent to which the funding is unbalanced and the extent to which any such strategy would be completely ineffective in dealing with issues of drug activity in our country.

Around 70% of the money goes toward enforcement, 14% goes toward treatment, 7% to research and 2.6% toward prevention. Harm reduction is also at 2.6%. It is absolutely mind boggling how these numbers could be seen as dealing with the challenges of drug activity and dealing with the challenges that people in our communities face, whether it is people with addictions or all of us in our communities.

One does not need to speak with experts to hear about these things. I had the opportunity to talk to people in many of the communities that I represent and hear about the groundbreaking work being done especially in terms of treatment, but also in terms of prevention.

I would like to highlight the work that is done by the Nelson House Medicine Lodge in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation where tremendous work is being done for people suffering from addictions. There are people from all across the north who are on waiting lists to access the high-level treatment and counselling that this lodge provides. It provides services with an aboriginal perspective. It works closely with mainly aboriginal clients and is sensitive to the realities they face.

Whiskeyjack Treatment Centre works extensively with many young people facing addictions. Whiskeyjack is between Cross Lake and Norway House in northern Manitoba. I know many young people who have gone through Whiskeyjack and worked at Whiskeyjack. People know of the good work it does. They are also very concerned about the constant stress on funding that it faces. There is a constant need for advocacy to make sure people outside of our region know how important these institutions are.

Another area of grave concern for the NDP is in terms of the economic impacts of this kind of legislation, the way in which it would overload police, the courts, legal aid services and treatment centres. Today we heard my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway raise the issue of police and the fact that the government's commitment to support police has not materialized to the extent that it was promised. This is of grave concern.

I am very appreciative of the fine work the RCMP does in the region that I represent. I have had the opportunity to visit with many officers who practise in communities from Shamattawa to Thompson to Opaskwayak Cree Nation. I recognize the challenges and life-threatening work they are often involved in. It is extremely unfair to apply a burden when they do not have the supports necessary.

I have spoken to many about the shortage of new recruits. I know there are young people whom I grew up with in northern Manitoba who are looking at careers in the RCMP and are happy there are many opportunities, but we all know of the extreme shortages the RCMP is facing, as are city police units across our country.

With respect to legal aid and the courts, we have all heard of the extreme backlog that so many people face. Certainly in terms of the legal aid services offered in Thompson, my home community, there are many people who face some of the most extreme levels of poverty and have problematic situations and they go to legal aid.

When we are proposing legislation that could serve to burden that, I find it extremely disconcerting. It does a disservice to people who are out in our communities trying their best to provide a service, whether it is policing, legal aid or treatment, and we would continue to overburden them given the work they are currently doing.

We have also heard about how this kind of legislation would serve to overload our prisons. That does not need to be discussed, given that we know the extent to which the system is stressed.

It is mind-boggling how we could come to discuss this legislation that not only moves away from some of the preventive and comprehensive approaches we ought to be taking but actually serves to burden the system that is currently dealing with issues around drug activity in our country.

It is incumbent on the Government of Canada to take a leadership role when we are talking about something as important as issues of addiction and drug activity, and to truly look at it in a way that is actually going to make a difference rather than making it worse.

I would like to talk a bit about what we New Democrats have been talking about, not just in terms of looking closely at and critiquing this bill, but in terms of looking at the ways in which we need to be proactive in our communities, our regions and our country.

We talk quite a bit about the importance of education and prevention. I am the youth critic, but I am also the critic for post-secondary education. Time and time again it is clear the extent to which we are letting down our post-secondary education system. In fact, we are letting down our young people.

We have heard about the rise in tuition fees and the rising student debt. Thirteen billion dollars is the number at which student debt now exists in our country. I am sure many members in this House have children, or perhaps even grandchildren, who are facing these situations. What is more important is to see how that is compounded with the current economic situation.

We are dealing with the highest rate of unemployment among young people in 11 years. Arguably it is one of the highest rates in our recent history. I have had the chance to talk to many of my peers, friends and people who live and study across Canada who are very concerned about the opportunities that await them after they finish their trades programs or university programs. They are very concerned about the future that lies ahead.

Not only do they not have opportunities to look forward to or are concerned about the opportunities that do not exist, but they also have an exorbitant amount of student debt to deal with. My question is, how will that happen?

Unfortunately, the government has been extremely negligent in looking at those issues of access. Many people have noted their appreciation of the commitment in terms of infrastructure. However, we must recognize that improving access, certainly with respect to transfers to the provinces in terms of post-secondary education and looking at the issue of Canada student loans is also extremely important when it comes to supporting young people in our country.

I would like to talk a bit about education from the first nations aspect. I noted that a high proportion of people in the area that I represent, and certainly many young men, often fall on the other side of the law and high numbers end up in our jails. Let us look at how many of them start off their lives when they grow up on reserves in northern Manitoba or reserves all across Canada.

The education situation, the situation of the schools in many of these first nations is appalling. It is third world. It is shameful. I am proud to work with a party, with our aboriginal affairs critic, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, and the member for Timmins—James Bay, who have been very loud and clear on the importance of looking at education for first nations. If we are not supporting young people at the formative stages of their life, whether it is child care or elementary school, there is a greater chance that they will continue to lack support throughout their lives.

Today I had a discussion with Band Councillor Okimaw of God's River first nation who told me about the need for a school in his community. He received a letter about renovations and it included a dollar amount that in no way responded to its needs. For years, the first nation has asked for a new school to address the lack of space for students.

