Evidence of meeting #15 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was minimums.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Catherine Kane  Director General and Senior General Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
Philippe Massé  Director, Temporary Resident Policy and Program, Department of Citizenship and Immigration
Paul Saint-Denis  Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice

8:05 p.m.


Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Like my colleague, I am happy to be able to finally participate in this clause-by-clause review.

I'm going to focus my comments this afternoon—I guess we're into this evening now—on NDP amendment number four, which, as Mr. Harris was saying, is how they want to remove schedule II from that clause. I want to put it into context, because I don't think people who may be watching or listening necessarily understand what this clause deals with and what it talks about.

Section 5 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act deals with trafficking. Subsection 5(1) starts out by saying, “No persons shall traffic in a substance included in Schedule I, II, III or IV”. So when they're seeking to amend that section, they're trying to take out schedule II from trafficking. Schedule II, if we look through it, deals with marijuana and marijuana derivatives.

What the NDP are proposing to say is that there should not be mandatory minimum penalties for people who are trafficking in marijuana. I think everyone should understand that, because in my estimation that is an extreme position.

I'm going to go through a few things to explain why I believe that is such an extreme and unsupportable position.

I'll start with a quote that we have right here. This is from Chief Superintendent Fraser McRae from the RCMP Operational Intelligence Centre in Surrey, where he states “...what can't be debated is that cannabis is a currency for organized crime.”

So organized crime traffics in marijuana and the NDP is saying that we should remove that so there's not a mandatory minimum penalty.

I've noticed that only today on the news we hear of a large drug bust that was going on in Quebec that dealt with the Hells Angels, and of course they seized large amounts of marijuana. Again, simply to reiterate, the trafficking of marijuana is the lifeblood of organized crime, so when we are including that in this legislation it's to target things like that, trafficking in marijuana.

What we also know is that the argument that is being put forth on the other side is that somehow this legislation is a little too difficult. What about the poor person who is only growing six, seven, or eight plants in their basement? They might be affected by this legislation.

In my discussions with police officers, and in a little research I've done, a marijuana plant can produce between 500 and 1,000 joints, depending on how large it grows. So if you're looking at someone who has six plants of marijuana, this is a person who could be producing 6,000 joints. This is not the poor misguided person who wants to have some personal use. This is somebody who is growing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. That's exactly why this section needs to stay in the legislation.

When we talk about some of the comments that I just heard from Madame Boivin, saying that this legislation does not do anything to support victims, that is strange to me, because as I sat on this committee I watched victim group after victim group come forward and stand here and say strongly, “We need this legislation. We want this legislation.” The reason why they talk about it is because—and my colleague commented on this—this legislation changes so many sections of the Criminal Code to give a sentence that fits the crime, and it restores faith in the justice system.

I've spoken to many people who have gone through the justice system, and they say over and over again that not only were they victimized by the perpetrator of the crime, but they were victimized by the justice system when they watched the person who committed the crime receive a sentence that was absolutely not proportionate to the crime they committed. Those are the kinds of people we are standing up for, and that's why we are introducing this legislation. Victims support this legislation. That is clear from the testimony we've heard at this committee.

When we talk about the issue of deterrence...we heard from the chiefs of police. They came and sat here and talked to this committee. They said this legislation is going to stop the revolving door of what they called “rounders”, people who are going through the system over and over again with no perceived consequences to their actions. They don't see that the current legislation is any impediment to their committing the crime, so they feel free to continue to do that.

This is going to give our police officers the tools to get those people off the street and keep them off the street for a longer period of time, which means they won't have the ability to continue to traffic drugs to our families and to our children.

I have a quote here from Dr. Darryl Plecas, Royal Canadian Mounted Police research chair and director of the Centre for Criminal Justice Research at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the University of the Fraser Valley:

We absolutely have to get people off the street. It's not a question of getting tougher on sentencing, it's a question of getting more effective. We want to make a difference. We know we can. We've seen it happen. Let's do more.

I absolutely applaud the government on the initiatives to get mandatory penalties.

