An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (punishment)

Sponsor

Bob Saroya  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Sept. 27, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-338.

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 increase sentences for offences related to the importing and exporting of controlled drugs and substances.

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

Sept. 27, 2017 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-338, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (punishment)

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

September 27th, 2017 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-338, under private members' business.

The House resumed from September 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-338, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (punishment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

September 21st, 2017 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise again today to address a serious issue that is causing thousands of deaths in Canada each year. The importing and exporting of dangerous drugs and substances is a serious threat to Canadians. More must be done.

I introduced Bill C-338, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act with regard to punishment in order to increase sentences for offences related to the importing and exporting of controlled drugs and substances. Bill C-338 indicates that if the subject matter of the offence is less than one kilogram of a substance included in Schedule I or in Schedule II, he or she is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for life, with a minimum sentence of two years. It also indicates that if the subject matter of the offence is a substance included in Schedule I and is in an amount that is more than one kilogram, the person is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for life, with a minimum punishment of three years.

The current sentence is too light. This is unacceptable. It does not deter drug traffickers from continuing to import, export, and profit at the expense of society's most vulnerable. The reality is that criminals who import and export deadly drugs and substances are responsible for thousands of lost lives.

Canadian families expect safe and healthy communities in which to raise their children. Canadians are especially concerned about crime, which is why the former Conservative government introduced and passed over 30 measures aimed at strengthening our justice system, standing up for victims, and keeping our streets safe. Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. We make no apologies for strengthening penalties for drug trafficking or other crimes. We must ensure that sentencing still reflects the desire of Canadians to get tough on drug dealers and other criminals.

We are in the grips of a deadly fentanyl epidemic. In Ontario, about two people a day die due to opioid overdoses, and most involve fentanyl. A few months ago, the former health minister claimed that Canada needed more data on the opioid overdose crisis. I was shocked. The reality is that fentanyl is on our streets and people are dying. We do not need more research; we need action now. Bill C-338 will do that.

In 2016, opioids claimed the lives of at least 2,458 Canadians, according to a new estimate released by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Light sentences make it appealing for drug dealers to produce illegal substances in basements, labs, and kitchens. These dangerous drugs are produced in such conditions that it is impossible to predict the strength of each dose. In my riding of Markham—Unionville, a drug lab was discovered in the heart of an upper-middle-class residential neighbourhood. This forced residents to evacuate their homes. From coast to coast to coast, no community in any member's riding is immune to this epidemic. I truly understand the need for robust prevention and treatment options for addicts, but we cannot rehabilitate dead bodies.

As it stands, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provides inadequate and unintimidating punishment for criminals who import and export lethal drugs and substances. Those who import and export these drugs and substances must be brought to justice and must face increased mandatory minimum sentences. Our constituents expect us to do more to keep our children and communities safe.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

September 21st, 2017 / 6 p.m.
See context

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today and speak in favour of the private member's bill put forward by my colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville. I want to thank the other members who have risen in the House today to speak on this important piece of legislation to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to increase sentences for offences related to the importing and exporting of controlled drugs and substances.

I want to be very clear. We have an opioid crisis. It is plaguing our communities. As legislators, we must take some sort of action. We heard from some of my colleagues earlier today on Bill C-37, which would give our border services agents additional tools to address things like illegal pill presses and to search small packages. Those are all steps to address what I think all of us in this House would agree is a plague that is impacting communities across the country.

Bill C-338 is another step for us as parliamentarians to give our law enforcement officers, as well as the judicial system, the tools they need to fight this opioid crisis that is unfortunately taking away our friends, neighbours, and, in some cases, our family.

I want to talk a little about what is going on in my home province of Alberta. My riding is almost completely rural. We have never seen something like this affect the communities in my riding for as long as most of us have been there. For example, in 2016 there were 338 accidental opioid deaths, and the 2017 numbers are predicted to be much worse.

I have a first nations community in my riding, the Kainai Blood first nation, which had to declare a state of emergency in 2016 because of the number of deaths they were facing in their community. Many of those were young people. About 80% of the deaths in Alberta were people 20 to 35 years old. These were young people who had their entire lives ahead of them.

We have to understand that we have to get away from that stereotype that these are somehow down-and-out people or those who have long-term drug addiction problems. Some of them may, but what is most frightening to me and to many of my colleagues in this House is that a large number of those who have died from these opioid overdoses were trying opioids for the first time, or had taken something else that unknown to them was laced with fentanyl or carfentanil.

My colleague across the floor was talking about trying to take marijuana out of the hands of children and out of the black market. Unfortunately, many of these deaths are from people smoking marijuana that has been laced with some of these very dangerous opioid products. It is disingenuous to say that the legislation brought forward by the Liberal government is going to take marijuana out of the hands of children. That is what concerns me on the approach to fentanyl.

If people are allowed to have four plants, three feet high, in their house, how is it possibly going to make it less accessible to children? For example, in Ontario the provincial Wynne government is saying it is going to look at the LCBO as the avenue or vehicle to sell marijuana. The odds of the LCBO selling marijuana at a cheaper price than what is available on the street is probably slim to none.

We have to take stronger action to address some of these issues. What is attractive in Bill C-338 is that it takes a hard line on those who are importing and exporting fentanyl and carfentanil and these other very harmful opioids. These products are flooding our communities. I would attest that there is not a community, not a constituency, not a riding anywhere in Canada that is immune to this opioid crisis.

I think those of us who are in western Canada, in B.C. and Alberta, felt it a little sooner than maybe the rest of the Canadian provinces and territories. It is certainly making its way across Canada. There are massive numbers of these fentanyl and carfentanil pills. I know some of it is from prescriptions, from pharmacy patients who are distributing or reselling these products, but the vast majority of it is being imported from out of the country. A lot of it is from China.

We have to take some very strong steps as parliamentarians to ensure that those who import these products face some very harsh punishment, as well as those who export them, even though we do not have as much control over that aspect of it.

I have been to far too many funerals over the last two or three years for young people who have overdosed on fentanyl. The last one I was at was for a young man who was 26 years old. I had known him for most of his life. I coached him in hockey. I certainly never expected something like that to happen. This is a life that was taken much too soon. I know the bill does not address some of the consequences of fentanyl and opioid abuse, but it certainly addresses some of the root causes of it. I am not saying we cannot focus on funding for mental health. That is a key part of this issue as well.

Certainly access to counselling, access to addictions counselling and recovery, those things are also very critical. I hope we have those discussions in Parliament moving forward. However, a big part of this is also on the justice side. What tools can we as parliamentarians give to our law enforcement and justice to ensure they can take hard action against people who import these products and then sell them in our neighbourhoods, schoolyards, and in communities across the country.

That is why as Conservatives we have taken such a hard stance on ensuring we have safe communities, mandatory sentencing, being tough on crime. As Canadians, we want to ensure we have safe communities, safe streets. I want to feel comfortable that my children are safe in my community. That is why it is so critical to do everything we can to stop the illegal importation of these drugs, methamphetamines, ecstasy, fentanyl. Again, we must provide our health services with the tools they need for mental health, resources on counselling, but we must ensure that those who import and sell these drugs face the harshest of punishments. They must be severely held accountable when they import these types of products.

