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

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

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 5th, 2009 / 10 a.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue my speech on the bill. I spoke for just two minutes yesterday, so I will continue on today with the bill.

We had very knowledgeable speakers yesterday on this topic. They provided some very convincing arguments, I thought, why the bill is not a particularly good idea. I would like to cite more reasons for that being the case.

I think the bill came up through the Conservative Party process, the election process, the polling process. It probably polled the public and asked Canadians if they agreed with minimum sentences. Of course, the numbers went right off the radar and the Conservatives said we will have to bring in legislation along these lines.

Perhaps if the Conservatives had polled a focus group asking a different question, they might have received a different response. Had they looked at the reality of how mandatory minimum sentences have actually worked for 30 years in the United States and if they had looked at other aspects to this type of legislation, they might have received a different response in their polling.

For example, would they have asked people if they would support mandatory minimum sentences, if it was known that the United States was repealing its mandatory minimum sentences. California, New York, Michigan, Delaware, Massachusetts are all repealing their mandatory minimum sentences with other states considering the same.

We have a former counsel to the United States House of Representatives committee on the judiciary, Eric Sterling, who stated emphatically his decision to promote mandatory minimum sentences in the United States was probably “the greatest mistake of my entire career over 30 years in the practice of law”. What the Americans found was that the goal of the legislation to reduce drug use failed. The goal of safety in the communities failed. The goal of raising the prices of drugs and lowering the purity failed. The goal of reducing organized crime failed.

I know that we in Canada like to follow the United States, but clearly this is another example where we are totally out of step, where the Americans have tried the experiment and it has failed. Now the government for purely political and polling reasons wants to move in this area.

Let us look at what has happened under the mandatory minimum sentences in New York. We saw a dollar for dollar trade-off in increased expenditures for prisons versus higher education. That is really smart is it not, to spend money on prisons by taking away money from higher education. That is not a very smart use of taxpayers' money.

In addition, while drug use is pervasive among every social or economic group, 95% of all people incarcerated for drugs in New York were poor African Americans or Latinos.

In 1986, when the legislation was enacted, the Federal Bureau of Prisons expenditure was $862 million. Two years later, it was $1.2 billion. In 1991 it was $2.1 billion. Now the President's request for fiscal 2010 is over $6 billion.

That gives us an idea of how the expansion in prisons has developed in the United States. That is a mirror of what will happen here in Canada. At the end of the day we are going to be building a huge number of prisons. We are going to start privatizing them because that is part of the corporate ideology of the Conservative Party. It is to turn over public assets to the private sector so that it can get in the business and try to make a profit keeping people in jail. Clearly, that is a failed strategy.

Yesterday, it certainly brought out the lawyers in Parliament. We have five lawyers out of 38 members in our caucus. I heard from many lawyers yesterday and I must admit that it was a beautiful experience. They knew what they were talking about. They presented arguments and there are times when we should be listening to lawyers.

If there were ever a time, this would be one because they know the system. They understand the system and they were not all just from the NDP and the Bloc. There were members from the Liberal Party as well who spoke eloquently about this legislation. So maybe there are some lawyers over on the government side who just close their ears, close their eyes to this situation, because they are being told by their management that this is something they have to do for political purposes.

It was also pointed out yesterday that if we bring in the mandatory minimum legislation, it will bring an end to guilty pleas. Part of our system and the reason it works reasonably well at times is that people will plead guilty. When they are caught, they decide it is better just to plead guilty and be done with the charge. When we bring in legislation like this, guilty pleas will come to an end and is that something that we really want in our system? I am all in favour of tougher legislation. I am not easy on crime, but I want to see things that work and the government has brought in some pieces of crime legislation that will work. But this one in particular is one that will not work.

I want to give an example of something in Manitoba that has worked really well and that is the key here. We should be looking at dealing with issues where we can find evidence that it actually works. Winnipeg had the highest auto theft rate in Canada for a number of years. About four years ago the government auto insurer, because we have public auto insurance as they do in B.C. and Quebec, brought in a program to install immobilizers in cars. People were offered a $40 discount on their insurance if they installed immobilizers.

People did not buy in. Nothing happened. Did we conclude from that to scrap the program because it did not work? No, we took another look at it and said that offering the $40 discount was obviously not enough, but we had to solve the problem. We decided to pay for immobilizers in people's cars and we sent notices for people who drove high risk cars, and that by a certain date they had to have a free immobilizer installed. They then received the insurance reduction and guess what happened? In only two years we now, a couple of months ago, had one day where we had zero car thefts in Winnipeg.

One would think with an experience like that, other jurisdictions would come running and would want to know how we did it and would want to copy it. I would like to know why the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which is the national body dealing with insurance issues across the country, and other insurance companies would not be showing interest in that. Ontario, for example, is a very large private insurance market. Why would it not be encouraging that sort of a program? Maybe it will. Maybe we should be putting some pressure, and talking and encouraging the members to look at what happened in Manitoba, and perhaps encourage the big private insurance companies in Ontario to come out with a program like that.

Our calculations are that we took an original hit by installing the immobilizers, but we were paying out such large amounts of money for stolen vehicles, damaged vehicles, not to mention the fact that people were being killed by people who stole cars and were involved in accidents, that we were able to cut this back in a substantial way. Clearly, there is a role here for the Insurance Bureau of Canada to learn by these examples and encourage their member insurance companies to do something to encourage private insurance companies in the rest of Canada to bring in a similar type of program.

That is what the bottom line here is. Members of the Liberal Party, for whatever reasons, have decided to support this legislation and I think I know why that is, but given their druthers they would rather not.

The fact of the matter is that the members of the NDP, the members of the Bloc, and the members of the Liberal Party, in general, would prefer to support legislation where there is proof that we are going to get some results. That is the bottom line. Why would we be bringing in legislation that we know from the very beginning is not going to work?

I want to deal with some of the details of the bill. I would like to also point out, as my colleague the member for Churchill yesterday pointed out, how recreation centres are very important for getting people away from crime. We had in my constituency a community club called Kelvin community club. It had survived the Depression, so that will give us an idea of how resilient this little club was. As a matter of fact, Clara Hughes, an Olympic medallist in two sports, trained in that club and her mother lives just a few blocks from the club.

The mayor of Winnipeg, after promising not to close any community clubs, changed his mind and forced this little club to close. What they are now doing in Winnipeg, as they are in other areas, is they are developing these super centres where we have to get into our cars and drive two or three miles to get some exercise. When we grew up, there were little community clubs in our neighbourhoods. The kids could walk over to those clubs and exercise or play hockey or soccer, or whatever. They did not have to be super nice places; they were just very close to where people lived and people enjoyed them.

It is our destruction of these centres that is leading to more of the problems we see in society. We in the NDP have always said we have to deal with crime before it happens, not after it happens. Part of the program is to put money into community centres, like the Kelvin community club, to keep it going, to put money into programs to keep children active, to put money into the educational system, and to develop all sorts of programs to keep people away from activities that are going to lead them into trouble. That is a very important element in the whole area of prevention of crime rather than dealing with it afterward.

A member of the Bloc indicated yesterday that, in fact, treatment in prisons is not up to the level that it should be. If we have people in prison who were given a 36-month sentence, for example, then they should be kept there for the full 36 months, so they can finish their programs. It does not make sense to encourage people in prison to participate in programs when they end up getting out of prison halfway through the program. It is self-defeating.

So, I think we want to be tough on crime, but we want to be smart about it. We want to ensure that if we have programs and people are taking the programs then at least let them finish the programs before letting them out of prison.

Bill C-15 is an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Its enactment would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide for minimum penalties for serious drug offences, to increase the maximum penalty for cannabis marijuana production, to reschedule certain substances from schedule 3 to that act to schedule 1, and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

Bill C-15 is the reincarnation of Bill C-26 from the 39th Parliament, with minor changes that would clean up the language of the bill. This is a good example why we should not be having elections every year, year and a half, because some of these bills that we are dealing with right now are going through their third Parliament. At the rate we are going, we are never going to see some of these bills finally put into law. In this particular case, I guess we do not mind. However, in some other cases, we would like to see them pass.

The bill was passed at that time, and it was referred to committee at the time of the election call.

In terms of the summary of Bill C-15, schedules 1, 2 and 3 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are the schedules that this bill deals with. They list illegal drugs in Canada that have progressively lighter punishments for possession, trafficking, obtaining, importing and exporting all illegal drugs. There are eight schedules in total.

Schedule 1 lists 18 substances and all their derivatives, which includes methamphetamines, opium and cocaine. An indictable offence for possession is punishable by a sentence not exceeding seven years. For trafficking, a person is liable to imprisonment for life.

Schedule 2 lists only cannabis, its preparations, derivatives and other similar synthetic preparations. An indictable offence for possession is punishable by a sentence not exceeding five years. For trafficking, a person is liable to imprisonment for life.

Schedule 3 lists 32 substances and includes amphetamines and drugs known as the date rape drugs. The NDP supports this particular element of the bill, as indicated by members yesterday.

The bill proposes minimum penalties for the production, possession, trafficking, importing and exporting of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and other drugs. The bill also moves the amphetamines, its 19 by-products and the date rape drugs from schedule 3 to schedule 1. Tougher penalties will be introduced for trafficking in the date rape drugs. As I said, we in the NDP certainly agree with that.

The maximum penalty for cannabis production would increase from 7 to 14 years imprisonment. Mandatory sentences are introduced for the production of even one marijuana plant: a minimum sentence of six months. I do not know how sensible that is. The legislation imposes six months imprisonment for any act of cultivation of cannabis irrespective of issues of violence and gang involvement.

In terms of marijuana, it is six months for the production of 1 to 201 marijuana plants for the purpose of trafficking, and a one- to two-year mandatory prison sentence for the production and possession for the purposes of trafficking and importing and exporting.

I want to deal with what I see as an interesting aspect to this bill.

A member of the House was quoted, I believe in committee. He stated:

I suppose I will accept the representation made from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association that this bill is targeted to the so-called low-level distributor or low-level dealer. You may be correct that it may not be as effective as we would like in going after the kingpins.

That is what we should be doing.

I may accept that.

Who said that? None other than the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, the member of the Conservative Party who is proposing this bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 5th, 2009 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, why is the Conservative government doing a 180° turn on justice policy?

We learned from a youth and adult justice system that was broken. Canada had an extremely high rate of youth incarceration at one point, a higher rate than the United States. We learned that a system that emphasized sentencing missed the focus needed to be placed on prevention.

We finally began moving down a better path, and now the government wants us to make a U-turn and go back down the wrong path in order for it to look like it is doing something. However, doing something and having the courage and the foresight to do the right thing are two very different things.

I have never understood why the Prime Minister, who has been called a policy wonk, would choose newspaper headlines over what is best for the country.

All Canadian commissions since 1952 have recommended abolishing mandatory minimums. One need only look to the United States to understand that mandatory minimum sentencing has failed. Mandatory minimum penalties simply do not work. They result in an increased prison population. We have to keep in mind that it costs approximately $62,000 per year to house a federal inmate. If that inmate is given a bit of counselling and support, the cost is over $100,000 per year.

It may be tempting to subscribe to a knee-jerk reaction, or a quick fix. It may even be tempting for some to place politics ahead of truth. The truth is mandatory minimums have been proven to fail. The truth is a multi-dimensional problem like this one requires a multi-dimensional solution. The truth is it takes prolonged investment and time to remedy the cause of crime.

That is why New Democrats have always said we need an overall coordinated strategy, focused on gangs, organized crime and drugs. We need an improved witness protection program. We need more resources for prosecution and enforcement, like hiring more cops on the beat, which the Conservative government has failed to do. The government has sent money to the provinces, but the provinces have not hired the police officers promised by the Conservatives in the last election.

We have also said that we need to toughen the proceeds of crime legislation. We need more prevention programs to divert youth at risk. We also have said that we need more drug treatment programs because right now there are very few in Canada. In fact, there are almost no community-based drug treatment programs that last longer than six months. If families have money, they send their young people to the United States for drug treatment. If they do not have money, then those young people have to wait years to get into treatment programs.

Young people need access to realistic and useful information and resources. Safe sex campaigns seemed to have worked somewhat. We need to tell young people how to seek support if they have an addiction, instead of showing a lot of commercials about the horrors of drugs.

The Conservative government cut the national crime prevention program by $14 million. That program delivered community-based and realistic youth education programs. It is clear the Conservative government is not focusing on prevention and education. Rather it is focusing on an enforcement approach, which has proven to fail.

Canadians deserve more than a government that plays politics and seeks the headlines. Canadians deserve a government that understands that behind the headlines there are real lives and real needs. Canadians need a government that understands community safety is the highest of civic priorities and that long-term solutions require sustained investments. This is the time for real leadership. Instead, Canadians have been given recycled ideas that have proven to fail.

A tremendous amount of research has said that it has failed. For example, the Canadian Sentencing Commission, which I talked about earlier, did research in 1987. Another one, a royal commission on revision of the Criminal Code, was done in 1952. In 1987, the commission said:

—mandatory minimum sentences, with the exception of those prescribed for murder and high treason, serve no purpose that can compensate for the disadvantages resulting from their continued existence.

Another study done in 1992 said that it simply did not work. That was by Michael Tonry. Another report in 1994 from the Department of Justice concluded that charges with minimums were often plea bargained. It said that the public was not aware of which offences were covered by minimums, that minimums resulted in lower conviction rates and that minimums increased trial rates and judges got around the minimums.

Other studies demonstrated that countries that use minimums the most were not associated with a bigger crime decline than the countries that used minimums the least. In Australia studies have demonstrated that minimums have no deterring effect. It is a fact that has been accepted by that government. There is a study by N. Morgan entitled “Mandatory Sentences in Australia: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?”, which states it does not work.

Study after study has said that this kind of strategy has failed.

The government is selling the bill as being tough on organized crime and big-time traffickers. The reality is mandatory minimums divert law enforcement resources toward drug dealers, leaving the door open for organized crime. They divert from small dealers and the guys on the street, leaving the big folks and real criminals to organize. They are then more open for organized crime.

Why would the government not accept what experts have told us for years? Anti-social behaviour is more significantly reduced by diverting young people from the criminal justice system before they get wrapped up in a life of crime. Why is the government not listening to what police chiefs across the country have been telling it? Effective law enforcement is critical to community safety, but it has never been designed to eliminate the causes of crime.

The Prime Minister should know that good policy is premised on evidence, not popularity. Canadians deserve much more than a government that looks to score popularity points when the real issues demand attention. The government seems to be interested in popularity and not policy-making. That is not a good way to govern for Canadians.

There are fundamental problems with the legislative approach to criminal justice. We see there are three or four more bills coming, and it is the same approach. To adopt only a “Lock 'em up and throw away the key” attitude, turning our backs on young people and our future, is nonsensical. It is a bad policy that does a disservice to the very Canadians for whom the government should be working.

We know aboriginals and people of colour are overrepresented in Canadian jails. The United States started a war on drugs in 1972. Research has told us that there was a 500% increase in the prison population. This is the same period when the population in the U.S. grew by only 28%. It disproportionately affected minorities.

In 1998, 90% of people in prison for drugs in New York were serving minimums and blacks and Latinos, who only comprise 25% of the population, constituted 83% of the prison population. How sad is that.

In the U.S. federal system, blacks make up 12% to 13% of the population, and 38% of those were arrested for drugs offences, 59% of those were convicted and 74% of those imprisoned for drug offences were black Americans. The overpopulation of blacks in prisons is also a Canadian problem.

We have seen studies by Wortley and Tanovich. We have seen the 1995 report on the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, which talks about the overrepresentation of blacks in Canadian prisons.

The bill would disproportionately impact on aboriginal offenders. We see that in another 2001 study by Jamie Cameron, entitled “Aboriginal Peoples and Mandatory Sentencing”. The data has shown that aboriginal and people of colour are overrepresented in Canadian jails.