These are the kinds of people who are supporting our legislation.

Don Spicer, superintendent of the Halifax Regional Police, stated:

We believe that Bill S-10 will have a positive effect in aiding Halifax Regional Police to decrease acts of illegal drug activity and the corresponding acts of violence in our community. As such, we view Bill S-10 as an important step in the right direction.

So here on this side, the government side, we've heard from law enforcement. We've heard from victims. They support this legislation. Those are the people we're happy to have supporting this legislation.

We've heard comments today from members of the opposite side of the committee that we're bundling this together, that we're rushing this through. It's absolutely not true. I want to put on the record just a few pieces of information.

As of today, for this specific piece of legislation, there have been four days of debate in the House of Commons, with 16 hours of debate and 53 speeches; nine days in committee, with 16 hours in committee, 68 witnesses, and appearances by two ministers.

When we look at the predecessor legislation that was introduced in this House, which is part and parcel of this legislation, we have an even more impressive record of debate and discussion. We had 33 days of debate in the House, with 81 hours of debate, 225 speeches, and 45 days in committee, with 78 hours in committee, 252 witness appearances, and six ministerial appearances.

It continued in the Senate: 20 days of debate, with 14 hours of debate and 36 speeches; 22 days in committee, with 61 hours in committee, 111 witness appearances, and three ministerial appearances.

I don't need to add those numbers up. People can do that. But anyone trying to suggest that this legislation has not been properly reviewed or properly studied is trying to sell something that is absolutely not saleable.

I hope that when my friends on the other side consider this legislation, they'll realize the necessity, get on the sides of police officers, police chiefs, and victims groups, and support this legislation.

Thank you.

8:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Seeback.

Mr. Jacob.

8:10 p.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

With all due respect for my two colleagues, I cannot agree with them. You will not be surprised if I tell you that I agree more with Mr. Harris and Ms. Boivin.

We should leave discretion with judges. We should not lose the benefit of experience on the ground, which is invaluable. Certainly if the party concerned is not satisfied they can always go before the appropriate appellate court. That is the first thing I have to say.

The following appears in an independent report by the Department of Justice:

From a utilitarian point of view, incarcerating occasional, non-violent offenders, for substantial periods, constitutes a colossal waste of justice system resources.

Mandatory Sentences for Drug Offences. Harsh MMS and the “drug war” approach in general show little effect in relation to drug offences. MMS do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. MMS are blunt instruments that fail to distinguish between low and high-level, as well as hardcore versus transient drug dealers. From a utilitarian perspective, the federal system appears to be incarcerating the wrong people; individuals who are easily replaced in the illicit market.

For all these reasons, I think that mandatory minimum sentences will mean, according to several experts who have testified before the committee, that there will be an increase in incarceration, and prison is not a cure-all. Nor are super prisons the solution to crime for the victims, since the crime rate will rise in the long term. They are also not the solution for inmates, since there will be an increase in the number of cases, overpopulation and a lack of privacy, and this will cause tension. There is going to be less access to rehabilitation and reintegration programs. There will be no pardons, since that concept is going to disappear. Prison personnel will not be assured of safety.

Moving on to the budgets of the provinces affected, how are they going to manage this whole system, which is going to be increasingly onerous?

So we should leave discretion with judges. I think the system works quite well.

I would like to come back to the YCJA in particular.

[Translation] A single, mathematical approach to measures that are proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender does not provide for adopting individualized intervention strategies based on factors relating to the offence ... but also to the unique characteristics of each [offender]. On this point, the Quebec model is characterized by differentiated intervention aimed at the right measure at the right time, based on the following assumptions:

A young person is a person who is developing ... who has different needs ... the intervention must be appropriate to that status.

We have to [Translation] "offer the right service at the right time", and so we have to hire "a team of professionals who have the necessary skills".

The intervention must be speedy, a [Translation] "concept that has a different meaning to a young person", since at that stage of development, things move very quickly.

The parents' participation is [Translation] "sought, valued and supported throughout the intervention".

