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.

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 1:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to take the floor on Bill C-15, which we have studied in committee. Even though my natural inclination might be to comment on the political news of the day, I shall refrain from doing so.

I sat on the committee formed early in the year 2000, when Conservative member Randy White was in this House and tabled a motion to allow us as parliamentarians to study the whole issue of the use of drugs for non-medical purposes. Naturally, in the course of this study, we spent many months hearing witnesses. This was going on at about the same time as the study being conducted in the other chamber, led by Senator Nolin, on the whole issue of the legalization of cannabis. Something became obvious to us, and this in a way is the problem with the Conservative government. Of course we do not advocate the use of drugs. I myself have totally abstained from them. I am perfectly aware that drugs can be extremely harmful in people’s lives. Certain drugs can even lead to an escalation phenomenon, that is, to dependence on and increased need for them. However, in this Bill C-15 which is before us, as in many of the Conservative government’s bills, we find this worrying inability to qualitatively distinguish between different phenomena.

We in the Bloc Québécois have no problem, for example, going after the traffickers who organize and maintain large-scale networks, who are involved in the exporting of opium or other types of drugs. If there is one party that has long been working against organized crime, it is indeed the Bloc. I myself was the first member to table an anti-gang bill, in 1997. My former colleague from Charlesbourg, Richard Marceau, an excellent parliamentarian, succeeded in convincing the government to remove the $1,000 note from circulation, it being agreed that this note made things easier for organized crime. This same colleague from Charlesbourg also succeeded, in the last days of the Martin government, in persuading the House of Commons to pass a bill to reverse the burden of proof for property obtained by crime.

The problem with Bill C-15 is not that it targets traffickers, or that it provides for longer maximum sentences for people who engage in the trafficking and exporting of drugs that do such great harm in communities. It is that it is incapable of distinguishing between different things.

Certain provisions of the bill are extremely disturbing. First, something we have said over and over again. It was mentioned by my colleague from Abitibi, an eminent member of the bar and a criminal lawyer for 30 years. In committee we asked for studies or scientific material showing that incorporating minimum sentences in the Criminal Code will be a deterrent. This is a philosophy of this government. In all the bills, the clauses proposed are accompanied by minimum sentences, ignoring the fact that this does not act as a deterrent. On the contrary, when there is plea bargaining, this encourages people to plead not guilty. As a result prosecutors will prefer to avoid charges that carry minimum sentences.

More troubling still, it is certainly not with a prohibitionist drug strategy that we are going to succeed against organized crime and manage to deter people.

We had people appearing before us in committee from Washington and New York who had been tempted by mandatory minimum sentences but had unfortunately discovered that the states which adopted them were not the most successful at reducing drug use.

The bill itself does not distinguish between big traffickers from the underworld and occasional users. We know, of course, that it is best for people not to use drugs.

That being said, though, young people will not refrain from doing so just because the Criminal Code says that they should not. Would we not be better equipped as a society if we had prevention campaigns, if we encouraged addiction courts, and if we worked together with community groups involved in harm reduction?

What is worrisome about the bill is, first of all, the definition of trafficking. Take an arbitrary example. I am at a party with friends and someone hands me a joint of marijuana. In the eyes of the law, just passing it along is considered trafficking. A young person at an end of term party for students in political science could be charged. I said political science but it could be students at the École des hautes études commerciales, I do not mean to discriminate. We are incapable, therefore, of distinguishing small users from big traffickers.

We need to take a close look at the bill. A person can engage in trafficking, but that does not necessarily mean loading three containers in the port of Montreal. A recreational situation where people hand joints around could also result in a trafficking charge.

We need to look at the gradations in the penalties prescribed. The person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years. It is at the discretion of the judge. This is not a minimum sentence, and the maximum sentences are never a problem for us. It is up to the judge to assess the evidence, the circumstances and the context in which the offence was committed.

We are told as well that the prison term may be no less than—so it is a minimum penalty—six months when the offence is committed for the purpose of trafficking and there are fewer than 201 plants involved. A young person from the University of Ottawa sitting outside and offering a joint to one of his friends is liable to a sentence of six months.

I repeat that the Bloc does not encourage the use of any drug whatsoever. It is not part of the Canada food guide and we do not think it essential for self discovery or that it is a good habit. However, socially, will the problem of drug use be resolved with minimum sentences of six months to two years? This is what we tried to explain to the minister.

Individuals with considerable authority, such as criminologist Line Beauchesne of the University of Ottawa, and others, have studied the issue of drug use. We have difficulty with the fact that there are minimum penalties for trafficking and with the increments of these minimum penalties given the scope of the problem. We do not believe that, socially, this is the best way to discourage young people from using drugs.

This is one of the reasons we will vote against the bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

This bill would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide for minimum penalties for serious drug offences, to increase the maximum penalty for cannabis or marijuana production, to reschedule certain substances from schedule 3 of that act to schedule 1, and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

I spoke to this bill at second reading and I spoke against it. I spoke against it because generally I do not believe that mandatory minimums are an effective legislative policy and I certainly cannot support mandatory minimums in the context of drug laws.

Why is that? We have had many studies and reports that show that mandatory minimums have a negligible impact on crime control. For example, I will quote from one of the reports from our own Department of Justice in 2002. It states:

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

Another report in 2005 from our own Department of Justice stated:

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

When this bill was at committee, the John Howard Society provided summaries from 17 studies from the U.S. and the U.K. on mandatory minimums, lengthy sentence terms and recidivism. They found that the longer prison terms do not reduce recidivism. The detailed analysis of the United States Sentencing Commission found that mandatory minimums went after the low-level criminals and that they were ineffective at deterring crime.

In 1987, the Canadian Sentencing Commission noted that since 1952, all Canadian commissions that addressed the role of mandatory minimum penalties have recommended that they be abolished. Here we are in 2009 and we are advocating for mandatory minimums.

The Canadian Sentencing Commission also found that existing mandatory minimum penalties, with the exception of those for murder and high treason, serve no purpose that can compensate for the disadvantages resulting from their continued existence but we still have politicians promoting mandatory minimums as an effective means of fighting crime.

Let us unpack what politicians are doing. We are saying that we will punish people for committing a crime and punish them harshly, but punishment comes after the fact. I will quote the author, Michael Tonry, in an article he wrote entitled “Mandatory Penalties”, where he gives the reason that legislatures and politicians continue to enact mandatory minimums. He says that “most elected officials who support such laws are only secondarily interested in their effects. Officials' primary interests are rhetorical and symbolic. Calling and voting for mandatory penalties is demonstrating that officials are tough on crime. If the laws works, all the better, but that's hardly crucial. In a time of heightened public anxiety about crime and social unrest, being on the right side of the crime issue is much more important politically than making sound and sensible public policy choices”.

There we have it. It seems that the emperor has no clothes. I want to repeat: “Public anxiety about crime and social unrest...is much more important politically than making sound and sensible public policy choices”. That is what we have here today.

I stood up against this bill at second reading but it did pass and it went to committee. At committee, we heard from many knowledgeable expert witnesses. We heard from front line workers, legal scholars and policy experts. Sixteen witnesses appeared and, of the 16, 13 provided evidence and studies showing that mandatory minimums are costly failures that target low-level dealers. This is the issue, because the government is trying to tell us that this bill will stop drug trafficking. We are trying to get the kingpins but the evidence shows that it targets low-level dealers, users and a disproportionate number of visible minorities and poor people. As I stated earlier, our own justice department has two reports clearly stating that mandatory minimums are not effective for drug crimes.

When the minister was asked if he could produce a report showing that mandatory minimums work, he could not, but he did insist that this was what Canadians wanted.

Three of the 16 witnesses did support mandatory minimums. What did they say? Not one of the three could produce evidence showing that mandatory minimums actually work to reduce drug use, drug crimes, organized crime or gang violence. We have nothing except three witnesses who say that they support this. We have no evidence.

My colleagues have spoken to the known results of mandatory minimum sentences: increased pressure on the criminal justice system; and substantial increased costs to the provincial prison and court systems. The bill would capture the low-level dealers, not the kingpins, as it is intended. It also would not address the real issue of addiction that we know is best combated by a four pillar approach: enforcement, treatment, harm reduction and prevention, with each one being equal.