The bill would affect people who are visible street level users and small scale sellers. It sends a message to our young people, particularly young people of colour, that the government prefers to invest in their incarceration rather than their education. No doubt, with all these bill, there is a likelihood of more jails being built across the country.

Incarceration has been linked to an increase in the likelihood of future offending. Not only are we putting more people in jail, which by itself is not a huge problem, we are causing them to offend more and therefore more of them will go back to jail. It repeats that cycle of violence and drug offences.

Studies have concluded that individuals sentenced to jail have higher recidivism rates and were more likely to re-offend than individuals who were not in prison but were punished for their crime. It looks like more prisons are exactly what the government plans to build.

We need meaningful consequences for offenders held accountable for their crimes, but if we run away from the solutions that address the cause of crime and therefore reduce crime, we leave Canada in a worse off situation. Offenders can and should be held accountable and the government can help prevent crime in the first place, but unfortunately Bill C-15 shows the government is not doing that.

One of the major problems with these kinds of laws is that instead of using the law to provide protection to those people to whom life has dealt an unfair hand, we are using it to punish them more and to have them become scapegoats for our desire to pretend we are being tough on drugs.

In the United States the war on drugs has not worked. While the Liberals talk about the importance of supporting and investing in young people, they are following the lead of the Conservative Prime Minister and turning their backs on the young people of Canada, which is sad.

Young people deserve a lot more. We are coming into the summer season. Instead of debating a bill like this one, we should be massively investing in youth employment programs. During economic downturns, young people are the first to get laid off.

Their unemployment rate goes up fairly dramatically when there is an economic downturn. That is why the Canada summer youth program should be increased dramatically. The funding should not be kept the same year after year. There should be an increase. The $100 million that is being spent on the program right now requires more investment, and it should not be only in the summer; it should be year-round.

Why should it be year-round? The reason is that after the summer, these young people are well trained by non-profit organizations, and they are laid off. Yes, some of them go back to school, but others do not. The ones who go back to school still need to find part-time work.

However, there is no federal government program that hires young people after school. If they are in school, there is no program to hire them after school so that they could work for a non-profit organization, so they could work in a neighbourhood community centre or neighbourhood recreation centre, so they can become role models in their communities, so they can stand up to the drug pushers and say, “There is a better way. Instead of joining a gang, let us join the swim team or the basketball team. Let us come together and learn about how to dance or do graphic arts on a computer”. There is so much young people can teach their younger brothers and sisters. They need that kind of support in the community. They need to have mentors, especially in at-risk neighbourhoods, and they have to have the kind of membership that these high-achieving young people can provide.

Some of them have to work because they come from families that require it. Instead of having them just work in Wal-Marts and McDonald's, we should provide them with opportunities to be hired in after-school programs so that they can teach younger brothers and sisters skills and become role models.

Instead, in Canada we do not have such a program. The only youth employment program is really directed to those who are out of school or out of work, whereas the people who are leaders in the community do not have a stable program that is long-term. The Boys and Girls Club of Canada, for example, has been asking the government to please fund it for the administrative costs and the core program. It wants stable funding year after year. Whether it is the Kiwanis Club, the Boys and Girls Club, the John Howard Society, or the Rotary Club, they have been saying that we need to hire young people part time throughout the school year, not just in the summer, so that these young people can lead others out of being trapped in a cycle of violence and trapped in neighbourhoods where some of them have serious drug problems.

We know that young people want to follow a leader. We know that the best allies to fight drug crimes are the young people themselves, their peers, so we need to go to the young people to tell them that they are our solution and that they are our allies in the fight against crime. Instead we are sending more and more young people to jail. We are building more jails and spending more money on jails, and at the end of the day we will just increase the number of young people committing crimes.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to begin the debate at third reading of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

I am pleased to note that this bill was adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of which I am a member. I would like to point out to the House that the bill was amended in committee and that most of the amendments were proposed by members of the Bloc Québécois and members of the NDP. I am pleased to see that these members worked hard and were able to submit constructive amendments to the bill, amendments which were adopted by the committee.

The Government of Canada recognizes that serious drug crimes including marijuana grow operations and clandestine methamphetamine labs continue to pose a threat to the safety of our streets and our communities. Bill C-15 is part of our strategy to address this problem. The bill proposes amendments to strengthen the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provisions regarding penalties for serious drug offences by ensuring that these types of offences are punished by an imposition of mandatory minimum penalties. With these amendments we are demonstrating our commitment to improving the safety and security of communities across Canada from coast to coast to coast.

During its review of the bill, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from the Minister of Justice, government officials, including officials from the Department of Justice, and a range of stakeholders, including representatives from law enforcement. The bill was supported by law enforcement representatives who testified and by various other stakeholders, although the bill was not supported universally, as I am sure my friends from the opposition will point out.

As has been mentioned before, the government acknowledges that not all drug offenders and drug trades pose the same risk of danger and violence. Bill C-15 recognizes this. That is why what is being proposed in this bill is a focused and targeted approach. Accordingly, the new penalties will not apply to possession offences, nor will they apply to offences involving all types of drugs. The bill focuses on the more serious drug offences and the most serious drugs are targeted. Overall, the proposals represent a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences, such as trafficking, importation, exportation and production.

For schedule 1 drugs, that is, for drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, the bill proposes a one year minimum for the offence of trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking in the presence of certain aggravating factors.

The aggravating factors would be that the offence is committed for the benefit of, or at the direction of, or in association with organized crime; or the offence involved violence or threat of violence, or weapons or threat of use of weapons; or the offence is committed by someone who was convicted in the previous 10 years of a designated drug offence. Moreover, if youth are present or the offence occurs in a prison, the minimum sentence is increased to two years' imprisonment.

In the case of importing, exporting and possession for the purposes of exporting, the minimum penalty is one year if these offences are committed for the purposes of trafficking.

I should point out that this part of the bill was amended in committee by the government so that an offender who commits one of these offences and abuses his authority or his position, or if the offender has access to a restricted area and uses that access to commit a crime, a one year minimum penalty will be imposed. Moreover, the penalty will be raised to two years if these offences involve more than one kilogram of a schedule 1 drug.

A minimum of two years is provided for a production offence involving a schedule 1 drug. The minimum sentence for production of a schedule 1 drug increases to three years where aggravating factors relating to health and safety are present. These factors are: if the individual used real property that belonged to a third person to commit the offence; or if the production constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children who are in the location where the offence was committed, or in the immediate area thereof; or if the production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area; or if the individual placed or set a trap.

For schedule 2 drugs, somewhat softer drugs such as marijuana and cannabis resin, the proposed mandatory minimum penalty for trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking is one year if certain aggravating factors such as violence, recidivism, or organized crime are present. If factors such as trafficking to youth are present, the minimum sentence, quite appropriately, is increased to two years.

For the offence of importing or exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting marijuana, the minimum penalty would be one year imprisonment if the offence is committed for the purpose of trafficking. The government amendment mentioned above would also apply for an offender who abuses his authority, position or access to a restricted area in committing the offence, and he would also receive the minimum one-year penalty.

For the offence of marijuana production, the bill as amended proposes mandatory penalties based on the number of plants involved. For the production of 5 to 200 plants, if the plants are cultivated for the purposes of trafficking, the penalty would be 6 months. The minimum number of plants was raised to five plants from one plant as a result of an amendment that was proposed and vigorously debated at committee.

For the production of 201 to 500 plants, the minimum mandatory sentence would be one year; for the production of more than 500 plants, it would be two years; and, finally, for the production of cannabis resin for the purpose of trafficking, it would be a minimum jail sentence of one year.

The minimum sentences for the production of Schedule II drugs would be increased by 50% where any of the aggravating factors relating to health and safety that I have just described are present.

The maximum penalty for producing marijuana would be doubled from 7 to 14 years' imprisonment.

Amphetamines, as well as the so-called date rape drugs such as GHB and Rohypnol, would be transferred from Schedule III to Schedule I, and would thereby allow the courts to impose higher maximum penalties for offences involving these all too common drugs where unsuspecting victims are subjected to date rape.

The bill, as further amended in committee, would give the courts the discretion to impose a penalty other than the mandatory minimum on a serious drug offender who has successfully completed a court treatment program. I submit that this diversionary tactic is one of the strengths of the bill, and I know this is universally supported by the members of the committee.

Last, I should point out that the bill was amended to add a new section to the act. Proposed section 8.1 would require that a parliamentary committee undertake a comprehensive review of the provisions and operations of the bill two years after it comes into force.

To conclude, I am pleased that Bill C-15 has been thoroughly examined and rigorously debated by the justice committee and that we are rapidly approaching our goal of seeing this legislation passed into law. The bill was amended in committee, both by government members and by members of the opposition, and in my view these amendments are in keeping with the spirit of this bill and consistent with its objectives.

Bill C-15 is part of the government's continued commitment to take steps to protect Canadians and to make our streets and communities safer. We hear time and time again from our constituents that Canadians want a justice system with clear and strong laws that denounce and deter serious crimes, including serious drug offences. They want laws that impose penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes. This bill would accomplish that lofty goal.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 10:50 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a friendly remark before addressing the actual substance of Bill C-15, which is extremely important because it will implement the Conservative government's anti-drug strategy.

When I was first elected to this House, people said that when the Liberals were in power, they governed like the Conservatives, and when they were in opposition, they behaved like the NDP. Today, listening to my colleague talk about Bill C-15, I learned that Conservative policies haunt the Liberals, whether they form the government or the opposition.

That being said, this is an extremely important bill that is very disappointing. First of all, we have been hearing a lot of rhetoric from certain members suggesting that, if we seek some sort of alternative to minimum sentences and misguided crackdowns, it means we are going easy on organized crime in our communities. This kind of insinuation makes it extremely difficult to properly debate the issue.

The Bloc Québécois is against minimum sentences. We have maintained that position from the beginning of our existence, and I will explain why. We oppose such sentences, unlike certain parties who say they are against them but voted in favour of Bill C-268. I imagine my NDP colleague will want to explain that when he gets a chance to speak, which will be soon.

We are opposed to minimum sentences and I will explain why. We do not, however, need any lectures about the need for vigilance against organized crime. I myself was the first member to introduce an anti-gang bill in this House, at a time when bombs were going off in Montreal, there were gang wars going on, and yet the elected representatives and officials of the government of the day were saying that there was no need for any new legislation and that organized crime could be broken up using the provisions on conspiracy.

That said, the Bloc Québécois is also responsible for the successful abolition of the $1000 bill, which was obviously a favourite of major organized crime syndicates. The former Bloc member for Charlesbourg, Richard Marceau, was the one who, in the dying days of the Martin regime, convinced the government to pass legislation reversing the burden of proof in connection with the proceeds of crime. I myself put forward a motion in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that would be instrumental in cracking down on the most criminal groups, one of whom of course is the Hells Angels.

So we have an impressive record that is clear evidence of our commitment, our vigilance and our desire to always foil organized crime and to keep our legislation up to date, since it is well known that organized crime is a constantly evolving phenomenon.

The government's problem is its ideological stubbornness, which is so deeply rooted that it sees everything in black and white. The Liberals, unfortunately, are no different in this respect.

Of course, when it is a matter of major drug trafficking networks, no one in this House would object to tough penalties. I am in favour of them and so, I am sure, are all my colleagues. If an individual gets involved in major organized crime and is involved in drug imports or exports, this has harmful effects on the legitimate economy of our communities and on the members of the community who get involved with these substances. We agree that the penalties need to be as tough as possible.

We do, however, believe that in the administration of these penalties there is a certain phenomenon at play. A judge assesses the context, and then has total freedom to reach his decision after having heard and absorbed all of the evidence, heard the witnesses, and of course examined the text of the law. That phenomenon is called judicial discretion.

The problem with this government is that, for basically ideological reasons, it has embraced mandatory minimum sentences. When the Minister of Justice appeared before the committee, my colleague from Vancouver and I asked him, notwithstanding the fact that mandatory minimum sentences were part of the Conservative election platform, whether anyone from his department had assessed their impact. In other words, is there a correlation between including mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code and the deterrent effect sought and eventually observed? The answer is no. And yet, since becoming Minister of Justice, like his predecessor, he has been unable to provide studies that show conclusive evidence in support of mandatory minimum sentences.

Not only are mandatory minimum sentences an illusory ideology, but they also have an adverse effect on the administration of justice. In what way? Justice Paradis, a former judge from Vancouver who does not speak one word of French, told us that when he was on the bench and had to hear cases, minimum mandatory sentences made him uncomfortable. He also told us that when attorneys have to lay charges involving a mandatory minimum sentence that will tie the judge's hands, they prefer to choose other charges.

It was not the Bloc or the member for Hochelaga or our NDP colleagues who said that, but a retired judge who appeared before the committee.

I hope that we will eventually see the day when the Conservative government does away with its ideological dogma. Why not provide police officers with more tools? Every time our party has had the chance, it has supported putting more police officers in communities, broadening electronic surveillance and giving police forces more sophisticated investigative mandates. We agree that we need to fight organized crime and that we need a number of tools to do it. But we will not win by instituting mandatory minimum sentences.

The bill before us addresses trafficking. One kind of trafficking that is easy to condemn involves networks of people who import and export drugs. Often, seizures produce tens of kilos of cocaine and other controlled substances. The people involved are linked to organized crime, such as the Hells Angels and other similar groups seeking to profit from illegal activity and corrupt our society. But if four students get together to celebrate the end of classes and one of them has a joint that he or she passes on to another, according to the letter of the law, that constitutes a drug trafficking violation.

That can set in motion a mandatory minimum sentencing mechanism. For example, with respect to drug trafficking, thanks to God and the members who supported the amendment, the committee managed to get rid of the mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking in controlled substances if the person charged is in possession of fewer than five plants. A six-month minimum sentence still applies if the person is in possession of between 5 and 201 plants. Clearly, that is excessive. Those of us who are against mandatory minimum sentencing agree that just because three students have a little marijuana, that mechanism does not necessarily have to apply. That does not mean that we are inviting our fellow citizens to use marijuana. The Bloc Québécois is not suggesting that marijuana is part of Canada's food guide.

We know it is a drug, it can create dependency, and this is not desirable in a person’s life. Of course, we hope, and we sincerely call for there to be awareness campaigns to prevent any kind of drug use. However, the prohibition route is really not the one we should be going down.

In fact, in that committee, when we considered Bill C-15, we also heard from law enforcement officials from the United States, and in particular Washington, who offered the example of New York. When we look at the American example, the results we see are striking. In terms of the administration of justice, the United States was the first to go down the mandatory minimum sentence road. But the states that have adopted mandatory minimum sentences are not the states that have won the war on drugs. There is no correlation between mandatory minimum sentences and winning the war on drugs. So as a society, we do better to put our efforts into awareness when we are dealing with something like trafficking in small quantities.

We should remember that on the last day of the Paul Martin government, this Parliament failed to adopt an alternative approach to penalties for marijuana offences. Once again, I would repeat that I have never smoked either cigarettes or marijuana, and that is not something I feel a need for in my life. But as a society, should we be putting offences relating to cannabis and marijuana and offences involving trafficking in large quantities, engaged in by groups like the Hells Angels, on the same plane in the offence scheme? That is where the bill makes no sense. We would have liked to see this distinction made.

For example, on the last day of the Paul Martin government, the Bloc Québécois had introduced this itself in this Chamber, and it was the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie who led the charge. And lead it he did. He is a very active member and he is much loved by his constituents. He is the green conscience of our party, and the connection between his green conscience and all the battles he leads can be seen.

So when we are looking at small quantities of marijuana, we would have hoped to see an offence scheme adopted that favoured fines over criminal penalties. In fact, in a few days, we will be tabling a report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights about driving while intoxicated. Without disclosing the recommendations, which are confidential, I can say that our committee will be proposing a somewhat less enforcement-oriented approach than is now contained in the Criminal Code.