[Translation] We also have to be concerned about victims and consider the impact the offence has had on them; [the offender will be] made aware of the wrongs and harms they have caused them, and where appropriate a reparation process [will be] proposed.

I adopt all of these recommendations.

I adopt all of these recommendations. They are all made by the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec and they all relate to Bill C-10.

The first recommendation is to keep [Translation] "the objectives of rehabilitation and reintegration of [offenders] at the top of the list, to protect the public in the long term".

Second, the Association recommends that [Translation] "the principles of denunciation and deterrence continue to be excluded from the [principle] of sentencing, as decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2006".

Third, it recommends that [Translation] "the ban on publishing the identity [of a young offender] who is the subject of measures under the YCJA be maintained".

Fourth, it recommends that [Translation] "the current sentencing rules, as laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada, which place the burden on the prosecutor of showing that it is necessary and appropriate to sentence [the offender] as an adult, be maintained ...".

I also concur in the conclusion: [Translation] "The loss of protection for the identity of young persons, exemplary sentences based on denunciation and deterrence and above all proportionate to the offence, are the opposite of what we have built as the model for intervention with young offenders ...". That is in fact what we have built in Quebec. It works and it results in a significant reduction in crime. The statistics show that we have one of the lowest crime rates in all 10 provinces.

For all these reasons, I would also reiterate that the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec and the provincial directors have always advocated balance. We are also advocating balance between protection of the public and rehabilitation of young persons. I believe this is the only way to manage this. We believe that investing in social services, in concrete action to reduce poverty, in programs to help young people find jobs and to expand access to social housing, would have more impact in the long term on young people in our society than focusing on enforcement by having tougher laws.

8:20 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Jacob.

Madam Borg.

8:20 p.m.


Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

I apologise for the delay.

I would not want to repeat what my colleagues have said. They have done a relatively good job of covering the reasons why we oppose the concept of mandatory minimum sentences. I just want to stress a few points.

The government seems to be saying that we on this side of the room do not want the situation to improve. Yes, we want the situation to improve. We are concerned that there are criminals on the streets, trafficking in drugs, and organized crime groups doing the same thing.

However, we have heard numerous experts who have provided us with evidence. I do not think a single expert in criminology has said that mandatory minimum sentences work. We heard about Texas, where this measure did not work when it was implemented. They believe their money was not invested well. For every dollar spent on programs, and not on imprisonment, they get a return of $9.34.

I also want to point out quickly that we also have to think about the double-bunking problem that is very common in prisons at present. Mr. Harris has already pointed out the problems double-bunking causes. I think it is particularly important to think about the workers. Their work environment will become more dangerous and more unhealthy. These are not acceptable working conditions. Their positions were not created with double-bunking in mind, they were created with single cell occupancy in mind. That is being changed.

I simply want to point out that we already have a problem with double-bunking. In my riding, in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, there are three federal penitentiaries, as I have mentioned several times. In fact, a report released last night said that 47.52% of the cells held two people. We are already at 47.52% and you are asking us to increase that proportion even further. It will take a bit of time, certainly, to adjust to this big change and the influx of prisoners that sentences like these are going to bring about.

I am going to conclude fairly quickly. This is not how you stop organized crime. A number of the witnesses who came here even said that prisons could be places for encouraging organized crime. An inmate who gets out of prison has friends, telephone numbers and sources. They know everything. They get encouragement from other criminals. Why then do we not get them out of that place and get them involved in programs, set them on the right path, tell them that they have to reinvest in society, go out to work and pay their taxes? That will all come back to Canadians and be good for Canada. That is how we are going to solve the problem of drugs and organized crime, the problem of trafficking in drugs like marijuana.

Thank you.

8:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Ms. Borg.

Mr. Wilks.

8:25 p.m.


David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to just speak a little bit with regard to marijuana. Just to qualify that, I was 20 years with the RCMP. I was qualified as an expert before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, knowing how much is required for trafficking in marijuana and being able to identify marijuana without its being analyzed. I can tell you from three years of drug work that marijuana is not the benign drug everyone believes it is. It has come a long way since the 1960s and the open crops of California.