I want to emphasize the fact that Bill C-338 does not talk about substance misuse. I do not want our friends across the floor to think we are not focusing on the consequences of drug addiction. That was a large issue with Bill C-37, which we talked about in the last session. We are talking about people who are bringing in these illegal substances into our country and making them available for sale and distribution in our communities. I recognize the importance of mental health services, but it is also to ensure we have the tools in place so those who import and sell these drugs face the most severe consequences.

The bill from my colleague from Ontario is one step, one tool in taking action against drug dealers.

We are facing an emergency. Drugs do not discriminate. It does not matter what age, gender, or how much money people make. These drugs are dangerous and unfortunately for many of us in the House we have seen they can kill our friends, neighbours, or loved ones.

It is important as parliamentarians that we take action. Canadians are looking to us to take strong action on the opioid crisis. I believe Bill C-338 brought forward by my colleague from Markham—Unionville is a key part of that strategy. It is one tool we can take to ensure our communities and our families are safe.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

September 21st, 2017 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Marco Mendicino LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-338, which proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to increase mandatory minimum penalties, or MMPs, of imprisonment for offences relating to the importation and exportation of certain drugs and substances.

I would like to begin by commending my hon. colleague across the way for bringing forward this private member's bill. It will encourage and foster an ongoing and important discussion regarding how we best regulate controlled substances.

Let me also say that I have been listening carefully to the debate on Bill C-338 and I would like to echo the political and legal concerns that have already been raised, including the constitutional implications of this bill.

To start, it strikes me as inappropriate to provide the same MMP for substances that have vastly different levels of potency and danger. It is exactly this type of situation that the Supreme Court of Canada has raised concerns about in recent cases in which it struck down MMPs. I refer the House to the Supreme Court of Canada case in Regina v. Muir, in which the court cited R v. Lloyd in stating that “mandatory minimum sentences that...apply to offences that can be committed in various ways, under a broad range of circumstances...are vulnerable to constitutional challenge.”

Although the bill targets the importation of powerful opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil that are lethal in very small quantities, the increased MMPs would also apply to other substances like cannabis. Hon. members will recall that the government has introduced Bill C-45 and Bill C-46 to address and introduce a new comprehensive regime so that we can keep cannabis out of the hands of our youth and vulnerable communities.

Although a highly regulated substance, cannabis simply does not share the devastating qualities of fentanyl for instance. Suffice it to say that such differences are material from a sentencing and charter perspective, so it does not make sense to treat these two substances in the same way.

That said, there is no doubt that the increasing prevalence of potent opioids in our communities has sparked a public health crisis in Canada.

The onslaught of this deadly epidemic in Canada is twofold. First, the overdose crisis has been driven by the emergence of these powerful illicit opioids on the black market, leading to an unprecedented number of deaths among illegal drug users. This unfortunate reality is exacerbated by vile and deceitful drug dealers who mix these incredibly cheap yet highly addictive and potent substances with other more expensive drugs, for instance heroin or cocaine, in an effort to maximize their profits. The relative ease with which these opioids can be produced further compounds these problems.

A secondary contributing factor has been the high levels of addiction to legal opioids across Canada. This trend has been caused in part by inappropriate prescribing practices and poor education on the risks associated with opioid use.

Unfortunately, once prescription renewals expire, many individuals turn to the black market to supply their addiction. The demand that emanates from legal opioid addiction helps fuel the demand for such substances on the black market.

To effectively respond to the opioid crisis in Canada both contributing factors must be addressed. This is partly why I have strong reservations about the approach proposed in Bill C-338. It proposes an unnecessary, costly, and likely ineffective approach to a complex drug problem. The bill is focused on increasing MMPs for offenders engaged in importing and exporting instead of focusing on the root causes of this epidemic.

Evidentiary support is simply lacking to suggest that increasing MMPs in the way proposed by the bill will reduce the influx of these lethal drugs into Canadian communities. In fact, research on the “war on drugs” in the United States reveals that increased penalties do little to deter high-level drug traffickers from engaging in this lucrative criminal conduct, nor do they do anything to help those battling addictions. Health and criminal justice experts assert that addressing the demand side is critical to comprehensively responding to complex social problems like these.

The import and export offences targeted by Bill C-338 are already punishable by a maximum term of life in prison. In Canada, this is the highest penalty a judge can impose. In my personal experience as a drug prosecutor, our judges consistently use their discretion to impose stiff penalties if and when they are warranted. In fact, courts around the country are already treating fentanyl trafficking very seriously.

For example, in a recent decision this year, Regina v. Fyfe, the judge imposed a total sentence of five years' imprisonment on a low level first-time fentanyl trafficker. I would point out that this is two more years than the mandatory minimum jail sentence proposed by this private member's bill. In the decision, the court noted that an appropriate sentence for fentanyl trafficking must be more serious than other hard drugs, for example cocaine, given the substantial risks posed by this and similar opioids.

Moreover, appellate courts across the country are revisiting sentencing ranges for those who traffic in these dangerous substances, noting that previous ranges are “out of sync” with the dangers these substances pose to society. I offer and commend to the House the case of Regina v. Smith, decided by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in 2017.

I will pause to note that it is important that we reaffirm the fundamental principle of the independence of the judiciary as that imparts a high degree of confidence among the public that the judiciary will do their job.

Let me be clear. We are talking about an unprecedented number of fatal drug overdoses in Canada. Our government fully understands the gravity of the situation, and we continue to take action to address the problem. The policies put in place to deal with this crisis need to be guided by performance measurement standards and evidence. These policies must have an immediate impact in order to reduce the number of tragic deaths.

That is why I am so pleased that our government has introduced a new Canadian drug and substances strategy. The strategy focuses on prevention, treatment, and enforcement, but it also reinstates harm reduction as a core pillar of Canada's drug policy. The strategy champions a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy.

To further advance this strategy, the Minister of Health introduced Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments under other acts. Together, these will address the serious and pressing public health issues related to opioids. That bill has now received royal assent, which is something all members in the House should celebrate.

This legislative response is one important part of our government's comprehensive approach to drug policy in Canada. Bill C-37 will simplify and streamline the application process for supervised consumption sites, clamp down on illegal pill presses, and extend the authority of border officers to inspect suspicious small packages coming into Canada, which is precisely the object of what this private member's bill tries to address.

In relation to this last point, extending the inspection powers of the CBSA officers is important, because one standard-sized envelope can contain 30 grams of fentanyl, potent enough to cause 15,000 overdoses. These numbers will increase exponentially where the substance in question is carfentanil.

In addition, our government is also investing over $100 million to support the new Canadian drugs and substances strategy. This is in addition to $10 million in emergency support that the federal government has provided to the province of British Columbia to assist in responding to the overwhelming number of overdoses.