It is too bad this government did not heed the alarm sounded by extremely knowledgeable witnesses such as Line Beauchesne, a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa. She reminded us that since the mid-19th century, the federal government has taken a prohibitionist approach. The government thought that the sanctions in the Criminal Code would deter people. That prohibitionist logic has not worked.

Obviously, that does not mean that I hope we legalize drugs and make them widely available. That means that we have to take different approaches to this problem. It is not as though we had a bill that increased the maximum penalties, for example. We have never had a problem with increasing maximum penalties. The government should have gone after major traffickers. Drug imports and exports are worth billions of dollars.

In 2001, the Auditor General determined that even with the whole existing repressive approach, the whole arsenal and all the money for the police—we are talking about millions of dollars—law enforcement authorities were able to seize less than 10% of the drugs on the Canadian market.

We are in favour of going after the major trafficking networks connected with the Hells Angels. That is why I want to mention a motion I have introduced in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I hope that before long, we will be living in a society where membership in the Hells Angels will be an offence in and of itself. I hope that there will be a list. The Bloc Québécois is waging this battle, and I want to acknowledge that we are supported by government members, the Liberals and the NDP.

We will not really address the drug problem with mandatory minimum penalties. The Hells Angels and other criminal groups—there are 38 in Canada—make a living from selling drugs. But if we succeeded in getting rid of these groups, would we not be solving part of the problem?

Another amendment was passed in committee requiring parliamentarians to conduct a review. We will therefore have to review the legislation. I do not know what the composition of the House will be at that point, and I do not know whether I will have the pleasure of taking part. Still, we passed an amendment stipulating that, two years after the section comes into force, there is to be a detailed examination of this legislation and the effects of its application together with a cost-benefit analysis of mandatory minimum sentences by the committee of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament, which Parliament designates for this purpose.

Obviously, this is increasingly common with bills. I recall our adopting such a provision for new reproductive technologies. I think parliamentarians adopted it when the set of regulations on tobacco was either passed or under consideration. It is one way for them to get feedback and verify a law's effectiveness. We could have objectives as lawmakers, but are these objectives met once the bill is passed? That, obviously, is a whole other matter.

We would have been more comfortable with the idea of aggravating circumstances rather than minimum sentences. The Criminal Code—as my colleagues no doubt know—provides in section 718 that a court may take into account a number of circumstances specific to a context and impose a harsher sentence.

We support, of course, the imposition of a harsher sentence when an offence is committed for the benefit or at the direction of a criminal organization. We agree that when an individual committing an offence uses or tries to use violence it should be considered an aggravating circumstance, as should the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence.

We obviously agree that when an offence is committed within a school, in school grounds or in a place frequented by young people it should be considered an aggravating circumstance.

We would, however, not have wanted these specific circumstances to culminate in a mandatory mechanism that leaves no room for legal discretion. I refer of course to mandatory minimum sentences. That seems a mistake to us.

Those are the comments I wanted to make on Bill C-15. We will not support it in the vote at third reading.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate the final stage of Bill C-15, which I am sorry we are doing. I am very disappointed that the Liberal members moved a motion to prevent any further extension of the debate. They have obviously done that very consciously because they, like the Conservatives, want to see this bill go through. They do not want to deal with any of the controversy around this bill, so that is very disappointing. Nevertheless here we are at third reading and I do have some comments to make about the bill, why it is seriously flawed and why we are opposing it.

I want to begin by saying that, as the Conservative member mentioned, I represent a riding, Vancouver East, where we have had a very serious drug problem. When I first was elected in 1997, I think the first issue I dealt with was that so many people were dying from overdoses that were entirely preventable.

The rate was alarming. It was higher than heart attacks, strokes, cancer or accidental deaths. It was from drug use and it was because people were buying substances on the black market, such as heroin, crack and various cocktails, and people did not know what they were taking. Sometimes something would hit the streets and it would be deadly, and we would have seven people dying over several days. It was one of the first issues I dealt with and it became literally a life and death issue that I felt compelled, as a newly elected member of Parliament, to deal with.

When I look back 12 years ago, at that time it would have been very easy to take this traditional response to substance use problems in our society, to say that we have to crack down, we have to get tougher and we have to have tougher laws. As I began talking with people in my own community, when I began speaking with doctors and health experts, when I began talking with drug users themselves who rarely get heard because they are very vilified and demonized in our society, I began to realize that the whole regime of our drug laws, the enforcement and the way it happens, is actually, in many cases, more harmful than the drugs themselves.

Criminalizing drug users continually and pushing people to the margins of society where they can get very little help and where they are outside the health care system was actually creating a worse situation in terms of the individual health of drug users, where we had a skyrocketing rate of HIV, AIDS and hepatitis C. It was the worst in the western world. It was an epidemic in the downtown east side, but it was also affecting the whole community in terms of crime and a lack of feeling safe. It really affected the overall health of the community.

It was at that point that I began to realize that the approach we had traditionally taken in Canada, which was very similar to that in the United States, was a failure. Many of us began to look further, to what was happening in Europe, to see where very different strategies had been tried in dealing with substance use, where there were, for example, safe injections sites and a much broader continuum of dealing with drug use as a health issue and focusing on that. There was enforcement as well, but it was primarily focused on it being a health issue.

Europe had, for example, a heroin medication program for chronic users, where instead of people having to buy their heroin on the black market, they could actually get a prescription and go through rehabilitation. There are tons of studies on this to show that what happened in Europe over many years had a very different impact than what was happening in the United States and Canada.

I became very convinced that the so-called war on drugs and emphasizing a law enforcement approach was really a very failed strategy. As the member for Hochelaga pointed out, this was very much reinforced by the Auditor General's report in 1998 or 1999, which showed that 90% of federal costs on drug policy were actually spent on enforcement, to no effect. She questioned what the value was and what kind of rationale was behind these policies.

I thought for a while that we were making progress in this Parliament when we adopted the four-pillar approach. It began in Vancouver, led by big city mayors. It began with the former mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen.

It was continued by the successive mayor, Larry Campbell. It was a municipal grassroots approach. It began in the local community because we needed a different approach to drug policies in this country. So the four-pillar approach, based on prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement, was adopted, and it was beginning to move across the country.

I thought we really were beginning to make some progress and people were beginning to want to have an honest debate about drug policies and recognize that prohibition itself is an issue that we need to examine and take on, and that prohibition, just as we saw in the 1930s with alcohol, where it fueled organized crime, where it fueled increased violence that had an impact on innocent civilians, is exactly what we are seeing today in these gang wars that are taking place in Vancouver.

Then a Conservative government was elected and we embarked on this mad journey of a crime agenda that is so closely associated with what we have seen in the United States that I find it frightening. To me, it is not based on any sound public policy analysis. It is not based on any evidence. It is based on some sort of ideology and plays on people's fear, because there is fear about drug use.

All of us as parents worry about what happens to our kids when they are in school and whether they are being lured by dealers. These are all fears that we have about safety in our community, but what I find really difficult, because it is so politicized now and so politically motivated, is to lure people with the idea that by bringing in tougher and tougher laws that we are somehow solving the problem.

That is the problem with the bill. It is based on the premise that mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes will improve the situation that we see in our local communities, that it will help our kids, that it will help drug users, that it will help deal with big kingpins, the big traffickers, the dealers that people worry about.

I believe we have a responsibility as members of Parliament to actually examine that question and to ask ourselves, is that the right direction? Is that the right route to take?

I began with the Minister of Justice and asked him to please show us the evidence that mandatory minimums work, because everything I had seen coming out of the United States was telling us that they do not work. In fact, many of the states are now repealing, have repealed or are about to repeal their mandatory minimums.

So I thought, if we have a Conservative government that wants to take us down this road, at least let us see the evidence that the government has that it will work. Let us see the evidence and the estimates of what it would cost the judicial system. How many more people would it put in jail? What would be the cost to the provincial and territorial system?

However, the minister could not answer that. All he could say was that Canadians had told him that they wanted this to happen.

I felt very dissatisfied by that answer. I thought it was a very pathetic answer, and it really exposed the lack of analysis and substance that brought this bill forward.

In committee, we heard from some pretty remarkable witnesses. We heard from 16 witnesses, 13 of whom were strongly opposed to the bill and to mandatory minimums. In fact, the executive director of the John Howard Society forwarded the committee information about 35 studies, and he actually produced 17 of them, that showed that mandatory minimum sentences do not work in this area. We had overwhelming evidence showing that this is a very failed approach.

I feel that we are at a point now where it is just pretty awful that the bill will go through. I have been listening to the Liberal members, scratching my head and wondering, what on earth are they thinking? Why are they trying to fool us? Why are they trying to fool the Canadian public that by somehow lining up with the Conservatives on the bill they are doing the right thing?

I know there are individual members there who probably do not agree with this bill. We just heard from the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who did introduce a bill on decriminalization of marijuana, which I very much support.

The bill is going in the complete opposite direction. I do not know how the member, or other members who I know have a similar view can, in any good conscience, can support this.

We know from the experience in the United States, contrary to what the Conservatives tell us, the bill is not levelled at the big kingpins. It is levelled at the low level dealers. It is levelled at the users who also deal because that is part of the cycle.

The idea that minimum sentences would be a deterrence to these folks is completely false. We have so much evidence to show that they are no deterrence at all. All minimum sentences will do is put more people in jail, people who already deal with substance use issues and need medical and social support, treatment and rehabilitation, and good housing.

We have to figure out why people become addicted and how to help them out of that. The government cannot just throw out a bill and give a six month sentence to one person and a three year sentence to another. People will be thrown into a system and will come out even worse.

The Canadian HIV-AIDS legal network recently produced a report about the lack of accessibility to harm reduction practices in our prison system, whether it is needle exchange or health support, which is truly shocking. People are being put into an environment and coming out much worse than when they went in.

The bill is completely harmful in its consequences. I really believe that it should be defeated, and that is why, from day one, the NDP made it clear that we thought it should be defeated.

I want to deal with some of the issues that have been brought forward.

There has been a suggestion in the debate that if we do not support the bill, there will not be any enforcement. It has been suggested that the bill is about bringing in an enforcement regime and that what we have is not working. There is no evidence of that.

Bill C-15 proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In the current act, trafficking, as I pointed out earlier, is already subject to life imprisonment, so is importing and exporting and production for the purposes of trafficking.

There is already a whole set of aggravating circumstances contained in the CDSA similar to Bill C-15. The courts already have the legal tools to use aggravating circumstances, whether it is carried use, or threaten to use a weapon, or the use of violence, or being near a school ground, or a previous conviction or the use of the services of a person under the age of 18 years to commit or involve such a person in the commission of a designated substance offence. These already exist in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I come back to the fundamental question that has to be answered by the government. Why are the Conservatives introducing a regime of mandatory minimums when there is no evidence showing that they will work? In fact to the contrary, this will only make it worse.

The Conservative member for Edmonton—St. Albert said in committee, after we had heard from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association:

I suppose I will accept the representation made from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association that this bill is targeted to the so-called low-level distributor or low-level dealer. You may be correct that it may not be as effective as we would like in going after the kingpins. I may accept that.

Conservative members know what the bill is about. Even though they say publicly that this legislation goes after the big guys, that it will make us all safe, because the bill is so broad and because it will capture so many people, they know it will be low level distributors, many of whom are also users, who will be caught.

I would argue that is why the Conservatives included a small aspect in the bill around drug treatment courts. They want to give people the idea that at least there is some alternative regime to allow people to go through a drug treatment court.

The big kingpins, the big drug dealers are not going through drug treatment courts. They are the ones who negotiate their way out of anything. They are the ones who have the resources to do that. The people who go to the drug treatment courts are the poorest of the poor. They are the people who are visible on the street. This is very much a class issue as well.

Drug use exists at every level of society, whether it is lawyers or professionals, but the visibility of what we see is on the street. That is where the enforcement is being levelled and that is where people are being sent into these drug treatment courts.

The evidence of the drug treatment courts is very mixed. I have serious problems with them. If we believe people should get help, why would we wait until they are convicted and then ask them if they would like get some treatment? Part of treatment is to make an early intervention. If we wait until people are all the way through the justice system and then say that we will help them is a completely ridiculous way to organize a continuum of support and help required for people who face addiction issues.

The Liberals are very much hanging their hat on the drug treatment courts, saying that they are going to go after the drug treatment courts, that we need more of them. However, they are very controversial as to whether they are working.

I would also like to read into the record what the Minister of Public Safety said when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security back in April of this year. He said:

Why is it that we're having to convert our prison system into a mental health hospital system? Why is it that people are ending up in prisons who shouldn't be? The fundamental problem is this. Why are we not getting adequate health care to individuals? Why, when they have their first couple of encounters with the courts, do they still not get adequate health care?

Understanding how you get there is important, because by the time someone has had serious enough problems that they're in the federal penitentiary system, it's pretty hard to put the puzzle back together again. What we want to do is find ways to deal with it well before that happens, and that's better for society. It's better for the individuals involved; it's better for the taxpayers; it's better for our prison system....

There are so many contradictions. On the one hand, the minister himself is questioning why so many people are being sent into incarceration who really should not be there. On the other hand, we have this draconian bill.

I did call it radical. I believe mandatory minimum sentences are a radical approach that has been shown not to work. We will be sending more and more people into the justice system where they are not going to get the help they need and they are not even going to get the help they need from the drug treatment courts.

The bill will go through. I am very glad that at least the NDP was able to get through a couple of amendments, one of which was to have a review of the bill within two years. I hope there will be enough of us around, and I am sure there will be a strong NDP contingent here, to ensure the bill is reviewed. We will do it very objectively, and as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh says, if necessary, have it repealed. That is very important. We were glad we were able to get through one amendment to provide an exemption for one to five plants.

At the end of the day, this is probably the worst crime bill the Conservatives have brought forward. It has no evidence to support it. It is purely driven by a political agenda. It is going to hurt people. It is going to send more people into our prison system. It is not going to solve our substance use issues in local communities or nationally. It is going to drive us down the road where the U.S. went, which has been the most colossal failure that we could imagine, financially, politically and in terms of its justice system.

That is where we are headed with the bill. It is a huge mistake. I am very glad the NDP is voting against it. I appreciate that the Bloc is voting against it also, but I wish the other parties would too.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 11:45 a.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, who represents a very difficult riding in the Vancouver area, and has done a tremendous job on the whole issue of narcotics, drugs and diversion programs.

In a perfect world, I would tell her she is right. But since we live a world governed by the Conservatives, who lean to the right, if not the far right, we have a problem on our hands, and that problem is Bill C-15, as my colleague has made clear.

I have just one question for her. I know we are running out of time and I want her to have time to answer. I would like to know what impact this bill could have, not on the penitentiary—and I will come back to that in a moment, since that will have a different impact altogether—but on the provincial court and provincial detention centres in her riding in the Vancouver, British Columbia area.

What impact will this bill's enforcement have on the provincial court and the provincial detention centres?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 11:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

Government members seem to think all they have to do is come here and list the provisions of a bill and that is their speech, but that does not speak to why the government is doing things. It does not speak to the impact the government is expecting. It does not address what the opposing views may have been and how they have been addressed or how they have been dismissed or how they have been compensated for. When committees handle bills, it is important that they bring back to the House a sense of where they have been on their important journey dealing with issues that are very important to Canadians.

However, the starting point of this bill was flawed in the first place because it was presented as a justice bill. Therefore, members should understand that we are dealing with a justice issue, not in the context of other important elements such as health issues and certain other areas. In fact, it is even narrower than that because it simply is another proxy for the government to say that it is tough on crime because it has brought in mandatory minimums. If we listen to the speeches and read the transcripts of the speeches that government members have given on this bill, they have continued to say that there is going to be a mandatory minimum and people say that is good because the offenders are not getting a penalty otherwise.