I have mentioned Gods Lake Narrows, Nelson House, St. Theresa Point. All these communities lack schools. We should look at those aspects of our legislation and our policies, when we talk about prevention and education, and truly deal with some of the challenges young people face in regions like mine.

The government has been extremely absent with respect to recreation on first nations land. We saw commitments in the budget for recreation in general. However, I would argue, and I am sure many others would argue, that the needs of first nations are far more acute.

I represent the community of Shamattawa. Within two years of the arena being built, it was shut down. Nobody can go in because it is contaminated with black mould. Young people cannot use it. We have many months of -30° or -40° and young people cannot go out and be active. They have a small school gym and nothing else to accommodate their need to be active, to be healthy and to spend their time doing something positive in their communities.

Communities like Pukatawagan have been asking for special attention for its young people and for health concerns. Communities like Chemawawin First Nation Easterville had to close its drop-in centre because it faced a lack of funding.

Communities, where there might be space to hold some activities, have no money to pay for someone who could administer the activities and work with young people and give them ideas on how to contribute to the well-being of their community.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist to know the kind of measures that need to be taken to put an end to a lot of the negative activities, the gang activities, the kinds of things in which many young people get involved. All we have to do is listen.

Young people across our country are crying out for measures that they would like to see, whether it is prevention, education and training, employment or, more specifically, treatment. Young people have some of the most progressive and innovative views in these areas.

Why do we not take the time to listen to what young people in regions like mine and across Canada have to say? Many of them would hold the bill in a critical light and ask that we be proactive as an institution that represents them in terms of the challenges they face.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 5 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate. I think the last sequence of debate took us a bit off the bill, Bill C-15, which deals with changes to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The purpose of the bill is to impose mandatory minimum sentences on what are called serious drug crimes and to make a couple of other changes. Those other changes, I support. It is the part dealing with mandatory minimums that catches my attention and I regret that the government is taking the approach that it is.

I enjoyed listening to the remarks of the member for Burnaby—Douglas and the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin who, from my point of view, really did hit the nail on the head. I would be personally happy to reread those speeches myself, because I thought they delivered to the House a lot of personal experience and a lot of reference material from outside the House that bears directly on point, that being the relevance and usefulness of mandatory minimum sentences.

The government members have, throughout this Parliament and in the prior Parliament, continued to perpetuate what I regard as a myth, the myth being that the solution to crime is to throw people in jail and keep them there.

To me, that is quite simplistic, and in fact, it does not work. However, when we think about it, that is just about exactly what the king used to do 1,500 years ago. If there was a criminal and they caught him or her--I am sure there was employment equity back then--they would throw the person into the dungeon and just keep them there until they did or did not survive, or whatever happened. So the Conservative government's perpetuation of this paradigm that the solution to crime is to put people in jail, put them in the dungeon and keep them there, is a great disappointment to me. As most of the previous speakers have said and as the evidence brought forward at the justice committee shows, not just one hearing, not just one year, because I was a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for 19 years and I had a lot of education in those years at taxpayer expense, I can say without any reservation at all that the concept of throwing people in jail as a solution to crime does not work.

As previous speakers have pointed out, our friends south of the border, in the United States of America, have learned that at great cost, human cost and dollar cost. Building prisons is not going to adequately deal with the challenge of crime.

I would argue that there has been one visible exception to my position that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. That exception is related to the offence of impaired driving.

It is a fact that we as a country have increased sentencing for a conviction for impaired driving and for subsequent convictions. We have added in some mandatory minimum incarceration for impaired driving, and the statistics show that this has had a favourable impact. There has been a reduction in drunk driving, in impaired driving. We have not eliminated the problem. We all know that people are still dying and being injured and maimed on Canadian roads because of impaired drivers. However, the combination of increased penalties, targeted increases in the penalties, firming up of fines, suspensions and some minor mandatory minimum sentencing, together with public education and visible increased enforcement, has produced a result.

However, I am of the view that it is not principally the increased sentencing that has worked. It is the increased enforcement, together with the knowledge that, if we are caught, we will pay a price. There will be a serious consequence. We may lose our licence; we may do time; we may be fined. In addition to that, the type of person who would commit that type of crime is usually quite different from the type of person who might be committing another type of criminal offence.

They are all serious criminal offences, but the most common circumstance involving a person who drinks and drives and does or does not cause injury but just gets caught as an impaired driver involves a person who probably does not have a criminal record, but might have, who simply drinks too much. The act of drinking is a fairly normal human activity. Drinking too much past the limit is an offence, but that is different from someone who plans and executes a bank robbery or someone who is involved in the drug trade and who plans and executes drug deals.

With that one exception, I am irrevocably of the view that mandatory minimums just do not accomplish anything other than placing convicted persons in institutions perhaps for longer than they need to be, and it removes the judicial discretion to fix a sentence that suits the crime and all the circumstances.

In looking at the sequence of procedures involved, surrounding a criminal act, it is not just the end part of conviction and sentence that we should be focusing on. What leads up to that in real life is actually a fairly complex and lengthy sequence of events. There is the planning of the criminal act, there is the execution of the criminal act, there is an investigation by police, there is a charging procedure, a prosecution, a conviction, and then there is the sentencing.

