An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (evidence-based diversion measures)

This bill was last introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2021.

This bill was previously introduced in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session.


Nathaniel Erskine-Smith  Liberal

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


Second reading (House), as of March 9, 2020
(This bill did not become law.)


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 require peace officers to consider measures other than judicial proceedings to deal with individuals alleged to have been in possession of certain substances. It also sets out principles to be taken into account in the determination of the most appropriate measures to take.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2022 / 11:35 a.m.
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Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, as I rise today to speak at third reading of Bill C-5, my mind is once again filled with questions and confusion.

As critic for status of women and gender equality, I have observed an uptick in the number of femicides and incidents involving gender-based violence. Like my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord, whom I commend for his speech and for sharing his time with me, I wonder about the odd message the government is sending with this bill.

I will therefore address the delicate question of mandatory minimum penalties by starting with my experience in the community sector. Next, I will address the bill's shortcomings. I will end with a few suggestions for countering violence and sending a strong message to end the acrimony currently surrounding the bill and, in particular, the disinformation we have been hearing, as my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot mentioned.

I have a background in community work, more specifically with an alternative justice and mediation organization. I sincerely believe in restorative justice. I am entirely in agreement with the Bloc's traditional position, which mirrors Quebec's position on mandatory minimum penalties.

When it comes to justice, the Bloc Québécois advocates for an approach that promotes rehabilitation and crime reduction. We believe that mandatory minimum penalties, or MMPs, have few benefits, that they do not deter crime and that they introduce many problems, including the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black communities in prisons, as well as additional costs to the system. The Bloc Québécois is therefore more favourable to the principle of repealing certain MMPs.

However, the Bloc also believes in timing, since life is all about timing. Now is not the right time to repeal MMPs for firearms offences, seeing as a number of cities in Quebec and Canada are plagued by a rash of gun violence, mainly because of the Liberal government's inaction when it comes to border controls.

Many women's groups are particularly concerned about this and would like to see better gun control measures to help reduce the number of femicides. Repealing MMPs without doing anything to stop the illegal flow of firearms across the border sends a mixed message.

Conversely, Bill C-21 would strengthen certain maximum penalties, but we must be careful not to mix up these two bills. Although we believe that repealing MMPs for firearms possession is defensible, the proposed repeal of MMPs for certain gun crimes, including discharging a firearm with intent and armed robbery or extortion, appears to contradict the government's claim that it will maintain MMPs for certain categories of serious crime.

We need to monitor this aspect of the bill closely, as well as the possibility of maintaining MMPs for second or third offences. As the Bloc Québécois suggested, the courts could be given the power to depart from the MMPs in cases of serious crime where justified by exceptional circumstances.

I would like to clarify that the Bloc Québécois expressed support for the introduction of the principle of diversion for simple drug possession during the last election campaign and the debates on Bill C-236. Let me remind my colleagues that some of the MMPs that are to be repealed involve drug production, at a time when the opioid crisis is claiming more and more lives in Quebec and Canada.

During the last election campaign, I was approached about this topic by community groups that work with the homeless and whose street outreach workers are doing an excellent job, like those in Granby. However, the Bloc Québécois would like to point out that such a measure will be effective only if investments are made in health care, to support health care systems and community organizations. These institutions need resources so they can help people struggling with addiction and mental health issues, another subject that voters broached with me during the last election campaign.

The Bloc Québécois would like to note that we have still not gotten a response from the Liberal government on the issue of increasing health care funding to cover 35% of system costs, despite unanimous calls from Quebec and the provinces. Obviously, without that level of investment, it is hard for community organizations to meet the growing needs created by increased homelessness in municipalities like Granby. The pandemic only exacerbated the problem. Also, as critic for status of women, I see that homeless women are especially vulnerable.

Once again, the Bloc Québécois speaks for Quebec, where diversion is a well-recognized principle that has been integrated into several areas of the justice system. For example, in children's law, extrajudicial alternatives have been offered to young offenders since the 1970s thanks to Claude Castonguay's reform of the Youth Protection Act. There is also the alternative measures program for adults in indigenous communities, which allows individuals to opt for measures other than judicial proceedings.

There is the justice and mental health support program, which allows individuals who have committed a crime and are fit to stand trial to obtain a reduced sentence or, in some cases, benefit from diversion. There is also the general alternative measures program for adults, which is currently being implemented and which gives adults accused of certain crimes the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and resolve their conflict with the law in ways other than the usual judicial proceedings provided for in the Criminal Code.

For all of these reasons, I would like to salute the organization Justice alternative et médiation, for which I used to work. I would like to apologize for missing the general meeting, but I know that the organization's work on all the issues I mentioned is crucial.

Lastly, with regard to drugs, there is the Court of Quebec's addiction treatment program, which makes it possible to postpone sentencing to allow the offender to undergo court-supervised treatment for addiction. It also provides for close collaboration between the court and drug addiction resources to establish treatment methods, including therapy, rehabilitation and social integration. Unfortunately, this program is offered only in Montreal and Puvirnituq. It would be good if it could be expanded.

In short, as the previous examples show, the principle of diversion is not new in Quebec's judicial ecosystem. Quebec's Bill 32 was studied and also involved diversion. The CAQ government concentrated on securing the passage of this bill, which aims to promote the efficiency of penal justice. The bill introduced the concept of an adaptation program, which will give municipalities another option for administering statements of offence to vulnerable individuals, such as those experiencing homelessness or mental health or addiction issues.

As critic for status of women, I am always rather appalled to observe the overrepresentation of indigenous individuals in prisons and to note that the problem is more pronounced among women than men. Some 38% of women incarcerated in provincial and territorial prisons after sentencing are indigenous, while the corresponding rate of incarceration among men identifying as indigenous is 26%, so this affects far more women than men. In federal prisons, indigenous women account for 31% of offenders sentenced to prison, while indigenous men account for only 2%. These are huge numbers. Given these figures, could MMPs be contributing to increasing the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous people in the prison system? Certain signs point to yes.

Diversion is also beneficial for individuals. It reduces the stigma associated with drug use, as well as the negative consequences of a criminal record, which are disproportionate to the crime of simple possession. One last thing I should mention is that MMPs are expensive, because they generate long-term correctional service costs and court costs. MMPs have a major social cost because the money invested in putting people in prison is not devoted to social reintegration.

In conclusion, because of my background in community work, I am sensitive to many considerations associated with this bill. One thing is certain: It should not relieve us of our responsibility as members of Parliament, especially since gun crime is an important issue, given recent events where many innocent victims were killed by guns. Although we agree with the repeal of MMPs, we should not minimize gun crime or the importance of making the public feel safe and considering better gun control measures. That will be debated in another bill. Let us focus on the bill at hand.

I can say one thing. On the one side, we have the NDP saying that this bill does not go far enough. On the other, we have the Conservatives clinging to their “tough on crime” approach. Is that the way to go? I do not know.

Then there are the Liberals, who, as I mentioned, are playing both sides of the fence, especially in the case of crimes against women. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action 32 sought to allow judges to depart from MMPs under certain circumstances, by which I mean serious crimes against women. The idea is to allow judges to decide whether getting rid of the MMP is a good idea. This is meant to send a strong message, especially in the case of serious crimes against women. The Liberals managed to do this in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendation.

Once again, this bill reflects the Liberals' penchant for catch-all bills. Minimum penalties, maximum penalties, diversion: Everything is lumped together. In short, once again, the Bloc Québécois is acting like the adult in the room, trying to adopt the most well-reasoned and reasonable approach.

Report StageCriminal CodeGovernment Orders

June 9th, 2022 / 1:45 p.m.
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Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, the government's Bill C-5 would amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to repeal certain minimum penalties, allow for a greater use of conditional sentences and establish diversion measures for simple drug possession offences. There are two parts to the bill. The first repeals 20 mandatory minimum sentences for offences involving firearms and drugs, and the second introduces the principle of diversion for simple drug possession.