While the private member's bill is well intentioned, its objectives will not be accomplished through the provisions set out in it. This is for all the reasons I have stated in my remarks. I therefore encourage all members to vote this private member's bill down and continue to support all the good work our government is doing with regard to controlled substances.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

September 21st, 2017 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-338. This private member's bill has been brought forward by my Conservative colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville. The member has an obvious genuine concern for his own community and those across Canada. He recognizes the harmful effects that drugs have had in his own city and he has stepped up to do something about it by bringing forward this legislation, so I thank the hon. member for the work that he has done on this bill.

Drugs have been around for as long as anyone can remember, so why the urgency now? The reality is that the drug scene today is nothing like it was in the past. The Internet has made drugs far more accessible. International shipping has made drug distribution both more efficient and more difficult to stop. The growth in the highly addictive and extremely deadly drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil has made drugs more deadly than ever. As I have said in this House before, the best way to combat our drug and opioid crisis is to stop the illicit supply from coming into this country and trading on our streets.

Before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, the RCMP testified that 98% of the illegal opioids in this country are coming from China. This is not a new problem. Work was started under the Stephen Harper government to stem this tide of drugs flowing onto our streets. It culminated recently in an agreement with China that should have some effect—at least, we hope it will have some effect. The Public Health Agency of Canada reported that almost 2,500 Canadians died from opioid overdoses in 2016. This year, that number is expected to exceed 3,000 deaths. That is eight people a day dying from drugs, eight families a day dealing with an unexpected death.

Bill C-338 would target those who are working to bring drugs onto our streets and into our neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, even if we do catch those responsible for shipping these deadly drugs, the punishment that awaits them is insufficient and hardly a deterrent for protection of our communities.

As proposed section 1 states in the bill, if the amount of drugs involved is less than one kilogram, the offender would be subject to a maximum of life in prison with a minimum of a two-year sentence. This would increase the minimum sentence from one to two years. Proposed section 2 in the bill states that if the amount of drugs involved is more than one kilogram, the offender would be subject to a maximum of life in prison with a minimum of a three-year sentence. This would be an increase from two to three years in this minimum sentence.

One of the most dangerous drugs on the street today is carfentanil. It can kill in the smallest amounts. The equivalent of less than a grain of salt can kill. Simply touching the drug can potentially kill. First responders are at a high risk of death. I am not trying to be an alarmist here; I am just reporting the reality. Young children are dying after coming into contact with this drug. Even just the residue on clothing can be deadly to a small child.

In June 2016, Canadian border services intercepted one kilogram of carfentanil en route to my city of Calgary. RCMP Inspector Allan Lai said, “One kilogram of carfentanil can produce approximately 50 million fatal doses.” That is enough to kill every man, every woman, and every child in Canada one and a half times over. If we are going to turn this tide, we need to equip our courts with the tools that they need to remove these dealers of death from our streets.

Alberta Health Services, in my province, has found that 343 people died from fentanyl overdoses in 2016. This is a whopping 33% increase over 2015, and a horrifying 110% rise from just two years ago. A doubling of the death rate in just two years is incredible. It is disgusting. Calgary experienced the worst of it. Half of the province's deaths were in Calgary.

Of those 343 deaths in Alberta in 2016, 22 were linked to carfentanil. In the first five months of this year, more Albertans died from carfentanil than in all of last year, and the body count continues to grow. Albertans are dying at a rate of more than one a day from opioid overdoses alone.

We need to give our courts the tools and the willpower to keep the drug pushers and traffickers off our streets where they cannot do harm. We need to show our law enforcement that their tireless efforts and risky work was worth it. We need to show our first responders that we recognize the dangers they face, and we are looking to reduce potential harm. We need to show our overworked medical staff, those who see the damage daily, that we are trying to save lives as much as they are.

We need to show our communities that their safety and security is under threat, and we are taking action. Most of all, we need to show Canadian families we are doing what we can to better protect their children, their brothers, their sisters, and in some cases, sadly, their parents.

The reality is that the Liberals will not support our efforts to make these changes set out in Bill C-338. The Liberal government is working hard to expedite legislation that would make it legal for children to carry up to five grams of marijuana, while defeating Conservative attempts to jail drug dealers. The NDP members are even worse. Some of them are suggesting we legalize all drugs. This cavalier attitude toward drugs has consequences, and eight times a day, we are reminded of what is at stake.

I am not naive. I know we cannot simply increase all penalties and think it will magically make everyone follow the law. However, we are talking about people who cruise our streets, literally handing out death pills. I know we are all safer if they are in prison, and not on our streets or in our communities.

I encourage all my colleagues to vote in support of this legislation, and let it go to committee for further review. We need to tackle the importing and trafficking of drugs to stop this problem from getting any worse. If my colleagues across think the bill can be improved, then let us do it. Let this proposal go to committee. Let us hear from experts, and let us just do something.

Voting down this legislation is tantamount to doing nothing as Canadians increasingly die around us. Let us do something. Let us do the right thing. Let us vote in favour of the bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

September 21st, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, it brings me no pleasure to have to speak to this bill, because it has to do with a crisis Canada is currently facing, the opioid crisis. The United States is also grappling with the same crisis, which has been the subject of many discussions.

Unfortunatley, Bill C-338 fails miserably in its approach. As the NDP public safety critic, I want to point out that the opioid crisis is not so much a public safety issue as it is a public health issue. It is important to make that distinction with respect to Bill C-338, since all it does is propose heavier penalties, like the infamous mandatory minimum sentences we saw so often when the Conservatives were in power. So far, anywhere you look around the world, mandatory minimums have failed completely in terms of their intended objective, that is, to put an end to the scourge facing our society.

Every policy, medical, and legal expert tells us the same thing: the solution to this crisis is to provide more mental health and addiction treatment services and more resources to the hardest-hit communities that are dealing with the consequences daily. For example, the mayor of Vancouver has had a lot to say about this, since the statistics coming out of British Columbia on the number of deaths caused by this crisis are terrifying, especially for a province in a country like Canada.

For nine years we had a Conservative government that said that the solution to drug trafficking and public health problems was to impose harsher sentences, the infamous mandatory minimums. Even in the American states that are commonly referred to as “red states”, where Republicans share many of the ideological opinions of our Conservative colleagues, it was determined that such sentences were a failure. This approach does not work, and it does not prevent the tragedies we are currently seeing.

To see why this is more a public health issue than a public safety one, we can look at supervised injection sites. All across Canada, especially in big cities that are grappling with this crisis and that want to protect citizens struggling with addiction issues, people have pushed for supervised injections sites and other solutions.

During the previous Parliament, the federal government kept plugging its community consultation line as an excuse to pass legislation making supervised injection sites even harder to set up, even though municipal and provincial elected officials representing those very communities were asking it to authorize them. Rather than solve the problem, the government created conditions that endangered public safety. People's lives were put at risk because they did not have the resources to get help if they were dying of an overdose in some alleyway. I do not want to get into too much detail here.

The Liberal government took way too long to move on this, but at least it moved, and while that is commendable, there is still more work to do. The member for Vancouver Kingsway, our health critic, represents one of the first provinces to face this problem, a region with some of the most terrifying opioid statistics of all.