I would like to touch on an issue that is not raised in this hon. House often enough, and that is the issue of race and class. Representatives from the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, also known as VANDU, testified that drug prohibition serves to further marginalize people because in Canada police profiling centres on poor visible street users and sellers. Canadian jails and prisons house the poor, and our most visible drug users and sellers are aboriginal people and people of colour. They are vastly overrepresented.

VANDU looked to the U.S. where it did implement mandatory minimums in the 1970s and 1980s. In states that legislated these mandatory minimums, by the 1980s it became apparent that poor people and people of colour were most vulnerable to police profiling and imprisonment for drug offences even though drug use rates were no higher than in other sub-groups.

Deborah Small, the executive director of Break the Chains, an organization based out of the U.S., also testified at committee. She said:

I think it's important to note that while all studies show that drug use is pretty much endemic across every population and socio-economic group, the history in the U.S. has been that drug law enforcement has disproportionately impacted poor people.

She went on to say something that is quite damning. She said:

I think it's important to note that one of the effects in New York of enacting the Rockefeller laws is that it forced the state to reallocate money in ways that were really very detrimental. We saw a dollar-for-dollar trade-off in increased expenditures for prisons versus higher education. That sent a message to young people, particularly young people of colour, that the state would actually prefer to invest in their incarceration rather than their education.

How can we stand here and support a bill that we know will not work? We cannot. Therefore, how could we possibly propose an amendment to a bill? We could just throw up our hands and refuse to participate but I do not believe Canadians want that from any of us here. I believe they want us to engage on issues, despite our party lines and our personal ideologies. They send us here to work and sometimes we are working on issues on which we cannot agree.

As parliamentarians, I believe we have an obligation to try to make bills better, even if we strongly disagree with the fundamental premise of the bill.

I would like to point out that we asked many of the witnesses if they would amend the bill if they could and an overwhelmingly majority said that we should scrap it and start over. They actually said “scrap it”.

However, despite that clear message, the NDP has proposed an amendment to strike clause 3 of the bill because it is our duty to try to make this bill better. Perhaps we do give up some of our principles by engaging on the amendments but it is the responsible thing to do.

Clause 3 would create quite a few of the mandatory minimums for various schedule one and schedule two drugs, and striking out the clause would result in striking some of the mandatory minimums that we feel would capture the wrong people: people who are poor, aboriginal Canadians, people from racialized communities and compassion clubs.

I would like to thank my colleague from Vancouver East for moving this amendment and doing her best to try to make a bad bill better.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 3:20 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I support the work that VANDU does generally. It is a group of experts that is made up mostly of people who have addictions, who have overcome their addictions and who know first-hand what addictions can do to their lives and the lives of their friends. We need to look to them as experts on this issue and we need to take them and their recommendations very seriously. They did not appear at this committee to talk specifically about holus-bolus decriminalization. They came for a very specific reason, and that is the testimony I heard and that I had in front of me. I think they are right. I think they hit the nail on the head when it came to Bill C-15.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 2nd, 2009 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for enlightening the House on a few important details.

My understanding is that where there is an indictable offence, as prescribed under Bill C-15, there is a proviso where the person is liable to imprisonment up to life. Then it goes on to say, “or subject to a mandatory minimum of one year”.

I do not know whether the committee, and maybe the member could help, heard from legal officials as to the process that has to be gone through to seek the mandatory minimums to be imposed. My understanding is that the crown attorney would need to make application and that it is usually the practice for them not to make application for mandatory minimums simply because these are the small potatoes and they are really after the serious criminals who are behind the drug offences.

Is the member aware of that and does she know that even existing mandatory minimums often are not even exercised by the crown attorney?

Business of the HouseOral Questions

May 28th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
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Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to my colleague's questions. Before I get to his specific questions, perhaps we will revert to the more traditional response, which is to lay out the anticipated business for the week ahead.

As members know, today we completed debate at third reading stage of Bill S-2, the customs act. We will continue and hopefully complete the second reading stage of Bill C-20, Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act. Following Bill C-20, we will call at second reading, Bill C-30, Senate Ethics Act.

Tonight the House will go into committee of the whole to consider the main estimates of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Tomorrow we will begin debate on Bill C-24, Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. The back-up bills for tomorrow will be any unfinished business left over from today.

Next week we will continue with any unfinished business from this week, with the addition of Bill C-15, drug offences, which is at report stage and third reading stage.

We will also consider Bill C-32, the bill that will crack down on tobacco marketing aimed at our youth, and Bill C-19, investigative hearings and recognizance with conditions. These bills are at second reading.

As I have been doing, I will also give priority consideration to any bills that are reported back from our standing committees.

Finally, I would like to note that on Monday, June 1, at 10 a.m., there will be a memorial service in the Senate chamber to honour the memory of parliamentarians who have passed away since April 30, 2008.

As well, in response to the specific questions, the hon. opposition House leader would know full well that we just had our House leaders meeting of all four parties and their whips. I thought I took extraordinary steps to inform my colleagues about the anticipated business that I intend to call between now and the House rising on June 23. He has all of that information. He knows as well that much of this is tentative and subject to change because we do not know exactly how fast committees will move and how long debate will take in this place. Having said that, I have tried to be as transparent and as open with my colleagues as possible.

As far as specific questions about the three remaining supply days, I will be designating them in the future, although I did indicate tentative dates for all three, and the member is well aware of that information; in fact, I think it has been made public.

Controlled Drugs and Substance ActGovernment Orders

March 27th, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be up first on this Friday morning to speak to Bill C-15, which deals with mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes and amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This is a very important debate on the bill. It is one of the bills that the Conservative government, with the support of the Liberals, had wanted to rush through the House with no debate. We think the bill needs debate because it is really at a juncture where it is telling us what direction Canada will go in terms of its drug policy. From that point of view, it is a very significant bill and it deserves full public debate and input. I hope that will happen at committee as well. We need to hear from witnesses. It is very important that we be on the record in terms of our position around the bill.

I represent the riding of Vancouver East and, as many people know, it is a riding that has been hit very hard with the seriousness of drug issues. For a number of years, when I was first elected, the number of overdoses in the downtown eastside was the leading cause of death. It was horribly alarming. It was the number one public health issue where people were dying needlessly. These were preventable deaths from drug overdoses because of prohibition and because of the illegal drug market, the black market, where people were buying things on the street and they did not know what they were. The level of overdoses was just horrific, causing chaos, pain and suffering in the downtown eastside.

That still goes on today to some extent, but over the last 10 years, because of enormous efforts by the community and indeed right across Canada, particularly by drug users themselves who began to speak out about their own experience, the situation began to change.

It is very easy in our society to vilify and demonize drug users. It is very easy to label people as “criminals” and to label a drug user as a trafficker. In fact, under the law, even passing a joint to someone would be characterized as trafficking.

Not only were we trying to overcome the severe health and safety impacts in terms of drug use in the downtown eastside but also trying to deal with the terrible stigma and stereotyping that surrounds drug users.

The fact is that drug use exists at all levels of society. There are lawyers, professionals, engineers and all kinds of people who use drugs, whether medical or non-medical. If it is a prescription, that might be a substance use problem as well, whether a person gets it from a doctor or gets it on the street. It may be that a person is using drugs for recreational purposes, maybe marijuana.

It exists at all levels of society, but it is very much a class issue, because the enforcement regime that we have in this country, similar to the United States, is very much levelled at visible drug use on the street, basically people who are poor, people who are facing that stigma, and often people facing challenges of mental health.

In Vancouver, for example, with the deinstitutionalization of Riverview, people were literally sent out on the street with no support and ended up in the downtown eastside with very poor housing and no resources. People, in effect, started self-medicating and suddenly found themselves in this terrible environment of being “criminal”, and being harassed and chased by police and maybe arrested.

It is very much an issue that pertains to the poorest in our society who are involved in drug use and the enforcement, primarily in this country, as in the United States, has been levelled at those people.

About 73% of federal dollars on drug policy in Canada go toward enforcement. Only 2.6% goes to prevention, only 2.6% goes to harm reduction and about 14% to treatment. That is a very uneven balance.