First, I must say that the Liberals' bill is certainly well intentioned. However, the timing of its introduction is rather odd, given that gun violence is spiking and the federal government, which is responsible for managing our borders, is being criticized for doing nothing to stem imports of illegal firearms. Not a day goes by without this issue being mentioned during question period in the House. The number of gun crimes has increased considerably over time. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of gun crimes committed in Montreal rose by 15%, and the number of firearms seized increased by 24%.

In addition, the goal is to repeal certain mandatory minimum sentences for drug production, yet the opioid crisis is claiming more and more lives in Quebec and Canada. If I put myself in the shoes of the families who have lost a loved one to a shooting or to the use of drugs laced with fentanyl by a unscrupulous dealer, I am not sure this is the response they were hoping for from the government at this point.

The bill repeals several minimum penalties for second and third offences. While it is true that mandatory minimum sentences for a first offence may impact social reintegration, keeping certain mandatory minimum sentences for second or even third offences could be justified as a way of upholding the credibility of our legal system. Maintaining public confidence in our justice institutions is also a concern that should not be dismissed out of hand.

Let us remember that, under the Harper government in 2006, a number of mandatory minimum sentences were challenged. Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishment in Canada, is often used as an argument against mandatory minimum sentences. Over 210 constitutional challenges have been filed. According to the Minister of Justice, 69% of the constitutional challenges involving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences and 48% of those for firearms offences were successful. To be honest, we cannot call that a success.

That said, we are supporting Bill C‑5 despite being somewhat dissatisfied with it. My esteemed colleagues from Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia and Rivière-du-Nord repeatedly asked the government to split the bill in two, because we believe that tackling substance addiction and abolishing mandatory minimum sentences are two fundamentally different issues. Unfortunately, the government rejected our request, so here we are now.

We are disappointed with the part about mandatory minimum sentences, but we agree on the principle of establishing diversion measures as introduced in Bill C‑5. With respect to mandatory minimum sentences, the Bloc Québécois wants the legal system to adopt an approach that enables rehabilitation and reduces crime.

Considering that mandatory minimums have few benefits and introduce many problems, such as the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black communities in prison, in addition to increasing system costs and failing to deter crime, the Bloc Québécois supports the idea of repealing certain mandatory minimum sentences.

However, we believe this is a bad time to repeal mandatory minimums for firearms offences, because many Quebec and Canadian cities are seeing a firearms epidemic, due in part to the Liberal government's failure to implement border controls.

Repealing mandatory minimums without strong action by the federal government to counter the illegal importation of firearms at the border sends the wrong message. Although the Bloc Québécois can get behind repealing mandatory minimums for a first offence, we believe that keeping these sentences for second and even third offences can be justified, as this would maintain the public's trust in their justice institutions and the rehabilitation process.

Believing in second chances does not mean that people's actions do not have consequences. It is a question of common sense.

Although we think it is defensible to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for firearms possession, the fact that the bill repeals mandatory minimums for certain offences involving firearms, such as discharging a weapon with intent and robbery or extortion with a firearm, seems to contradict the government's claim that they are being maintained for certain categories of serious crimes.

During the last election campaign and during the debate on Bill C-236, we expressed support for the introduction of the principle of diversion for simple drug possession. However, I would remind the House that such a measure will only be effective if investments are made in health care through transfers to support health care systems and community organizations, which need ways to support people grappling with addiction and mental health problems. They are doing amazing work on the ground, and they need resources to carry out their mission.

We have said it before, but it bears repeating: The Bloc Québécois and the Quebec government demand health care funding. I think we have said this 572 times, but we want health transfers to cover 35% of the system costs. Unfortunately, the government has failed to respond. It is silent in the face of the unanimous demands of Quebec and the provinces. Those demands have been reiterated every year since the Liberals came to power, in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and today in 2022.

Will they have the audacity to keep saying no until 2023? I hope not.

April 8th, 2022 / 2:15 p.m.
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Counsel, Department of Justice

Andrew Di Manno

I can say that the reforms to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act enact a declaration of principles for the first time in that federal legislation, and those principles are based on former a private member's bill, Bill C-236, which treated drug-related offences, the use of drugs or simple possession of drugs as a health and a social problem rather than a criminal one.

Where the police officer fails to exercise their discretion to divert at the first point of contact, Crown prosecutors have to apply the exact same principles. Those principles are also informed by the August 2020 guidelines of the director of public prosecutions, which tell us to focus on the more serious, drug-related offences, the ones that endanger public safety, and to redirect those cases that are less serious out of the criminal justice system at the first point of contact.

Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

December 14th, 2021 / 3:30 p.m.
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Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to debate Bill C-5. I have to say that this is not a straightforward subject; it is extremely complex.

As I am not a lawyer, I, too, have to make sense of it all. I want to thank the office staff of the leader of the Bloc Québécois, who have really helped clarify this issue. Bill C-5 addresses two extremely important issues. I believe it would be worthwhile to have two separate debates, and I will move a motion about that a little later.

Debating both issues at the same time is complicated because we might be against abolishing mandatory minimum sentences and in favour of decriminalization. This complicates the debate a little. In the case of mandatory minimums for offences committed with a firearm, we are looking at 20 specific mandatory minimums. In the case of simple drug possession, we are looking at decriminalization. I think we need to look at these two issues separately.

As I said, I am not a lawyer. However, I have heard lawyers on the same team debate this subject and it is hard to have a simple opinion. It is hard to choose black or white, because there are several grey areas in all of this. We will try to untangle it all together and weigh the various arguments.

There are several arguments in favour of eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, and there are several against it. In my opinion, it is important that we consider all the arguments.

The Liberal government promised to quickly reintroduce Bill C‑22 from the last Parliament. It also promised to reintroduce what we referred to as Bill C‑236. By merging these two items into one bill, the government is giving the impression that it wants to act hastily. However, when we try to move too fast, we often make mistakes or do things wrong. I think the impression we give people is important.

In the current context, Bill C-5 sends out a peculiar message. Let me explain: Canada is in the midst of a gun violence crisis. My colleagues have likely heard me talk about firearms and the situation in Montreal and other major urban centres during the various question periods. Almost every day, we hear about a new firearm death.

The circumstances and timing are therefore not really appropriate. We have been calling on the minister for three weeks to take the first real step to combat the trafficking of illegal firearms, and to tighten gun control and border measures. Ultimately, the first step the government took was to introduce this bill, which proposes eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for certain firearms offences.

The message that sends is a bit odd. It does not really reassure anyone. Montreal families are worried, especially mothers who have lost a son and are waiting for gun control measures to be tightened. People are afraid to go out in the evening and take a walk in their own neighbourhood, which used to be safe. I doubt that these people feel reassured when they are told that the only thing the Liberal government has done so far to combat gun trafficking is to abolish the mandatory minimum sentences related to such offences.

The context is different and we, as parliamentarians, have to consider that. Everything is changing. The context is changing. When Bill C‑22 was introduced, the context was different, even though this was a problem across the country. I think that we have no choice but to take that into consideration.

I am talking specifically about firearms because I am very familiar with this file. It should be noted that some mandatory minimum sentences that are set to be eliminated have to do with drug possession while the opioid crisis is raging both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. It is rather odd to be introducing this bill at this stage.

That being said, the Bloc Québécois is usually in favour of the principle of rehabilitation and crime reduction in a different context.

There is a tendency to have a fairly high degree of trust in judges, and I think they should be given the benefit of the doubt and the flexibility needed to decide what sentence to impose for an offence.

It is important to keep in mind that if certain mandatory minimum sentences were to be abolished overnight, that does not mean that someone who has committed offences will not be charged. It means that we are leaving it up to the judge to decide the best way to ensure public safety.

If a mandatory minimum sentence exists, the judge can impose a harsher sentence if they feel that that is the right thing to do. However, the judge cannot go below the mandatory minimum. That is my concern. If individuals can be punished for their offences, but rehabilitated in ways other than being sent to prison, I think that can be beneficial. People often become more criminalized as a result of entering this cycle. Other options need to be considered. That is a pretty strong argument, I think, for abolishing mandatory minimum sentences.