I am urging the House and asking my friends on the government side, can they not see that by changing the law to provide an impact, a mandatory minimum sentence, at the very end at the sentencing could not possibly impact on the front end of all of that sequence? The criminal act, the investigation, the charge, the prosecution, the conviction, all of those things happen before the sentencing. The individual, the alleged criminal, the accused, gets involved in this, and in most cases, as my friend from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin pointed out, as we both practised in criminal courts, the average criminal does not see the end of the process. The criminal is only thinking about whether he or she is going to get caught. It is binary in terms of the person's own head logic: Is there is risk of getting caught or not; can I get away with this crime? That person is not getting out a calculator to figure out what the sentence is and whether it is worth doing or not.

I have asked in the House, what is the sentence for an armed robbery? I know my friend from Scarborough Centre does not know and my friend from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who is an experienced counsel, actually does not know either. The reason none of us knows is because the Criminal Code provides that the sentence is determined by a judge.

If a person does a bank robbery, he or she is going to get a sentence. The courts have organized the sentencing in a way that a bank robbery is a very serious offence and the offender is going to do serious time.

The point is that if we in the House who enact the legislation, fix the penalties, and debate the policy do not know what the penalty is, how the heck is that undereducated criminal out there to know? As he or she decides to embark on a crime or a crime spree, that person does not know. They might have a sense of it a little later when they call their lawyer, but when they decide to engage in the crime, they do not give it much thought. They are only thinking about whether there is a Mountie around the corner and whether they are going to get caught.

Members of the House perpetrate the myth with pretense and political posturing when they say they are going to get tough on crime and increase the sentence. That public policy does not have a chance of impacting the sources of the crime, the decision to embark on the crime spree. It just does not compute.

As I said, it will be shocking for my friend from Edmonton—St. Albert if he is going to visit all these prisons this summer. It is a wonderful exercise to meet all these people, but I think he will come to the same conclusion that I and almost every other member in the House who has had the privilege of serving on the justice committee or public safety committee will come to.

There are real limits to how much we in the House can have an impact on the causes of crime just by tweaking the sentence. Nobody will know, but we tell ourselves that we are being tough on crime.

In my view, we are just being stupid. We are just engaging in political posturing and perpetuating a myth, the same one that was there when the king and the sheriff used to throw the body into the dungeon 1,500 years ago. The causes of crime in our society will continue unaddressed.

I want to draw an analogy. Let us say that a bank has a history of bad loans to customers. Let us say the bank president decides that they are going to have to deal with all those bad loans. There are too many bad loans out there. What do we think the solution is for the bank to deal with a very bad history of loans, a lot of write-offs? Do we think the solution is collections at the end of the history of the loan? Do we think the bank is going to improve its bottom line by focusing on the collections? Here I draw the analogy to sentencing.

No. In order to improve the history of bad loans, one has to get involved at the front end, in the loan approval process. A better credit screen has to be provided at the front end, not at the end of the line when the loan has gone bad. That is the analogy I want to urge upon the House. There is no point in cracking down on the bad loans when they are in debt recovery and collection. In order to improve the bank loan history, one has to get involved at the front end, when the loan is approved in the first place, and how the loan is administered.

I am using that analogy to apply to the criminal justice system. We as a society have to make sure that we get out into the front end of the sociological piece to address the causes of crime and the context that breeds crime. We have to better deal with how we manage our laws and procedures to deal with drugs. We have to realize that a person who is addicted is a health problem, not a criminal problem. If we treat it as a criminal problem, we just end up funding it a certain way. It is putting people in the dungeon again, and dungeons do not normally help anybody do anything. They get a little older and little smarter. Actually, they are schools for crime.

I will close by re-emphasizing my view that the government politics, and it is politics and not good policy, on this is taking us down a road built upon a myth related to the dungeons of the king. It does not work. We have to get this right. I am very reluctant to support this bill. This bill has three parts to it: two parts good and one part bad. I regret that.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his comments and referencing me in his comments.

I would like to point out to the hon. member that I am certainly not so delusional or naive that I think that our federal prisons are free of drugs. I understand that there are drug problems even inside the penitentiary system. I understand that.

However, I think that misses the point and I think that misses my comments as to why I am supporting Bill C-15. The real victims of this crime are, for example, the 14-year-old girl from Edmonton who a month and a half ago died from an overdose of ecstasy, a single dose. She purchased it at the West Edmonton Mall, went to a rave, ingested the ecstasy, was misled by the dealer as to its dosage, and she died. She is the real victim.

That is the individual that we are trying to protect by promoting minimum mandatory sentences in Bill C-15.

I listened to the member's comments very intently and he has, of course, been in the House a lot longer than I have. He talked about how during his tenure as a member of Parliament sentences for impaired driving had increased over the years and that there are in fact minimum mandatory sentences and they escalate on subsequent offences. He spoke in favour of that, if I heard him correctly.

Therefore, I want him to explain to me and explain to the House why he supports minimum mandatory sentences for impaired driving but not for trafficking in narcotics.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-15. I follow a very long list of extremely good speeches. All of the speakers have been absolutely excellent.

I want to begin by reading a quote, which is as follows:

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. I may accept that.

Does anyone know who may have made a comment like that? It certainly could not have been a member of the government that is bringing in this particular bill. It was none other than the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, a member of the Conservative Party who has stood up and asked questions of every speaker this afternoon. He himself is admitting that this bill will not do what it is supposed to.