For example, when the Auditor General audited drug policy in this country a few years ago, she remarked upon this and posed some questions: What was the impact? What was the value? What were we getting for such a high emphasis on an enforcement and interdiction regime when drug use was actually going up in Canada?

It might interest people to know that in 1994, 28% of Canadians reported having used illicit drugs, but by 2004 that number was at 45%. Certainly, the policies we have had that have been so focused on the criminal regime and the criminalization of drug users have been completely ineffective. We only have to look south of the border, where the so-called war on drugs has unleashed billions and billions of dollars. We see massive numbers of people incarcerated indicating what a failure it is.

I was very interested to read in the paper yesterday Hillary Clinton talking about how the war on drugs in Mexico has been a failure. It is first time the U.S. administration has talked about this. There was a headline saying that it failed. This has been the wrong approach. We are hoping very much that with the new administration in the U.S. things will begin to change. I wanted to give that backdrop.

Bill C-15 was brought in, in an earlier Parliament, as Bill C-26 and died on the order paper. It does raise the question of how urgent this was for the Conservatives when they brought it in so late and just let it go because they wanted to have an election. However, Bill C-15 is completely focused around the premise that mandatory minimum sentencing is going to work for drug crimes. That is what the bill is about. It is not a bill about broader enforcement regimes. It is about mandatory minimum sentencing. It does pose the question and I believe we have a responsibility to answer this question as to whether or not the evidence shows that mandatory minimum sentencing will actually be an effective tool.

I have done a fair amount of research on this as the drug policy critic for our party. Because of my involvement in Vancouver East and the downtown eastside, I have to say I have become very involved in this issue. I have worked very closely with drug users and I have learned a lot from what this experience is about, what happens to people under the current regime, and what it is that we need to change.

I am deeply concerned that the government is embarking on a very significant departure. Canada did have what was called the four-pillar approach, which was enforcement, harm reduction, prevention and treatment. That was adopted under a previous government. There was always an imbalance and an overemphasis on enforcement, but at least that four-pillar approach was there. I have to say that it actually began in Vancouver as a grassroots, bottom-up approach and then spread across the country.

This bill would take a radical departure from that four-pillar approach by emphasizing the enforcement regime even more, taking it to some greater lengths by bringing in a regime of mandatory minimum sentencing. I think this is a huge mistake. There is no question that it is the core of the Conservative government's agenda around crime. It is about the political optics. I have called it the politics of fear. People are concerned about drug use and crime in their communities. They are particularly concerned about young people being involved in using drugs. However, this bill will not deal with that. This bill will not change that situation. In fact, the evidence from both Canada and the United States shows us that the opposite will happen. It will only make the situation worse.

I want to note for the record that a Department of Justice study in 2002 concluded that mandatory minimum sentences were the least effective in relation to drug offences. The report said:

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.

When one looks at what is going on in the United States, where mandatory minimum sentencing began, there is now a whole movement away from mandatory minimum sentencing. We know that California, in 2000, repealed some of its mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for drug offences. In fact, California is now considering regulating marijuana. In 2004 Michigan repealed some of its MMSs. Delaware and Massachusetts are undergoing similar legislative reviews.

There is a whole history of reports in the U.S. in the American Bar Association and the U.S. sentencing committee. I will not go at length into those reports, but suffice it to say that there has been a huge amount of research done on this. I find it most ironic that the Conservative government, for the last couple of years, when it announced its so-called drug strategy in 2007, was launching on this course of following the United States, when what is actually happening in reality is that the war on drugs in the United States has now been shown to be a colossal failure.

I found it interesting that at the new President's town hall meeting online yesterday, and I am sure people have read today, most of the questions had to do with marijuana, saying to the President that it would be a good idea to regulate, legalize and actually provide a proper source of revenue, instead of allowing this to be so controlled by the black market. This is what happened during prohibition in the 1930s.

Obviously, even in the United States there has been a massive shift in public opinion, and what I find is that it is elected representatives who are the ones who are the most far behind on this. We are actually afraid to take this issue on. In many regards the public is way ahead of us. The public understands that the war on drugs has been a failure. It has been a colossal failure in terms of the human costs, in terms of economic costs, and in terms of public policy. We are the ones who are afraid to admit the reality of what the war on drugs and prohibition has done.

I find it just totally unacceptable that in that context we are now moving in this country to a regime that will bring in mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, when everybody else is saying this does not work, that it is a failure, and we have to take an approach that is focused on public health, that is focused on regulation, that is focused on real and honest education, especially for young people, and is focused on providing treatment. None of those things are happening at an adequate level in this country.

I know what the line will be of the Conservatives who are debating the bill. They are going to get up and say, “This is about getting those terrible gangs, the big crime dealers, the big drug lords and all of that”. Again, the research shows us that is not what happens.

In fact, because in this bill they have included provisions around drug treatment courts, I think it is further evidence that what they will really be doing is focusing on what is called the low-level offenders. This is where mandatory minimums do not work. It is not a deterrence.

What it will do is completely create chaos in our judicial and court system. We know that for any mandatory minimums that are two years or less when people end up in the provincial court system, we are now going to be facing a huge overload in the provincial court system. Do the provinces know that? I kind of wonder if they realize what is coming down the pipe here.

We will also see situations where people are more likely to plead not guilty because they know that they will be facing a mandatory minimum.

This idea that we are going after the kingpins just does not play out because those are the individuals who are in the best position to negotiate with prosecution officials and so on. Again, history has shown us that with enforcement, the easy pickings are basically people who are low-level dealers. They are often users themselves. This bill will be so punitive in terms of individual people, but the worst thing is it will not change the outcome.

If the Conservatives are trying to peddle a line here that this bill is going to solve the problem, it will not. It is actually going to make it worse. I feel I have a responsibility, representing a riding like East Vancouver where I have worked very closely on this issue, to actually speak the truth about this issue.

I know others as well as my colleagues will rise and speak out loud and clear, and will do so today. I know that we put ourselves out there as targets for the propaganda and the machine that comes from the other side that we are soft on crime, that we are advocating for drug use, and that we are advocating for whatever. That is simply not true. I have never supported drug use. I am personally very anti-drug use. I have seen the harm it does. However, I understand that prohibition has driven people to becoming criminals.

We dealt with the marijuana decriminalization bill. There are members in the House who were on the committee. We heard there were 600,000 Canadians who had a record for possession of marijuana. Why are we not at least beginning there with decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana? We would begin at a place where there is strong public support. We should change the regime.

The public attitude is shifting also within the media. Since the crime bills have come in, following the debate in the media has been fascinating. There are lots of media commentators, people writing columns, experts being quoted.

Retired Justice John Gomery in speaking about former Bill C-26, but Bill C-15 is the same bill, said, “This legislation basically shows a mistrust of the judiciary to impose proper sentences when people come before them”.

Thomas Kerr from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said:

If Canada wants to fulfill its mission of reducing the most severe harms associated with illicit drug use, steps must now be taken to implement a truly evidence-based national drug strategy rather than shovelling millions of dollars towards these failed programs.

Jerry Paradis, a retired judge from B.C., is a spokesperson for an incredible organization, LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I went to a conference in New Orleans last year. Members of LEAP include current police officers as well as retired police chiefs and officers, and members of the judiciary. They are working to alert us to how dangerous prohibition is and what its consequences have been. Retired judge Jerry Paradis said, “MMSs are a great motivator for trials, jamming up the courts. Unless a deal is struck, a charge carrying a minimum sentence will be fought tooth and nail”.

Barbara Yaffe from the Vancouver Sun is not seen as a left-wing commentator. She is very much her own person and often comes out with terrific stuff. What does she have to say about it? In February, in writing about gangs, she said:

Because at the root of the mayhem is the drug trade. And while the state can outlaw a substance, it cannot eliminate its use. Prohibition proved that nearly a century ago. As long as drugs are illegal, there will be underground activity of the sort that spawns drug gangsters.

There are many media stories along the same lines. There has been a significant shift.

In speaking to this bill, this is a critical point. Are we going to go down this path where we say that tougher laws and enforcement are going to solve drug issues in local communities? The Conservatives have clearly said that. I am very interested to see what the Liberal caucus does with this bill. I hope that we can defeat it. I hope we can say this is not the right way to go. The NDP does not think the bill should go through. It is not based on good public policy. It is going to be harmful and expensive.