Not one of the government members included in his or her speech, and I listened carefully, that all of the offences that are referred to in this bill are subject to penalties of up to life imprisonment. Do members realize that? I do not think a lot of the people who are following the debate realize that. We are talking about very serious criminal offences. We are talking about drug offences and trafficking related to organized crime, utilization of weapons, dealing with these problems in the schools and being plagues on society. These are very serious crimes and they are subject to imprisonment up to life. I will read from the bill itself. This is the justice language, but these are indictable offences and liable to imprisonment for life. It says “for life”. It does not say “up to life”. Members have to read it. It is imprisonment for life. There is judicial discretion.

We are dealing with the most serious crimes. We are dealing with organized crime, those who are the plagues on society who use drug money to finance all other kinds of criminal offences. That is very serious. I suppose that anybody who is going to be charged with an offence related to organized crime is going to get a penalty up to life. If the government prescribes a mandatory minimum of one year, how is that important? Does it not say something? If a mandatory minimum is being put in, then some people are getting no sentence for this serious crime under the existing law. Is that true? I do not think so.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 11:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

There is plea bargaining; I understand that. If we want to talk about what happens in the real world, in the courts, we will see examples of where they will sacrifice prosecuting some low-level participant in criminal activity for an opportunity to get at the bigger kingpins, as it were.

There are all kinds of these things out there and people have to understand that. I am not a lawyer and I am not an expert in the courts, but I can say as a layperson that if we are dealing with an indictable offence that is subject to imprisonment for life and we say that we are going to also add a mandatory minimum of one year, that tells me that this life thing is not real. Why did the government members not explain that? They have to explain it.

There is a reason I want to speak to this bill. The member for Moncton--Riverview--Dieppe mentioned something about my age and that I have been around a long time. Well, it has been 15 years, but I have learned a lot.

Back on October 30, 1995 in the 35th Parliament, I stood in this place and gave a 40-minute speech. At the time, lead speakers actually had 40 minutes. I was the chair of the health subcommittee on Bill C-7 regarding the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This bill actually started under the former Mulroney government but was never dealt with. It finally came before the 35th Parliament and the subcommittee was set up because it was not just a problem of health; there were justice and criminal issues that had to be addressed. There was a whole bunch of issues within society about decriminalizing marijuana and the advent of designer drugs. All of a sudden, people were getting very clever on how to manufacture drugs which were not even known. They had different chemistries and names and they were not included on the list. As a consequence of second reading debate, we found that it was necessary to expand the list.

A subcommittee was established. The member for Hochelaga was on that committee as well. There were thousands of communications and representations and dozens of submissions and witnesses on broad aspects. One of the important reasons we were doing that is that Canada, which is a signatory to many international conventions, had been identified as having failed to live up to its international obligations and had become basically a shipment point for the export of drugs to other countries. This was a very serious issue. We were under a great deal of pressure. I will refer to that a little later.

When we were finished our work, it was clear that it was important that we not only have a national drug strategy but that we also have the tools and plans to make that drug strategy work. When a drug strategy works, it is not just a matter of someone having done something, whether it be possession or trafficking, being a given a penalty, going to jail and everything is fine; it involves people. There are people involved in drugs at all levels. There are users, traffickers, the people who are financing and everybody in between. People are hurt. Families are hurt.

As has been discussed by a number of members, there is the importance of having some balance, such as a harm reduction strategy. How do we deal with these things? There is the aspect of a four pillar approach: harm reduction, prevention, rehabilitation and treatment, and enforcement. It requires much more.

This bill is simply a proxy for the government to say it is getting tough on crime and there will be a mandatory minimum for terrible crimes. Incidentally, and the government does not tell us this, people are subject to life imprisonment already. It did not go far enough.

As a matter of fact, the other thing government members did not mention in their speeches was proposed section 8 in Bill C-15. Proposed section 8 states:

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.

In other words, notwithstanding what the bill prescribes, the crown attorney has to give notice before someone enters a plea. There is discretion, in fact, if Parliament passes this bill, notwithstanding what members from the Conservative Party said that it is going to be mandatory and people are going to jail, no, the bill hands it over to the courts, to the crown attorneys, plea bargaining and all of that other stuff.

I should mention that the speech I gave was on October 30, 1995. It was significant in my life, and I think in Canada's life, because that was the day of the last Quebec referendum. That is why there were many people engaged in other things. I was asked to give the lead speech on it.

At the time, we debated, we discussed, and the committee went for over two years to address all the issues and concerns that had been raised at second reading. It went to committee. We started getting feedback from our international partners in terms of dealing with drugs, and Canada was a laggard and needed to do something.

Interestingly, many of the points now raised in this debate are the same issues and points that were raised in 1995.

We could not legislate a number of these things. These were recommendations coming out of the committee. These were pleas on behalf of a committee, and a committee report. It said not only does the bill have to be dealt with, we have to deal with scheduling of drugs and with designer drugs. We have to deal with fortified drug houses, for example, organized crime. We have to deal with rehabilitation and treatment and we have to deal with prevention. We could not put that into a bill because that was beyond the scope of the bill, but we reported on those things.

Still today, the solution to all problems of the government is that if people commit an offence it is throwing them in jail. I suppose that is fine for some, but what is the reality in the courts where people are going through the system and they are being judged with regard to the offences that are being referred to?

Back in 1995, the courts were overcrowded. There was no money for rehabilitation and treatment. There were no resources to have effective prevention programs. There was no comprehensive strategy to address the whole family of problems in the world of drugs. There was a plea by Parliament back in 1995, and the same kinds of problems continue today.

The fastest growing industry in the United States now is the prison industry: building jails. It is a system where if one commits an offence, one goes to jail. They say, “We will squeeze them in there. We will keep building jails. We will start privatizing them.” It is a growth industry. It is the biggest growth industry in the United States.

In a small way we are following that same kind of pattern, that when we have crimes we put people in jail and that takes care of it. However, eventually those people come out of jail, they go back into society. Many of them are repeat offenders.

Our system of justice incorporates the whole principle of rehabilitation, but it does not often work. If there are no resources, how can we expect people to come out of jail with a sense that they did something wrong, it was not a good thing, it hurt a lot of people, their life is going to get fixed up and they are going to have the support to make sure they continue on the straight road.

That is not part of the Conservative philosophy. The Conservatives' philosophy is, “They are criminals. We are putting them in jail and we will throw away the key. We are getting tough on crime.”

I think the country is probably worse off if all we do is continue to throw people in jail without trying to deal with the importance of rehabilitation, treatment and crime prevention. Where are those things?

As the federal government, we can pass laws that can amend the Criminal Code and drug laws. Who enforces those? Who is responsible? The responsibility for dealing with crime on the street is substantively within provincial jurisdictions. They, most of them, are the ones that are responsible for the courts. They are responsible for the programs. They are responsible for most of the jails. We have federal judges, but there are also provincial judges.

If we continue to pass laws that pass on more onerous responsibilities and all they are doing is filling up jails, who is going to pay for it? How are they going to be able to afford to discharge those responsibilities that are thrown at them by the federal level of government?

There has to be a shared responsibility. If the system is going to work, we need a strategy that covers all the possible approaches to dealing with serious crime whether or not there is a possibility of rehabilitation or appropriate treatment to deal with people who have been in the drug system. We have to deal with prevention.

I became a member of Parliament in 1993, and the first committee I was on was the health committee. I remember health officials coming before the health committee to talk about the state of our health system in Canada. They told us at the time that 75% of the money spent in the health system was on fixing health problems, addressing illness, and that only 25% was spent on prevention.

I will never forget it. There were 200 green rookies who had just been elected. Officials came before a committee of Parliament, and they concluded that how we spend our health dollars in Canada, with 25% on prevention and 75% on dealing with problems after we had them, was not sustainable. That has stayed with me all my years as a member of Parliament: the value of prevention versus punishment.

Our health system has tried to move in that direction, and it is very difficult, but I think that a dollar spent on prevention provides much more benefit in terms of better health for Canadians than a dollar spent on fixing problems and cures. We have to deal with it before it happens. That is part of why I wanted to speak on this.

I want the government members to know that I do not have a problem with mandatory minimums conceptually. If the courts are not able to do their jobs for one reason or another, there should at least be some period of incarceration. We need to defend the principles. The Liberals brought in mandatory minimums before the Conservatives. We had mandatory minimums in Canada, though not in all areas. It was not a philosophical thing, but it was not across the board.

However, the government seems to think that all it has to do is bring in 10 or 12 justice bills, prescribe mandatory minimums right across the board and that will tell everybody it is getting tough on crime. All it is really doing is filling up the jails and making angry people who will come right back to society. It is going to get worse, and it has in many cases, although some of the statistics I have seen seem to fly in the face of that in certain areas and for certain types of crime.

If we look at what happens in a period of recession and economic duress, the property crime in Canada goes up. It will track unemployment. It did in the last recession, and it will do so in this one too. That is going to put more stress on the system. We have to learn from history about how this works.

I want to conclude by saying that if the members are going to speak in this place, I do not want them to read the bill or give me all the provisions; I want them to tell me why we are doing this and to tell me the truth, that these provisions have life sentences associated with them.

However, proposed section 8 with regard to mandatory minimums sets conditions and provisions whereby the crown attorney and the people in the courts can basically decide that there will not be a mandatory minimum. Not one of those members said it, because it takes away from their argument that we are getting tough on crime. We are simply delegating that decision to the courts. The bill is not setting mandatory minimums; we are delegating that opportunity to the courts. There is much more that goes on in the courts. The members have not addressed it, and they have not done their jobs.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I shall continue on the theme of the hon. member for Mississauga South and respond to his argument at the outset that it is a pity that the party he represents in the House has not understood the same thing as he has. If his party had understood the same thing as the hon. member for Mississauga South, we would not be at this point today and there would be no chance of this bill being passed. However it will be passed, thanks to the complicity of the Liberal Party. This bill seems to us totally unnecessary and dangerous. My colleague from Mississauga South is perfectly correct. We will not be filling the prisons with the real criminals, but with people in the early stages of becoming criminals.

The Bloc was opposed to, is opposed to and will continue to vigorously oppose minimum prison sentences because of four important points. This is not just my opinion. First of all, these minimum sentences “do not advance the goal of deterrence. International social science research has made this clear”. The Conservatives and some Liberals are vocal advocates of the opposite view. They need only look to the United States, where minimum prison sentences have been imposed, to realize that this has not solved the crime problem, which indeed is now much more deep-rooted.

In New Zealand and Australia, and specifically Northern Australia, an institute has produced a report entitled Mandatory sentencing for adult property offenders. They studied the issue thoroughly and found that a law passed in 1992 that imposed minimum sentences was useless and had solved nothing. Not only had it not reduced crime, it had increased it. Individuals are not prevented from committing crime by fear of a prison sentence. That is not my opinion: it is in the report.

The Conservatives are so vocal and insistent on this that we asked them to provide us with just one study. The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse can report to the members of his party and ask them if it is true that they have not produced a single study. Their answer will be incomprehensible. We asked them for one and they have not produced it, whereas we have submitted 12 studies. The Liberals submitted a few, and the Conservatives not that many, since they do not have any, but the Bloc and the NDP have invited expert witnesses who have studies that demonstrate that minimum prison sentences are of no use.

I ask my colleagues, including the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse, to listen to what these studies have said.

The evidence shows that long periods served in prison increase the chance that the offender will offend again... . In the end, public safety is diminished, rather than increased, if we “throw away the key”.

This was said by the federal Minister of Justice in a 1990 study entitled Directions for Reform: Sentencing, Corrections and Conditional Release. This was when the Conservatives were in power under a certain Brian Mulroney, though it is true that at that time they were called Progressive Conservatives, whereas they are now Reform Conservatives. So we have it in black and white. They have seen the studies, but they continue to maintain their position.

We also need to draw hon. members' attention to the fact that mandatory minimum sentences have been harshly criticized in a number of other major studies, including the report of the Canadian Sentencing Commission.

This is not our idea. It does not come from the evil separatists. The ones who say so are the Conservatives, the Reformists, and they turn up with this bill. That was my first point, but I have three more.

Second, the Bloc Québécois has always and will always be opposed to mandatory minimum jail terms, and will fight them vigorously because they:

...do not target the most egregious or dangerous offenders, who are already subject to stiff sentences. [—precisely because of the nature of the crimes they have committed]

I will repeat for the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse and certain members of his party, who will perhaps understand.

More often, it is less culpable offenders who are caught by mandatory sentences and are subjected to extremely lengthy terms of imprisonment.

Those are not our words. They are written in black and white in reports and all my quotes are from those reports. The position of the Bloc Québécois is based and focused on that. It would be interesting for my colleague from Mississauga South to speak to his Liberal party colleagues, who do not get it at all. The member for Mississauga South and the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights got it somewhat, but they claim they have no choice.

No choice but to do what? Fill up our prisons?

One thing is for sure: the prisoners will get out one day. Our Conservative-Reform friends have to realize that the prisoners will get out one day. Mandatory sentences are given to the least guilty offenders, and they are the ones who get sent to crime school. When it comes to minimum prison sentences, the problem with the Conservatives and some of the Liberals is that they do not understand that a person given a minimum one-year prison sentence, for example, is eligible for parole and will get out after serving one-third of the sentence. That does not solve the problem. The Conservative-Reformers do not get it. They do not understand that the prisoners will get out.

Usually, people who work for organized crime—the real target of this bill—are given heavy sentences anyway. As recently as yesterday we saw that in the Hells Angels file in Quebec.

I still have two points I want to discuss. My third point is this:

Mandatory minimum penalties have a disproportionate impact on minority groups who already suffer from poverty and deprivation. In Canada, this will affect aboriginal communities, a population already grossly over-represented in penitentiaries, most harshly.

I am not the one who said that. A federal Reform-Conservative organization said that. Juristat, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, reported on the issue in Juristat: Returning to Correctional Services after Release: A Profile of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Adults Involved in Saskatchewan Corrections from 1999/00 to 2003/04. That appeared in vol. 25, no. 2, published by Statistics Canada in Ottawa in 2005.

I do not think that the Conservatives get it. They will be targeting a poor and disadvantaged segment of the population. We all know that. I will not elaborate on that now. My NDP colleague from Vancouver has already discussed the huge problem with aboriginals and minorities several times.

They are the ones who are going to pay for an unfair, unacceptable law that makes no sense. We will keep on opposing it. Mandatory minimum sentences are not the answer.

Last but not least, I want to make the point that mandatory minimum sentences subvert important aspects of Canada's sentencing regime, including the principles of proportionality and individualization—the member for Lévis—Bellechasse should not move, because I am going to explain what these two big words mean—and reliance on judges to impose a just sentence after hearing all facts in the individual case. What this means is that the government is trying to direct the judicial system by introducing laws that will require judges to impose mandatory minimum sentences.

What the Reform Conservatives and part of the Liberal caucus do not yet understand is that the problem is not when offenders go into prison, but when they come out.

These guys—90% of inmates in federal prisons are men—go to prison after the judge has explained to them why he imposed a three-year sentence, for example. The judge explains his reasons and talks about rehabilitation. In some cases, he may tell the offender that it is not appropriate to talk about rehabilitation, because there is not much chance that rehabilitation will be available for him. The judge will also tell him that it is important that society be protected and that, as the offender does not seem to have understood that, he is being sent to prison for three years.

Imagine the judge's surprise when, eight months after handing down a three-year sentence, he sees the guy in the street. The judge calls the police and explains that he sentenced the offender to three years in prison. The judge is told that the offender was a model inmate. The judge replies that he had trafficked in drugs and had been given a three-year sentence. Yes, but he went before the parole board, and because this was his first offence and he was not a bad guy, he was released.

There is the problem and that is what the Conservatives do not understand. It is simply that prisoners do not serve their sentences. One day the Conservatives and part of the Liberal Party caucus will have to realize that the problem is not when offenders go into jail but when they get out.

There absolutely must be respect for judges. This bill does not respect judges; it imposes minimum sentences. All the necessary tools were already in place.