Another argument is that it has long been accepted that mandatory minimum sentences do not deter certain kinds of targeted crimes. For example, it is a well-known fact that mandatory minimum sentences have virtually no effect on drug trafficking. Research in the United States and Malaysia has proven this. Both countries have strict minimum sentences for drug trafficking. However, this has not led to any change in drug use within the population. Rather, this only puts more small dealers in prison. Unfortunately, the focus is on the bottom of the ladder, when these individuals are often not irrevocably on that path. We could remedy all that and not necessarily send them directly to prison.

As for the effects of mandatory minimum sentences on firearms, no credible study has established that sentences have a deterrent effect on firearms offences. I think that someone who is planning to commit a crime or who commits a crime that is not premeditated does not say to themselves that they will not do it because there is a mandatory minimum sentence for that offence. Those who commit gun crime are either not aware of the consequences or they do not care about them and will commit the crime anyway.

I believe that even though the context is problematic, we agree that abolishing mandatory minimum sentences can be a good thing. However, it is not just about the context. Some details warrant further study.

In this case, Bill C-5 abolishes several mandatory minimum sentences for second and third offences. As I was saying, mandatory minimum sentences for a first offence may impact social reintegration, but keeping certain mandatory minimum sentences for second or even third offences could be justified to uphold the credibility of our legal system.

For example, the use of a firearm or imitation firearm to commit an offence is currently punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of three years, which also applies to a second or subsequent offence. Under Bill C‑5, this would be scrapped.

However, an individual who uses a firearm or imitation firearm for a second or third offence deserves to be held accountable for that, in my view. It is worth considering.

My time is running out, so I will not have time to go into the second item that this bill addresses, diversion. What I would suggest to the government is that it simply split the bill. The government should withdraw Bill C‑5 and introduce two new separate bills. I think that would be a good solution.

The first bill would deal with diversion, which is represented by the part entitled “Evidence-based Diversion Measures” in the current Bill C‑5. The House could vote on the principle of the bill at second reading.

The second bill would deal with mandatory minimum sentences and would be sent to committee before second reading. That would give members a chance to examine the principle of the bill prior to second reading and propose amendments that would change its scope. Immediate referral to committee before second reading would allow for a full study on the subject.

That is the Bloc Québécois' proposal to the government. I hope it will be well received.

Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2021 / 6 p.m.
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Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the always-on-point member for Trois-Rivières.

I feel a sense of bewilderment today as I rise to speak to Bill C-5, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. I have many questions and concerns.

As my party's status of women critic, and having observed an increase in cases of femicide and gender-based violence, I feel confused about the strange message the government is sending with this bill. I am going to broach the sensitive issue of mandatory minimum penalties by talking a little about my proud history working with community-based services.

I will then speak to the flaws in the bill and will conclude by talking about what I would like to see in terms of combatting violence and sending a strong message against hate and discrimination. I know that my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord has addressed the bill from a legal standpoint and that my colleague from Trois-Rivières, as a renowned ethicist, will certainly bring an ethical perspective into this debate.

I want to mention again that I worked in community-based services, more specifically for an organization focused on alternative justice and mediation. I truly believe in alternative and restorative justice, which is why I am in complete agreement with the Bloc Québécois's traditional position. With respect to mandatory minimum sentences, my party is in favour of an approach to justice that fosters rehabilitation and crime reduction.

Considering that mandatory minimums have few benefits and introduce many problems, such as the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black communities in prisons, in addition to increasing system costs and failing to deter crime, the Bloc Québécois supports the idea of abolishing certain mandatory minimum sentences. However, the problem is that the Bloc Québécois believes this is a bad time to abolish mandatory minimums for firearms offences, because many Quebec and Canadian cities are seeing an influx of firearms, due in particular to the Liberal government's failure to implement border controls.

Several women's groups are very concerned about this issue and would like to see better gun control, because this can even impact femicides. Abolishing mandatory minimums without strong action by the federal government to counter the illegal importation of firearms at the border sends a contradictory message. My colleague, the member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, the public safety critic, has asked many questions about this.

Although abolishing mandatory minimum sentences for possession of firearms is something we can get behind, abolishing them for certain gun crimes such as the discharge of a firearm with intent, robbery or extortion with a firearm, as proposed in this bill, seems inconsistent with the government's claim of maintaining mandatory minimums for certain categories of serious crime. We will need to take a serious look at this aspect of the bill, as I am sure committee members will do.

I want to point out that the Bloc Québécois spoke in favour of introducing the principle of diversion for simple possession of drugs in the last election campaign and in debates on Bill C‑236. Community groups that work with the homeless and do excellent work with street outreach workers reached out to me on this subject during the last election campaign.

We in the Bloc Québécois want to point out that such a measure will only be effective and truly efficient if investments are made in health care to support health systems and community organizations. They need funding to support people with addiction and mental health problems. I was also reminded of this during the last election campaign. This does not happen by itself.

On that note, we in the Bloc want to point out that the Liberal government refuses to give an answer on the issue of funding health care to cover 35% of health care system costs, despite the unanimous call from Quebec and the provinces. Obviously, without these investments, it is difficult for community organizations to respond to the growing needs resulting from rising homelessness in municipalities, even back home in Granby.

The pandemic has not helped matters, but rather has exacerbated the problem. Once again, the Bloc Québécois is speaking up for Quebec, where diversion is a principle that is fully recognized and integrated into many areas of the justice system. For instance, when it comes to children's rights, extrajudicial measures have been available to young offenders since the 1970s, thanks to Claude Castonguay's reform of the Youth Protection Act. Having worked at an organization that worked with that legislation and with young people, I was able to see the concrete impacts of alternative work, which leads young people to question their actions, to prevent them from ending up in the criminal justice system.

There is also the Programme de mesures de rechange pour les adultes en milieu autochtone, a program that makes options other than criminal prosecution available to individuals from indigenous communities.

There is also the Programme d'accompagnement justice et santé mentale, which gives individuals who have committed a crime and are fit to stand trial a chance to get a reduced sentence or possibly even enter a diversion program, which is very good for them.

More recently, the Programme de mesures de rechange général pour adultes, which is currently being rolled out, gives adults charged with certain offences the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and make amends for their crimes without going through the usual judicial process set out in the Criminal Code. The organization I worked with helped to implement the program, and I think it might be a success.

Lastly, there is the Court of Quebec's drug addiction treatment program, which allows for delayed sentencing so drug offenders can get clean through court-supervised treatment. It also facilitates close collaboration between the court and addiction resources to develop a treatment plan that includes crucial therapeutic, rehabilitation and reintegration components. The program is currently available only in Montreal and Puvirnituq. How can we expand it?

As the previous examples show, the principle of diversion is not new in Quebec's judicial ecosystem.

Quebec's Bill 32 is all about diversion as well. Minister LeBel's office pushed the government to focus on adopting Bill 32, which sought to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system. The bill introduced the concept of adapting enforcement to give municipalities more leeway when it comes to ticketing marginalized individuals, such as people experiencing homelessness and those with mental health issues or addiction.

Quebec has already committed to diversion programs in several areas, including youth, indigenous affairs and petty crime, and it is currently exploring this avenue through Bill 32.

As the critic for status of women, I have to note that year after year, we see an overrepresentation of indigenous women in the prison system. People have been sharing statistics throughout this debate. My Liberal colleagues have cited some, but I want to reiterate that indigenous women accounted for 38% of women admitted to provincial and territorial sentenced custody, and for indigenous men, that figure was 26%.

In the federal correctional services, indigenous women accounted for 31% of female admissions to sentenced custody, while indigenous men accounted for 2%.

Are mandatory minimum sentences contributing to increasing the overrepresentation of Black or indigenous people in the prison system? By all indications, they are. What is more, as critic for status of women, I have unfortunately observed that indigenous women are disproportionately affected.

I would like to add that diversion is beneficial for individuals, because the stigma attached to drugs and the barriers that come with a criminal record are sometimes disproportionate to a simple possession offence, and this can lead to a lifetime of consequences.

In closing, as someone who worked in community-based services, I am sensitive to a number of considerations connected with this bill. One thing is certain: This bill should not absolve us, as parliamentarians, of any responsibility, especially given that firearms crimes are a major concern in light of recent events, in which innocent victims have been killed with firearms.