It is time to embark on a common sense approach and accept the overwhelming evidence that the war on drugs has caused more death, pain, harm and crime than we can bear. It is time to stop it. I do not think that is going to happen overnight, but at least let us have the courage to see what has failed and see the alternatives. We could begin with marijuana and real education. We could look to decriminalization, or even legalization, or we could continue on the tragic course of playing on people's fears and trying to convince people that tougher laws will make it all go away. It will not.

Let us say no to this bill. Let us adopt a public health approach and do the right thing.

Controlled Drugs and Substance ActGovernment Orders

March 27th, 2009 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I will be speaking to an issue that is relevant to my riding of Etobicoke North and, indeed, to all Canadians, namely, substance abuse and crime.

I will be supporting this act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, part of a package of measures aimed at addressing gang violence as Canada has over 400 gangs with roughly 7,000 members and firearm related injuries annually costing $5.6 billion.

Moreover, gang violence threatens our Etobicoke North community. In 2005, Amon Beckles was shot while attending the Etobicoke funeral for his best friend, Jamal Hemmings. Shots were fired during the memorial service and some 300 mourners ran for cover. Nadia Beckles fled the church only to see the unthinkable; her son lying on the ground. Beckles cried, “I raised him for 18 years and someone just took him away”.

Beckles hopes and prays that the violence will stop and strong drug laws are part of what is needed to fight gang violence. However, so too are crime prevention initiatives which show for every dollar invested there is a four dollar return in reduced counselling and treatment costs, and proper funding of law enforcement agencies, areas where we are currently failing Canadians.

Strong drug laws are needed to fight elicit drugs which remain a significant problem in Toronto and, indeed, across Canada. Marijuana remains the most popular recreational drug among Toronto's students with some 23% of respondents indicating use in the past year. In contrast, only 15% of adults reported use.

At the national level, marijuana is also the most commonly used illegal drug with more than 10 million Canadians aged 15 or older having tried marijuana or hashish at least once.

In Ontario, 3% of grade 7 students try marijuana and, by the time they reach grade 12, nearly half have used the drug. In fact, about one in eight or 33,000 students use marijuana every day.

The consequences of illegal drugs are serious with health effects depending on the drug, the amount and method and frequency of use. Negative health effects range from digestive problems to potentially fatal diseases, such as HIV-AIDS and hepatitis C, and physiological dependence to brain damage.

Apart from the health impacts, illegal drugs generate direct costs to the health and criminal justice systems, as well as indirect costs through absenteeism, lost work productivity and lost human potential. These combined costs total about $1.4 billion annually.

Drug abuse also impacts users, their children, family members and sometimes entire neighbourhoods. Moreover, drug use is associated with crime, from simple possession to organized crime, to fighting for control of the drug trade, to serious addiction problems that may lead users to commit crimes for cash.

In 2000, Canadian police departments reported a total of almost 88,000 drug offences. Three-quarters of the offences involved marijuana, 68% of them possession. The number of police related incidents involving marijuana increased from roughly 47,000 in 1996 to 66,000 incidents in 2000.

Most governments make strong statements about the need to maintain and often increase police activity and penal sanctions for drug users. It is widely held that strong enforcement and widespread incarceration will deter potential users and dealers from becoming involved in the illegal drug market. In fact, very few countries actually follow through on these statements. Arrest and incarceration rates for drug users are relatively low in most countries in relation to the total number of users and maximum sentences are rarely used.

The one country that has used large scale incarceration as a drug prevention measure is the United States where approximately 500,000 drug law offenders are currently in prison.

Research shows that widespread confinement has failed to fundamentally alter the scale and nature of the illegal drug market, although some marginal impacts on drug prices and prevalence rates can be attributed to the policy. Moreover, there are significant financial health and social costs associated with high rates of incarceration.

I believe we need to carefully look at the evidence of what has and has not worked in the United States, as well as other jurisdictions. Perhaps important questions for the committee include whether we want mandatory minimums for drug related offences that would remove a judge's ability to apply discretion for mitigating circumstances, whether we want to want to turn Canadian correctional institutions and penitentiaries into U.S.-style inmate warehouses, whether we know that longer sentences will have the desired deterrent effect, or whether those given longer sentences are likely to go back to crime.

In order to reduce drugs, Canada has always implemented 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.

A strength of the bill is the drug treatment courts as part of the solution. These courts aim to stop drug abuse and related criminal activity through court-directed treatment and rehabilitation programs. Each court has a multi-disciplinary justice and health care systems team led by the judge who oversees each participant's progress. Compliance, which is objectively monitored by frequent substance abuse testing, is rewarded and non-compliance sanctioned.

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 Canadian 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.

In the United States, only 16% of 17,000 drug court graduates nationwide had been re-arrested and charged with a felony offence. The U.S. reports a state taxpayer's return on the upfront investment on the drug courts is substantial. They are a more cost effective method of dealing with drug problems than either probation or prison.

In closing I want to draw attention to the fact that youth at risk of joining gangs tend to be from groups that suffer the greatest inequality, who are using drugs and who are already involved in serious crime. Our youth join gangs for belonging, prestige and protection and there is the correlation between gang presence in schools and the availability of both drugs and guns in institutions. Of a total of 900 male school drop-outs and young offenders, 15% report having brought a gun to school.

Bill C-15 addresses deterrence and punishment. When might we see legislation targeted at prevention? Public Safety Canada recommends targeted, integrated and evidence-based community solutions to reduce and prevent the proliferation of gangs, drugs and gun violence.

As we debate this bill, we need to remember Amon Beckles and all those who have been lost to violence, and honour Nadia Beckles' hopes and prayers.

Controlled Drugs and Substance ActGovernment Orders

March 27th, 2009 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

Some of the proposals in the bill are minimum penalties for the production, possession, trafficking, importing and exporting of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs. It also moves amphetamines, all its 19 byproducts, and GHB and flunitrazepam, also known as the date rape drugs, from schedule 3 to schedule 1. Tougher penalties will be introduced for trafficking date rape drugs.

The maximum penalty for Canada's production would increase from seven years to fourteen years imprisonment. Mandatory sentences would be introduced for the production of even one marijuana plant, with a minimum sentence of six months. The legislation would impose six months imprisonment for any act of cultivation of cannabis, irrespective of issues of violence and gang involvement. These are some of the provisions in this bill.

Prior to my election, I worked at Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, a legal clinic in Halifax's north end. Dal Legal Aid is a teaching clinic where students, who are in their last year of law school, can come and spend four months with us, working on poverty law cases and developing their skills in a clinical law setting. The mandate of Dal Legal Aid is to provide legal assistance to low-income Nova Scotians, while also working with low-income Nova Scotians to help change the laws that oppress and penalize poor and marginalized Nova Scotians.

Our mandate was to deal with poverty. Inextricably enmeshed with poverty are the issues of race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and identity and age. My clients came to me for help with asserting their rights as tenants and asserting their rights under welfare and their entitlements. They came to me for assistance with their CPP disability applications and for help understanding the law generally.

To ensure that Halifax's most vulnerable people had access to their rights and an understanding of the law, the students and I would staff monthly clinics around the city, ensuring we had a presence at places like Direction 180, Halifax's low-threshold methadone clinic, Stepping Stone, an organization that supports workers in the sex trade, Metro Turning Point and Adsum House, Halifax's men's and women's shelters, as well as food banks and soup kitchens around the municipality.

Many of my clients used drugs and while I never counselled them legally or otherwise on their drug use, many of my clients would share with me the details of their lives as we built a relationship of trust. None of my clients used drugs because they got a thrill from breaking the law. None of them used drugs because they were bad people, criminals or people not worth caring about. All of them talked to me about stopping their drug use. None of them talked to me about getting off crack because the jail time for offences was on the rise. They talked to me about getting off crack because it was destroying their lives.

None of them talked to me about enrolling at Direction 180 because they had heard that Parliament may be rescheduling certain substances from schedule 3 to schedule 1. They wanted to enrol at Direction 180 to deal with their opiate addictions, rebuild their lives and re-establish contact with their children or families.

The Conservatives have manufactured a debate that tells Canadians that if we oppose this bill, then we oppose enforcement and think that drug users should run free, terrorizing children in their schoolyards and corrupting the very fabric of our society. The government has manufactured this debate to make itself look tough on crime and the opponents of this bill soft on crime.