I know we must refer to specific sections and clauses. Let the Conservatives go and look it up. They did not read section 718 of the Criminal Code carefully. They should reread it. It sets out the sentencing principles to be followed by a judge when imposing a sentence. It talks about rehabilitation, the protection of society and the risk of recidivism. All the criteria are found in that section and judges are familiar with it.

When a guy appears in court for drug trafficking for the fourth time, will the judge give him a conditional sentence? Of course not. Only a few Conservatives believe that.

I was a lawyer for 30 years and I can say that when I went before a judge with a client charged with his fourth trafficking offence, there was no question of obtaining a conditional sentence. The judge would speak to the individual, explain to him that it was clear he had not yet understood, and explain why he was giving him such and such a sentence.

Respect for the judiciary is extremely important as is the principle of sentencing. We are not the ones saying it. The Supreme Court of Canada has acknowledged that incarceration should usually—I say usually—represent the criminal sanction of last resort and that it may be less appropriate or useful in the case of aboriginal offenders.

I cite the Supreme Court ruling in the Gladue case in support of this argument. The Conservatives do not get it and do not seem to want to understand that there must be respect for judicial discretion.

Imposing minimum sentences solves nothing and does not reduce the crime rate. There is no study showing that, and goodness knows I did try to get hold of one. I started by asking the minister, then his staff, and then all the deputy ministers and representatives in the Justice Department, but no one could provide a study that proved that minimum sentences solve anything.

The problem with Bill C-15 is that it has the effect of depriving judges, when passing sentence, of the discretionary power to properly determine the penalty that best balances the fundamental objectives of sentencing.

I will try to put it in simpler terms for some of my Conservative colleagues so they can understand. The more you imprison people, the less you solve the problem. If they do not get that, it is a pity. They can come up with tons of bills, but there is no room in the prisons. They just need to go and check that out. It is not hard to do so, so let them go and check it out.

There is a provincial jail in the Quebec City area, another near Amos and one near Hull. So they do not need to travel far, there is one just across the river and it is filled to overflowing. It is chock full. They do not even know where to put inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. The problem is that they are filling up the prisons but offering nothing to inmates.

When we look at Bill C-15, we see one aspect, that the individual can receive a lesser sentence—the judge will not be obliged to impose a minimum sentence—if he successfully completes a treatment program appropriate to his condition. The problem is that there are no treatment centres. It is all very well to put it into a bill but there are no treatment centres.

The problem with the member for Lévis—Bellechasse is threefold: one, he does not hear two, he does not listen; three: he will repeat it back all wrong. There is no appropriate treatment centre. There is no money for it. They will send people to prison but they are not able to provide appropriate treatment. We are hearing this from the penitentiaries.

Does he know how it works? The member for Lévis—Bellechasse still does not understand. With a three-year sentence, an individual is eligible for parole after one third of his sentence. Eight times three is 24, so after eight months, he is eligible.

That individual has no prior offences, it is his first sentence and his first time in prison. What happens in such cases? It takes four months to even look at his case. What happens then? He is sent to the Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines federal reception centre, put in a corner and observed. Officials will wait a little and analyze his case in order to choose the appropriate treatment. Then, after three or four months, a decision is finally made: he is sent to a minimum security prison or a maximum security prison.

The problem is that there are no services for him in the meantime. If he is eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence, what happens? He had a two-year sentence—eight times three is 24—so he has four months left to serve. What will he do? He will go play cards and he will not be offered any services. None. That is the problem that the Conservatives just do not understand. Mandatory minimum sentencing solves nothing.

I know I am nearly out of time, but if I could pass along a message to our friends in the Liberal party, I would say they should reconsider their position and have another look at this bill, which solves nothing and will not reduce crime rates. I will not waste my time on the Conservatives, who will understand nothing of this. The only way to make the Conservatives understand that minimum prison sentences are useless is to beat them in the next election, and that is what we are all hoping for.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, great passions are stirred in this place when drugs and organized crime are discussed. Mix that in with politics and one has quite the elixir.

First, I will address the passion that is elicited by all members of the House. I think that underneath the contentious issue of Bill C-15, there lie common interests that need to be enhanced, explored and then considered in light of what the bill proposes. I think when we agree on those common interests, even members of the House who show support for the bill, particularly those who have not read it, will perhaps give some pause and reconsideration. The effects of this will be very real in their communities and constituencies.

Most notable is the effect that is intended by the government's own writing, and from the support we are hearing from the Liberals, in a strangely hypocritical way, is not going to have the effect of reducing organized crime in Canada. As its first principle, we must all agree to that. The organized crime intervention within the drug trade is causing ruination and havoc within our communities.

We must do away with the concept and idea that this sits only within the urban centres of Canada. In the northwest of British Columbia, as in northern Alberta where my friend from Fort McMurray comes from, the encouragement of the organized drug trade does not know the bounds of a city limit. It does not stay within Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. It exceeds beyond those limits. The organizational level of drugs coming into our communities has increased year after year.

Some of my colleagues have referred to the difficult times we are in right now and that drug use goes up among Canadians particularly in an economic downturn. However, it also happens in the reverse.

Even in very good times, when there was more money than folks knew what to do with in places like Fort McMurray, the drug trade was as strong as ever, if not stronger. We see it in the downtown offices of Toronto on Bay Street. We see it absolutely everywhere in society. The touch and the influence of organized crime within this trade has become more and more prolific, despite the efforts of successive government that time and time again have stood in the House and said that they will get tough on organized crime and that this bill or that bill will do it.

There is some belief within the powers that be in Ottawa that they have the answers, that they have somehow figured out the magic bullet to solve this. In fact, they go against many of the wishes of those working at the grassroots level, at the street level, in the clinics and in the public advocacy groups, which are fighting on behalf of the victims of organized crime. Those people have made serious interventions and contentions about the bill, backed with evidence, and I will get to this in a moment, and the government chooses to ignore that evidence.

The government has said time and time again that law must be based on fact. That seems reasonable. We are lawmakers in this place. We seek to write laws that will then be used in our courts and by our lawyers to punish those guilty of crime and to let free the innocent. When I asked the chair of the committee for those facts, the studies and research, he said that it had to be logical and that was all. As if that was an argument ever to be presented in Parliament, an argument that one member's opinion of logic therefore overrides the idea of research, or study, or understanding of an issue. That does not work. That is not serious debate. That is no way to write law. That is no way to help protect innocent lives of Canadians.

There has been much talk about, from the New Democratic side at least, the concept of the four pillar approach to drug crime, particularly organized drug crime. This does not come from nowhere. This came from municipalities that had been dealing with the ravages of organized crime year after year. When they looked to their federal and provincial governments, they found them wanting. Therefore, this solution came from the people who dealt with the issue.

The first of the four pillar prevention approach to drugs is prevention. It is to try to make the thing not happen in the first place, which is usually the most cost-effective way to make anything happen. It is always more expensive to clean up the mess after the fact than to stop it from happening in the first place.

The second pillar is treatment and understanding that those who are addicted to drugs often face a whole list and multiplicity of challenges within their lives. These are not folks who are simply hell-bent on causing wanton destruction in our communities, despite the advertisements we see in the mail from the government. These folks are facing all sorts of challenges.

I believe there is a compassionate element somewhere buried deep within the Conservatives. I scratch and search for it day after day, a compassionate, truly almost spiritual element that says they must have compassion for people, they must not sit in complete judgment of all those, but that they must show themselves to be compassionate legislators, compassionate leaders of the country, except when it comes to an issue like this. Then suddenly compassion and understanding are not to be found. The Conservatives scream out loud and they condemn groups and societies. There is a class tone somewhere in there that we pick out of the fibre of the speeches given by Conservatives.

However, we seek compassion always. It is our better nature. It is what we as Canadians take pride in and it ultimately achieves the very goals that we all hold in common, which is to reduce the crime, the misery and suffering and the power and the influence of organized crime. We are all seized with that, as we should be, not political opportunism, not moments to score points and produce another couple of million mail-outs prior to elections to try to convince Canadians that tough on crime means something. Everything we do in this place, at our best, should be based on evidence and understanding of the issue.

Now there is always the law of unintended consequences. There is always the law that says when we try to do one thing, even with good intentions at times, another thing might happen.

Fortunately for Canada, the lesson has already been lived out in the U.S., south of the border, where every extreme measure available to government was taken to tackle organized drug crime. The Americans tried everything, and the further south it went, the crazier it got, to the point where they were making such draconian laws, they simply could not build jails fast enough to catch everybody.

How did the drug crime situation fare by taking out every weapon they possibly could and making every law they possibly could as draconian as possible? Drug crime in the U.S. went consistently up, to the point where a number of the major states that led in this initiative of minimum mandatory sentencing for drug crimes are now rescinding those laws.

Here is Canada, with the Conservative government showing up late to the party, looking at no evidence but only ideology, because it is logical to them and therefore must be true, presenting no facts, no evidence, and saying, “This must be the right course because George W. Bush said so; this must be the right course because we in the Conservative Party think so”.

If our true intention is to alleviate the suffering and pain caused by the drug trade and organized crime, if we arrive back at that first principle and we then seek from that first principle the solutions that we can all agree with, then we could arrive at something that would, lo and behold, look a lot like the four-pillars approach where we had prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.

With four pillars, one almost imagines four legs of a table, that in order to build something strong, we would try to make those legs strong and of somewhat equal length so that we could put something on it, such as a community.

When we look at government spending to this point on those pillars, we see harm reduction, one of the most important, at 2.5% of all spending. We see prevention, preventing the bad thing from happening to the person and society in the first place, at another whopping 2.5%. When we look at research and treatment, we see 7% and 14%. Now let us arrive at the big ticket item, enforcement, which is at 73%.

The table that this government and the previous government have constructed is so lopsided, how can the government expect anything other than the condition and the seriousness of organized drug crime to continue to get worse? The organized criminal groups are laughing at and mocking the government.

The government came in with a so-called crime agenda. What have we seen in the streets of our communities and cities since the government came in saying it was going to get tough on crime? It worked well in a pamphlet. It did not work well in legislation and it continues to fail Canadians each and every day.

I do not understand why the government would not at least sponsor a study or two, something it could make public for us to enter into the debate with that says minimum mandatory sentences, in some cases, would work really well, that the government has done some research and it actually lowers the effect of drug crime in Canada. However, the government does not produce a thing. The members just scream out logic. What kind of argument is that? Did these members of Parliament come to this place and promise their constituents that they would not do research, they would not read things, they would not improve their knowledge of a situation to enhance the debate and then arrive at laws that all of us could agree on and work towards?

Instead it is this divisive thing again, divide and conquer, the so-called wedge issues that the party seems obsessed with, as if forming government were just a practice in manifesting wedge issues, time and time again, as if that were leadership, as if that would take Canada to any new place, a better place for Canadians. It just develops a bunch of random issues that the Conservatives think their base, whatever that might mean, might get excited about, and wedge just enough of the electorate over so they could grab absolute power, and then look out. Then they would do the things they want to do.

That is not leadership. That is no way to govern. That is no way to be the Government of Canada. That is not something to be proud of.

I step back to Skeena--Bulkley Valley, the place I represent in northwestern British Columbia. We have seen both sides of the economic cycle. We have seen the boom and we watched the gangs move in with their drugs. We have seen the bust and we watched the gangs move in with their drugs. They get organized in the city, and they take their shipments and all the rest and move them up the line. The misery goes up the line, and property crime, abduction and people entering into prostitution follow for us as well.

Our communities are tightly knit. They are small. They are truly community-based. We see it in our community halls. We see it in our churches. We see it at the local coffee shop every day when we hear about somebody else's kid who hit the road down to Vancouver or who is off in Edmonton and cannot be found. They do not know where they are. They do not know what happened to them.

There is no one in this place who should stand up and say that one party or another has somehow the territory or the marked ground to say they care about these issues and another one does not. It is insulting to all of us. It is insulting even to the person who says it. There is such a lack of grasp and intelligence and compassion as to speak ill more of the speaker than the receiver.

The government must come to understand when we are dealing with such a serious issue as this, and not simply take all the hard work of those municipalities, organizers and community groups that have said we must not simply do the enforcement alone but must have other aspects of this if we hope to achieve our goals, and toss all that out the window and say, “I have the solution; it is minimum mandatory, and whisk, whisk, it will all be done”.

This is also a government that used to pride itself on fiscal management. Obviously, that reputation has taken a sound beating, because every time the finance minister opens his mouth, the budget deficit grows again, time and time again. Fiscal management might not be one of the things the Conservatives will campaign on in the next election, but we will see.

Even now, at this point, we ask the government to produce one document, one estimate of the expected cost of the bill, something the government consistently asks for when dealing with private members' bills, bills that come from New Democrats and others. It is one of the government's first questions: “What is it going to cost the taxpayers? We are fiscally prudent; we are Conservatives.”

Lo and behold, when we ask what is the cost of this little number, the government says it is not going to tell us. Why is that?

Part of the reason is that most of the costs are going to be incurred by the provinces, because most of the folks who will be ensnared by the bill will end up in provincial jails. Therefore, I guess the government says it is not its concern because it is the federal government. It is all the same taxpayer. The taxpayer has a right to know, when the government proposes a piece of legislation, what the cost may or may not be.

We are not even asking for the exact figure, but just a range, an estimation, a best guess. We are asking for something so that when the government makes these choices, when it spends more than three quarters of its money on one pillar and virtually ignores the rest, the taxpayers can know what kinds of costs, considerations and choices the government is making.

Ultimately, being in government, having the reins of power, having the significant levers of power that a government has, boils down to choices and options and what the government thinks are the best choices for the betterment of all Canadians, not its wedge issue, not its base, not some sort of narrow thing it can slap into a ten percenter in a mail-out and convince Canadians that it is in fact the knight in shining armour to save the day. It has been doing it for years and still things get worse.

The costs are an important element. It just simply cannot be ignored. I still await a single Conservative member to stand up in the debate today on the bill that we are about to vote on, or even a Liberal member, because the Liberals are going to support it, and say what they think the costs are. That would be fair. That would be honest. That would be intelligent. That would be wise leadership to simply say what the range of costs would be, and some of it will be taken by the federal government and some of it will be taken by the provincial governments. The taxpayer needs to know. Is that fair? Is that understandable?

I encourage my Conservative colleagues, if we can have a few moments of questions and comments, to slide in the figure if they know it. If they do not know it, they can say that too, and that is fine.

However, to simply ignore the costs as though they are not a factor at all in making a law seems ludicrous, as though it does not exist, as though, if they just do not mention it, it will not be there. Perhaps my wishes will be answered, but I suspect not.

We also need to ask ourselves if the first principles remain for all of us, if we can find that sacred little piece of common ground in this contentious and passionate debate. Organized crime and drug laws should be passionate, because that is why people send us here. It is to express our passion and use our intelligence and find the best ways forward. If that sacred common ground around the idea of reducing organized crime in Canada will be satisfied with Bill C-15 through the use of minimum mandatory sentences, a little bit of evidence would go a long way.

There were 18 reports presented and another 15 or so cited in the committee hearings. An overwhelming number of witnesses spoke to the harm of these sentences, not even the harm as much as the ineffectiveness, the inability to cause the effect that the government is hoping for.

When the Association of Chiefs of Police, I believe it was, came forward, they talked about the bill but made no comment whatsoever on minimum mandatory sentences in this bill. If they were so fantastic and the police were dying to have that tool in their kit, one would think they would have mentioned it. One would think they would have said, “By the way, the government has really knocked it out of the park on this one”, but the witnesses did not say that, and witnesses presented evidence to the contrary.

At the end of the day, crime can be a difficult thing. It is obviously a difficult thing to handle. The Conservatives came in with crime as one of their main pillars. They were going to fight crime, hopefully not perpetrate it.