He asked the question again today: when will this government recognize that this is a national health crisis and declare this to be a pan-Canadian crisis? This has yet to be done, even though it is such an easy step to take so as to ensure that governments could begin taking appropriate action to protect Canadians.

I would go so far as to say that for 30, 40, or even 50 years, the approach taken by the right in the war against drugs has always been to take aim at the criminal element. In the meantime, the ones who were truly forgotten were the Canadians who unfortunately are among these statistics and who lost their lives because we, the legislators, were unable to help them.

Having considered Bill C-388, we oppose it, because we believe that the solution does not lie in putting more resources into fighting crime and putting people in jail. The solution is to help them. We must help these people face their substance abuse problems. We must help those who suffer from a mental illness by ensuring that we provide the care they need and want. We must help protect these citizens.

If we want to discuss public safety, we must first discuss public health. That is what the crisis is about. That is what is being neglected in the approach set out in this bill, which, unfortunately, is similar to the approach that prevailed for many years, especially in the years when there was a majority Conservative government. It was a failure.

We are not the ones saying so. The statistics on recidivism and substance abuse are clear. Today's statistics on this problem indicate that this is not just happening in Vancouver, British Columbia. As people know all too well, this problem is unfortunately affecting the entire country. The problem is moving eastward and is starting to become a reality in the maritime provinces and Atlantic Canada. This should be unacceptable in a society such as ours.

Statistics aside, this is also a legal issue. The Supreme Court has found that minimum mandatory sentences are not going to help us prevent recidivism and protect Canadians. The most vulnerable victims of the opioid crisis and other crises related to drug use and drug trafficking are the users themselves.

The government says they are proposing legislation to protect victims and vulnerable populations, but in a drug crisis like this, the real victims, the real vulnerable population, are the Canadians dying from opioids before our very eyes. What this tells us is that, as I have said many times before, this is a public health issue.

Let us stop talking about how long we can put people in prison for. Let us stop thinking that rehabilitation is what is really going to help people recover from their mental health problems. Let us take their needs seriously, along with the needs identified by local authorities, such as the health and justice ministers in the provinces dealing with these tragedies, and municipal officials, such as the mayor of Vancouver, who is asking for help and more authority to develop tools like supervised injection sites to help these people start to heal. That is the approach we should be promoting.

I would like to close by saying that we have concerns about this approach. We recognize that it is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done to eliminate this problem, which is no longer just a regional issue. It is affecting all of Canada and even North America. These problems are being raised in discussions with American counterparts and between ministers. That proves that we need to take the issue seriously. Let us declare it to be a pan-Canadian health crisis. That would allow the government to do what is necessary. I have said it many times, and the NDP will continue to repeat it, that this is first and foremost a public health issue.

Let us help and protect these individuals, for they are the victims.

The House resumed from May 8 consideration of the motion that Bill C-338, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (punishment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2017 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand to speak to this bill. The bill really touches the tip of the iceberg with respect to these drugs.

I heard my colleague talk about how other parties were opposed to mandatory minimum sentences. From past experience, I know we have had mandatory minimums on a lot of crimes. Impaired driving is the most frequently charged Criminal Code offence, and has had mandatory minimums for a long time. This offence is equal to impaired driving.

This bill would address those people who bring drugs into the country for no purpose other than to provide them to younger people, typically, who perhaps do not realize what they are ingesting. Many times the drugs are a real danger to the first responders who attend: the police, the firefighters, and the ambulance and hospital staff.

Increasing the offences for people importing and exporting these controlled drugs and substances should just be the beginning. Everybody in here should be supportive of that. We face a rising tide of crime in relation to the public health crisis we are facing with opioids. Codeine, fentanyl, OxyContin, hydrocodone, and morphine have become household names as Canadians learn of the extent of this crisis and families suffer losses of their loved ones.

I truly wish that those people who are opposed to having mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who break this law, bring the drugs into the country and distribute them across the country could see how families are torn apart by these drugs.

Diverted pharmaceuticals, fentanyl purchased from China, and stolen horse tranquillizers are finding their way onto Canadian streets with fatal consequences. Most worrying of all is the speed with which illegal opioid sales have grown and the number of overdoses. To put things into perspective, the chief coroner for British Columbia told us at the health committee that the percentage of illicit drug deaths involving fentanyl increased from 5% in 2012 to 60% in 2016. If that is not enough to wake up everybody in the House to the fact that we need to do something to get mandatory minimums in place, I do not know what will wake them up.

It is not just a crisis that affects those who find themselves living without a home, but one that affects Canadians of all ages. Fifty-five thousand Canadian high school students indicated that they had abused opioid pain relievers in the past year. That is a tremendous number.

In Ontario, one in eight deaths of individuals aged 25 to 34 years was found to be opioid-related in 2010. That number will not go down; it will simply go up. Families are being destroyed, communities are being invaded, and all Canadians are experiencing reduced access to health and social services because of the resources required to fight this epidemic. This is a public emergency that hits close to home.

Organized crime has now found a foothold in places and at levels never seen before. When the other side wants to legalize marijuana and when we see what this has done, we can only project what the future will be for organized crime. Even for those people who live in areas free of dealers and opioid users, the effects of this drug in drug crime are still felt in people's access to services.

First responders have had to divert significant resources to address this crisis. Ambulance services, firefighters, police, and hospital emergency rooms are all having resources diverted to address this crisis. This means other crimes committed against local residents are not being investigated. It means ambulances resources are increasingly overworked as they respond to a spike in drug overdoses. It means firefighters now have to additionally consider the chance that what appears to be a simple residential fire may in fact be an illicit and contaminated drug lab, a danger to both their immediate safety and their long-term health.

This says nothing about the increased burden on social services that are already stretched due to the Liberal government's lack of support to local communities.

Mental health workers are already facing an uphill battle against criminal gangs continually pushing all kinds of harmful drugs into the community. If we are to help those most in need, then we also need to fight this crisis at its source and punish those who would wish to continue it. This would bring justice not only to those caught in addiction, but to the sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters already lost to these lethal street drugs.

I recognize that the opioid crisis is multi-faceted, but Bill C-338 is one key step in cutting off the source. I support the bill because criminal enterprises are not facing harsh enough sentences for diverting legitimate pharmaceuticals to illicit street drugs. Those pushing opioids into our streets and communities need to know that their actions will incur serious penalties.

The House is currently debating Bill C-307, which, through tamper-proof safeguards, would deny illegal manufacturers the easy ability to use legal prescriptions to create illicit substances. Cracking down on this prescription loophole would deter many Canadians from selling their prescriptions for easy profits. If we can increase the possibility of serious jail time for dealing illegal opioids, we can send a message to all criminal enterprises that Canada is a place they should not risk operating in.