The issue then becomes this. If that is the case, why are we going through this exercise? Why has the government embarked on this exercise? We know that this is all about window dressing. This is all about politics, about burnishing the government's image with the public to give the appearance of being tough on crime.

Let us look at a jurisdiction, namely the United States, where this idea has been tried and failed.

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 12:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved:

That Bill C-15 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Mr. Speaker, we are back in the House debating Bill C-15, which deals with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes in Canada.

I have looked at this bill, studied it very carefully, and I heard the witnesses in the committee. I think we had 16 witnesses, 13 of whom were very strongly opposed to this bill and urged us to defeat it. Three witnesses were in favour, and one was quite lukewarm in opposition. I have to say this is one of the worst bills the Conservative government has ever put forward, certainly in terms of its crime agenda.

I think we had some of the best witnesses we have ever heard at committee, but we also had some of the worst. The Minister of Justice himself was a terrible witness. He was pressed to show evidence to Canadians, the committee and members of Parliament that mandatory minimum sentencing will work for drug crimes and that it is an effective public policy initiative. When he was pressed repeatedly to show evidence, not his own opinion, not Conservative ideology, but evidence that this bill was actually a sound public policy, he could not produce any evidence, and he has not to this day produced any evidence, that mandatory minimum sentences work anywhere, and certainly not for drug crimes.

On the other side, we had witnesses, for example, the John Howard Society, that came forward, cited 35 reports, and produced to the committee 17 different studies and reports that show that mandatory minimums do not work, particularly for drug crimes.

We had excellent witnesses who came forward from Canada and also from the United States. One in particular, who I want to focus on, was the former counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Mr. Eric Sterling. He stated to the committee that his decision to promote mandatory minimum sentences in the U.S. was probably “the biggest mistake of my entire career for over 30 years in the practice of law”.

We heard Mr. Sterling via videoconference, and his testimony was very powerful. We also heard Deborah Small, from the Break the Chains organization in New York, who has also been dealing with mandatory minimum sentences. They told us about the real experience of dealing with these kinds of laws.

Mr. Sterling told us that the goal of reducing drug use under these laws had failed. The goal of promoting safety in local communities had failed. The goal of raising the price of drugs while lowering the purity had failed. The goal of reducing organized crime had failed.

The minister told the committee that the purpose of this bill was not to go after the low-level dealers, the people on the street who are addicts, who are facing significant health issues and who should not be criminalized. We were told this bill was about going after organized crime, about going after the kingpins, about putting the big traffickers, the big dealers in jail.

The minister may clap his hands and delude himself that this what he is doing, but I think the government knows that the reality and the evidence shows this bill will do none of those things. This bill is clearly targeted at the low-level dealers. We heard evidence to that effect, and the experience of what has happened in the United States shows us that as well.

In committee, the NDP put forward 21 amendments. They were amendments that tried to remove some of the mandatory minimums, the worst aspects of the bill, and failing that they tried to mitigate some of the damage of this bill by changing the regime of mandatory minimums, for example, getting an exemption for medical marijuana for compassion clubs.

I am so disappointed that those amendments did not go through. The Liberal members on the committee failed to respond to those amendments and failed to support them, which really surprises me. We are now left with a bill that is going to be destructive in terms of local communities and incarcerating more and more people who are dealing with a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.

I feel we are at this terrible place where we have a bill that looks like it is going through. It is simply really bad public policy. It is going to increase the prison population, particularly the provincial prison population, because most of these mandatory sentences that are two years or less will be under the provincial jurisdiction. Again, the minister could not tell us how much that was going to cost. He could not tell us how many more people are estimated to be imprisoned as a result of this bill.

Our fear, and in fact the information we have, is that this bill will target what VANDU in the downtown eastside called the “low hanging fruit”, people who are easy targets on the street. They are the people who are going to be hit by the mandatory minimums in this bill.

We gave so many examples at the committee of how this bill is going to be abused in terms of who is going to be hit by it and how wide the scope of enforcement is. For example, we know that one of the provisions of an aggravated circumstance is if one rents. We might have the situation of a student, a young person or an adult who is renting, and even by giving one plant to a neighbour they would incur a mandatory minimum sentence of nine months and a maximum, potentially, of 14 years.

In the current Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, there would be no minimum, but the maximum would be seven years. We can begin to see how punitive this regime and this bill are and how the bill can be applied to people who are creating no serious harm. They are not the kingpins. They are people who are maybe dealing with medical marijuana, growing medical marijuana. They may be involved in a compassion club. They may have a couple of plants for recreational use.

I think that most Canadians understand that criminalizing drug users, criminalizing marijuana users, has not produced any change. The real emphasis we need to look at in society is prevention, education and treatment, what we call the four pillar approach. That does include enforcement, but the government has decided to focus all its firepower on enforcement and on a punitive regime that is now going to capture so many people who will have criminal records as a result of this bill.

We, in the NDP, are very disappointed that this bill is at the point where it looks like it will go through because it has the support of the Liberals who are supporting the Conservatives. I am very grateful to the members in the Bloc who understood clearly what this bill was about and from the beginning decided they would not support mandatory minimums.

We tried very hard to get those amendments through the committee. One of the things I was most concerned about were the amendments that would have removed or exempted medical marijuana. In fact that adds insult to injury. The federal government has shown a complete lack of respect and understanding for medical marijuana users, even most recently in the court decision where the federal government tried to appeal a decision that would have opened up access to medical marijuana. Thankfully, the Supreme Court of Canada turned down the federal intervention, but even so, with this bill it will now be cracking down on medical marijuana users with mandatory minimums.