While we agree with the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, we must not minimize gun crime or the importance of ensuring the public's sense of safety and looking at better gun control measures. The Bloc Québécois is asking for this. It is high time that action was taken.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 24th, 2021 / 5:20 p.m.
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David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Madam Speaker, I remind the House that I have taken all decisions based on the health and safety of my employees, following regulations and meeting the needs of my constituents, as well as Canadians across the country in my portfolio.

I will provide an overview of the Bill C-22. The bill would repeal MMPs for all drug offences, which were enacted by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It would also repeal MMPs for certain offences involving the use or possession of firearms and a tobacco-related offence. We know that MMPs do not deter these crimes or keep people and communities safe. In eliminating these MMPs, Bill C-22 would restore judicial discretion, reduce the time and money spent on needless litigation, and address systemic barriers to equality.

We have always held that serious criminals should be treated seriously. As such MMPs will remain for the most serious offences including murder, child sexual offences and firearm offences linked to organized crime.

These changes go hand in hand with the proposed measures in Bill C-21, an act to amend certain acts and to make certain consequential amendments with regard to firearms, to increase maximum penalties for certain firearms offences related to gun smuggling and trafficking.

This would allow judges to issue stricter sentences for the most serious gun crimes, including gang-related violence, while enabling a broader range of options for lower-risk and first-time offenders, including alternatives that could help prevent them from becoming hardened criminals behind bars. This is critical to helping keep our communities safe.

With Bill C-22 serious crimes would be sentenced seriously and proportionate to the gravity of the offence and degree of responsibility of the offender.

The second area of proposed reforms I would like to discuss focuses on realigning the conditional sentence regime with the purpose for which these sentences were originally intended, namely, to address the overreliance on incarceration for less serious non-violent crimes. A CSO is a sentence of incarceration of less than two years that may be served in the community under strict conditions. It is only available if a judge is satisfied that doing so would pose no risks to public safety.

Bill C-22 would repeal a number of restrictions brought in by the former Conservative government on the availability of CSOs. The additional restrictions have limited judges from imposing CSOs in appropriate cases. The current restrictions have resulted in more people being sent to jail and more charter challenges and have contributed to the over-incarceration of indigenous persons, in particular.

In July 2020, in the case of the Queen v. Sharma, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the provisions in the Criminal Code limiting the availability of CSOs for offences punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years or life, or 10 years if drugs were involved. The court noted that these limits on the availability of CSOs undermined the remedial purpose of the Gladue principle in the Criminal Code by limiting a judge's ability to impose fit sentences to take into account the circumstances of indigenous offenders, including the well-documented impacts of colonialism and residential schools.

Bill C-22 seeks to reform the CSO regime in a way that would allow courts to order sentences other than incarceration in appropriate cases that focus on restorative justice principles. We have heard a strong and positive response from the legal community to these proposed changes. These changes would have real, measurable results. Again, CSOs would only be available for those facing sentences of less than two years and where the judge is satisfied that there is no risk to public safety. They would not be available for more serious offences, including murder or attempted murder, torture, advocating genocide, and criminal organization and terrorism offences punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more.

I would now like to turn my attention to describing the third set of important legislative reforms proposed by Bill C-22, which support our commitment to public health-centred approaches to drugs and substance use.

Bill C-22 aligns with amendments proposed by Private Member's Bill C-236, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, in terms of evidence-based diversion measures, with certain technical amendments. I would like to thank the member for Beaches—East York for his private member's bill and his leadership in this area. We agree that these changes to treat addiction as a health issue would improve the state of the criminal justice system in Canada, particularly as we examine better approaches to dealing with the opioid crisis, and believe that changes like these may very well help save lives.

Substance use is first and foremost a health issue. Bill C-22 would enact an evidence-based diversion framework in the CDSA with a set of guiding principles informed by Canada's drugs and substances strategy, as well as principles adopted by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, on February 19, released a statement in support of C-22's treatment of drug possession offences. It is clear that we must move toward more effective ways to address public safety concerns relating to substance use.

These reforms are also inspired by the successful approach used in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They would require peace officers and Crown attorneys to consider alternatives to charging and prosecuting. That includes diverting individuals to a public health agency before proceeding with a charge, or before proceeding with a charge, once laid. It is worth noting that prosecutors and law enforcement work together in determining which charges to lay in a specific situation and, as such, extending this requirement to both would help ensure that appropriate discretion is exercised.

The reforms proposed would encourage the diversion of simple drug possession cases away from the criminal justice system and focus on the needs of the individual.

Another important benefit of these reforms is that individuals would not have the stigma and the legal costs associated with being charged with a criminal offence. Moreover, these reforms are consistent with the director of public prosecutions' August 2020 guideline that requires prosecutors to pursue diversion for simple drug possession cases.

These proposed amendments will support my 2021 supplementary mandate letter commitment to divert first-time, non-violent individuals charged with simple drug possession at an early stage.

These proposed legislative reforms will generate several long-term benefits to the criminal justice system, including overall cost reductions, and will lead to more effective responses leading to less recidivism. I am confident that Bill C-22 strikes the right balance. Indeed, it has been applauded as much-needed legislation. It responds to long-standing calls for reforms by the Quebec Bar and the Canadian Bar Association.

Our changes reflect several calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, calls for justice by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and recent calls by the Parliamentary Black Caucus.

Moving forward, we will do more. We have committed to support the application of Gladue principles and Gladue report-writing in the criminal justice system. We have also committed to supporting community justice centre pilot projects across Canada, which will provide more culturally appropriate services to address root causes of crime. Finally, we have noted our support for the implementation of the impact of race and culture assessments, which will better inform sentencing decisions, as they will be based on an understanding of the systemic inequalities faced by racialized groups such as Black Canadians.

In advancing these reforms, I am conscious that some stakeholders and parliamentarians may believe that Bill C-22 does not go far enough or, for others, it goes too far.

Bill C-22 is an important step that advances evidence-based reforms, which will alleviate some of the negative trends plaguing our criminal justice system. It will ensure that sentencing judges are better able to consider the entire context, circumstances, and seriousness of an offence when they impose a sentence.

The time has come to break with the past, the so-called tough-on-crime policies of the previous government, whose only benefit has been to make politicians look tough. We can do a better job and we will.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2020 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Don Valley West Ontario


Rob Oliphant LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, it is a great privilege and honour tonight to have both seconded Bill C-236 and speak to it.

I want to thank the member for Beaches—East York for his tremendous work on this bill and for prompting the House to take steps to save lives. It is not often we as members of Parliament get to do things that will save lives. I think that is what this bill, once it becomes law, will do.

I would not agree with the previous speaker. I think when one wants to make a difference in Canada, sometimes we do it incrementally, one step at a time. I think this bill is important for us to look at ways in which we can address the situation, not finish addressing it, but continue addressing it. In short, it is time to develop a health-focused approach to substance abuse to end the stigma against drug users. It is time to move the problem of addictions and substance abuse out of the criminal justice system and into the health care system. It is time to give Canadians, who find themselves in trouble due to their addictions and, yes, sometimes due to their bad choices, an off-ramp so they can get the help they need rather than sinking deeper into despair or death.

As a United Church minister working with families for a quarter of a century, I came to the conclusion that our approach to illegal drugs in Canada is not working. It causes more harm than good and needs to be changed. This bill is a modest attempt at doing that, a first step to see if diverting people from the criminal justice system to the health system will make a positive difference. My instinct is it will. That is why I am pleased to support it. I would encourage all people to support it and not let perfection get in the way of doing good.

It is a simple state of fact that the use of illegal drugs in Canada persists, despite laws, police activity, criminal prosecutions and incarcerations. Making criminals out of people who use these substances is not working. It is time to rethink our approach. This bill amending the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which engages evidence-based diversion measures, is a smart, modest first step in the right direction.

The concern is real. As we have already heard tonight, the B.C. coroner's service recently reported 162 people died of illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia last month, an average of about five overdose deaths per day. This year, in my own city of Toronto, we are on track for over 450 opioid overdose deaths, up from about 300 in each of the last two years. In October alone, Toronto set an all-time record for persons killed by overdose in one month.