The THC levels in marijuana have gone from 6% and 7% up to as high as 40%. The highest I have ever seen is 38%. You get a pretty good bang for your buck at 38%. When you're growing it at those levels, you're doing something right.

I want to just give an example of why I believe minimum sentences need to be in place, and I want to provide the rationale behind that. With regard to the testimony I used to provide, I'll give that to some degree.

On average, one marijuana plant will produce approximately six ounces of marijuana. It can go up and it can go down, but this is the average. It depends if it's outdoor, indoor, sea of green—it all depends. If we equate that and we assume that every person rolls a joint of a half a gram—and that's being fairly nice because normally it's a little lower, but let's go to half a gram—and everyone smokes four joints a day, which is quite a lot considering you have to be working sometime, that would equate to 13 days per ounce. Now equate that to six ounces times 13 days. That's 78 days that you get from one plant. And from that you grow six plants at six ounces. So now you have 36 ounces at 13 days. So you have 468 days worth of marijuana at four joints a day, and that's not missing a day.

The problem is that your THC levels are dropping as you keep it off the plant. So now you're either forced to smoke really crappy marijuana or you're going to sell it, one of the two. In all likelihood you're going to sell it. Female plants grow over a 16- to 18-week cycle. That means you can grow a crop from two to three times year. So now we're not just talking about six plants; we're talking about 18 plants. And I've never met any individuals who had only grown six plants and then said they were stopping because they had had their fill and were moving on. It doesn't happen. I've never seen it, and I never will.

The largest thing that concerns me is the misconception that marijuana is not a gateway drug. I have never in my life met a heroin addict who started at heroin—never, and I never will. They always start at the lowest denominator and work their way up. That's the way the system works.

With regard to some of the minimum maximums we're talking about, those who have been around for a while, like Mr. Harris and Mr. Rathgeber, will recall the days of the NCA and the FDA, where we had minimum sentencing for importation of drugs at seven years. We took that out in the late eighties, I believe.

8:30 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

It was ruled unconstitutional.

8:30 p.m.


David Wilks Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

It was ruled unconstitutional. Thank you very much, Mr. Harris.

As a result of it being ruled unconstitutional, all of a sudden we had this great ability for people who just love to trade marijuana and cocaine to move drugs back and forth between two countries. That's the United States and Canada. And all of a sudden we had a prolific problem.

When people say that minimum sentencing will not work, I will never be convinced, never. I've seen enough of the revolving door when it comes to grow ops. In the amount that I've seen in my service, which is countless, very rarely did I see anyone ever go to jail, ever. They got a fine, probation, and have a good day.

I can give you the example of one case of the seizure of 1,000 plants. The gentleman pled guilty, was convicted, given a $10,000 fine, walked from the court house to the court registry, paid his $10,000 fine, and walked out. It is such a lucrative business that the only way we can get through to people who are dealing in drugs is to take away the one thing they can't have, and that's their freedom. Take it away. They have the money. They can pay their way out of this. There isn't one dealer who can't.

I've heard testimony here in the last little while with regard to going after the small guy. Last time I checked, “Mom” Boucher doesn't deal in dope. Granted, he's in jail, but that being said, he never dealt dope. Why? Because you will always get someone smaller to do the dealing. Why? Because there are a whole bunch of them, and they're expendable.

That's the unfortunate part of this. But the reality is that most people go into this with their eyes wide open. They understand the consequences, or the lack thereof, of getting caught. They recognize that if they get caught and it's their first time, in all likelihood they're going to get probation, and that's it—if in fact they get that.

We have to send a message, and the message is that it will not be tolerated. I believe that minimum sentencing is long overdue. I believe that most police officers in Canada will tell you that minimum sentencing is long overdue. Why? Because, as I can probably tell you from a lot of people I've spoken to, first of all, the victims will always say, “Why should I testify? Nothing is going to happen anyway.” That's followed by the accused saying, “It's not going to matter. All I'm going to get is probation anyway.” We need to stiffen these laws.