The truth of the matter is that this bill would not do anything to solve the drug problem in Canada. The bill is not smart on crime. We need legislation that is based on best practices. We need legislation that will work.

A four-pillar approach has been developed and has been proven successful in cities in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe. It is based on the four pillars of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. Each pillar is equally important and must be integrated and jointly implemented to be effective. This is what the best practices are telling us to do. This is the direction in which we must move. This is the approach that the NDP supports. The NDP is not soft on crime. We are smart on crime.

Mandatory minimums do not deter drug use. A 2002 Justice Department of Canada report concluded that mandatory minimum sentences, or MMS, were least effective in relation to drug offences. It stated:

MMS 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.

The supposed targets for these mandatory minimums, the kingpins, are in the best position to negotiate lighter sentences or no sentences at all. They have access to resources that enable them to challenge these sentences. Therefore, who gets scooped up by these provisions?

In June 2004, the American Bar Association's Justice Kennedy Commission called on Congress to repeal mandatory minimum sentences stating, “Mandatory minimum sentences tend to be tough on the wrong people”. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, MMS disproportionately targets visible minorities. According to the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, mandatory sentencing policies have produced record incarceration rates of non-violent drug users in the United States.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission also concluded that mandatory minimums failed to deter crime and reported that only 11% of federal drug defendants were high-level drug dealers, and 59% of crack defendants were street-level dealers, compared to 5% who were high-level crack dealers.

The bill is based on a deterrence theory of punishment for which there is no evidence. In their article called “Sentence Severity and Crime: Accepting the Null Hypothesis”, Anthony N. Doob and Cheryl Webster concluded that 25 years worth of research, sometimes in ideal conditions, had shown that there was no support for the idea that harsher sentences reduce crime. They also point out that:

Deterrence-based sentencing makes false promises to the community. As long as the public believes that crime can be deterred by legislatures or judges through harsh sentences, there is no need to consider other approaches to crime reduction.

In other words, adding a harsher sentence is pretending to do something instead of actually doing something. The bill makes a false promise, to use their words. This approach is not smart on crime.

While mandatory minimums do not work, we do know what does work, and that is the four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. Each pillar is equally important and they must be integrated and jointly implemented to be effective.

Sadly, we are not following the four pillars approach in Canada. In fact, we are doing the opposite. Listen to these numbers. Canada spends 73% of its drug policy budget on enforcement, 14% on treatment, 2.6% on prevention and 2.6% on harm reduction. These pillars clearly are not integrated and jointly implemented. They are clearly not even being valued equally by the government. We have a government that is solely focused on enforcement, which is only one piece of the solution. As a result, drug use continues to rise.

In 1994, 28% of Canadians reported to have used illicit drugs, but by 2004, this number was 45%, almost double.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

March 27th, 2009 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, before oral questions I was presenting proof to this House that drug use continues to rise in Canada. In 1994, 28% of Canadians reported to have used illicit drugs, but by 2004, the number was 45%, almost double. This is what happens when a government is not smart on crime.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Salvation Army's Booth Centre in Halifax last week. The Booth Centre offers addiction and rehabilitation services in both Halifax, Nova Scotia and Saint John, New Brunswick. The centre's services include group therapy, individual counselling and classes in life skills and relapse prevention. The centre includes a homeless shelter for men that offers hot meals and personal supports to the men.

Robert Lundrigan, the assistant executive director, gave me a tour of the centre. During our tour, I saw quite a few familiar faces. One familiar face was a man with whom I had worked to help find housing back at Dalhousie Legal Aid when I was working there. He had been referred to me by the Booth Centre. Since he was in the drug counselling program, he was looking to move out of the shelter and into affordable safe housing of his own. I was so pleased to see him. He was at the Booth Centre, not because he had not gotten through the program, not because he had relapsed, not because he had fallen off the wagon, but in fact he was there as a volunteer. He was clean and he was giving back to his community.

I joined Mr. Lundrigan for lunch with some of his colleagues at the centre. Over lunch, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Rick MacDonald. Rick had come through the rehabilitation program. He had been homeless and addicted. He was now clean and he was employed as an addictions counsellor himself, offering supports and strength to men who are currently in the situation that Rick had managed to get out of.

We talked about the work of the centre. I raised the fact that Bill C-15 would be debated in this hon. House. He was quite interested to hear about it. I started telling him about the changes to the minimum sentences and he cut me off and asked whether there was any money for treatment in this bill. I said no. He asked me whether there was money for supportive housing. I had to say no. He told me that it is not going to work, that they need treatment and housing, that they need supportive housing.

He told me about how he hits the streets as part of his job. He looks for men who are addicted and who are homeless hiding in the nooks and crannies of Halifax that we have forgotten about. He finds men living under bridges and in the bushes. He checks on them to see if they are okay and to see if they are ready to take the first step toward dealing with their addictions, which is getting housed and getting into treatment.

If the government were serious about its war on drugs, it would support us in our call for a national housing strategy.

My colleague from Vancouver East has introduced private member's Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. It is due for second reading on April 2. This bill would legislate the government to develop a national housing strategy, one that would consider investments in not-for-profit housing, housing for the homeless, housing that is sustainable and environmental, and access to housing for those with different needs, including seniors and persons with disabilities. That includes supportive housing, supportive housing that Rick knows is vital to getting the men he works with off drugs and out of the cycle of crime and violence, and the jail they find themselves in.

If passed, Bill C-304 would tie together Canada's current patchwork of homelessness and housing initiatives and it would mandate the government to create a plan that is effective and comprehensive.

I talked about this housing bill at the Booth Centre. People there asked for a copy. They asked me if there was a petition about the bill. These people are staff at an addictions and rehabilitation centre and they are getting excited about a bill about housing because they understand what a positive impact a national housing strategy would have on the work that they do fighting against the stranglehold that drugs have on their friends.

Since my election to this hon. House last October, less than six months ago, I have seen time and time again examples like this, where the community gets the problem, the community gets the solutions, but the government gets neither.

The government thinks that throwing people in jail is the solution, that prison is going to fix everything, that this is great federal leadership, that it is tough on crime. However, it will be the provincial police forces, courts and legal aid and treatment centres that will bear the greatest burden of the cost for the initiatives under this bill. Craig Jones from the John Howard Society has said, “The feds will crack down on crime, but the provinces will be punished”.

With 12 of the 24 proposed mandatory sentences under a two year duration, it will be the provincial prison populations that continue to grow. HIV and AIDS advocates worry about the growing rate of infection in overcrowded prisons already. The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union has spoken out publicly about this issue, saying that Canada's prisons are overcrowded and “boiling over with violence”.

The costs of this approach are remarkable. The annual average cost of incarcerating an individual male in Canada is about $74,000 at the minimum security level and over $110,000 at the maximum security level. That is $110,000 a year for each person who is scooped up by these mandatory minimums, yet we do not see any money in this bill that would go toward ensuring that people do not end up in jail in the first place.

This is not being smart on crime. It is smoke and mirrors. I feel it necessary to point out that in 2005 the Conservatives promised 1,000 additional RCMP and 2,500 additional municipal police officers, which they have failed to deliver.

If this bill is not smart on crime, what would that bill look like? How about this: an overall coordinated strategy focused on gangs and organized crime; an improved witness protection program; more resources for prosecution and enforcement; toughened proceeds of crime legislation; more officers on the street, as promised by the Conservatives but not yet delivered; and better and more prevention programs to divert youth at risk.

This approach is smart on crime and this is the approach the NDP is calling for. In 2002 the House Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, the Officer of the Auditor General and the Senate committee made a call for how to deal with the drug situation in Canada. Their recommendations were strengthened leadership, coordination and accountability with dedicated resources, enhanced data collection to set measurable objectives, and increased emphasis on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. They all seem to get it. All of us seem to get it, except for the government.

In conclusion, Bill C-15 increases the already imbalanced and over-funded enforcement approach to drug use in Canada without reducing crime rates or drug use. It is an oversimplification of drug use in Canada and targets street-level users and small-time traffickers. It does not address the problems of violent or organized crime.