The opioid crisis has killed over 16,000 Canadians since 2016. COVID-19 is critically worsening the opioid overdose crisis, a pandemic driving an epidemic.

In 2020, Ontario is hurtling toward 2,271 opioid deaths compared to 1,500 in 2019. Those are real people dying, with real lives, dreams and aspirations. Families, loved ones and friends are being crushed by this loss.

In 2017, I was approached by the indomitable Angie Hamilton and Louise White of Families for Addiction Recovery. Their organization works to help parents and families who are on the front lines of addiction. Their personal stories and those they shared with me from families across Canada inspired me to learn more about the subject. With their help, I organized a round table with 25 experts, including health care workers, medical practitioners, lawyers, academics, and representatives from law enforcement and community groups. I followed this up with a town hall, a meeting for the Don Valley West community, and then a meeting with my constituency youth council asking for their advice on this pressing issue. The verdict was unanimous. The current system is not working. Health care professionals, law enforcement officials, public policy experts, youth and families have asked for significant changes. They want many things. They want more resources and on-demand treatment. They want to erase stigma. Primarily, they want an evidence-based, medically focused approach to addictions and drug use in Canada.

This was confirmed very recently at a town hall I held virtually on this subject in my riding. This bill is a step in the right direction, giving opportunities to people whose lives are at risk.

At every discussion I have had with experts, stakeholders and community members, the message has been loud and clear: An alternative approach, a public health approach, is required and that is why I am supporting my colleague, the member for Beaches—East York, with this bill.

Our current system is not reducing illegal psychoactive substance use. It results in stigmatization and reduces opportunities for recovery. It ostracizes people who need help the most. It hurts those at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum and it puts up barriers to social engagement, employment and housing. As we have heard, it targets racialized communities.

The alternative to criminalization is a public health approach. I want to be clear: Bill C-236 would not decriminalize drug possession for personal use. That may be a goal or it may not be a goal; it is for some, it is not for others. This bill is a step forward, with a view to obtain widespread support from both sides of this House so that we can make a gradual, thoughtful change to the law and make a difference in people's lives.

What this bill would do is create an evidence-based diversion framework to ensure that before police officers or prosecutors, depending on the jurisdiction, move forward with laying or pursuing a charge they must consider whether it is sufficient to give a warning, to refer an individual in need to a public health agency or provider, or to pursue alternative measures to incarceration.

We have many examples of good diversion projects in this country. The bill would provide in law an opportunity to use common sense to give law enforcement officers and prosecutors a legal framework to do what, in some cases, they are already doing, but in all cases what I know they want to do: to send people who are in trouble toward those who can help them. It takes drug use seriously, it takes evidence into account and it puts people first.

I repeat. This bill does not go far enough for some, it may go too far for others. It does not decriminalize drugs, but it is an encouragement to move to treatment instead of criminal prosecution, getting people a chance to have an off-ramp, a chance to get into the health system where they can get the help they need. It would give police, prosecutors and judges an option to recommend treatment over criminal charges if the circumstances warrant.

I want to mention that I have been involved in diversion projects in the past. When I was living in Yukon and Whitehorse, I worked with the RCMP on their diversion projects.

One particular case I remember is a break-in that happened at Whitehorse United Church, my church. It was just after Christmas, and the church had been broken into. Someone had come in and vandalized it, but had particularly stolen the baby Jesus out of the crèche at the front of the church. The police came and asked me what was stolen, and I said, “Jesus was stolen”. They asked if I could describe Jesus. I said that it might be a matter of faith or theology, but that the Jesus that was stolen from our church was a small plastic Jesus that was in the crèche.

The police found the perpetrator. I was invited to a diversion opportunity and I worked with this young man. I helped this kid get the help he needed to make sure that he did not continue to steal objects from churches. As recently as a year ago, I had a report that it is working. Diversion away from criminal justice formal systems and away from incarceration has a proven track record in Canada.

In the name of Jesus, I would say tonight that I urge members of this House to get this bill to committee where it can be discussed, and amended if needed and where members can offer their experience, their advice and their ideas and get thoughtful advice from experts in the field, where it can be examined and be seen as a modest response to a terrible tragedy, taking steps toward the healing of all people. Let us get together. This is a public health emergency. We have the chance to do something small that will make a real difference.

It is an honour to be here tonight. I hope all members will consider supporting this extremely important bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2020 / 6:45 p.m.
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Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Speaker, this is a timely debate, as I think all members of Parliament recognize. We are not only in a pandemic, but we are also in an ongoing overdose crisis that has been made even worse by the pandemic. In Canada, we have had over 16,000 overdose deaths since 2016. In my own community on southern Vancouver Island, there have been more than 449 overdose deaths since 2016.

This represents an enormous toll on families in my riding. Families have lost loved ones, be they fathers, mothers, siblings or children. Here is the kicker: on the south island, during this pandemic, the number of deaths from overdoses has nearly doubled this year over last. I know that the same pattern has been occurring across the country.

Without a doubt, there is a pressing need to address the overdose crisis. I acknowledge the member for Beaches—East York for trying to suggest ways for the House to grapple with this problem. The bill we have in front of us today is, in fact, one of two bills put on the Order Paper by the member for Beaches—East York. As I remarked, I have some trouble understanding why he has chosen this bill, rather than the other bill.

The other bill I am talking about is Bill C-235, which would address the overdose crisis directly by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of prohibited drugs for personal use, thus shifting our response from punishment to harm reduction for addiction: something that is clearly a health problem or a medical condition.

In fact, as I mentioned earlier, the member for Beaches—East York just gave a very eloquent speech in support of his other bill, Bill C-235. He laid out all the reasons in his speech for decriminalization. Unfortunately, he has decided to proceed with the other bill, which completely misses the mark as a response to this crisis.

I will come back to the details of Bill C-236 in a moment, but first I want to stress how happy New Democrats would be to support his first bill instead. Personally, I have been a supporter of the decriminalization of drugs for decades, including during the whole time I taught criminal justice at the post-secondary level.

I first publicly called for decriminalization as a city counsellor in Esquimalt. When I did this, we were beginning to recognize the extent of the overdose crisis. At that time, some questioned why a city counsellor would be dealing with this question. My answer was simple. When members of our communities are dying unnecessary deaths, deaths that scar our communities, why would we not take the path to reducing these losses when the path is so clear?

Former NDP MP Libby Davies was an early and strong supporter of decriminalization in the House. She made her position very clear in 2013, when the Harper government was seeking to shut down Insite, which at the time was the only safe injection site in Canada.

At the NDP convention in 2018, delegates passed a resolution calling for an end to criminalization of personal possession of drugs. I am proud that my party was the first Canadian party to include decriminalization in our election platform. We desperately need a bill to do this, but Bill C-236 is not that bill.

Instead, we have a bill that only proposes alternatives to charging people for possession, something that is, in fact, already the practice in most jurisdictions. To me, it seems to be a waste of the House's time and efforts to focus on something like Bill C-236, and diversion from charges, when the simple solution is to end charging altogether by ending criminalization of personal possession of drugs.

This bill does nothing to help persons struggling with addiction get the help they need without fear of arrest. It is still there. Nor does it touch on the real criminals: those who traffic and profit from the addictions of others in our communities. The absence of federal leadership on this issue has led to repeated pleas for help from mayors and premiers.

This past July, Premier Horgan of British Columbia wrote to the Prime Minister, asking that the government decriminalize personal possession of drugs. Just a few days ago, I spoke with Vancouver mayor and former MP Kennedy Stewart, whose frustration with the lack of federal action on the opioid crisis caused him to strike out on an innovative plan.

He has requested by letter a federal exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize illicit drugs within the City of Vancouver's boundaries so that the City can properly address the public health concerns caused by the opioid crisis. His resolution cites a number of factors in favour of decriminalization. Many of the same ones were mentioned in the speech by the member for Beaches—East York.