Our amendment today would remove clause 3, which has nine mandatory minimums within it, eight of which are for marijuana. We believe this is a very problematic part of the bill. We think it should be deleted.

I would urge my colleagues, particularly in the Liberal Party, to think twice about what they are doing in terms of supporting a policy and a law that is going to hurt people, put more people in jail and criminalize drug users instead of approaching this as a health issue. I think the Liberals know that mandatory minimums do not work. They have seen the evidence as well.

We urge the House to reject this bill and to deal with the issue of substance use in our society from a comprehensive perspective, not simply by bringing in these wacky laws that criminalize people, put more people in jail and, in the end, do not actually change the situation.

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise and speak in opposition to the NDP's attempt to amend Bill C-15, an amendment which in my view would eviscerate it by taking out all of the minimum mandatory sentences.

The legislation was introduced as part of the government's commitment to tackle crime and to provide safer communities for all Canadians. The bill proposes, among other things, a number of mandatory minimum penalties, or MMPs, for serious drug offences involving schedule 1, which includes heroin and cocaine, and also schedule 2 substances such as cannabis and where there exists certain aggravating factors such as where violence was used to commit the offence or the offence was committed for organized crime.

One of the most important elements of the bill is the MMPs proposed for the offence of production of schedule 1 drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines and schedule 2 drugs such as cannabis. This motion proposes to remove this very important clause from the bill. As I indicated, it would essentially eviscerate the bill and render the rest of the clauses meaningless.

Clandestine drug labs and marijuana grow operations, or MGOs, have increased significantly in the last few years. They very often constitute a serious threat to the personal safety of persons who are not even involved in the commission of the offence. Meth labs, for example, pose significant risks to public health and security because of their production process. In meth labs there is the risk of explosion, fires and contamination from making methamphetamine.

As the hon. member for Vancouver East will recall, when we were in Vancouver, we heard from the fire chiefs of greater Vancouver. They rightfully pointed out that this was a significant risk to the entire public, not just those involved in the purchase and sale of drugs.

MGOs present other equally serious risks. For example, the bypassing of electricity meters illegally to obtain the power necessary for the MGO constitutes a further fire hazard. Setting traps to protect the grow operation from other criminals put at risk first responders who are called in to extinguish the fires. Use of volatile pesticides and fungicides pose a threat to persons living in or close to such illegal operations. Purely innocent individuals, as innocent third parties, are often caught up in these marijuana grow operations and the organized crime that live off their profits.

Another major concern is the presence of families with young children in the clandestine labs or MGOs. Many clandestine labs and marijuana grow operations install families in their homes where these activities take place so as to give them the aura of normalcy and legitimacy. We can certainly appreciate the clearly apparent risk and harm that is put on children who are put in that very difficult and negative situation.

Finally, innocent homeowners who rent out their houses frequently find that the renters have used their property for grow operations and have caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages to their property. Again, another innocent victim, not a person involved in the drug trade, is victimized by these growing MGOs.

There are very good reasons for wanting to ensure that persons who are involved in the illicit production of such substances are subject to harsher penalties than what is now available in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Clause 3 addresses the serious problems described—

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the proposed amendment to Bill C-15.

Bill C-15, like many of the other Conservative bills, purports to be a cure, the be all and end all, a large solution to an even larger problem. It is a very small step in the war on drugs, Canada's new anti-drug strategy. There is Republican-like language to the war on drugs. There is Conservative-type language to the national anti-drug strategy. The real issue is about the amendment to the bill, which is but a tiny step toward the overall goal of dealing with drugs in our communities, the abuse of drugs and the treatment with respect to drugs.

This bill provides minimum penalties for serious drug offences. My hon. colleague from Alberta who is on the justice committee fairly summarized those steps forward. It increases the maximum penalty for cannabis or marijuana production, which in fact is what this amendment is mainly targeted at eradicating from the bill. It also moves certain drugs from one schedule to another, recognizing the more serious nature of their abuse, which again my friend from Alberta on the justice committee made very clear and very convincingly so.

It also requires that there be a review of the act undertaken and reports submitted to Parliament. This was as a result of an amendment at the justice committee. It is a very good step toward dealing with that lacuna, the lack of evidence we hear with respect to the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentences.

I find it ironic and actually funny that people unknowingly say “mandatory minimums” or “minimum mandatories”, but the people who are against mandatory minimum sentences perhaps slip into a Freudian thing where they want a minimum of mandatory sentences. However, it is actually a mandatory minimum regime which has been used in the United States with conflicting evidence, for sure, and it is being imported with increasing regularity by the Conservative government.

Let us keep in mind the historical context. We have had mandatory minimums for a long time in this country, and there ought to be some evidence about how they are working. That is one aspect that is very good about the bill. Finally there is a reporting mechanism back to Parliament, as there was with the Anti-Terrorism Act. That is a good thing about the bill.

Finally, it is the first time in the three and a half years that I have been here that there will be an alternative to the mandatory minimum sentence for the convicted trafficker, let us say, by going to the drug treatment court. This is an option of an accused and convicted drug trafficker. He or she will have the choice to go to a drug treatment court, which is a diversion from the criminal justice system of incarceration, perhaps without treatment, as our colleague from the NDP suggested. It is a very novel approach for Canada, because unlike its introduction in the United States some 20 years ago, and it flourishes in the United States, we have a very sparse distribution of drug treatment courts in Canada.