I would be the first to admit that this one change would not solve the entire problem. A whole host of changes are required to stop opioids from ending up on our streets. Canada's physicians need to overhaul prescribing practices for opioids. Too many prescriptions are being exploited for criminal profit and manufacturing. We must ensure the quick implementation of measures to allow Canada Border Services Agency employees to check packages smaller than 30 grams, and we must ensure they are properly enforced, as called for by Conservative members. Enforcing this measure would ensure an end to the previously unlimited supply of fentanyl mailed in small packages from China.

The government must also ensure that once we have removed these opioids from the streets and placed the criminals behind bars, these same drugs do not end up infecting our prison populations as well. Canadian prisons are currently facing great problems in keeping these dangerous narcotics out. Correctional Service Canada has reported that now even fentanyl has found its way behind bars, as well as the overdoses connected with it. The government needs to ensure that Correctional Service officers have the proper equipment to deal with this rise in overdoses and do more to keep these drugs out of our prisons.

In conclusion, I would say that we need to tackle the source of this problem, which is the lack of treatment options for those with mental health issues, who, as a result, are left most susceptible to dealers and other criminals. If the ongoing mental health crisis is allowed to continue in our streets, on our reserves, and in our schools and universities, the drug crisis and the criminal enterprises that go with it will only continue to grow.

A national strategy for dealing with this is an absolute priority. Whether it is fentanyl, crystal meth, or the next street drug that is easy to produce and cheap to buy at the heart of this drug epidemic, it is the people who are emotionally hurting. This is why the human face of this epidemic is so heartbreaking to acknowledge. These are vulnerable people who have chosen drugs because they do not have the support and the necessary tools to take on life.

Those who would wish to exploit them for illicit gain must know that they will face the full force of the law and serious jail time. This is why I am asking all members of this House to understand the further pain that opioids are causing to Canadian families and to support this very important piece of legislation, Bill C-338.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased stand to congratulate my colleague from Markham—Unionville on this very important private member's bill, Bill C-338.

As we know, the opioid crisis is impacting communities and families across Canada. My home of British Columbia has been on the coalface, where the addictive use of drugs is now playing Russian roulette. Users never know when they have something in a drug that will kill them.

It does take a multi-pronged approach to tackle this issue. It is a public health emergency, and we continue to ask the Liberal government to recognize it as such. However, it is also important to realize it is a criminal justice issue. This has not been spoken to very well in all the conversations I have heard about this issue.

I will talk a little about how the bill would provide a very important tool, but it is important to first talk about the scope of not just the problem, but the tragedy. We need to also talk about what has been done to date and, more important, what still needs to be done to deal with this issue.

As many are aware, the recent epidemic is characterized by an increasing number of deaths with elicit fentanyl, an opioid substance. Fentanyl was detected back in 2012, when it was in 5% of elicit drugs. By 2016, it was as high as 60%. Fentanyl, carfentanyl, and other drugs are cheap. They are easy to synthesize, and readily available, with a significant volume coming into the country from China. It is being cut into street drugs, with lethal effects.

Carfentanyl, which is a tranquillizer used for elephants, was confirmed on the streets last fall. It is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, 4,000 times more potent than heroin, and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. If anyone has ever had an accident or injury where he or she has received a dose of morphine in the hospital, carfentanyl is 10,000 times more potent. It is coming in by mail order from China. A Calgary man was arrested in September with one kilogram, which could have killed 50 million people.

In B.C. alone, four people have died every day in 2017. It is not any better from 2016. We are on track to go from 900 and some to 1,300 deaths. In one week alone in Vancouver recently, there were 15 deaths. Again, we are averaging four deaths per day. This is just British Columbia, but it is happening across the country.

The people who are dying have many profiles. They might have struggled with addiction for many years or it might just be a young teenager at a party who, for the first time, makes a very bad decision. A recent Facebook post traumatically affected many. A brave mother from Calgary, Sherri Kent, posted a picture of her in a hospital bed with her son Michael just before he died. He was in the intensive care unit, connected to many tubes. There was absolute anguish on her face as she was saying goodbye to him. He had made such a terrible mistake. She did that to raise awareness throughout Canada.

There has been some action to date. Certainly, British Columbia is taking a good lead. Our colleague from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam introduced the good Samaritan Act, which was recently proclaimed. That was a good step. There is better availability of naloxone, which is used to treat an overdose, although we now hear these drugs have become so potent that people do not respond to it the way they used to.

Bill C-37, which the government put into place, had some good measures in it. However, I continue to have concerns that it moved away from community consultation on safe injection sites. That is an important gap and it is still missing, especially as we now know many of the people who are dying would never use a safe injection site. Although this measure has value in some communities, to take away the ability for community input or to require community input was a bad step.

The banning of the pill presses or importation of designated devices was a good step, as well as some additions to the schedules of substances when there was a reasonable grounds to represent risk.

Most important was the additional power for Canada Border Services to inspect and search packages. We heard that with 30 grams, service agents did not have to inspect. That is absolutely critical because this is coming into the country in an envelope. That is a good measure.

What has been missing in our struggle against this crisis? The federal government. Although the provincial government in British Columbia has asked, the federal government continues to decline in declaring this a state of emergency. The Public Health Agency of Canada should be playing a role in this. There is no good education and awareness campaign. We need the federal government to take on a comprehensive education and awareness campaign.

The next area that has had inadequate services and support is detox and recovery. That is primarily provincial. I know many examples of people who are desperate to get off drugs and turn their lives around. They have found that they do not have any opportunities in the support they need to detox.

We have not talked about the criminals, and my colleague is doing that. These people are knowingly importing and selling drugs on the street, which do kill people. This bill would specifically target gangs and other criminal organizations by introducing tougher sentences for drug traffickers who would exploit the addictions of others for personal profit. Those who import and export these drugs should be brought to justice and should encounter increased mandatory minimums.

I listened to my Liberal colleague. All of a sudden the Liberals have this huge obsession that mandatory minimums are not good. However, mandatory minimums have been around almost as long as the Criminal Code. Probably half of the mandatory minimums were put in place by Liberal governments. For the Liberals to argue that mandatory minimums are always bad and that there are all these issues with mandatory minimums is absolutely ridiculous. They have put many of them in place.

The argument is that mandatory minimums are bad and they do not help. Getting criminals off the street, even if it is for two years, is two years where they are not out there putting fentanyl in drugs that are killing children.

The other thing the Liberals need to be held accountable for is that this is a mandatory minimum of somewhere between two years and life. This is not fettering the discretion of judges. It is saying that parliamentarians believe judges cannot go below two years, that there are no circumstances, ever, where less than two years is an appropriate sentence for someone who is potentially killing our children.

It should be attempted murder. It could go as high as the maximum, jail for life, but, as parliamentarians, we are saying that for those who put fentanyl into drugs and sell them on the streets or bring them in with that purpose should go to jail for two years, at the absolute minimum. For the Liberals and the NDP to say that is not okay is absolutely appalling to me. They need to say that to the mothers and fathers, the families that have lost their children, that they do not think it will help and that they do not want to have a baseline of two years for these people to go to jail.