Mayor Stewart begins by citing the very high number of deaths in Vancouver from overdoses. He also cites how COVID makes the overdose crisis worse by further isolating drug users within the community, by limiting access to harm reduction services and, as we have seen most recently, by the increasing toxicity of the drug supply on the streets.

He cited the support of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. He cited the support of the B.C. provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. He cited the support of organizations such as the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. He also made a final point, which I think is worthy of us noting in the House, that decriminalization is a way to address the overdose crisis, but it is also an important part of any program to address the systemic racism in our justice system.

Why is Bill C-236 so weak? It is described as an evidence-based diversion framework. We already have that in practice, as I said, in most jurisdictions. It will do nothing for the person who eventually refuses any of those alternatives because they will still end up charged and will still end up with a criminal record for drug possession.

There are also some technical problems with the bill. I am still a recovering criminal justice instructor. I doubt that the bill could actually be applied in British Columba, Quebec or New Brunswick, because the bill is modelled on the Ontario system, where the police lay charges. In those three provinces, the police do not lay charges. I wonder whether the bill has actually taken into account the reality of British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick. I do not think that it has.

The bill seeks to reduce the criminalization of drug users through diversion from charges, something which, again, is already taking place in most jurisdictions. The simple solution is right before our eyes. Here is what New Democrats have been calling for to meet the challenges of this other epidemic. These are measures based on sound, evidence-based health policy. We have five things that we say Canadians need.

Canadians need, right now, a national declaration of a public health emergency on the opioid crisis. Canadians need federal funding and stable funding for overdose prevention sites. Canadians need improved access to treatment on demand for people struggling with addictions. Canadians need an end to the poisoned street supply and access to a safe supply of drugs as a medically regulated alternative to the toxic street drugs offered, most of the time, by organized crime. Canadians need to see an investigation into the role of drug companies and the role they may have played in fuelling the opioid crisis, and they need to see a demand put forward for meaningful financial compensation from those companies that profited off the opioid crisis.

Bill C-236 says it used evidence-based measures to come to the conclusion that we need diversion. I would say that is not where it leads us at all. These demands and measures are strongly supported by public health advocates. The police, and all of those who are really interested in public health, say we need decriminalization. The war on drugs has been a clear failure. Instead of stigmatizing and punishing Canadians who are suffering from substance use disorders, it is time for bold and compassionate leadership from the federal government.

While the overdose crisis strikes at all Canadian families, a response that meets the needs of our most marginalized communities is urgently required. The fact that we are dealing with a private member's bill on this topic, and the fact that we have no government bill or government response to the opioid crisis, tells us a lot. We need a bill. The member for Beaches—East York gave an eloquent speech tonight, just as I said, in support of the wrong bill. It is his other bill we need to be dealing with.

Bill C-236 is not the bill that Canadians need. New Democrats will not be supporting a bill that does little or nothing to address the opioid crisis. We need bold action now but, unfortunately, there is no bold action in Bill C-236. Bill C-236, as I said, will actually take up time in the House we could use more productively to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in this country.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2020 / 6:35 p.m.
See context


Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, this bill is consistent with what is already being done in Quebec.

We see diversion as a good thing. It is understood that living in society implies compliance with a certain number of rules established by society and within a legal framework, and that people who do not obey those rules will be sanctioned. We agree on this point. For instance, someone who traffics in drugs must go through the criminal justice system and, if found guilty, go to prison.

However, we also think that this is not a panacea. Ultimately, what we want is not to put as many people as possible in prison, but to live in a society that respects everyone's rights, somewhere that is a great place to live and where everyone accepts and respects the various rules that we have set for ourselves.

Once again, while some crimes should be severely punished, other offences should be dealt with through a different process. Quebeckers believe strongly in rehabilitation and education for these individuals.

This bill addresses a specific situation in which a police officer arrests someone who is in possession of drugs for personal use and not for the purposes of trafficking.

This is obviously not an ideal situation. Drugs are harmful to those who use them, but also to their families, friends and communities. Drug use is therefore something we want to address.

Instead of sending this person to prison, we would use diversion measures and social reintegration. There are various possibilities. As I was saying, Quebec already does this with young offenders. For example, a young person who commits an offence at a corner store may be sentenced to work at that corner store. If the young person graffitis a wall, they may be sentenced to clean the wall or repaint the inside of the corner store.

The offender will be given a punishment that will teach them a lesson and make them not want to commit the offence again, which is better than ending up in prison as a preventative measure.

Although putting someone in prison for two or three years for a drug-related crime can sometimes convince them to never use drugs again, most of the time, the person is at high risk of reoffending. The person may start to feel victimized, excluded from society and judged. When they are released, they will still have the same bad habits and hang out with the same crowd, which is not good for them.

Instead of sending that person to prison for one, two or three years, we can use alternative forms of punishment designed to help them understand the negative impact of drug use on their own health and that of their partner, children, entire family and community. We may not succeed all the time, but if it works in even 15%, 20% or 30% of cases, it would still be much better than what currently happens. We would improve our society, and we would be taking every possible measure to help these individuals not just to change their behaviour, but to do so of their own volition, after realizing the harmful effects of their previous behaviour.

For these reasons, I believe that this bill should be studied, if only in committee. It will surely need to be amended. I noted earlier that there are problems with the translation, particularly with the proposed new paragraph 10.1(b). The English version says “reduce harm to those individuals”, whereas the French version says “réduire les méfaits”, which is not a good translation, in my view.

There are some small mistakes like that that will need to be fixed, and perhaps some amendments should be made to the substance of the bill. However, one thing is certain, Bill C-236 should be studied and passed to improve the lives of everyone we live with in society.

Earlier, members spoke about stigmatization. I will give some examples. Of course a person who spends one, two or three years in prison and then looks for a job when they get out will have to say that they just got out of prison. Obviously, that will not help them get a job. If that person does not find a job, then they will be more likely to look for other sources of income. They will be caught in a vicious circle, and we might end up encouraging what we want to discourage, something we do not want to do.

Obviously there are also health issues. We often talk about drug use, which is illegal. People who use do not use in broad daylight and often hide. They use syringes that have not been disinfected or have been poorly disinfected. They share other paraphernalia for using drugs or they share drugs that might be composed of more harmful substances than they should be.

Some people think that this needs to be regulated, but I believe that we should try to find a way to help these people instead of punishing them. If I had a child or another family member who had a drug problem, I would hope to be able to help them understand the adverse effects and convince them to change their behaviour in order to experience more happiness. I want that for my family and for everyone. I encourage us to vote in favour of Bill C‑236.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2020 / 6:25 p.m.
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John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Beaches—East York for tabling the bill and reworking what he previously tabled. This is something, as Conservatives, we are open to discussing.

I do not think there is any question with anybody in the House that the opioid crisis is going to be the number one health issue this country faces in the years to come. Even when COVID is resolved, hopefully when vaccines become available to Canadians in the new year, the ramifications and implications of this pandemic and the impact it has had on Canadians is going to be long-lasting.

We have seen the opioid crisis explode to proportions I do not think any of us could have ever predicted. I look at my own province of Alberta, where the opioid overdose deaths from January to June tripled from the first quarter to the second quarter of last year. The implications of COVID and the resulting growth in the opioid crisis is a challenge that all of us as parliamentarians have to understand. We have to start addressing this with real solutions and real partnerships between the various different levels of government. This is not a partisan issue. All of us in the House want to find a way to help Canadians in their recovery.

We had a doctor from B.C. appear at the Standing Committee on Health on Monday. She talked about the opioid crisis in B.C., and B.C. is now seeing record levels of opioid overdose deaths. B.C. was certainly the epicentre of this crisis, but as my colleague from Atlantic Canada just said, we have seen this spread from one part of the country to the next. There is no segment of our population that is immune to the impacts of the opioid crisis.

I applaud my colleague for bringing this forward and taking the focus off legalizing illicit drugs. I agree with him that this is not what the bill is about. Bill C-236 is not about legalizing or decriminalizing illicit drugs. It is about putting a focus on treatment and recovery. Unfortunately, there are some things missing from this private member's bill that I think could be strengthened. If we get this to committee, I hope my colleague is open to some amendments and we can work together to strengthen the bill.