We can handle this part of the bill. We can say to criminologists that this is a way to avoid the imposition of the mandatory minimum in that an accused can say that he or she will go to the drug treatment court and will try to get better.

Those drug treatment courts should be expanded. They should be resourced. They are not adequately geographically dispersed throughout this great country of ours. They are in major centres, but where they are, they have met with some success.

At committee, we did not get to hear from the Attorney General of Manitoba. He sent us a very complete brief on the subject, about 20 pages of suggestions. He lauds the Winnipeg drug treatment court and hopes that the government takes seriously this anti-drug strategy by resourcing it, by making sure that we get to the cause of drug abuse and that we get to issues of treatment with respect to drug abuse.

I have heard from various law enforcement officials, the chief of which was the Chief of Police of this fine city of Ottawa, who is responsible for making sure that, unlike D'Arcy McGee, we get home safely every night from this place. He was very compelling in suggesting that drug treatment courts work, but the government has to take seriously the issues of prevention and cause and treatment. Everyone knows that, yet the statistics are quite boggling.

I can support Bill C-15 for the minor steps it takes, but I want to discourage members from supporting the NDP amendment. The amendment attempts to say that if someone is convicted of growing 5 to 200 marijuana plants for the purposes of trafficking, which means trying to sell those drugs to people like my children, the person should not be given a mandatory minimum sentence, when we are at war on the issue of drugs.

To say that we support the bill does not in any way say that we are stepping away from our obligations and the government's obligations to be serious about studying the root causes of crime, and in particular drug crimes and drug abuse. It does not mean that we are stepping away from our obligation and the government's obligation to be more serious about combatting organized crime, which feeds for its lifeblood on the growth of drugs, including cannabis and marijuana.

There seems to be an attitude coming from that side of the House over to my left that it is cannabis, it is a joint, and if it is given from one friend to another, they will be trapped by this legislation. The bill is very clear to me. If someone grows 200 plants and that person is caught for trafficking, that is, selling those plants to people like my children, that person is going to do a minimum sentence in this country. That does not seem all that shocking to me.

What is shocking is that in the three and a half years I have been here the government has stood up time after time saying that the bill would go toward its national anti-drug strategy and achieve success. It is right to ask where the evidence is on mandatory minimums. It is right to ask where the evidence is on the efficacy of drug treatment courts. What is missing is a response on those two questions.

There has been a fairly long history of mandatory minimum sentences. There has been a long history with respect to drug treatment courts, as sparsely dispersed as they are throughout the country. There ought to be some compelling evidence from the government that these are worth resourcing, and yet they are not being resourced to the level that is needed.

There is no drug treatment court in my province of New Brunswick. I laud the bill because it would give someone an opportunity to pick drug treatment court. For the average person who has an addiction and does a property crime and perhaps is perhaps convicted under this offence, that person will not have a chance to take advantage of a drug treatment court, not because of this law, not because of the Criminal Code, but because there has not been the élargissement, the widening of the drug treatment court program.

As much as we support the bill and reject the NDP amendment, the bigger issue is when the federal government spends, and these figures go back some years, $426 million on drug programs, and $164 million goes to the RCMP, $157 million goes to corrections, and only $8 million to $15 million goes to Health Canada for treatment. The 90% that goes into detection and corrections heavily outweighs what is spent on prevention, rehabilitation and finding out how we might stop people from using and abusing drugs. We know from all the evidence we have heard that is the goal here.

We need to know whether the government will stop flouting bills on the 5 o'clock news and saying it is doing something, and stop ignoring the idea that a lot of these programs, such as drug treatment programs, have to be resourced. They have to be expanded. We are a country from sea to sea to sea. There are drug abuse problems in all parts of this country, not just in big cities. Drug abuse is as prevalent in rural and poorer areas of our country as it is in big cities.

Where is the access to the drug treatment courts to make Bill C-15 more effective? Why does the NDP think that being convicted of selling 5 to 200 marijuana plants is some small offence when really that is all the bill is aimed at?

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, in two or three past budgets, the Conservative government changed the equalization formula for all the provinces. In New Brunswick, that means far less money for social services, crime fighting and rehabilitation services. That is very clear. But that is not what we are talking about today.

We are talking about the amendments proposed in Bill C-15. It will mark a small step in the war on drugs. I am in favour of that. But I am totally opposed to the steps the Government of Canada has taken with the provinces and against New Brunswick. There is not enough money and there are not enough resources to implement this system. Bill C-15 will place a very heavy burden on the provinces. It is clear—

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 1 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from New Brunswick because I will start exactly where he left off.

The fight against drugs, like all battles, must continue on several fronts. That is the problem with the Conservatives and unfortunately it is the trap into which the Liberals have fallen in supporting Bill C-15.

I will say from the outset that we will not support the NDP amendments. We too find that 200, 250 or 300 plants is a fair bit of trafficking. However, we at least were able to ensure that it does not apply to just one plant. They relented somewhat.

That is not the problem. The problem is that we are dealing with minimum prison sentences. The Conservatives have really understood absolutely nothing and will never understand until they are defeated. Perhaps then they will ask us questions in an attempt to understand. They will never understand that minimum sentences do not solve the problem of crime. I hope that I have said it clearly enough and without shouting. I know that they will not get it. I even spoke to the minister about it when he appeared before us. It does not solve the problem. He answered that there would be fewer criminals at large, but that is not true. Minimum prison sentences, and especially Bill C-15, will create many more problems.