I fully endorse Bill C-10. I fully endorse minimum sentencing. And I fully endorse the fact that, yes, there are people going to jail, and yes, it is going to be a hardship on them. But the fact is, if they go in there once and they don't like it, they probably won't want to go back. That may be the biggest deterrent of all that we have. If a person went into the correctional system, got their eyes opened, and didn't want to go back, that would change them.

We can create programs to try to teach people not to do this. But let's face facts. If they have a problem, they are the only ones who can admit to it. No one else can. So let's stay on track here. Understand that minimum sentencing is required, that there are those in society who need to be put away. Take their time away. Do not take their money away, because they have lots of it anyway.

I'm quite concerned as well that people have overlooked the fact that most large, significant marijuana grow ops are all done by organized crime, in one way or another, historically the Hells Angels. These people do not play by the same rules we play by. They have a tendency to ensure that if you're going to break into their territory, they're going to make it very difficult for you to do that.

We see it time and time again. We've seen it in the turf wars in Quebec. We've seen it in the turf wars in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. And we will see it again. The only way to stop it is to send people to jail. This is a good start, with minimum sentencing.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

8:35 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Wilks.

Ms. Findlay.

8:35 p.m.


Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

There are several things I want to address here, and one of them is to my friend Mr. Harris. He was talking about the Canadian Bar Association, an association I've had a lot of familiarity with. I was the national constitutional section chair for the Canadian Bar Association. I was on their provincial and national councils for over 20 years. I was the elected president of the Canadian Bar Association for the B.C. branch.

I will tell you that as much as I have a great deal of respect for that organization and have worked in it for many years, we obviously differ with respect to this legislation. I would like to note that this is a voluntary organization. Not all lawyers in Canada belong to the Canadian Bar Association—I'm still a member—and you mentioned that you didn't think they were active in Quebec. The Quebec branch would be most disappointed to hear that.

The Canadian Bar Association is very much alive and well in Quebec. Barreau du Québec is also very active in representing lawyers, but the bar association is definitely active there.

I will also tell you that they are like any large organization. When they look at legislation, it is not something that passes through all members of the organization. They would give something like this to a certain sector, the criminal law section, I believe, who would opine on it, just as when I was involved in the constitutional law section I was asked to comment on constitutional issues and I would talk to my colleagues.

I say that to emphasize that although I respect the work they've put into this, we disagree on this particular legislation. It is not necessarily the view of all lawyers in Canada who belong to that association. Far from it. I've had many colleagues writing to me that they support the government's position, even though they continue to be members of that association.

I would also like to comment on Mr. Jacob's comments about discretion in judges. I have a lot of personal and kind feelings towards Mr. Jacob, but in my opinion this legislation does not take away from the discretion of judges. We place a lot of respect and faith in the judges in our courts, both the provincial judges appointed by provincial governments and the superior court judges appointed by our federal government across this land. However, it is the role of legislators to draft and pass legislation. It is the role of our judiciary to take laws that we have passed and then apply them.

I find it interesting that no one seems to criticize or hardly comment when the federal government puts forward maximum sentences, but they get very excited and agitated when we talk about minimum sentences. In fact some of the minimum sentences we're calling for in this legislation are actually quite mild. If one looks at the cases that have gone through the judicial system, many of those sentences are higher than our minimums.

We are trying to achieve some consistency across Canada. Right now there is a great deal of inconsistency from province to province, region to region, in the kinds of sentences handed out for various criminal activity, particularly when it comes to drug offences.

I think this consistency assists law enforcement. It assists the public. It assists anyone coming into the world of criminal behaviour to understand the consequences better and that there are certain minimum expectations within our system if one is convicted of such a crime.