This is a reasonable bill. Canadians and Parliament have been saying forever that there is baseline for what is acceptable. For people importing drugs, lacing drugs, and selling those drugs on the streets, doing it knowing people can be killed, two years in jail as a mandatory minimum is simply not even enough. The fact that the Liberals and the NDP will not support the bill is absolutely shameful.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to add my thoughts and voice on Bill C-338. I would like to thank the member for Markham—Unionville for this bill. I know that his intentions are good with respect to this bill and that he, like all members in this House, is concerned about the rash of overdose deaths that are spiking across the country, especially from fentanyl.

Unfortunately, the bill before us does nothing to address the phenomenon of drug use and sees fit only to increase the punishment, through mandatary minimums, for those who are engaged in the import and export of certain substances listed under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Bill C-338 would amend subsection 6(3) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to punish those who import schedule I or schedule II substances. Schedule I substances include opium, codeine, morphine, cocaine, fentanyl, and of course, the deadly carfentanil, while schedule II is known mainly for cannabis and its derivatives.

Specifically, under paragraph 6(3)(a), the bill would make an amendment so that there would be an increase from a minimum punishment of one year to two years' imprisonment for not more than a kilogram of a schedule I substance or for any amount of a schedule II substance. Under paragraph 6(3)(a.1), the bill would make an amendment so that the minimum punishment was increased from two years' to three years' imprisonment for importing and exporting a schedule I substance that is more than a kilogram.

Increasing mandatory punishments is a favourite legislative pastime of the Conservative party, and this was especially true under the previous Harper government.

The opioid crisis Canada is experiencing is a national emergency that had its origins in my home province of British Columbia. It is a complex phenomenon, a problem the Conservative legacy of supposed tough-on-crime legislation has been ineffective in stemming.

The Supreme Court of Canada has been particularly critical of some of the mandatory minimums, from the previous government, it has struck down. In April 2015, the Supreme Court dealt the Harper government's tough-on-crime agenda a serious blow by striking down a law requiring mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving prohibited guns. The six-three ruling, penned by the chief justice, took aim at the government's keeping-Canadians-safe justification for tough sentencing laws. In her ruling, she said,

The government has not established that mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment act as a deterrent against gun-related crimes.... Empirical evidence suggests that mandatory minimum sentences do not, in fact, deter crimes....

In April 2016, the court ruled six-three that a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison for a drug offence violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court ruled that the sentence cast too wide a net over a wide range of potential conduct and stated in its ruling:

If Parliament hopes to maintain mandatory minimum sentences for offences that cast a wide net, it should consider narrowing their reach so that they only catch offenders that merit that mandatory minimum sentences. In the alternative, Parliament could provide for judicial discretion to allow for a lesser sentence where the mandatory minimum would be grossly disproportionate and would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Bill C-338 stems from a belief that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the problem of drugs in our society. However, if we look at the facts, they show otherwise. Police-reported drug offences in 2014, after the Conservative tough-on-crime legislation from the year before, showed that meth possession went up 38%, heroin possession went up 34%, MDMA possession increased by 28%, meth trafficking went up by 17%, and heroin trafficking went up by 12%. It is clear that the Conservative agenda on mandatory minimums for drug crimes has not decreased drug use across the country, and it is evident that we need effective solutions now.

The Conservatives recently copied the NDP's call to declare the opioid overdose crisis a national health emergency, yet the Conservatives blocked our attempt to move Bill C-37 swiftly through the House in December, which would have saved lives faster.

If we look at some of the main points in Bill C-37, it would simplify the process of applying for an exemption that would allow for supervised consumption, which has been shown to help people take care of their issues. It would have prohibited the importation of designated devices, which are used in manufacturing drugs. It would have expanded “the offence of possession, production, sale, or importation of anything knowing that it would be used to produce or traffic in methamphetamine”. These were clear-cut solutions to a problem our province has been long suffering through and that is now making its way across Canada.

I would like to read some quotes from validators of our position.

Dr. Virani, who is a medical director at Metro City Medical Clinic, in Edmonton, said:

I have yet to meet a police officer who has said they can arrest their way out of this problem, and I have yet to meet a judge who's said that he can incarcerate his way out of the problem, and I certainly hope that health isn't thinking [they can] ignore-and-wait their way out of this problem, because it is clear it is getting worse and worse.

British Columbia's provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, said:

Simply prohibiting and increasing penalties without resources to support and educate haven't been terribly effective. [But] you need to do a number of things to limit the supply of drugs on the street.

I am disappointed and frustrated that the Liberals' promise of a review of mandatory minimums is not complete. It was last year that the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the Jordan case, which was in response to decades of inadequate resources for our justice system from successive federal and provincial governments. We now have a situation where serious criminal charges are either being stayed or withdrawn.

While I appreciate that the Minister of Justice has recently met with her provincial counterparts, I sincerely hope that the review of mandatory minimums is completed soon and in a comprehensive way so that we do not have a continued piecemeal approach to justice legislation created by private members' bills, like the one before us today.

Canada is currently experiencing an unprecedented opioid overdose crisis. Illicit drug overdoses claimed the lives of 914 people in B.C. alone in 2016, making it the deadliest overdose year on record and representing an increase of nearly 80% from the year before.

A significant spike in drug-related overdoses in 2016 prompted B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, to declare a public health emergency for the first time in the province's history.

Under the Harper government's anti-drug strategy, $190 million was budgeted for treatment alone in the first five years of the strategy, from 2007 to 2012, but only $77.9 million was actually spent. The total treatment budget for the next five years of the strategy was cut to $150 million. However, this represents $40 million more than the Liberal budget has allocated for its entire Canadian drugs and substances strategy. How much longer do we have to wait for the current government?

I will now move on to my conclusion. We need real measures that deal with the problem of drugs, rather than tying judges' hands in sentencing laws in order to appear tough. A sentencing judge should retain the discretion to sentence within the limits set by Parliament. Judges must be able to weigh all the evidence and decide on a fair sentence that fits the crime. Mandatory minimums take away judges' ability to do just that.

I sincerely fail to see how increasing jail time by a year for those who import or export schedule I or schedule II substances is in any way going to contribute to a meaningful reduction in drug use in our country. It is for that reason I will be voting against Bill C-338.

We need the federal government to take leadership on the opioid crisis now. Mayors and premiers have been asking for help dealing with drug overdoses. It is time that we all work together to bring forth effective policies to tackle this national crisis.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2017 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this morning, Bill C-338, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which proposes to increase mandatory minimum penalties and imprisonment for the importation and exportation of certain drugs.

The objective of Bill C-338 is to target the importation and exportation of powerful opiates such as fentanyl in Canadian communities, an objective that everyone in the House would agree is laudable. The bill proposes to denounce the importation and exportation of these lethal drugs by increasing the mandatory minimum penalty from one to two years where the quantity of these drugs is less than one kilogram and certain aggravating factors are present. In other cases, the mandatory minimum penalty would be increased from two to three years. The bill also proposes to increase the mandatory minimum penalty from one to two years for the importation or exportation of any amount of a schedule II drug, namely cannabis.