This begins with a minimum six months jail sentence. I agree with this, and I will revisit this when we get to the in-depth debate. It is, however, important to stress that minimum prison terms do not solve problems, and never will. The proof of this is that the Conservatives have never been able to table a single study. I can table at least a dozen that demonstrate the opposite, and not from just anywhere either: from the United States, for example. The Conservatives take their cues from the U.S., so let them go and see what is happening there. There are also studies from Australia and New Zealand. They can speak and read English, so they should understand. In the U.S and in Australia, in northern Australia in particular, studies have been carried out since 1992 on legislation that imposes minimum prison terms. That is not just last week. The studies are clear, and I will read slowly to be sure they get it.

Evidence shows that long prison terms increase the probability of recidivism...

I think I will repeat it. These are not my words, they all come from studies.

Evidence shows that long prison terms increase the probability of recidivism... In the end, public safety is more compromised than protected if the courts lock people up and throw away the key.

That is exactly what they are doing. Getting rid of them, locking them up for as long as possible, thanking heavens that they are not getting back out too frequently. Unfortunately, that is not the way things work. I have a little news bulletin for them. They have not been inside a penitentiary for a long time. I do not want to hear that this one was a police officer for 15 years, others Crown prosecutors. They need to have been inside a prison. I can organize a guided tour if they like. We will show them how things work. Not the way they would like them to.

Unfortunately for them, inmates eventually come out. That is where the problem lies. Mandatory minimum sentencing solves nothing. The problem is not when they go to jail—I repeat, not when they are going in—but when they come out.

In other words, they get out too fast. The men—since 90% of the time it is men who serve prison sentences, and the majority of my clients were men—get out too fast. When a judge carefully studies a case, pronounces a sentence and tells the individual before him that he deserves three years in prison, and then eight months later meets that man on the street, we have a problem.

The problem that the Conservatives have yet to understand is that, even if they impose a minimum prison sentence, these men and women will be entitled to parole. Even if an individual is given a three-year sentence, it is not certain that he will serve a minimum of three years. No. The suggestion is for a three-year sentence. What will happen in prison if this is the individual’s first conviction? Suppose he is a good sort who causes no problems? Right: he will be released after serving one third of his sentence.

Those in this chamber who know how to count know that 36 months divided by three gives 12 months. There is no program. Those who know and are following this, apart from the Conservatives who know nothing, should realize that less than 12 months in a penitentiary is not enough time to work with the individual. Why? Because the individual is sentenced to 36 months, but he does not go straight to prison. He goes to a federal reception centre, where he spends three to four months having his case analyzed to see what can be done with him.

The Conservatives do not understand that the problem is not with the highly criminalized individuals. That is not just my opinion. Studies say that the problem is that this does not target the most notorious and most dangerous offenders, who are already subject to very strict sentences, precisely because of the nature of their crimes.

This means that someone who goes around with a gun selling drugs has to serve, from the outset, a sentence of three years. He is sentenced to three years. On top of that is the sentence for trafficking narcotics. Those who tell me they want to get traffickers off the street are correct on this point, perfectly correct. Everyone wants to get traffickers away from schools. However, we can look at the definition in the bill with respect to an individual trafficking near schools. I can guarantee—and I say this honestly—that bad laws make good lawyers rich. Some will become rich thanks to the laws that the Conservative Party wants passed, particularly this Bill C-15. I will give another example. This bill will have a disproportionate impact on minority groups in Canada that are already suffering poverty and privation.

The aboriginal peoples are a good example. Look at the west. There must be a few Conservatives who come from the west. They should go see what is happening in the western prisons, how many aboriginal people are there compared with the rest of the population. They might realize that there may be a problem somewhere. This is what they do not understand.

I have only a minute left, so I will speak quickly. Being tough on crime has never solved anything. Yes, sentences are necessary and criminals have to be taken off the street. However, I repeat: the problem is not when they go into prison, it is when they get out. Let them serve their sentences. The Minister of Public Safety should explain why he is not proposing a bill to amend the Conditional Release Act. That is where the problem is. The judges who pass sentences have taken the trouble to analyze their cases. I tell you that criminal activity is not going to be resolved with this bill. In fact this bill is going to increase it.

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. With respect, I do not support the NDP amendment.

Mr. Speaker, I wonder what your earliest memory is. I asked my colleagues and their memories were of eating ice cream for the first time, playing in a sandbox and reaching for the sky while swinging. Mine is of a dark, wet night, hitting my head on the back of a red Valiant seat, a police officer rolling down the window and then touching my forehead, an x-ray machine, a bandage, and my mother crying. I was four and we had been in a drunk-driving accident.

Today, most Canadians understand that impaired driving threatens the lives of innocent road users and that it is a criminal offence that carries significant penalties. However, what about drivers who are under the influence of cannabis or other drugs? Stoned drivers are not safe drivers as drug use affects both perception and responses. Therefore, before I tackle the main thrust of this bill, namely, stronger drug laws to reduce gang violence, I want to address drug-impaired driving and why penalties for drug dealing with violence, running a large grow-op or trafficking are important.