The Conservatives are taking Canada in the wrong direction. It is a direction that is expensive, has no effect on drug use and will only increase the prison population, creating a whole new set of problems with overpopulation, and health, safety and crime problems within the prison system.

Canada must have a balanced approach to drug use. The four pillar approach of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement has been successful in Europe and it is being adopted by big city mayors right here in Canada. That is what we call being smart on crime.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

March 27th, 2009 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate this afternoon on Bill C-15, which is an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This is similar legislation to legislation that was introduced in the last Parliament, Bill C-26, and as we know, the early call of the election ended the life of that bill. It died on the order paper. If it were as crucial as Conservatives would have us believe, I wonder why we went to that early election. They had a mandate for four years, given their own legislation, but they chose to prorogue that Parliament and go to an election. We could have dealt with this already in Parliament.

This bill, and we have heard a lot about it today, really is about establishing mandatory minimum sentences for a whole range of drug crimes. That is one of the controversial aspects of this legislation. We have heard from many folks in the debate already about the problems associated with establishing mandatory minimum sentences.

We have heard the member for Halifax explain that having one marijuana plant could lead to a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in prison under this legislation. These are the kinds of things that this bill is establishing.

There has been some conversation this afternoon about the aspect of the bill that deals with date rape drugs, and I know that currently, under the Criminal Code, date rape drugs are already treated very seriously. Inducing or administering a stupefying substance to someone is a very serious criminal offence already under the Criminal Code of Canada.

That issue kind of misses the point about this legislation. This is really about establishing mandatory minimum sentences on a whole range of drug crimes.

We know very clearly, from the experiences primarily in the United States but even some of our own, that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. They do not work to reduce drug addiction. They do not work to make our communities safer.

We can look directly to Canadian government reports, to reports from our own justice department, that talk about the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentences. In 2002 the justice department concluded that mandatory minimum sentences were least effective when it comes to drug crimes. Despite that conclusion of the justice department, we have a bill here that is entirely concerned with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

The report specifically said:

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.

That is from the 2002 report “Mandatory Minimum Penalties: Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures”. That is advice from our own Department of Justice on the issue of mandatory minimum sentences, specifically when it comes to drug crimes. We need to pay attention to that advice.

We have seen what has been done in other jurisdictions, jurisdictions in the United States, some of which got very heavily into mandatory minimum sentences such as Michigan and California, and now they have backed away.

Michigan in particular had harsh anti-drug laws, most of them the harshest in the United States. They included quite a number of mandatory minimum sentences for almost all drug offences. In 2004 Michigan started to back away from that and repeal those provisions because it found it was not working. It was not solving the problems and it was creating other problems for that state. California has repealed mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offences. In fact, it is also now considering regulating marijuana, moving in a completely different direction from mandatory minimum sentencing.

Delaware and Massachusetts are also reviewing legislation around mandatory minimum sentences because they too have noticed that these kinds of mandatory minimum sentence regimes have not helped those states deal with the social impacts of drug use and addictions. They have not helped with the criminal aspects of the problem either.

One thing contemplated in the legislation is drug courts, and we have concerns about them. One of the problems with drug courts is that coercive treatment or mandatory treatment is often ineffective. We cannot force somebody into treatment unless they have made that personal commitment to go through that process.

Sometimes in drug courts people will agree to a treatment program as a way of avoiding jail time. That is not exactly the most effective way of going into a treatment program. People have to be there because they want to get better. They want to deal with the health implications of their addiction. It is a very difficult issue with which to deal.

We want to be careful about drug courts. There is some value in courts that have particular expertise in dealing with drug and addiction issues and those kinds of things. We want to ensure that our courts have those specialized skills. However, we have to be careful when it comes to coercing or requiring treatment. We know that is not effective.

There is also concern for our court system, for the progress of issues through our court system, clogging our court system as we deal with more mandatory minimum sentences. I want to read a quote from retired British Columbia judge, Jerry Paradis, who is a spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which is a group of law enforcement officers, some current, some retired, and some judicial and court officials who oppose drug prohibition regimes. Former Judge Paradis said:

Mandatory minimums are also a great motivator for trials, jamming up the courts. Unless a deal is struck, it is a sure bet that a charge carrying...minimum sentence will be fought tooth and nail.

We know that when people who are charged with a crime face a minimum sentence, they often want to go to trial. It reduces the number of options available to the legal system because people are facing a mandatory minimum sentence if they are convicted of that crime.

Most of our courts are in crisis. The delays are long and there is a growing concern about the course of justice in that system. We need to consider very carefully anything that further jams up our courts. There are concerns the legislation will do that as well.

We also have to be concerned about the population of our prison system. If we are talking mandatory minimum sentences, we will be putting more people in jail for longer periods of time. We have heard how half of the new mandatory minimum sentences in the legislation are two years or less, which means those who are convicted will serve time in provincial prisons. We have to wonder if the provinces are prepared for the increase in prison population, which the legislation may mean for their jurisdictions.

Getting people into prison has not always been shown as the best way of dealing with reducing crime in our society. Sometimes we have said that prisons are a great place to develop one's criminal network. It is not a great place for rehabilitation. We have to examine very carefully any legislation that will increase the population of our prisons.

A lot of the provisions, mandatory minimum sentences being on of them, are provisions that came out of the U.S.-led war on drugs. The criminal approach to dealing with addiction and drug crime has been shown to be a huge failure. As I have noted already, many jurisdictions in the United States continue to re-examine that.

We need, instead, an approach that deals with drug and addiction issues as a health issue. We need to ensure that people have available to them the medical attention and the treatment they need to deal with their addictions. If we put as many resources into that as we do into enforcement, we would see some very positive results for our society and for people who are our neighbours, friends and family members. We need to pay more attention to that.

We have heard how 73% of federal funding and funding related to the drug issue goes into enforcement work and much lower levels go into treatment, prevention and harm reduction. There is a very clear indication of the bias of the government when it comes to how to deal with issues related to drug use. I agree with others who have said that we need to turn those statistics around and ensure that we value each of those four pillars related to how to more appropriately deal with drugs and drug addiction in our society.

We need to fund the other pillars equally, as we do enforcement. The federal government has chosen to put all of its eggs in the enforcement basket and we have not seen effective returns on that expenditure.

Many people are questioning the drug prohibition regime that we are under. I want to quote from a letter that I found as I was researching this. It was written by the directing attorney of Prisoner Legal Services in the City and County of San Francisco's sheriff's office, a woman named Carol Ruth Silver. It is taken from her letter of resignation, which she tendered back on January 30 of this year. She stated:

—I have found myself having to bite my tongue in talking to some prisoners about their charges -- at least half of them with nonviolent drug charges. I find it difficult to discuss the financial or child custody problems of a prisoner, when I cannot look them in the eye and justify their being in jail. His or her incarceration is as a result of their own actions, but much more so as a result of a mistaken, unfair, and unjust set of laws which criminalize drugs in our society, based on the failed model of Prohibition of alcohol which we enacted and then repealed.

Each of such prisoners is in our jail only because of our bad politics of drug regulation. It is this set of policies which is the most direct cause of the continued excessive incarceration rates in the US.

This is an attorney working in the sheriff's office in a major United States city who could not continue in that position because of the problems that she had recognized stemmed from the regime of drug prohibition. She had to leave that position because she could no longer deal with the contradictions and the difficulties that placed her in as she tried to work in that office.

It is important to remember the history of alcohol prohibition. The United States went very seriously into alcohol prohibition back in the 1920s and 1930s and made it illegal, prohibited it, in exactly the same way that drugs are prohibited today in Canada. If we look at the history of what happened with alcohol prohibition, we will see not a close parallel but an exact parallel to what is happening in our society today with regard to drugs.

I want to give some examples that are in a report called “We Can Do It Again: Repealing Today's Failed Prohibition”, which is presented by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of law enforcement and court officials who are working on ending drug prohibition, and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation of the United States. They reviewed some of what happened under alcohol prohibition. If we go over these points, we will see the exact parallel to what is happening in our society today.

They note that sociologists who looked it in the United States noticed that alcohol became associated during the period of prohibition with a rebellious, adventurous lifestyle, which increased its desirability, especially among the young. A detrimental effect of prohibition was to increase alcohol's popularity.