I have to chime in on the comment my colleague made about Conservative provincial governments not supporting recovery and treatment for these addictions. Premier Jason Kenney in Alberta named Jason Luan the minister of mental health and addictions, one of the first provincial governments in Canadian history to have a minister in cabinet dedicated to mental health and addictions. It has funded more than 4,000 new treatment beds in the province of Alberta alone. This is not a Conservative conspiracy in which we do not believe in treatment and recovery. My colleague is way off the mark on that.

As I said, I do not think this is a partisan issue in any way. Every government across the country at every level is struggling to find ways to deal with this with limited resources. One of the problems with my colleague's private member's bill is that it really lacks teeth and accountability.

The bill really highlights what is already happening in many jurisdictions across Canada with most police forces. The Liberal government put out a directive in 2016 asking police forces not to charge and go to the court system for simple possession, and many police forces across the country are following up on that directive. Many officers, if they are pulling someone over with a minimal amount of drugs, are not charging them and not putting them through the legal system. Therefore, what the bill does is try to formalize what is already informal across the country.

The bill does not put enough emphasis, teeth or accountability on the recovery aspect. One of the keys to the bill is that a police officer would have the discretion to allow a person who has not been charged yet to choose between two streams. The officer could take the person to a recovery centre to get treatment, but it would have to be at that person's discretion. If the person refuses, then it would be the end of the discussion. They can still potentially be charged, but there is no accountability or no mandatory option to go to recovery.

I am hoping that my colleague will be open to that amendment so that there would be some teeth and accountability in the bill, which would put the focus on a mandatory recovery and treatment element when it comes to dealing with opioid addiction.

I agree with him that this is a mental health issue, and as I said at the beginning of my speech, I think this is the biggest mental health issue this country has or will ever face. We have to find a solution or put some resources into it. I know my colleague also mentioned the position of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. He is right that the association does support decriminalization of illicit drugs, but with a caveat that he failed to mention.

The caveat is that there have to be resources in provinces for recovery, and in their report they say that does not exist at this time. Therefore, they really do not support decriminalization of all illicit drugs, which, again, the bill does not do, but I think it highlights that the focus needs to be on the recovery aspect, which is missing from the bill. I know my colleague has tried to step back from going all the way to decriminalization and tried to bring this to something that all of us in the House can work on as a starting point, but it still lacks some of those elements that we would like to see. As I said, in reality a lot of these things are already being done by police officers.

The other element that I hope my colleague would be open to is not about the mandatory recovery but about when an officer is having that interaction with a person. They can take notes of how many times they have had this discussion and offered a recovery option to that person, but that is not admissible, should it ever go to court. For example, if I have pulled Joe Smith over and have had this discussion with Joe Smith on multiple occasions, and on multiple occasions I have offered Joe Smith two options, to take it to the criminal justice system or to go to recovery, again the onus is on Joe Smith. If he says no, then that option is no longer viable.

However, I could have had that discussion with Joe Smith 17,000 times and there is no chance for that, but if that element was admissible, should he ever have to go through the justice system, we could say that we have had this discussion on many occasions and we have offered him the opportunity to go to recovery and he has refused over and over again. Therefore, the only option would be a criminal justice pathway. I think that needs to be an element in there.

The other aspect to this is that these drugs are dangerous. There is no question. They are killing Canadians from every walk of life, and I know many of us in the House have had personal relations or experiences with this. I know in my riding I had one first nations community that had 18 fentanyl overdose deaths in one month. I have had too many friends and acquaintances who have lost loved ones, including me: a friend I played senior hockey with for many years. I do not want to have those conversations anymore. There has to be a way to get through this, but there have to be consequences.

I understand that when someone is caught with an amount of drugs that is just for their possession, we can look at the mental health and addiction recovery, but there have to be harsh consequences for those who are peddling these drugs, the dealers who are killing those Canadians. We also have to ensure that there are hard consequences and enough resources to CBSA to ensure that we are not having these drugs, specifically fentanyl, imported into our country. With COVID, we are seeing limitations on travel, but now we are seeing an increase in poison and toxins put into these drugs here at home. There have to be consequences.

In conclusion, I am hoping my colleague will be open to amendments and having this discussion, but as this sits now it will be difficult for us to support without some of those accountability elements and the teeth to ensure focus on a mandatory element to recovery and rehabilitation.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2020 / 6:25 p.m.
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Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I mentioned $150 million to expand treatment options. Of course, some Conservative provincial governments have failed to take us up on that money to save lives and, in fact, have fought against evidenced-based policies that save lives. As the member references Portugal and ignores much of the evidence out of Portugal, she also fails to mention all the experts in Canada in a Canadian health context who have called for this action.

Lastly, let me just say, specifically, that Bill C-236 would not decriminalize anything. I encourage the member to read Bill C-236. It would basically tell police and prosecutors not to pursue possession charges unless they are in keeping with the guiding principles and the evidence.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2020 / 6:10 p.m.
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Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

moved that Bill C-236, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (evidence-based diversion measures) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, before the pandemic, I introduced Bill C-235 to decriminalize all drugs for personal possession, and this legislation, Bill C-236 as an alternative to create a diversion framework to limit police and prosecutorial discretion in keeping with evidence-based principles.

I was motivated to introduce these bills because of the opioid crisis. As we live through the COVID pandemic and are rightly concerned about how different levels of government are working together to protect us, it is important that we do not forget about the scale of tragedy the opioid crisis has brought to so many families across our country.

From January 2016 to March 2020, there have been 16,364 apparent opioid-related deaths, nearly 11 a day. There have also been over 20,000 opioid-related poisoning and hospitalizations, or 13 per day. Public health officials do not update us every day the way they do with COVID, but perhaps they should. It is a public health crisis, and it is a tragedy.

StatsCan, pre-pandemic, told us that for the first time in 40 years, our life expectancy had stalled. StatsCan said:

Life expectancy at birth did not increase from 2016 to 2017 for either males or females, a first in over four decades. This was largely attributable to the opioid crisis.

We know that the crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. In the words of none other than Health Canada:

At the intersection of these public health crises, people who use substances are likely to experience a number of increased risks.

As we see our government listen to public health experts and respond with emergency measures to address the COVID pandemic, it stands in stark contrast, unfortunately, to the way in which we have handled these opioid-related deaths.

Let me start with quoting some public health experts we have been listening to in the course of the COVID crisis, but that we have failed to heed in the opioid crisis. Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam has called for a societal discussion on decriminalization. B.C.'s public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry published a report called, “Stopping The Harm”, explicitly calling for decriminalization, writing:

There is widespread global recognition that the failed “war on drugs” and the resulting criminalization nd stigmatizati o n of people who use drugs has not reduced drug use but instead has increased health harms.

Let me put it more bluntly: our outdated and ineffective laws are killing people. If we embraced evidence-based policies, we would not have a highly toxic illegal drug supply. Again, this is Bonnie Henry speaking through her report:

Substance use occurs on a spectrum, from beneficial (e.g., social activity, cultural practices) to non-problematic (e.g., recreational or occasional use), to chronic dependence and addiction....due to the toxicity...there is considerable risk of overdose and overdose death related to illegal drug use in any capacity.

Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa has also published a report that states:

The evidence...strongly support the need to shift to a public health approach to drugs in Canada.

She goes on to call on us, the federal government, to decriminalize the possession of all drugs for personal use.

The UN and WHO published a joint statement in 2017, calling on countries to put in place guarantees against the discrimination in law, policies and regulations in health, including by reviewing and repealing laws that have been proven to have negative health outcomes and counter established public health evidence. Again, not my words, their words, “These include laws that criminalize...drug use or possession of drugs for personal use”.

In its report, “Care not Corrections”, the Canadian Mental Health Association writes:

Criminalizing people who use...drugs stigmatizes substance use; it also fosters a climate in which they feel unsafe in accessing life-saving interventions and treatment services, and further marginalizes people living in poverty [or at social disadvantage].

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction has written:

A growing body of evidence suggests that decriminalization is an effective way to mitigate the harms of substance use and the policies and practices used to deal with it, especially those harms associated with criminal justice prosecution for simple possession.