In that agenda we have seen time and time again the ineffectiveness of the law. Presenting this minimum mandatory piece to specifically address drug crimes and say it will go after the big gangsters is a little reminiscent of the initial attempts at prohibition in the U.S., when the logical idea, which was probably said in Congress at that time during the debate, was to simply stop the alcohol runs, bust them up, just Eliot Ness them all. That would do it. That would stop all that illegal Al Capone business.

How did the U.S. stop it? It went after the money. It went after their taxes. It followed the money and then sucked dry that element of organized crime and alcohol and then lifted prohibition in that case.

How do the Italians pursue it now as they go after the Mafia? Do they run around giving minimum mandatory sentences? They go after the money. Time and time again, they go after the money.

What is the focus of organized criminals? They are in it for the money. If they could sell widgets and make this kind of cash, they probably would too. I hope the government does not ban widgets. One never knows; there may be a whole organized widget system going on and people will suffer under that as well.

We have to understand that if the government is serious and intends to craft better laws to fight organized drug crime in Canada, it must at least do two things to satisfy this place. One is to present the evidence that shows they work, because other jurisdictions have tried. The second is to present, as a choice for government, that the costs incurred, which the government has not admitted to yet and pretends it does not know, are justified, that this is a good choice in the four pillars.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for his eloquent, although somewhat all over the map, speech.

I do have some evidence. I serve on the justice committee, as does my friend from Windsor who was in Vancouver with me at the end of April to hear actual evidence on how to deal with organized crime which, as this member knows, being from British Columbia, is a plague in southern British Columbia.

One of the witnesses we heard from was Michelle Miller, the executive director of Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity, or REED. The witness talked about front line workers. This is what she said about Bill C-15:

First on Rohypnol--

--which is the date rape drug:

--I absolutely support that as being part of the bill. I think that will help women, because some women, girls, and boys will be less likely to be drugged and raped.

So we have experts. We have heard from experts and we have heard from people who do speak on behalf of victims. I would like the hon. member to comment. He talked about compassion on this side of the House. He is right, there is compassion. I have great compassion for victims. I think the bill does speak to victims and I would like him to comment on that.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments on the floor of the House.

I know the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, as a lawyer himself, would consider the views of the Canadian Bar Association to have some value in this debate. The national criminal law section of the Canadian Bar Association, which is made up of both prosecutors and defence counsel, is probably the element of the legal profession that is most intimately knowledgeable about the effect of criminal laws on what happens. Here is what it said in a written submission on the effectiveness of Bill C-15:

We believe the Bill would not be effective, would be very costly, would add to strains on the administration of justice, could create unjust and disproportionate sentences and ultimately would not achieve its intended goal of greater public safety.

That seems to me to be a comprehensive, reasoned and considered view. It is saying that the bill would not do what it is supposed to do. Being tough on crime, which is what the CBA is talking about, is not going to be effective if Bill C-15 is the means by which the government chooses to be tough on crime. It would do nothing additional by way of prevention and the percentage of money spent on prevention, some 2.5%, is so minuscule compared to the whole enforcement side. We have to find a better way.

I am really sorry to hear that the member for Edmonton—St. Albert does not recognize the views of his colleagues in the legal profession who know more about this than anybody else.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, when I was preparing notes for today, I began thinking about my experience when I was at university, in law school in Windsor, the best law school in the country by the way.

In that period of time, prior to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms being brought into play in Canada, there was a sentencing provision under the Criminal Code that if someone imported any drug, there was a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years.

In this period of time, the mid-1960s, late 1960s and early 1970s, being across from Detroit, Michigan, a great deal of personal use of marijuana was going on. Quite regularly, people would be moving back and forth across the border. It is the most active border in the world, actually, certainly in North America. Families and friends were moving back and forth. They were shopping on both sides of the border. There was entertainment and recreation on both sides of the border.

People were regularly being caught and accused of possession of marijuana and of importing it into Canada. Then they were automatically exposed to a sentence of seven years. There were a number of those sentences imposed. Fortunately, in most cases our prosecutors had the good will and the good sense to drop those charges. If the prosecutors moved at all, they would move on charges of simple possession. However, what happened was that a good number of people's lives were ruined, people who were sentenced to prison for seven years for what was a simple possession of marijuana.

That ended shortly after the charter came into effect. Our courts simply said that the consequences and the penalties were so disproportional that it amounted to an offence under section 12 of the charter in terms of it being cruel and unusual punishment. So that section was struck down.

Now, some 35 years later, we see the government taking us back to that type of era. Maybe that makes them feel good as Conservatives, but it certainly does not make for good public policy.

What we are going to see, although none of the penalties in Bill C-15 are as severe as seven years in terms of mandatory minimums, is a substantial abuse perpetrated on people who are drug abusers and those who are trafficking in marijuana at the lower end.

From the evidence we have heard repeatedly from our police forces, including the evidence we heard in the committee hearings for this bill, we know that the vast majority of people who are going to be caught by this legislation, who are going to be imprisoned for mandatory minimum periods of time, anywhere from six months to three years, are by and large users of drugs, whether marijuana or stronger drugs, who have gotten caught up in the whole cycle, the whole under-life of the drug trade, and who are in fact trafficking in order to feed their habit.

I think it is appropriate that we think about and understand how organized crime has taken over, almost exclusively, all of the drug trade in this country, and to a significant degree right across the globe. We have to see it as a pyramid, a very large-based pyramid with a very small, fine point at the top. The kingpins and the ones who really make the money off the drug trade are the very small numbers at the top, and then there is this huge base below.

Although we hear from the government that the intent of Bill C-15 is to target the traffickers and that little group at the top, the reality is it will not do that. We know that beyond any shadow of a doubt because exactly the same type of approach was taken starting 20 to 30 years ago in the United States. We have gone through a whole generation using this approach. The intent was the same, that is, to go after the kingpins, the real leaders, the ones who really make the money off the drugs. What happened and what continues to happen, other than in those states that have begun to repeal those laws, is that it was the base that was caught. It was the base that was imprisoned for extended periods of time. It was the base that overloaded the prisons, which took money from other social programs and dumped it into the prisons because it was the only way to keep up with the need.

As we heard, there are some small parts of the approach in Bill C-15, such as the date rape drug change, and moving those drugs into a controlled substance list in order to be better able to try to control it, that in fact would gather support from ourselves and I believe from the Bloc Québécois.

This bill really is about ideology from the Conservative government. It is about an ideological belief that if the government throws all this weight behind a punitive approach to controlling the drug trade, it will be successful. It is glossed over to some degree by saying, no, the government's intent is to go this way, but the reality is the government knows it is not going to work. The Conservatives have absolutely no evidence to show that this will work and they have overwhelming evidence to show that it will not work.

When we hear the demagogic comments from the member from Fort McMurray about victims and when we hear other Conservatives in this debate stand and talk about victims, it is shameful they are taking that approach. It is shameful the way they have conducted this campaign in the last number of elections because they lead the Canadian public, who are victims of organized crime, to believe that this is a solution. That is dishonest. It is totally out of keeping with what we know about how to deal with the drug problem. They continue to perpetuate that and that is shameful.

We know if we are going to deal with the drug problem, much as we dealt with alcohol abuse in terms of impaired driving, and much as we dealt with the campaign to try to reduce the consumption of tobacco, there are alternative methods, there are alternative programs that in fact are effective.

If we approach this as we in the NDP have argued, that the government look at prevention, that it look at enforcement, and only then go to the punitive, it would be effective. I can point to any number of countries around the globe that use that methodology to reduce drug consumption. In fact, even in those countries, there is an argument to be made that they could be doing more and be more effective in reducing it.

We can look at what has been done in this country to combat the consumption of tobacco and how effective that has been. The consumption of tobacco in this country has dropped from close to 50% at its peak, down to around 16% or 17% now. There is no reason to believe that we could not do the same thing with the consumption of illicit drugs and, in particular, with the consumption of marijuana and cannabis.

Then we look at what in fact is done. We spend this huge amount of money on enforcement and the punitive end, in terms of corrections in particular, and so little on the preventive end. In that regard, I want to draw to the House's attention what happened in the United States. In 1986, when the Americans began at a national level using mandatory minimums on drugs, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was expending $862 million for corrections, just at the federal level. Each state also has its own prison system. Just two years later, the amount jumped to $1.2 billion. Five years later, in 1991, it was $2.1 billion. In 2010, for the coming year, the request is for $6 billion to be spent on corrections. Over that 20 year period, if my math is correct, it has increased by a multiple of about eight.

We are going to see the same pattern here, although I have to say that the provinces are going to bear the brunt of it. As I said earlier, most of the mandatory minimums getting at that base are going to be in the six-month to 18-month range. All of those sentences, based on our relationship with the provinces, are spent in provincial prisons.

I want to emphasize what happened in the United States as the Americans moved mandatory minimums in at the state and federal levels. We heard evidence at the committee on this bill that in New York State, for every increased dollar that was spent on prisons and corrections in that state, a dollar was taken out of education in that state. There was a direct dollar-for-dollar correlation. Again, we have every expectation that is what is going to happen in Canada.

Because we will have to build additional prisons and increase the number of staff in the existing prisons, we are going to be looking at a shortage of tax dollar revenue for other social programs. Whether it be education or health, the dollars simply are not going to be there. That is particularly true given the current fiscal crisis and the economy overall.

There is another point I want to make about this. It was interesting to listen to the member for Mississauga South in terms of his analysis that this bill was somehow not going to do anything. Quite frankly, I hope he is right. I hope we do not see a significant influx of new inmates in our provincial and federal prisons. I have to say that I do not share that optimism. I believe we are going to attempt to enforce the terms of this bill right across the country in all the provinces and territories.

When we do that, we are going to see, in my estimation, increases at the provincial level of at least 10%, and it could be as much as 25%, in the incarceration rate in our provincial prisons. It will be less than that at the federal level. I can say this because we just had evidence as recently as a week ago in front of the justice committee of the impact that other legislation is going to have on the increase in population.

In spite of assurances from the Minister of Public Safety, the reality is that every one of our federal prisons is over-occupied already. We just had confirmation of that yesterday from Mr. Sapers, who is the federal Correctional Investigator. He said that any increase of any substance in the prison population at the federal level is dangerous. We do not have enough programming now.

We heard in front of the justice committee a week or so ago on another bill that we already have, in every single prison in this country at the federal level, cells that were designed for one person regularly over-occupied by a second person. We are at the stage where there are three inmates in cells that are only designed for one and that will continue to increase, not only because of this bill, although this is probably going to be the most significant one, but others the government has introduced.

In spite of what we heard from the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca that more prisons are being built, that is absolutely false. There was not a dime for new prisons at the federal level in this year's budget or last year's budget. There was an increase in spending simply to deal with inflation, but there was not a dime for new cells. As we continue to overload the prisons, we are going to see cells with three inmates when there should only be one.

We are at a stage where we are so far behind in international protocols that we have signed onto in terms of the occupation in our prisons that we are probably going to be faced shortly with a charter challenge. That is going to mean perhaps a number of prisoners being released earlier. It is certainly going to affect the sentencing and what our judges are going to do if that case ultimately goes ahead and is successful.

This bill will just lop on a whole bunch more new inmates. We come back to the argument that if we do that, at least we get them off the streets for a while. I have heard that repeatedly from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice at the committee. What we also heard repeatedly at the committee from police agencies across the country is if we take the person off the street, because organized crime has so much control over the drug trade, that person is simply replaced by someone else immediately. That is a phenomenon which is not unique to Canada; it is true right across the globe. If organized crime is involved in the activity, the person who went to jail is replaced by someone else immediately. It does not reduce the trade in drugs in this country one iota, not at all.

We have a policy that is going to increase the number of inmates. We have a policy that is going to cost a huge amount of money. It is not just the corrections systems. What is going to happen to legal aid? What is going to happen to the judiciary in terms of the number of judges we are going to need?

When faced with a mandatory minimum, people do not plead guilty. They may try to make a deal to get it dropped, but they do not plead guilty. Already as much as 50% of the cases in our courts are drug related. That is going to increase dramatically in terms of time consumption because people are going to stop pleading guilty, or if they do plead guilty, it is because the mandatory minimum was dropped. Therefore it makes the bill ineffective.

If the courts are going to continue to push for the mandatory minimum, which I believe they are going to do, the time consumption is going to go up dramatically for these cases. We are going to need more judges, more prosecutors, more police to be in court for longer periods of time. There has been no budgeting for that either.

There is a boycott right now in Ontario of the legal aid system because of the low rates that are being paid and it is the most extensive plan in the country. We are faced with that as another problem.

My colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley talked about unintended consequences. I would like to believe that the Conservatives do not know about these unintended consequences, but we told them. Our political party has told them. All sorts of experts have told them. The Conservatives are so ideologically driven that they are going to go ahead with the bill, and to the shame of the Liberals, they are going to support them. I cannot understand what the Liberals are doing, other than for straight partisan politics and not wanting to be seen as weak on crime. It is bad strategy on their part. It is bad for the country.

In summary, this is a bad bill. It is bad public policy. It is not going to do what it is supposed to do. It is absolutely useless and we should all be voting against it.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 1:50 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity today to join in the debate on Bill C-15, an act that has the effect of imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences.

I listened with great interest to my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, explain the rationale behind the bill, if there is such a rationale, which is an attempt to somehow, through minimum mandatory sentences, increase public safety in our country, and the failure of this bill to have that effect.

Lest we be under any illusions, we should know one thing. The starting point is a current law when it comes to offences under our Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The seriousness of the penalties already exist. The maximum sentence for trafficking, exporting, importing and production for the purposes of trafficking in schedules I and II in the act is life imprisonment.

There is no doubt that our criminal law already takes extremely seriously this type of crime. The law recognizes that this kind of activity can be seriously detrimental to individuals and to our society. That is the maximum sentence.

The fact is the appropriate sentence for an individual case is a matter for the discretion of a judge. The judge will use his or her judgment in accordance with the law, legal precedent and the facts and circumstances of each case to define an appropriate sentence. What this law does is say that Parliament will say, regardless of the circumstances, the individual, the facts of a particular crime, there will be a mandatory minimum.

Here is what Justice John Gomery said about the previous bill to the same effect. I think parliamentarians know a lot about Justice Gomery and his inquiry into the scandal related to the activities of the previous government, the Gomery Inquiry. Mr. Justice Gomery said, “This legislation basically shows a mistrust of the judiciary to impose proper sentences when people come before them”.

However, it does more than that. It fails to follow the principle that our judges have been given an important task in determining not only the guilt and innocence of an accused, but also the appropriate sentence under the supervision of appeal courts.

The bill also fails to follow a principle of governance, that decisions should be evidence-based. If the Conservatives are going to say that the bill will protect the public, as we have heard speakers from the other side say, then let us see the evidence that supports this.

In fact, the justice department said in 2002 that mandatory minimum sentences did not appear to influence drug consumption, which is one of the things people are concerned about, or drug-related crime in any measurable way. If we are talking about being tough on crime, the bill, according to the justice department in 2002, is not going to influence drug-related crime in any measurable way.

Where is the evidence to support any notion that Bill C-15 would in fact reduce drug consumption or drug crime? If we do not have that, what are we doing seeking to push through a bill that is going to do something that is harmful, and I will get to that in the rest of my speech, costly and ineffective in reducing crime, or doing the thing we want to do, which is to influence a reduction in drug consumption?

That is the problem with this bill.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

June 4th, 2009 / 3 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 am only too happy to respond as I do every Thursday, with transparency, openness and in a spirit of co-operation with my colleagues across the way.

Today and tomorrow we will consider Bill C-15, the drug offence bill. However, as my colleague the Minister of Justice noted, the NDP members seem to be unnecessarily dragging the debate on the bill out. We will also consider Bill C-25, truth in sentencing; Bill C-34, protecting victims from sex offenders; Bill C-19, anti-terrorism; and Bill C-30, the Senate ethics bill.

Next week I intend to add to this list, Bill S-4, identity theft; and Bill C-6, consumer product safety.

As always, I will give priority to any bills that have been reported back from our hard-working standing committees.