They also note that alcohol, even though prohibition had been enacted, remained fully present in daily urban life and that in New York City before prohibition there were 15,000 saloons. Five years into prohibition, those saloons were replaced by as many as 32,000 underground speakeasies. There was a huge trend toward more alcohol consumption and a greater presence of alcohol in urban life after prohibition.

They further noted that when alcohol was prohibited, the alcohol that was available was in its most concentrated and potent form, a natural result of the costs involved in smuggling and concealing it.

They note that beer and wine were largely replaced by liquor in illegal speakeasies because of this trend. We have seen exactly that same trend with regard to drugs in our society. More potent drugs are more available now, directly as a result of these policies.

They note that under prohibition, providing liquor to meet the public demand required industrial scale production and distribution, and it was enormously profitable. The inevitable result was the creation of modern organized crime syndicates.

They also note that the Great Depression made things even worse as people looked for ways to replace lost income and lost jobs. They actually found employment with alcohol smugglers.

They note that under alcohol prohibition, the homicide rate reached unprecedented levels, as gangsters struggled for control of the very lucrative alcohol market by killing each other, police officers and any innocent citizen who stood in the way of their immense untaxed profits.

There could be no greater example or parallel than exactly what is happening in Vancouver today. I think 38 people have been shot as a result of the gang drug wars and approximately 17 people have been killed as a result of that.

The period of alcohol prohibition actually led to increased violence, increased organized crime activity and gang activity. We see exactly that same trend today.

They also note that public health suffered during the period of alcohol prohibition. In New York City, alone, there was a 525% increase in deaths related to alcoholism and alcohol poisonings during the first six years of prohibition because there was no oversight of the manufacture of alcohol. Bathtub gin, for instance, was often very dangerous and often blinded or killed people who imbibed. We have seen exactly the same thing with the bad drugs that are on our streets today during this period of drug prohibition.

They make the point that courts were clogged with alcohol prohibition related offences back during the period of alcohol prohibition in the United States. They also note that public respect for the rule of the law suffered greatly because the court process was slowed down and because there was such widespread disrespect for the law on alcohol prohibition. It had further ramifications about people's respect for the whole legal system. We have seen that in Canada as a result of our drug prohibition policies.

Finally, the report concludes that during the period of alcohol prohibition in the United States, vital services and programs had to be cut because, in addition to the expensive costs of prohibition enforcement, government budgets were deprived of tax revenue from alcohol sales, from alcohol industry workers' salaries, and the properties where alcohol was produced, stored and consumed.

Because the alcohol industry was underground, it was not taxed and it affected government revenues in a serious way, a way that would have assisted in dealing with some of the social problems that can normally be associated with alcohol. We see that today in our society with regard to drug prohibition issues.

Concerns about drug prohibition and ending drug prohibition are not way out there. The Fraser Institute, a fairly conservative think tank in Vancouver, back in 2001 called for an end to drug prohibition. It was said in very strong terms. It did not mince words about how inappropriate and costly this continued approach was to our society.

Also, the Health Officers' Council of British Columbia has called for a major social initiative around coming up with better drug regulation policies. We are not talking about removing all drug regulations. We know there still needs to be a regulatory regime in place, but an appropriate one. The health officers of British Columbia have also raised concerns about drug prohibition as a strict policy and have said that we need to face the health implications and get on with coming with a better regulatory regime in Canada. I do not believe the bill is a step in that direction, which is the way we should go.

I look forward to seeing our society fully engage in that kind of process in the very near future. The time when we should be working on these issues in a very serious way has passed.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

March 27th, 2009 / 1 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I agree with that. Given the evidence that we have, mainly from the experience of the United States but also from our own evidence, we know that the primary focus of this legislation on mandatory minimum sentences does not work. It does not address the issues that surround drug use, drug abuse and drug crime in Canada or in any of the places where this kind of approach was attempted.

In my speech, I mentioned the Fraser Institute based in Vancouver with its usually fairly Conservative approach to social issues in our country. It has spoken very clearly on the issue of drug prohibition and the kinds of approaches that have been taken similar to mandatory minimum sentences. When it released its report on this in 2001, the first line of the press release stated, “The war on drugs is lost and prohibition has been a complete failure”.

This was the conclusion the Fraser Institute came to as a result of its study. The press release goes on to state:

Canadian governments—federal and provincial—have seldom given serious thought to drug policy, preferring instead to follow whatever variation on failure is being proposed during the latest 'crisis.'

This thinking has only served to enrich organized crime, corrupt governments and law enforcement officials, spread diseases such as HIV, hinder health care, and feed into an ever-growing law enforcement and penal industry.

This was said by Fred McMahon, director of the Fraser Institute's social affairs centre. This is an organization that the Conservatives often look to for ideas and support for some of their plans. However, it has been very critical of drug prohibition and governments that pursue old ideas that have proven to be ineffective. The Fraser Institute went on to say:

Drug prohibition reflects our failure to learn from history; drug prohibition causes crime; drug prohibition corrupts police officers; drug prohibition violates civil liberties and individual rights; drug prohibition throws good money after bad; and drug prohibition weakens at times, even destroys families, neighbourhoods, and communities

Those are incredibly strong words coming from the Fraser Institute about the kinds of solutions that are being proposed in Bill C-15 that is before us today. We really need to come together as a society and learn from our history, from our own experiences and from the experiences of the people we know, care about and love. We need to learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions that this is the wrong way to continue.

We need to ensure we are brave as a nation. Sometimes people say that we cannot do that because the Americans are so invested in this war on drugs. There are opportunities to take a different path from the United States. I think our American friends have often shown that they respect us for our ideas and the solutions that we try to put forward as a society. They do not try to make us back away from ideas that we have and they often admire us for those attempts and the policies we put in place that are different from their own approaches.

The reality is that many jurisdictions in the United States and many Americans know that the war on drugs and drug prohibition has been a failure. We also cannot ignore that our continued support for drug prohibition causes problems in other countries. Many people have talked about the links to the kinds of drug wars that go on in countries like Mexico and South America. They do have links to our own domestic policies here in Canada where this whole drug prohibition regime makes it more difficult for those countries to find solutions that restore peace and harmony in their communities and in their country. We need to examine our complicity in those drug wars that are happening in other countries as well.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

March 27th, 2009 / 1 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, we are debating Bill C-15 and I want to assure colleagues that it is my intention to wrap up my remarks before the end of the period for debate today.

As one member of the House, I am personally very disappointed in the recent evolution of the criminal sentencing policy as put forward by the government. Some of the policy changes have been harmless. I do not think they will be effective. Much of it has to do with posturing, pretense and political stage play that I do not think will bring about many results at all.

However, in terms of dealing with crime across the country, I am absolutely and totally a firm believer in strong and improved enforcement. Regrettably, for most of us in the House, the costs of enforcement measures are usually borne by the provinces and the municipalities It is really easy for us in the House to talk about getting tough on crime and better enforcement but we do not have to authorize the tax dollars to do it. We should always keep that in mind.

I know how much good work is done at the provincial and municipal levels not only in crime enforcement but also in prosecution, almost all of which is done at the provincial level by provincial prosecutors not by federal prosecutors. Therefore, it is easy for us to talk the talk here and there has been a lot of talking the talk.

In my home constituency, it is mostly represented by a police division called 42 Division. A few years ago, I know for some reason that I never really understood, although I think I understood it at the time, the area I represent had a bit of a reputation for having some kind of crime problem. There were some high profile incidents but, as a result of looking at the thing in the cool light of day and of excellent police enforcement, which focused on a gang problem, this particular 42 Division in Toronto now has the lowest crime rates in the city .

In terms of the list of Canadian cities and their crime rates, Toronto is number 19. Therefore, while crime is ever present, and it has been since the beginning of time, not just in this country, I think a lot of communities are making progress. Some have challenges but there is no point in mentioning particular communities and maligning them because every one of those communities has or should have the tools available to deal with those challenges of crime.

I have become quite dismayed here at the shameless posturing and pretense of members who shout and talk about being tough on crime and point their fingers. I saw a member today on the Conservative side stand in the House and point his finger aggressively at a member of the New Democratic Party as if she had done anything wrong.