The one thing I hear very little of from the opposition, and I want to point it out again, is that the idea behind these mandatory minimum sentences is also to associate them with what are called “aggravating factors” in the legislation. In other words, these go to the sentencing stage of criminal behaviour. One has to be proven to have trafficked in drugs for the purposes of assisting organized crime. One has to be proven, with respect to drug trafficking, to have threatened violence or to have actually been violent. One has to be proven to be targeting children. If those aggravating factors are there, minimum sentences apply.

As you know, of course, because we've all studied this now, we also have one, I think, very important exemption, which is when an accused who is then found guilty and is convicted has a proven addiction and is willing to get some help and some rehabilitation for that addiction. In those situations, a mandatory minimum penalty can be waived. I think that's very appropriate, and it strikes the right kind of balance that is trying to be achieved here.

The production of and trafficking in illicit drugs is the most significant source of money for gangs and organized crime, and it does do profound harm to neighbourhoods, to individuals, and to children.

As for marijuana itself, I want to say a little more about grow ops. Both urban and suburban homes can be utterly destroyed by grow ops and crystal meth labs. I don't know to what extent any individuals here, other than those who have been in the police force, such as Mr. Wilks, have had exposure to that. I am from British Columbia. I'm from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and I hardly know a person in a rental home situation whose home hasn't been destroyed. There has been criminal activity in previously peaceful neighbourhoods because of grow ops there. It is devastating.

I'm thinking particularly of an elderly couple I knew who couldn't sell their home. They both had to go into care, so they rented out their home to what they thought was a young single mother and her child. They turned out to the front for the gang that wanted to turn their home into a grow operation, and of course, because the couple was elderly and had limited mobility, they weren't checking the house all the time. When the rent cheques stopped coming in and they finally went to check, their house was completely destroyed by water damage, by all the chemical damage, and by all the indicia that go along with that kind of behaviour. They were devastated. Their life savings were wrapped up in that home, which they had hoped would continue to fund their old age. These are real people that this affects, and in that case people I know.

Anyone who has witnessed the drug wars in places such as Vancouver can attest to this. Historically peaceful neighbourhoods have been turned, literally, into killing fields of the kind that most of us see only in the movies. We've had shootouts between rival gangs in the middle of neighbourhoods and on school grounds. We've had executions of specific people connected to organized crime and drugs. In fact, unfortunately, it's become quite a common occurrence in British Columbia.

Our measures, I strongly believe, are proportionate and balanced. They're a measured response. What are they designed for? They're designed to disrupt criminal enterprise. They are designed to disrupt, as Mr. Wilks put it, the currency with which organized crime operates. Often that comes from marijuana grow ops and not just what we refer to colloquially as harder drugs. This is what scares individual Canadians. It is that their neighbourhoods are being treated so disrespectfully and they are creating places for crime to be perpetuated.

I also want to mention what Ms. Borg talked about. She was saying that the problem with prison, more or less, if I understood her comments, is that people go in, and then they get involved in organized crime, and then that flourishes in jail.

It reminded me of the testimony of Pierre Mallette before this committee on November 3. We were talking about rehabilitation, if you recall, in programs in prison that are designed for rehabilitation and reintegration, both of which are laudable, and within this legislation that approach is taken alongside the approach of sending a tougher message with respect to the consequences of criminal behaviour. In his testimony, he said:

We have been trying to introduce programs for 10 years because the public's safety also depends on inmates' safety. We sincerely believe that a large number of inmates have a chance of rehabilitating, a chance to return to society. At the same time, however, some inmates are not prepared to rehabilitate immediately. Here I'm talking about criminal gangs, people who don't help other inmates rehabilitate, who put pressure on them, people who take control of the institution.

He went on to talk about the fact that the programs can be there, but there has to be a take-up. He singled out members of organized crime, gangs, saying that when they go into prison, they are exactly the inmates who do not participate in programs. They're not interested in the programs. They don't want to be part of any true rehabilitative process.