In the response to the question about the allotted days, within the next week I will be designating Thursday, June 11 as an allotted day.

Mr. Speaker, the hon. Liberal House leader often asks specific questions about specific bills on Thursday, so I hope you will entertain a few comments of my own.

First of all, I would like to recognize that, to date at least, there has been good co-operation from the opposition in moving our legislative agenda forward, not only in this chamber but in the other place as well. I want to thank the opposition for that co-operation.

However, yesterday we passed in this place, at all stages and without debate, Bill C-33, the bill that will extend benefits to allied veterans and their families. For this bill to become law, we need the same co-operation in the Senate. I would urge the opposition House leader to deliver that message to his senators.

I understand that the Governor General is here today and could actually give royal assent to the bill. It would not only be symbolic but a substantial gesture to those veterans who are reflecting on and participating in the 65th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, this weekend.

The other bill I want to specifically mention is Bill C-29, the agricultural loans bill. In one of his Thursday questions, the member for Wascana took an interest in this bill. He suggested, and I quote from Hansard, that “we might be able to dispose of it at all stages”. I appreciate that level of support for this important and time-sensitive bill in the House, but the member needs to coordinate his support with his Senate colleagues in order to get this bill passed and the increased loans made available to our farmers in a timely manner.

Any communication from the member for Wascana and any persuasiveness he may bring to bear upon his Liberal colleagues in the other place would be greatly appreciated by me and the government.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

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

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

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

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have evidence?

The minister said:

We have the evidence that Canadians have told us that.

That was his response.

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

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

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

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

But you have no evidence to offer.

And the minister still did not provide anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2005, the justice department also reported the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

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

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

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

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

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 2009 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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

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

I suppose I will accept the representation made from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association that this bill is targeted to the so-called low-level distributor or low-level dealer. You may be correct that it may not be as effective as we would like in going after the kingpins. I may accept that.

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

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

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

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

moved:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

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

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

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motion in AmendmentControlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

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

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

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

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

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

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

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
See context

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 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.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party actually proposed that this bill and Bill C-15 go through all stages in the House and committee with no debate whatsoever. We found that quite incredulous. They were even trying to one-up the government on this one.

I find it quite outrageous that there is some kind of competition going on as to who can march this legislation forward more quickly, without any debate. These changes in the law are very serious. They warrant debate, both in the House and in committee.

On the question of gangs alone, there are many different perspectives out there in terms of what causes gangs, how they are manifested and whether changes in the law will be any kind of deterrent. There are real experts out there who have studied this kind of thing.

Does the Conservative government want to hear from those people? I do not believe so. Do the Liberals want to hear from those people? They wanted to rush it through committee.

We have an interest in hearing what some of those perspectives are and have genuine due diligence in dealing with this legislation. We think it is very important. We have signified our support for it. We are willing to have it go to committee. In fact, we knew all along that the bill would end today and go to committee.

All the theatrics we saw earlier today from the Minister of Justice were just that, theatrics, trying to score political points. It was going to committee anyway.

I think everybody should take it down a notch and get back to our real job, which is debating the legislation, making intelligent debate and ensuring there is a proper process at committee as well.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

moved that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak to Bill C-15 today.

Members will recall that, in November 2007, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-26, which proposed a number of mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that appropriately high sentences are imposed on those who commit serious drug offences. This bill reintroduces those same provisions.

As we all know, the Prime Minister unveiled Canada's new national anti-drug strategy in October 2007. The national anti-drug strategy provides funding to prevent the consumption of illegal drugs, particularly among young people, to treat addictions and to fight drug-related crime.

This strategy has a two-pronged approach: the first focuses on a tougher response to drug-related crime and the second on victims.

The national anti-drug strategy includes three action plans: preventing the consumption of illegal drugs, treating addictions, and tackling the production and distribution of illegal drugs.

The action plan to fight the production and distribution of illegal drugs contains a number of elements, including sufficiently severe penalties for serious drug-related offences.

That is part of the context in which this bill should be seen. It takes action on one of the government’s major priorities, which is to attack crime, and especially organized crime.

The purpose of this bill is not to provide minimum obligatory penalties for all drug-related offences. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is quite complex when it comes to various offences and punishments. The punishment depends on both the kind of crime committed and the substance involved. The most dangerous substances that cause the greatest problems, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine, are included in schedule I of the act, and crimes related to them attract the most severe penalties, up to life imprisonment.

Cannabis and related substances are included in schedule II. Crimes involving them attract less severe penalties. In the case of trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, sentences of up to life imprisonment are only imposed in regard to quantities of at least three kilograms. Production of cannabis is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The least severe penalties of a maximum of 12 months in prison upon summary conviction are reserved for crimes involving substances listed in schedules IV and V. It should be noted, however, that most of the activities forbidden by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are legal if the person involved has the necessary licence, permit or exemption.

For example, the marijuana medical access regulations, which took effect on July 30, 2001, provide a complete procedure for people who suffer from certain health problems to apply for a permit to possess or cultivate marijuana for medicinal reasons with the approval of their physician or, in some cases, of a specialist. The number of plants that an authorized person is entitled to cultivate is based on a formula related to the amount of dried marijuana the person needs every day.

Some hon. members might think it is unnecessary to provide for minimum penalties like those in the bill in order to punish serious drug-related offences. However, these crimes are a growing problem in Canadian cities and stricter legislation is absolutely necessary.

We should remember as well that the security of Canadians is one of our government’s highest priorities. Their security is threatened by organized crime groups involved in the production and trafficking of drugs. These activities lead to increased crime, violence and danger to law enforcement officers.

Drug trafficking and production are also the largest sources of illicit money for organized crime groups.

Profits from the sale of drugs, estimated to be in the billions of dollars per year in Canada, are used to finance a host of other criminal activities.

According to the Statistics Canada Juristat bulletin entitled “Crime Statistics in Canada, 2004”, offences related to the cultivation of marijuana more than doubled during the last decade, going from approximately 3,400 in 1994 to 8,000 in 2004. According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia, approximately 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases were located in B.C. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%. Even though the number of marijuana grow operations in British Columbia stabilized between 2000 and 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced went from 19,720 kilograms in 1997 to 79,817 kilograms in 2003—a seven-year record—because of the size and proficiency of the operations.

Investigations by British Columbia Hydro revealed that at a certain point there may have been up to 17,000 marijuana grow operations. The increase in illegal marijuana production activities did not occur only in British Columbia, but everywhere in Canada. Even though we have no national data on the production of synthetic drugs, RCMP data indicate a constant increase in production operations. The RCMP carried out seizures in 25 synthetic drug production operations in 2002, in 51 operations in 2003, 60 in 2004, and 53 in 2005. Of these 60 seizures in 2004, 17 involved ecstasy production and 40, methamphetamine production. Of the 53 seizures in 2005, 60% involved methamphetamine production operations and 30% involved ecstasy production operations. The seizures of ecstasy and its components went from 1.5 million tablets in 2001 to more than 70 million tablets in 2006.

Illegal drug use can hurt us all. We are seeing that when it comes to methamphetamine producers and users. Unlike better-known drugs—heroin, cocaine, and marijuana—methamphetamine presents unique challenges. Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. Its production does not involve crop cultivation. In fact, one needs no special knowledge or training to produce it, and the chemical ingredients are relatively cheap and easy to obtain. As a result, the production of this drug is attractive to both pushers and addicts.

Methamphetamine also poses a threat to enforcement authorities, which have to fight both small, secret labs and huge labs controlled by drug-trafficking organizations.

The small labs produce relatively small amounts of methamphetamine and are generally not affiliated with major drug trafficking organizations. A number of factors have served as catalysts for the spread of small labs, including easy access to recipes on the Internet. Indeed, widespread Internet usage has facilitated the dissemination of technology used to manufacture methamphetamine in small labs. This form of information sharing allows wide dissemination of these techniques to anyone with computer access.

Aside from marijuana, methamphetamine is the only widely used illegal drug that users can make themselves. Given the relative ease with which manufacturers or cooks can acquire recipes and ingredients, and the unsophisticated nature of the production process, it is easy to see why this highly addictive drug is spreading.

Methamphetamine production operations also pose serious public safety and health hazards to those in and around them. These operations can result in serious physical injury from explosions, fires, chemical burns and toxic fumes. They produce environmental hazards, pose cleanup problems and endanger the lives and health of community residents.

The collateral damage caused by methamphetamine includes impacts on families, school staff, students, law enforcers, fire fighters, paramedics, health care practitioners, businesses and property owners. These individuals suffer indirectly from meth use.

First responders may be exposed to production byproducts—the danger of fire or explosion—and may be the target of violence and aggression from addicts.

Communities in general may be exposed to violence, property damage, identity theft, decreased public safety, contamination of public areas from the disposal of cooking byproducts, and an unreliable or decreased workforce that impedes the safety of co-workers.

As you can see, Mr. Speaker, the use and production of illicit drugs can have serious adverse consequences for users, producers, families, law enforcement agencies, first responders and the community.

It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to make the laws in Canada, and we must ensure that those laws provide for appropriate measures to address serious problems. And make no mistake, drug use in Canada is a very serious problem. Some aspects of the situation have grown worse in recent years, and it is our duty to act in the face of this growing threat.

In response to the dangers posed by increased production and the worsening drug problem, the government introduced this bill, which proposes mandatory minimum penalties for those who produce and sell this drug.

The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act do more than just impose minimum penalties. The bill contains a provision that would enable certain offenders who ordinarily would be subject to mandatory minimum penalties to take part in a program given by what is called a drug treatment court.

A drug treatment court is a substance abuse intervention model that operates within the criminal justice system. Drug treatment courts provide judicially supervised treatment in lieu of incarcerating individuals who have a substance use problem that is related to their criminal activities, for example, drug related offences such as drug possession, use or non-commercial trafficking and/or property offences committed to support their drug use, such as theft or shoplifting.

Individuals may need to meet other requirements specific to individual courts or court systems to be deemed eligible for admission. Eligible accused persons must choose between the drug treatment court program and traditional criminal justice process, which can result in various dispositions ranging from fines to incarceration.

Typically, formal admission into a drug treatment court program requires the individual to plead guilty to his or her charges. If an individual fails to comply or participate in all aspects of the drug treatment court program, consequences range from an official reprimand or revocation of bail to termination of the program and the handing down of custodial or community supervision sentences.

Although a drug treatment court program is applicable only when eligible offenders choose it and give their consent, drug treatment courts constitute a form of coercive treatment. A well designed and properly implemented drug treatment court model has a number of key facets. The first is early identification of those who meet the program eligibility criteria and early treatment. Second, it includes access to several types of programs that treat the offender's problems with substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs, and mental health issues.

Third, there is extensive ongoing judicial contact with each participant. Fourth, there must be intensive supervision and drug testing to monitor and ensure abstinence from all intoxicants, coupled with positive reinforcement for compliance and sanctions for non-compliance. Fifth, a partnership is needed between drug treatment courts and community based organizations in order to improve program effectiveness. Sixth, there must be continuing education for those involved in the field, in order to improve the program's effectiveness. Seventh, a non-adversarial approach must be used in the court system to ensure both public safety and the rights of program participants. Eighth and last, comprehensive evaluation will monitor program objectives and measure effectiveness.

Compared to traditional criminal justice approaches, the intent of a drug treatment court is to permit motivated clients to avoid incarceration and other sanctions and to allow them access to treatment services more quickly due to dedicated resources. It is also to encourage clients to remain in treatment until completed, through intensive and frequent monitoring and supervision by the court.

Participating in a drug treatment court program is intensive and demanding. It includes court attendance up to twice a week, random urine testing, and attendance and treatment from daily to weekly as clients progress through the program. Although some participants start treatment in a facility, they all attend outpatient programs.

At some sites there is a primary treatment provider, whereas at other sites various community agencies deliver treatments. The drug treatment court team follows the client's progress closely. There are preliminary meetings set up to detect problems and find possible solutions to difficulties, to client relapse and to non-compliance. Coming before the court enables the client to inform it of his progress, and for it to reinforce compliance and progress made, and to sanction non-compliance or set new conditions or interventions with a view to helping the client break out of the crime-dependence cycle.

The drug treatment court programs show great promise and their results will be monitored. This important bill has been drafted in such a way as to not have any impact on treatment programs.

Canadians are calling for the criminal law system to set proper penalties for the commission of drug-related crimes. This bill responds to that desire and will provide for severe but fair minimum sentences.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 4:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the speech by the hon. member. I also appreciate the fact that he has a great deal of experience as a member of the Bar and that he works very hard on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I have no doubt that he believes in the Conservatives' program. However, I would like to ask him a few questions.

In his 20-minute speech, the member made no mention of the other cause of drug-related crime and that worries me somewhat. He did talk about the components of Bill C-15. However, I would like to know, as would Canadians, if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice believes that the government could or should do other things to deal with these threats, apart from Bill C-15. Will the government take other action to deal with this important issue?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill C-15.

It is my great pleasure to rise on this topic and on the topic of justice in general. The preface would be in that old common law saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Usually that goes to the rights of an accused, but what I would say for the Canadian public, on the floor of the House, is justice is being delayed. The government has been in power three years and we still have problems with crime.

I have been in the bowels of the government's justice machine. Two things we do not want to see, but need, are the making of laws and the making of sausages. I was also on the floor of meat packing plants in Moncton in the old days. I do not think members really want to see sausages being made. I am not sure members would want to see the laws being made by the government over the past three years either.

The Conservatives really have not been effective. If we want to get at the root causes of crime and if we want to do what we all want as parliamentarians, which is to have safer communities, we have to look at the beginning and the end. We have to look at the whole situation with respect to crime. We do not go to CTV or CBC, get on the news and say, “We're doing something about crime. Look at the bill we're introducing”. We do not have successive parliaments have their work interrupted by prorogations. That is what the government has done. It has denied justice by delaying justice.

Even when the government gets around to what it sees as its fix, its panacea, which is just legislation, it does not seem to get that its legislation alone will not solve the problems we have with organized crime, drug abuse and the drug culture and drug crime industry in this community.

That is why I will take some time to not only review Bill C-15, but the whole issue of drugs in our country.

A few weeks ago we had a delegation in Ottawa from British Columbia. I know it met with members of the government as well. We would not be honest with ourselves if we did not say to the House that we are, in a bit, reacting to a very serious situation in British Columbia, but there are serious situations in North Preston and Halifax. There are serious situations in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and all across the country.

However, the people on the front line are the men and women in law enforcement, the men and women in the prosecutorial offices and the men and women who wear uniforms to enforce our laws in the province of British Columbia.

That delegation included the attorney general of British Columbia, who came with some very specific demands. The chief law officer of the province of British Columbia came here with specific demands that had not been addressed by the government. They were not gargantuan tasks. They were tasks we would expect of a reacting, competent government. As I mentioned, not only does it have a very capable Queen's Counsel, a member of Parliament for some 20 years, Attorney General, it also has two very good parliamentary secretaries, representing the best of English speaking Canada from Albert County, New Brunswick and the best of French speaking Canada from Quebec.

Notwithstanding those heavy resources and great minds that are applied to this subject, the government has not been able to respond adequately, swiftly and thoroughly to the needs of the attorney general of British Columbia. They involve relatively simple things, simple things that the laws have evolved to become obstacles to the law enforcement officials in British Columbia. The whole issue around disclosure, as I mentioned in one of my interventions, has become very cumbersome for law enforcement officials.

There is a bit of a paper war between prosecutors and police forces with respect to having to comply to the need for disclosure as bolstered by the law in Stinchcombe. The prosecutors sometimes want paper files. They are not ready to move to electronic files, that is fine. Police officers who compile some of the initial information are tied up quite often making copies thereof. The prosecutors in many provinces have to go over the evidence themselves in order to prefer the charges. In some cases, that means watching hours of video.