Stepping for a moment outside of the advice of public health experts and looking to those in the justice system, we have the Chief Justice of Ontario, Justice Strathy, as he opened the courts, say this:

There is increasing recognition that we, as a society, need to re-consider how we define “crime” and whether some offences, labelled criminal, should be regarded as health-related matters and addressed therapeutically. In recent months, as opioid deaths have soared, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and many of Canada's chief medical health officers, have suggested that after a century of drug prohibition, we should stop treating the use and simple possession of narcotics as a criminal offence and regard them as public health matters. We need to consider whether these and other social challenges are most effectively addressed outside the courts.

Now, the chief justice referenced our police chiefs, and in July 2020, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police wrote its own report calling for decriminalization and evidence-based drug policies, which said, “While law enforcement across Canada exercise their discretion when considering possession charges, such as the presence of harmful behaviour or the availability of treatment services, the application of the law is inconsistent across communities.”

The report continues, “We must adopt new and innovative approaches if we are going to disrupt the current trend of drug overdoses impacting communities across Canada. Merely arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective.”

These are not my words. These are the words of our police chiefs, and the words are “proven to be ineffective.”

The report goes on to say, “Research from other countries who have boldly chosen to take a health rather than an enforcement-based approach to problematic drug use have demonstrated positive results.”

When I spoke to Waterloo Chief of Police, Bryan Larkin, I told him that we absolutely need national action, but if we do not get national action in the immediate term, as a way forward, what if municipalities made the request, whether it was Vancouver or Toronto, to the federal government asking for an exemption? He told me that the police chiefs would support that approach as well. We now have had the City of Vancouver call on the federal government to decriminalize simple possession in its geography. Our federal government should honour and grant that request.

The police chiefs also recognize the international evidence, and it is important to pause for a moment and recognize that international evidence. I will point to Portugal, which decriminalized possession of drugs for personal use in 2000. Since then, it has seen overdose-related deaths go down and drug use stay the same. It has not seen problematic drug use increase in any significant way whatsoever. Importantly, it has seen the number of people seeking treatment increase by 60%.

Not only do we know that this move will address stigma, but the number of people seeking treatment will increase because it would be addressing stigma as well. It would also address the racial injustice in our drug laws.

If one tracks the history of our drugs laws, one knows that they are racist. The report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs goes into some detail about the racist attitudes that underpinned government action to criminalize certain drugs, including a fear, at one time, of Chinese Canadians.

As the Canadian HIV Legal Network has recently written, “from 2014 to 2019, police in Canada made more than 540,000 arrests for drug offences; 69% of those were for simple drug possession.

It is troubling that Black and other racialized communities in Canada are disproportionately charged, prosecuted and incarcerated for drug offences, depriving them of their rights to equality and non-discrimination in the criminal legal system, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, security of the person, and the highest attainable standard of health. As the report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System concluded more than two decades ago, “Persons described as black are the most over-representated among prisoners charged with drug offences”.

More simply, we fear different drugs today, because we used to fear different people. While we have shifted the purpose of the law beyond explicit racism and xenophobia, its application continues to represent a racial injustice.

Now, we have seen some government action. We have seen an expansion of safe consumption sites, and we have seen 40 safe consumption sites approved. Very recently, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada updated its guidelines to say very explicitly, “Resort to a criminal prosecution of the possession of a controlled substance...should generally be reserved for the most serious manifestations of the offence” where it is for personal use under section 4 of the CDSA.

Our federal government has implemented pilot projects towards safer supply and has funded pilot projects, including here in our east end at South Riverdale. It has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to address the opioid crisis through a public health approach, including $150 million in budget 2018 to expand treatment options, and millions more towards a national public education campaign to end the stigma that surrounds people who use drugs. These are unquestionably worthy actions.

We should pause here because we have our federal government spending millions to end the stigma for people who use drugs, but at the same time, we are refusing to remove the criminal sanction that perpetuates that stigma more than any other policy. It is cognitive dissonance in action, and it cost lives.

I will explain what Bill C-236 does. To begin, I moved Bill C-235 and Bill C-236 at the same time because Bill C-235 simply removes the criminal offence for simple possession. This is in keeping with those public health experts, and the international evidence, who are saying that simple possession for personal use should not be a criminal sanction.

While fully removing drug possession for personal use from the CDSA is my preferred approach, and it certainly has the support of experts, in the end, a private member's bill has one opportunity to move a law forward. It is very important to me that this conversation moves to committee and that we see a change in our law.

To that end, Bill C-236 is a more modest change in our law that seeks to address stigma and end the unnecessary criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs. Ultimately the bill seeks to obtain government support to accomplish those ends.

Very simply, the bill creates an evidence-based diversion framework to ensure that before police officers or prosecutors move forward with laying or pursuing a charge, they must consider whether it is sufficient to give a warning, to refer an individual in need to a public health agency or provider, or pursue alternative measures to incarceration. It was developed in keeping with the model of diversion found in our Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Similar to the new guidelines to prosecutors, it seeks to ensure that police and prosecutorial discretion is exercised with the evidence in mind. If this bill passes, that discretion must be exercised in keeping with a set of guiding principles. I think they are important, so I will simply read them:

(a) problematic substance use should be addressed primarily as a health and social issue;

(b) interventions should be founded on evidence-based best practices and should aim to protect the health, dignity and human rights of individuals who use drugs, and to reduce harm to those individuals, their families and their communities;

(c) criminal sanctions imposed in respect of the possession of drugs for personal use can increase the stigma associated with drug use and are not consistent with established public health evidence;

(d) interventions should address the root causes of problematic substance use, including by encouraging measures such as education, treatment, aftercare, rehabilitation and social reintegration; and

(e) judicial resources are more appropriately used in relation to offences that pose a risk to public safety.

The criminalization of drug possession for personal use only harms the very people we want to help. It is not only ineffective, it costs lives. We need a new approach. We need to follow the evidence to save lives.

October 21st, 2020 / 4:50 p.m.
See context


The Chair Liberal Ginette Petitpas Taylor

No. Thank you so much for that. That's great.

Perhaps now we can proceed through each item. To be efficient with our time, we could maybe just go through them item by item, and if there are no questions or comments, we can dispose of them fairly quickly. We'll be able to address the ones for which there is debate.

Does that sound appropriate to everyone?

We'll start off, then, with Bill C-210. Does anyone have any issues or comments about that one? No.

Next is Bill C-238.

I see there are no comments, so we'll move right along to Bill C-224. Good.

Next is Bill C-215. No comments.

Next is Bill C-204, and now Bill C-229.

I'm not going to jinx it, but we're on a roll.

Now we have Bill C-218 and a motion, M-34.

Next we have Bill C-214, Bill C-220, Bill C-221, Bill C-222 and Bill C-213.

I love working with women.

Next is Bill C-223, followed by M-35.

Now we have Bill C-206, Bill C-216, Bill C-208, Bill C-205, Bill C-237, Bill C-225, Bill C-228, Bill C-236, Bill C-230 and Bill C-232.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActRoutine Proceedings

February 26th, 2020 / 3:50 p.m.
See context


Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-236, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (evidence-based diversion measures).

Mr. Speaker, we need to treat drug use as a health issue in the context of the opioid crisis if we want to save lives.

I will not shy away from advocating for decriminalization, but I am aware that early on in this Parliament, I have this opportunity to introduce a bill that will be debated and voted on. In the context of the opioid crisis that has taken so many lives, I want to ensure that a measure is passed that will improve our laws and will help Canadians in need.

To that end, while the bill would not decriminalize drugs, it would ensure there would be an evidence-based diversion framework, a principles-based framework, built on public health principles in our national drug strategy and principles embraced and adopted at the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

The bill is also built on the successful model of the Youth Criminal Justice Act at home. It would require police and prosecutors to ensure, before they move forward with charges, that they consider whether it is sufficient to give a warning or to refer an individual in need to a public health agency and provider.

Again, the evidence from the Youth Criminal Justice Act is clear. We will alleviate unfairness in the criminal justice system, we will help people in need and we will save lives.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)