A British medical journal study of over 10,000 fatal car crashes showed that drivers who tested positive for marijuana were more than three times as likely to be responsible for a deadly accident. A New Zealand study showed that habitual marijuana users were nine and a half times more likely to be involved in car accidents, showing that both acute and chronic drug use can alter perception in crashes. The World Health Organization reports that cannabis impairs cognitive development and psychomotor performance in a wide variety of tasks, including divided attention, motor coordination and operative tasks of many types.

Human performance on complex machinery can be impaired for as long as 24 hours after smoking as little as 20 milligrams of THC in cannabis. Drug-impaired driving, like drunk driving, shows a woeful disregard for human life. Data provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving showed that in 2006 impaired driving in Canada by drugs other than alcohol resulted in over 1,200 fatalities.

In 2000 Canadian police departments reported a total of almost 88,000 drug offences. Drug use is widespread in our society and so is the practice of hotboxing or smoking marijuana in an enclosed space such as a car or small room in order to maximize the effect. Youths to professionals hotbox on the way to school and to the office. What would happen if cannabis penalties were reduced? One research study showed that 2.5% of fatal crashes were attributable to marijuana compared to nearly 29% attributable to the legal drug of alcohol.

There is also a relationship among alcohol, drugs and violence. A joint Canada-U.S. study, DAVI or drugs, alcohol and violence international, provides important evidence about the relationship in Montreal and Toronto. Over 900 male students from grades 9 to 12, who were school dropouts and young offenders, were interviewed. Almost 19% of boys in Montreal and 15% in Toronto had brought a gun to school.

This relationship between drugs and violence continues beyond school days. Gangs employ violence to control and expand drug distribution activities and use violence to ensure that members adhere to the gangs' codes of conduct. In November 2004 a 19-year-old gang member from Fort Worth, Texas, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for fatally shooting a childhood friend who wanted to leave the gang.

Increased gang violence in Vancouver and other Canadians cities has direct ties to the drug cartel wars of Mexico where more than 7,000 have died in the last two years. Almost all cocaine comes via Mexico, the centre for South American producers. Canadian-based organized crime groups buy the drug either directly from the cartels in Mexico or from middlemen in American cities. When the supply of cocaine is affected by crackdowns in Mexico or the United States, the price goes up. There is competition for the remaining drugs in Canada.

A 2009 Angus Reid Strategies poll shows that Canadians are supportive of introducing tougher laws to deal with an apparent surge in gang activity. The survey showed that 45% of Canadian adults say that their country has a national gang problem. At least 76% support tougher legislation to deal with gang-related crime and 76% support a proposal to send marijuana growers and dealers to jail.

This is the important part. However, almost 90% endorse a national drug prevention campaign. Only 50% support legalizing marijuana and 51% want to keep harm reduction programs such as supervised injection sights.

Even tolerant Holland is considering stiffer drug penalties to reduce gang violence. The nation's 700-plus coffee shops where customers can buy cannabis or hashish without fear of arrest attract tourists who pay more than $300 million Euros in tax annually. Police believe some coffee shops are fronts for organized crime. The worst of the violence, however, takes place in the cannabis growing industry where gangs prey on novices who think they can make easy money by growing marijuana. Since there is so much money and violence involved, Holland's police commissioner responsible for cannabis calls it a danger to Dutch society.

I believe that strong drug laws are part of what is needed to fight gang violence, but crime prevention initiatives and the proper funding of law enforcement agencies are equally important and this is where the government is failing Canadians. I believe that we need to carefully look at the evidence of what has and has not worked in the United States as well as other jurisdictions. We must ask ourselves whether we want to turn Canadian correctional institutions and penitentiaries into U.S.-style inmate warehouses and whether longer sentences will have the desired deterrent effect, or whether those given longer sentences will be more likely to go back to crime.

A strength of the bill is the initiative with regard to drug treatment courts. They are part of the solution. Evaluations consistently show that drug treatment courts effectively reduce recidivism and underlying addiction problems of offenders. The courts provide closer comprehensive supervision and more frequent drug testing and monitoring during the program than other forms of community supervision. It costs about $8,000 per year to provide substance abuse treatment to a Toronto drug treatment court participant and $45,000 to incarcerate the same individual for one year.

Canada has always implemented and must continue to implement a national strategy that aims to strike a balance between reducing the black market supply of illegal drugs and reducing demand. The first component emphasizes the fight against drug crimes by the criminal justice system while the second focuses on prevention and public awareness of the negative effects of drug use.

In closing, I want to draw attention to the fact that youth at risk of joining gangs tend to be from groups, that suffer from the greatest inequality, who are using drugs and who are already involved in serious crime. Bill C-15 addresses deterrence and punishment. When might we see legislation targeted at prevention? Public Safety Canada itself recommends targeted, integrated and evidence-based community solutions to reduce and prevent the proliferation of gangs, drugs and gun violence.

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her fine speech to the House. I would like to make a brief comment and then ask her a question.

For 20 years, we have waged war on smoking because it is bad for people's health. A great deal of legislation has been passed in various provinces. People can be fined for smoking in public places. In New Brunswick, it is illegal to smoke in a car in which there are young children.

Even though a law may be coercive, the amendments proposed in Bill C-15 will not just put traffickers in prison. They will also send a signal to young people in particular that smoking marijuana is harmful. It creates dependence and can be hazardous to health.

I ask my colleague whether it would not be useful to conduct exactly the same advertising campaign to prevent young people from smoking marijuana sold by traffickers?