One would think that a government responding to need would say that it has the power of legislative reform and the power to introduce amendments that might address Stinchcombe, that might address the exactitude and timeliness with respect to disclosure. However, we might also expect that it would react by giving money and resources to both prosecutorial services and police forces in order to comply with the need for disclosure. However, nothing like that was done. The response was always legislation.

Funnily, on this side we saw today that even when all the opposition parties seem willing to get this to committee quickly, the Minister of Justice seemed to be the only one in the room who did not get the song sheet. He did not seem to understand that everybody wanted it to go to committee and he had a bit of a fit, which did not advance the ball at all.

We are not against these bills going to committee to be studied. They will go through the rigour that the committee has always brought to legislation, when the House has not been prorogued and the work of committees permanently stopped, which has been the case in the three years that the Conservative government has had its hands on the wheel.

I was involved in municipal politics. At that time, we only a three-year term. If I did as little in my entire mandate for the citizens of Moncton as the government has done on the justice dossier, I would not have been acclaimed to my second term. Three years is enough time for the people on the other side to stop saying that people on this side are born again to the justice issue.

I think of the member for Mount Royal and all that he has done to contribute to the laws of our country and Conservatives say that he is born again. If Liberals are born again, that means the Conservatives were never born at all or, if they were, they are like puppies in the first few days. They have wool over their eyes and they do not see the larger issues that, after three years, should be so apparent. There are issues with respect to the root causes of crime and drug issues with respect to how we will implement issues around the four pillars that the people from British Columbia live by in the inner city.

Even proponents of the Conservative justice agenda, and I think primarily of the representatives of the board of trade from British Columbia who were here yesterday, recognize that the legislation alone is not enough. Even they would say that no one is born a criminal. One has to become a criminal and embrace a lifestyle that leads to incarceration. Unfortunately, time and time again the government has brought forward legislation that only talks about one of the pillars or, if we want to get technical, one of the principles of sentencing as found in the Criminal Code, which is the issue of incarceration.

Bill C-15 is a fairly good stab at an acute problem in our country, which is the enforcement of people who break the law with respect to the use, importation and trafficking of drugs. It is particularly important to underline, as my friend the parliamentary secretary did, the action with respect to a certain rise in the use of methamphetamine.

There has been some success, without any of these laws being enacted, that should be heralded in the House today. Not surprisingly, the story comes from New Brunswick. This kind of activity by our police forces takes place every day in Canada, and they are not heralded enough.

We are in an era when good RCMP officers have had their expected wage increases reduced, as if they were other civil servants or like other members of Parliament. In a day and age when the RCMP is having some difficulty in recruitment and some issues with respect to their municipal contracts across our country, we might want to ask ourselves, and Canadians as well, what the Minister of Public Safety is doing with respect to the RCMP. How is the esprit de corps at the RCMP?

Would it not be good to read stories like this all the time? In fact, the story emanates from Moncton, New Brunswick, and it goes as follows:

The number of seizures in New Brunswick of the drug methamphetamine has doubled in the past year, RCMP say....The number of meth seizures jumped to 90 in 2008 from roughly 45 in 2007.

That is a good news story. As my friend, the parliamentary secretary, said, this is a particularly pernicious and addictive drug. This is proof that the RCMP, with proper resources, and forget about all the new laws involved, can crack down on what exists now.

My initial plea is for the government to wake up on two fronts. One, it is proposing legislation that is but a small part of a resolution or improvement in the situation, which in one case we have suggested should go right to committee. Members will find with respect to Bill C-15, at least with respect to the Liberal Party's position, that we also support it going to committee for study, but I have not heard from the Conservative side anything that suggests there is anything else in the Conservative agenda with respect to fixing the situation.

There was a little crack in the armour at committee recently, when the other parliamentary secretary said that no one was suggesting that these bills were the be-all and end-all. That is a good start. The road to improvement is looking in the mirror and realizing that we are leading Canadians to believe we are fixing the crime situation with our nightly newscasts. However, it would be refreshing to hear from the Conservative side. It would be refreshing to hear those members say that there is a long road to climb, that funding adequately police forces and prosecutorial services is one of those things and investing morally and mentally in the ideas of harm reduction and prevention and early childhood intervention with respect to the root causes of crime is another. These would be refreshing thoughts for all Canadians to hear.

With respect to the bill itself, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would be amended to include a one year mandatory prison sentence, which would be imposed for dealing drugs such as marijuana when carried out for an organized crime purpose.

Another thing the government could do is this. I happen to know that the Department of Justice, if asked, would be ready and would embrace the idea of looking at the definition of organized crime.

There were improvements to the Criminal Code, which interspersed organized crime definitions, but when we compare it to the RICO statute in the United States, it is more narrowly defined. It is not as contemporary as we need it to be when we are talking about street gangs, which in some cases might be two people. As members know, the organized crime provisions in the Criminal Code apply to three people.

The criminals have been much more sophisticated and they have grown much readier to adapt to legal situations than our Parliament has in making the laws to react.

This does not have anything to do with mandatory minimums, or conditional sentences or being tough on crime. This has to do with looking at the Criminal Code as an organic document. I do not want to get too farm-like, but if we have an organic document, it is a bit like a garden. We have to tend to that garden and understand that certain crops need to be fertilized. Some need to be covered, protected and watered. That is what the Criminal Code is like.

Certain provisions are so antiquated that the only brilliant Conservative attorney general would turn over in his grave, and that was Sir John Thompson in 1892, who wrote the Criminal Code. I know I am going back over 100 years to give a great compliment to the Conservatives. I guess that is endemic to this place. The fact is he wrote the Criminal Code and he would turn over in his grave to see how antiquated it is in some ways.

After three years, the government ought to say that it has to take ownership of its failure in making the Criminal Code a more modern document.

With respect to organized crime, the Criminal Code has to do be updated. With respect to the Criminal Code and all the issues around warrants, electronic or otherwise, prosecutors have to go to graduate school to figure out how many different types of warrants they might have to apply for in front of judges before they are able to use them.

These things are completely non-contentious. They are things that could have been brought to Parliament in the first year, the second year, now, or hopefully next week, if anybody listens to the sense in my speech. These are things that could improve the enforcement of our laws.

This bill will enact a two year mandatory prison sentence for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin and meth to youth, or for dealing those drugs near a school or an area normally frequented by youth. A two year mandatory prison sentence will also be imposed for the offence of running a large marijuana grow operation of at least 500 plants. These are very targeted sentences which, when problems are increasing exponentially particularly in certain areas of the country, we cannot oppose. These are wonderful provisions for a very specific problem.

What is missing in this crime prevention program is a more holistic approach. Why have we not heard the Conservatives talk about bringing forward other legislation that will be more effective?

We have had the argument regarding mandatory minimum sentences in past Parliaments. The opinion is divided. I am not an expert on this, but I know that other members of the committee have sat through hours of testimony from a multitude of experts who are very divided, but by and large the experts are saying that tougher penalties for people who produce and traffic drugs will only scare the ma and pa producers. That is good. Anybody who is doing any of these crimes should be scared. I am talking about the second pillar in the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing, and that is deterrence. Let us hope it deters some of the young and inexperienced and ma and pa producers. That is a good thing. However, it will not deter organized crime.

Bill C-14 and Bill C-15 are somewhat related, and although they deal with organized crime, they do so in a fashion which, without changing the definition in the code, might not have the effect that we are all hoping for.

The Canadian public has to be aware that just because two bills came forward and just because they seem to be targeted at very specific, acute and well-known problems today, that does not mean those problems are going to be fixed tomorrow. It would be leading the Canadian public down a road of false hope if the Canadian government, represented by its Attorney General, got in front of a camera again and suggested that this is all going to be fixed. He has been saying that since I first got here, and it has not been fixed.

Another important element is that these mandatory sentences have been tried in other jurisdictions. Mandatory drug penalties have helped turn the United States into the world's leading jailer with more than 2.3 million people in prison, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies in London. The U.S. also has the highest per capita rate of incarceration, with 751 people in jail for every 100,000 in population. That is more than Russia, more than China, more than Canada.

No one on this side is against incarceration for people who do wrong. No one is against that, but to think it is a cure for the problems that ail us, to think that is the only solution is wrong. That the government, in doing this, has not committed adequate resources for the facilities that will incarcerate them is also the double end of the false hope that Canadians might have in this situation.

With that, and in conclusion, as a member of the committee I continue to hope that we will work in a very non-partisan fashion as we have in this Parliament. I compliment the two parliamentary secretaries. I look forward to reviewing the bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 5 p.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House on Bill C-15. Once again, as I said last week about the bill of my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber, it feels like everyone in the House is stuck inside the movie Groundhog Day, because we keep going over the same bills. This bill was introduced by the last Minister of Justice in the last Parliament. It has been amended a bit to give more mention to rehabilitation, but not enough to really change anything.

As my colleague has said, this government seems to want to bring in bills that are wholly punitive, rather than to think about the underlying reasons why youth and others end up involved with crime and criminals.

First and foremost, we absolutely must address the causes and effects of crime. We are well aware that our young people between the ages of 15 and 24, who account for 2.5% of drug users, find themselves very much at loose ends in the economic crisis we are experiencing at present. Often their families are unemployed but do not have access to EI benefits. Often family members have been without work for more than a year and so are no longer receiving benefits. They are living in obvious poverty and the government is doing nothing for them.

When young people find themselves in situations like this, it is certainly harder for them to have to deal with reality and easier to take the easy way out. I do not mean to imply that I am in favour of that. Believe me, it is awful to see young people addicted to meth or crack, and not anything we want to see happen to our children.

When the matter of imposing minimum sentences comes up, however, it is very important to keep in mind that in the American states that have minimum sentences, such as California, Florida and Montana, they have opted for leaving the possibility for prosecutors and courts to set lesser sentences than the minimum imposed for certain offences.

In Canada, on the other hand, judges have no choice but to impose the minimum sentence set out for a given offence. This means that young people, who have undeniably made serious mistakes, will end up with minimum sentences from which they will learn nothing. Nothing whatsoever is learned in prison.

It is also disappointing that the bill does not contain measures to help youth and adults get off drugs. As mentioned earlier by my colleague for Vancouver East, some projects are working very well. For example, InSite, in Vancouver, was very effective and significantly reduced risks associated with injection drugs.

However, the government does not believe that these are good programs. Even though the World Health Organization, the mayor and police of Vancouver and doctors say that InSite is a good program, the Minister of Health says that the government does not want it, that it is not a good program, that we absolutely must rid ourselves of anyone who takes illicit drugs and that we should get rid of InSite. That is not how we will fix the problem.

Jailing those addicted to injection drugs, often means condemning them to becoming infected with HIV.

Quite often, those incarcerated who used cannabis or other so-called soft drugs, but not injection drugs, end up with very different drug habits and often end up taking injection drugs. When that happens, they may not necessarily have the tools to take the drugs safely. Thus, 30 or 40 inmates share a needle and we end up with a multitude of AIDS and HIV cases that makes the prison population increasingly dangerous. Our children leave these prisons after using drugs in those conditions without knowing that they are HIV positive. Quite often, it is possible for individuals to live with HIV for many years before testing positive for AIDS. In the meantime, they can unwittingly pass it on to many others.

I realize that the government probably had good intentions when drafting this bill. However, it has to be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in order for it to be amended and better reflect the society in which we live.

Even though the bill did not pass last year, we know that offences committed by drug users decreased by 3% last year. Since the crime rate went down without any incentives—like prison sentences that would prevent people from wanting to commit offences—why are some people in such a hurry to impose minimum sentences to ensure that young people do not use drugs? That is not how it works. Telling someone that if they are caught with 3 kg of marijuana they will go to prison for two years will not necessarily stop that person from walking around with 3 kg of marijuana in their possession, when that is their bread and butter. If that is their livelihood, that person is probably not going to stop selling marijuana.

There are other ways to teach our young people and the general public that drugs are not necessarily the solution to problems. As a woman, I know many women struggle with this phenomenon. They are forced to deal with spouses who use drugs or who unfortunately sell drugs. That is another problem. Indeed, as is usually the case, women cannot count on this government's support for things like violence against women and matters of employment insurance. If their spouse can no longer sell drugs, they will only end up on the street that much faster. I see my colleague from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women smiling. She understands very well why I say this. I will not say her name, but she knows who she is.

This bill goes much too far in the use of minimum sentences. It goes much too far in terms of Conservative ideological thinking. It does nothing to ensure that our youth and other people do not use or sell drugs. The only thing this bill does is give the Conservatives some good publicity, while they do nothing about the root causes of drug use.

That is really too bad, because for years now, we have been saying, over and over, that we need programs to make sure that our young people, victims and drug addicts—those addicted to either soft or hard drugs—can get into detox and overcome their problems without having to go to jail.

It is really sad to see that the government wants to send 14-, 15-, and 16-year-old kids to jail for reasons like that. Of course, nobody wants to see anyone die because of a drug addiction. That is what happens when people are addicted to heroin, morphine, cocaine and crack. We have all seen documentaries that are truly horrifying, the stuff of nightmares for mothers, but at the same time, as a mother, I absolutely do not want my child to be sent to jail for this kind of offence. I would rather my child receive the help he needs to get clean. We have seen terrifying documentaries.

When the Conservatives talk about their programs and bills, everything they say is about penalties and criminalization. They never talk about rehabilitation and ways to help people. That is a shame because it creates a really bad image.

Quebeckers heard enough about penalties for juvenile delinquents during last year's election campaign, and they let the Conservatives know what they thought. They have not changed their minds. No matter what our Conservative colleagues tell us, Quebeckers know that rehabilitation—helping young people overcome their addictions—is always better than sentencing them to even short periods of jail time.

A couple of years ago, we sought assurance that the Minister of Health would extend the mandate of Vancouver's InSite for at least a year. When he did so, he and I spoke at length, because I really believed in his ability to recognize the importance of such programs.

In Quebec there are a number of programs that meet the needs of drug users who want to get off drugs. There are a number of places that look after young people who want to quit, and a number of free programs for them, such as Maison Jean-Lapointe, as well as many other detox centres where our youth can go. Very often these enable our young people to leave much for the better, stronger and better equipped for life, and without any criminal conviction that would very likely end up making them criminals for life.

My colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin has a long history with the justice sector in Quebec and has experience with such subjects and cases. He has even defended drug addicts and seen some of them do well when he has sent them to detox and helped them to understand the importance of getting clean and rehabilitated. It does work.

Contrary to what our Conservative colleagues tell us, minimum sentences do not work. They do not work in the U.S. where crime is on the increase. This has been observed for years, ever since minimum sentences were introduced, and the system does not work any better. Judges have to work out ways within their various jurisdictions to get prosecutors and the American justice system to deviate from the law and allow them to set the sentences themselves. They are very much aware that minimum sentences do not work and that, very often, they are far too heavy for the crime committed.

I hope that we in this House will not again make the mistake of not listening to the Department of Justice. They produced a very good document explaining all this and saying that there should not be any minimum sentences here, because judges do not have the right to set lesser sentences.

I hope our colleagues will think very hard before passing this bill without amendments or changes.

For our part, we certainly want to study it in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where my colleague from Hochelagawill take pleasure in examining it in depth and making the necessary changes. He too is very familiar with the minds of Quebeckers and with the spirit of the law. Most of all, he knows that if we want justice to be equitable, we must have the means first to make it so.

To do that, we must start by putting money where it counts. We must start by putting money into social housing and into programs to support families and fight poverty. We have to make sure that all men, women and children have enough to eat, pay the rent and find happiness.

One of the chief reasons why people take drugs, whether hard or soft, is they think drugs will make them happy, when in actual fact, they do not do anything for them, except make them dead in all too many cases.

Once again, I hope my colleagues will think twice before passing this bill too quickly. That is what the Minister of Justice apparently wanted this morning. I hope he will reconsider and be a little less strident in his demands for us to pass it quickly

We should ensure that the bill accurately reflects the needs of Canadians and not just the ideology of the governing Conservative Party.