Not one member in the House does not have constituents who have been victimized by crime. All of us have been victimized by crime and that will go on. Our challenge is to minimize it.

I want to give the House a test in relation to Bill C-15. How many members of the House actually know the current sentencing for the offences listed in Bill C-15? How many members know how many years one can get for these particular crimes? I have a loonie or a toonie if anyone does know. The fact is that almost none of us even know what the current sentencing is.

I am going to give the answer. Even before I get to the question of what the new proposed sentencing is, I am going to say what the current sentencing is.

That said, nobody in the House knows now what the sentence would be for a crime outlined in this bill. These are already crimes, but this bill just changes the sentencing. Knowing that nobody knows, how does the government think the average criminal out there would know what the sentence would be when the legislators do not even know?

The point is that ratcheting sentencing up and down does not make a difference on the street. The perception of the would-be criminal out there is binary in logic, binary in the sense that he or she is either going to get caught or not. The would-be criminal does not take a lot of time to do the sentencing mathematics. Why would he or she take the time when members in the House who are passing a bill dealing with sentencing do not even know what the current sentence is?

Now I am going to give the answer. Clause 1 of the bill deals with crimes in relation to trafficking and distribution of illegal drugs. Do we know what the sentence is now for conviction in regard to those? Already in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act the sentence is life in prison. The current sentence envelope is life in prison.

Do we know what big, tough move the government proposes in this bill? The big, tough-on-crime move is to say there will be a minimum sentence of one year. That is the big, tough move.

We have taken a sentence of life in prison, available to a judge in sentencing, and added in a one-year minimum. This is really going to have an impact on the street. All those would-be drug pushers out there are going to be shaking in their boots. The fact is they do not care about these laws. They would not be breaking laws in the first place if they did.

What does clause 2 of the bill do? What is the existing sentence for a crime under the section that is being amended by clause 2? There it is, life in prison. We already have a life in prison sentence. What has the government added in? It wants to add a minimum of one year.

I think I have made my point on that. I could go further.

However, I want to direct members' attention to proposed section 8 of the bill. It is a new section. Here is what it says. If a person is charged and convicted of any of these crimes for which life in prison is a potential sentence—we cannot go beyond that because we do not hang people anymore—essentially proposed section 8 requires the Attorney General to ask permission.

This provision is being proposed by a government that is pretending to be really tough, in a vacuum. The proposed section reads:

The court is not required to impose a minimum punishment unless it is satisfied that the offender, before entering a plea, was notified of the possible imposition of a minimum punishment for the offence in question and of the Attorney General’s intention to prove any factors in relation to the offence that would lead to the imposition of a minimum punishment.

The minimum sentence is one year.

When there is a life sentence available, the whole spectrum of imprisonment available for a conviction, how many of them will take the time to give the required notice and generate all the evidence necessary to address the factors in sentencing that would be necessary to impose the minimum sentence? Very few.

I would agree that there might be a case in the context of enforcement and prosecution where there was a particular offender with a long record, an offender clearly operating within the infrastructure of organized crime, that such a notice could, would or should be given.

The reason this provision is there is that, for better or for worse, there are Charter of Rights and Freedoms constraints on how we apply the criminal law and how we follow through on our due process. I am happy the provision is there. I am really not mocking it, but what I am suggesting is that in the face of this staged drama by the government that somehow there is a great war against crime and it is leading it with stupid sentencing, that somehow no one else in the House cares about it and no one else has a plan, I would love to hear a government member talk about the importance of proposed section 8 of the bill. It is an important section dealing with the application of the sentencing provisions.

Again, I do not think there is a criminal in this country or in the universe who will take one second of his or her busy criminal life to read and study proposed section 8, or clauses 1 or 2 of the bill, or any part of the Criminal Code. Criminals do not get around to reading anything until the day they call their lawyer after they have been busted. That is when they begin to do the sentence math or allow the lawyer to do it for them.

I want my remarks to be clear. I stand with everyone else on both sides of the House who wants to be effective and smart in dealing with and helping our communities to deal with the crime challenges. We realize that they do the enforcement, they do the prosecution and we do not. The big, bold government here knows full well that it does not spend a nickel on enforcement, on policing; it is the provinces and municipalities. They know it is a great drama, a staged political drama.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

March 26th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the House was pleased earlier today to deal very efficiently with Bill C-14, and by the end of government orders today, that bill will be deemed carried at second reading and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, a very good illustration of how the opposition is tangibly moving forward an agenda with respect to public safety.

I wonder if the government House leader in his remarks about the agenda for the rest of this week and next week would indicate what timing he has in mind for that other piece of legislation, Bill C-15, dealing with other portions of the government's justice plan.

I wonder if he could also tell us when we will see the details of the legislation on remand. That was expected either today or yesterday, but I do not believe it has yet been tabled or introduced, and it would be important to know when that bill will be coming forward.

One final matter. According to an opposition resolution duly adopted by the House, the government should table, by April 3, next week, a list of departments and programs, not projects, I hasten to add, which are likely to require access to Treasury Board vote 35 in the main estimates.

The government has a draft list of the programs and departments. The Auditor General says that this request from the House of Commons is perfectly reasonable, and I wonder when the government would be prepared to table that list in response to the motion which was adopted by the House of Commons.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

March 26th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, the House leader for the official opposition, for his multitude of questions.

First of all, as he indicated, today we will continue debate on Bill C-14, the organized crime bill. I would point out that it is thanks to the Minister of Justice, whose leadership this morning overcame an opposition tactic aimed at delaying Bill C-14 that we do have an agreement to move that bill forward. As a result of the minister's intervention, Bill C-14 will in fact be sent to committee at the end of today, pursuant to a special order of the House.

Tonight the House will consider a take note debate on the international conference on Afghanistan hosted by The Hague.

As I mentioned earlier, we adopted a special order for Bill C-14. Unfortunately that special order did not cover the second justice bill that is slated for debate today. In fact it is conceivable we would have already been into that debate had it not been for the delaying tactics of the opposition earlier this morning.

This is the bill that the hon. member referred to, Bill C-15, the drug offences bill. It is another key piece of our government legislation that will help curb gang violence, yet we do not see it moving quickly through the House. That said, I am hopeful we can complete the bill today or have it completed at the latest tomorrow, provided the NDP does not invoke another delaying tactic as it did this morning.

Following the drug offences bill, we have scheduled for debate Bill C-7, marine liability; Bill S-3, energy efficiency; and Bill C-13, the Canada Grain Act. All of these bills are at second reading.

On Monday, pursuant to a special order adopted yesterday, we will complete the third reading stage of Bill C-2, the Canada-EFTA free trade agreement bill. After considerable delay in this chamber, it will be nice to move that bill over to our colleagues down the hall in the Senate.

We will continue next week with any uncompleted business from this week, with the addition of Bill C-5 regarding the Indian Oil and Gas Act, which is at report stage and third reading stage, and Bill C-18 regarding RCMP pensions, which is at second reading. We will add to the list any bills that are reported back from the various committees.

Tuesday, March 31 shall be an allotted day.

In reference to the upcoming justice bills that the member might be referring to when he referred to the remand legislation, he is going to have to stay tuned. We will be bringing that forward very soon. I am sure he will be very pleased with the result and will want to move very quickly once it hits the floor of the chamber.

As he knows, the government is very transparent when it comes to government expenditures, including the upcoming expenditures of the accelerated economic stimulus contained in the $3 billion under vote 35. All of that of course will be revealed to the Canadian public and to Parliament in good time as we make those investments on behalf of Canadians from coast to coast.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 3:25 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, the member is entirely incorrect. The fact is the government rolled back a negotiated, agreed upon collective agreement. We have laws in our country where we have free collective bargaining. The government has rolled back the time clock and labour rights that have affected the RCMP. We find that reprehensible.

The Conservatives also made a promise to put 2,500 more officers on the street. This is a promise on which they have yet to deliver.

After a while, year after year of hearing these kinds of promises, is it any wonder that people become very cynical in what they hear from the Conservative government and the fact that they do not trust the Conservatives any more?

The bill he referred to in his question has not yet come to the House. We are debating Bill C-14. We will be debating Bill C-15 next. If the member wants to know our position on a bill that has yet to come into the House, maybe he should stick around and he can hear that debate. We would be happy to participate in it.