As has been already articulated in the House this morning, we find ourselves in the midst of a national health crisis, and this has put the spotlight on the importance of comprehensive and evidence-based Canadian drug policies.

Canadian communities are feeling the devastating impact from the growing number of opioid-related deaths and overdoses. Canadians deserve nothing less than concerted government action that would have an immediate impact on addressing the influx of opioids in our communities. The policies put in place to respond to this crisis must be informed by performance measurement standards and evidence. These policies must have an immediate impact on reducing the number of these tragic deaths.

This is why I am happy to see that the Government of Canada has instituted a modernized Canadian drugs and substances strategy. The Canadian drugs and substances strategy is focused on prevention, treatment, and enforcement, but it also reinstates harm reduction as a core pillar of Canada's drug policy. The CDSS champions a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy.

In furtherance of this strategy, the Minister of Health introduced Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts, to address the serious and pressing public health issues related to opioids. This legislative response is one important part of the government's comprehensive approach to drug policy in Canada.

Bill C-37 proposes, first, to simplify and streamline the application process for supervised consumption sites; second, to clamp down on illegal pill presses; and, third, to extend the authority of border officers to inspect suspicious small packages coming into Canada. In relation to the last point, extending the Canada Border Services Agency's inspection powers is important, because one standard-size envelope can contain 30 grams of fentanyl, potent enough to cause 15,000 overdoses. These numbers increase exponentially where the substance in question is carfentanil.

In addition, the government has invested over $65 million over five years to support the new CDSS and implement its five-point opioid action plan. This amount is in addition to the $10 million in emergency support that the federal government has provided to the Province of British Columbia to assist in its response to overwhelming numbers of overdose and opioid-related deaths in that province. The five-point opioid action plan is focused on increasing public awareness, supporting better prescribing practices, reducing access to opioids in appropriate cases, supporting better treatment options for patients, and improving Canada's data collection and evidence base to inform more effective drug policies in the future.

That is not all that the government of Canada is doing. Canada is also working closely in collaboration with our international partners, such as the United States and China, to address this crisis. Senior law enforcement and border officials are already working together on a regular basis to curb the flow of illegal opioids across international borders, and I will cite an example. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has reached an agreement with China's Ministry of Public Security to enhance operational collaboration, identify key areas of concern, and work towards a more coordinated approach to combat fentanyl trafficking originating from China. Such partnerships are a testament to the reality that this epidemic is a very serious international problem which will require international co-operation to fix. Addressing the roots of the opioid crisis demands a whole-of-society response.

This brings us to Bill C-338. Although its stated objective is both timely and I am certain well intentioned, the proposed increase to mandatory minimum penalties is neither likely to contribute to deterring offenders from importing and exporting powerful opiates, nor to have any impact on addressing opioid-related deaths across Canada.

I am not aware of any evidence suggesting that increased mandatory minimum penalties would be effective in reducing the importation or exportation of these lethal drugs, including opiates, into Canada.

Although deterrence is a frequently cited argument of supporters of mandatory minimum penalties, my understanding is that the vast majority of the research in this area shows that these mandatory minimum penalties are ineffective in deterring crime. In fact, the likelihood of being caught represents the far greater deterrent.

In addition to the fact that increasing mandatory minimum penalties would not likely have a meaningful impact on lowering the number of opioid-related deaths in Canada, Bill C-338's proposal to increase mandatory minimum penalties would have a number of adverse effects on the proper administration of the criminal justice system, all of which have been well documented here in Canada and abroad. I am aware of several studies that suggest that mandatory minimum penalties actually lead to far fewer guilty pleas, increased litigation, and an increase in the time required to complete cases.

Given the Supreme Court of Canada's recent decision in Regina v. Jordan, we must be mindful of policies that contribute to excessive delays, which plague our criminal justice system. In fact, last month, when federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for justice met to discuss priority responses to further reduce delays in the criminal justice system, they unanimously identified mandatory minimum penalties as one area of legislative reform that could help in improving court delays. International research also reveals that the use of mandatory minimum penalties to combat the war on drugs in the United States has resulted in far higher costs associated with the dramatic increase in litigation and the use of imprisonment.

I am also concerned about the charter risks associated with increasing mandatory minimum penalties. I am aware of two recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions that clearly state that mandatory minimum penalties that apply to offences that can be committed in various ways under a broad array of circumstances and by a wide range of people are constitutionally vulnerable. Based on these rulings, I am concerned that the mandatory minimum penalties proposed in this bill are vulnerable, because they could apply to offenders who have committed a crime for which the proposed mandatory minimum penalty would be unjust.

Bill C-338's increased mandatory minimum penalties are not necessary to signal to Canadian judges that these offences should be treated seriously. Canadian judges, in appropriate cases, already exercise their discretion to impose significantly higher sentences in excess of the proposed mandatory minimum penalties. For example, in Regina v. Cunningham, the Court of Appeal for Ontario confirmed that the appropriate sentencing range for first-offender drug couriers who smuggle large quantities of cocaine should be in the range of six to eight years' imprisonment. In that decision, the court, mindful that many drug couriers are easy prey for commercial drug traffickers, noted that such concerns must give way to the need to protect society from the untold grief and misery occasioned by the illicit use of hard drugs. In fact, it increased a three-year sentence imposed to five years' imprisonment and stated clearly that it is the responsibility of the courts to warn would-be couriers, in no uncertain terms, that they will pay a heavy price for choosing to import large quantities of hard drugs for quick, personal gain.

More recently, the British Columbia Court of Appeal, in Regina v. Smith, noted that given the development of a public health crisis surrounding opioids, a higher sentencing range was appropriate for certain trafficking offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I am confident that the courts will impose just sentences based on the facts before them. On the whole, I believe that the approach advanced by the government is the right one. Changes to increase mandatory minimum penalties may seem on their face attractive, but they simply will not work to address the public health emergency. For all the reasons I have noted, the government will not support Bill C-338.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

May 8th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

moved that Bill C-338, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (punishment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address a serious issue that is destroying lives and causing thousands of deaths in Canada each year. The importing and exporting of dangerous drugs and substances is a serious threat to Canadians. While the Liberal government has taken some constructive steps to combat the threat posed by the trafficking of lethal drugs and substances, little has been done to deter or to punish criminals. I therefore have introduced Bill C-338, which would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to increase sentences for offences related to the importing and exporting of controlled drugs and substances.

Bill C-338 indicates that if the subject matter of the offence is a substance included in schedule I and in an amount that is not more than one kilogram, or is in schedule II, the offender is guilty of an indictable offence and liable for imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of two years.

The proposed bill also specifies that if the subject matter of the offence is a substance included in schedule I and is in an amount that is more than one kilogram, the offender is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable for imprisonment for life and a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of three years.

At present, minimum sentences stand at one year for less than one kilogram and two years for more than one kilogram. This is unacceptable. Such light punishment does not deter drug traffickers from continuing to import and export and profit at the expense of society's most vulnerable. The reality is that criminals who import and export deadly drugs and substances are responsible for thousands of lost lives.

Canadian families expect safe and healthy communities in which to raise their children. Canadians are especially concerned about crime, which is why our previous Conservative government introduced and passed more than 30 measures aiming at the strengthening of our justice system and standing up for victims and keeping our streets safe. We also specifically targeted gangs and other criminal organizations by introducing tougher sentences for drug traffickers who exploit the addictions of others for personal profit.

Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. Elected representatives can and should provide guidance on sentences to reflect the view of all Canadians. The Conservatives make no apologies for strengthening penalties for drug traffickers or other crimes. All parliamentarians must ensure that sentencing reflects Canadians' desire to get tough on drug dealers and on other criminals.

Over the past five years, we have seen a deeply disturbing spike in overdoses involving the synthetic opioid painkiller fentanyl. It is so strong that exposure to a microgram is often fatal. Just to put that into perspective, a microgram is what one would get who took a standard 400-milligram pill of ibuprofen and cut it into 4,000 pieces. That tiny grain of drug may kill someone who comes in contact with it. Prescription-grade fentanyl is up to 100 times more toxic than morphine. It is often used as a last-resort painkiller to treat terminally ill cancer patients. It is especially dangerous if one has never been exposed to opiates before.

In Canada, drug dealers can order the illegal substances for drug production online from overseas suppliers, many of whom will guarantee reshipment in the event that the package is intercepted. The drug is then produced in basement labs and kitchens, but in such conditions that it is impossible to predict the strength of each dose. Earlier this year, in my riding of Markham—Unionville, a drug lab was discovered in the heart of an upper-middle-class residential neighbourhood, forcing residents to evacuate their homes.

For people who are looking to abuse the drug, fentanyl creates a blissful feeling similar to the effects of heroin, but an overdose shuts down the area of the brain that controls breathing. This generally results in brain damage or death.

Many people end up taking fentanyl accidentally. Drug producers are lacing other drugs with fentanyl, and the users have no idea that what they are buying will kill them. Unsuspecting drug addicts might buy what they think is OxyContin, but it is actually fentanyl, or a young student who may be experimenting at a party may end up overdosing on fentanyl. The user is not expecting difficulty in breathing and a slowed heartbeat.

It is not only hard-core drug addicts and junkies who are victims of this epidemic. It is regular people, such as Jack Bodie, a 17-year-old Vancouverite, who died in a park after taking fake OxyContin pills with his younger friend. It is 33-year-old Szymon Kalich from Edmonton, who was found dead in the hallway of a residential building and whose mother received the news when the police showed up on her doorstep two days later. It is a nine-month-old baby in Winnipeg, who was rushed to the hospital by paramedics after being exposed to residue of the opiate in his parents' home.

From coast to coast to coast, no community in any member's riding is immune to this epidemic. According to the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, 734 people died of opiate-related causes in Ontario in 2015, averaging two people every day. This number totals far more than the 481 people who died in motor vehicle accidents in 2014.

Over 80% of all opiate-related deaths in 2015 were accidental. Almost 60% of accidental deaths occurred among youth and younger adults between the ages of 15 to 44 years. Fentanyl use increased by 548% between 2006 and 2015, and fentanyl is now the opiate most commonly involved in opiate-related deaths.

British Columbia and Alberta have been hit the hardest. According to the Coroners Service of British Columbia, overdoses of illicit drugs claimed the lives of 922 people in B.C. in 2016, making it the deadliest overdose year on record and representing an increase of 80% from the previous year. In B.C., from January through February of 2017 there were 139 illicit drug overdose deaths in which fentanyl was detected. This is a 90% increase over the number of deaths, 73, occurring during the same period in 2016. From January to February of 2017, fentanyl was detected in 61% of illicit drug overdose deaths, 139 of 227.

Vancouver Coastal Health had the highest number, 48, of illicit drug overdose deaths in which fentanyl was detected in January and February 2017, followed by Fraser Health with 39 and Vancouver Island Health Authority with 29. The health service delivery areas with the highest number of fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdose deaths in January and February of 2017 were Vancouver with 43, Fraser South with 24, and the Okanagan with 15.

When looking at individual townships over the same time period, the highest numbers of deaths were seen in Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria. In 2016, a review of toxicological findings of 325 fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdoses deaths was conducted. In 96% of these deaths, at least one substance other than fentanyl was detected. The other most frequently detected drugs leading to death were cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, and heroin. Parliamentary data in January 2017 suggested that the proportion of illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl detected, alone or in combination with other drugs, is approximately 61%.

According to Alberta Health, 343 people died from fentanyl overdoses in 2016 in Alberta. The province showed a 33% increase in the rate of overdose deaths linked to the drug from 2015, and a dizzying 110% rise from just two years ago. Calgary saw the lion's share of the death toll, with 149 deaths in 2016. Of those 343 deaths, 22 were linked to carfentanil, an opioid that is100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Alberta's fatality numbers have not reached the level of B.C.'s, but the toll has been devastating, claiming 717 lives since 2014, 261 of those in Calgary. According to the report from Alberta Health, 80% of those who died last year were male, nearly half between the ages of 25 and 39. In most fentanyl overdoses, multiple substances were also involved, primarily cocaine, methamphetamine, and alcohol.

I would like to give more standardized statistics for each province and each year, but this epidemic has exploded so quickly that many provinces do not yet have a system for organizing information. It has been called a Canada-wide disaster.

In Ottawa, the director of the city's drug treatment program has stated that the fentanyl being sold in the streets is too strong to even be treated by overdose antidote kits. In late April, The Ottawa Hospital reported 15 fentanyl overdoses over a period of 72 hours. However, there are other new synthetic opioid painkillers similar to fentanyl on our streets. W-18 is similar to fentanyl, but 100 times as toxic. It is 10,000 times stronger than morphine. In 2015, it was detected in three drug seizures. By October 2016, it was detected in 30 drug seizures.

I truly understand the need for robust prevention and treatment options for addicts, but you cannot rehabilitate dead people. The criminals who import and export deadly drugs and substances do not care about the effects they are having on people's lives. They do not care if they will be responsible for the deaths of many Canadians. They are not deterred by the current punishment for the crimes they are committing. What they know is that they can take $10 worth of fentanyl and make $5,000 selling it on the streets.

As it stands, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provides inadequate and unintimidating punishment for criminals who import and export lethal drugs and substances. Those who import and export these drugs and substances must be brought to justice and must face increased mandatory minimum sentences. Our constituents expect us to do more to keep their children and communities safe.

March 20th, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

I'll move a motion that both of these items, Bill C-338 and Bill S-230, are constitutional and votable.

March 20th, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
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Alexandre Lavoie Committee Researcher

Thank you.

Today you have two bills to look at. First is Bill S-230, which is a Senate bill. For the Senate bill, I want to remind the committee that the only criterion that applies is that no similar bills have been voted on by the House during the current session. I've looked at the bill and there doesn't seem to be an issue with it.

The second bill is Bill C-338, which is Mr. Saroya's bill. Following our last meeting, I looked at his bill and I didn't see anything that should be an issue with regard to the criterion.