In talking about marijuana...and I am zeroing in on that because your proposed amendment is to take schedule II out of these provisions, which, as Mr. Seeback has pointed out, is basically marijuana and its derivatives. Mr. Harris said it's a less harmful drug. I want to quote from Mr. Len Garis, who is chief of Surrey Fire Services. He was speaking on the subject on April 30, 2009. He said, “In 2003, 2004, and 2005 in our community”—and for those of you maybe not familiar with my part of the world, Surrey is a suburb of Vancouver in British Columbia—

...our firefighters were attending 1.3 fires per month that were caused by marijuana grow-ops. That's 15 to 16 a year. They had concerns and started to treat every structure fire like a grow-op. They were concerned about entering those homes in a smoke-filled environment. They were concerned about getting shocked or electrocuted, which they had been, but not fatally. They were concerned about dealing with that kind of environment. They were concerned about arriving in the middle of the night and finding two and three houses on fire, or being impinged on by fire, because a house was set on fire by a grow-op and nobody was in attendance so nobody called it in. They were concerned about trying to evacuate homes where people were sleeping; they were concerned about trying to get them out.

We did a study, and a home with a grow op is 24 times more likely to catch fire than a home without one. We experienced that big time. Now I have members of my own family in fire services. It is a very dangerous and concerning thing when our first responders, our firemen, our law enforcement, our paramedics, attend these kinds of situations that have gone out of control, and they are putting themselves at risk to try to deal with these kinds of activities.

I have something here from Chief Vernon White of the Ottawa Police Service from about the same time.

From our police service perspective there are a number of areas where we believe the legislation is important...

—and I'll just say in brackets, this legislation, because he was talking about prior legislation that was similar—

particularly when it comes to attacking criminal organizations that are involved in the distribution of drugs. Secondly, it's important in any case where it's school-related or it gives a police service the opportunity to try to defend those we see as most vulnerable: young people at school grounds. Again, it's an opportunity for us to attack criminal organizations or drug traffickers who decide to participate in drug distribution at that level.

I'm a mother myself. I have four children. I just had a new little niece born a few hours ago, I was told on my BlackBerry. Children are important to me, as I know our children are important to all of us here in Canada. I know, as opposition members, you have been supportive of the parts of this legislation that deal with those who would use our children for sexual purposes, who would improperly groom and lure children in order to perpetrate sexual offences.

Children are affected by drugs as well. Children are affected by drug traffickers. Children are targeted by drug traffickers. We have organized crime deliberately using children to sell drugs to other children, because they know that if they're caught the penalties won't be as severe. They know that if they get younger children—and I was surprised to find we're talking about kids sometimes as young as eight and nine years of age—experimenting with using drugs at an early age, they will have people who they can continue to have abusing substances for many years to come. So this idea of organized crime groups recruiting young children is a very serious matter. What happens to that young person who is recruited by these gangs?

I was recently at the Canada-Mexico parliamentary delegation; some of you may have been there. It was a privilege to be there to talk to some of our colleagues from Mexico. Of course, drug crime in Mexico—we all look at this on the news and comment on it—has become extremely violent. It's extremely violent because it's extremely organized and because the seduction of the money involved is so great that more and more people are involving themselves in that kind of activity for the money. Although we don't believe here in Canada that we have the same level of drug crimes they may have in some other countries, when it's violent, it's just as violent. When people are executed, they're gone. When you see shootouts on the school grounds and in the streets in British Columbia, as I have read about continually, there's no coming back from that.

It is a very serious problem. It's a transnational problem. We're not the only country dealing with this, of course, but it is a serious problem here in Canada. I worry, and I think this legislation is attempting in its targeted way to alleviate some of that worry by at least sending a strong message that if you target children, if you're a part of organized crime and you're going to use children to traffic drugs, if you're going to use children to sell drugs to, you will be treated consistently across Canada and in a certain way. These are very important messages for us. These people are very sophisticated. They know that it's better to use someone else to traffic in drugs than to do it themselves, but they are the ones who end up with the profit.

I also want to mention another comment from Chuck Doucette. He's someone I've known in British Columbia and dealt with at a community activist level. At the time, May 2009, he was vice-president of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada. His observation was this:

Things have changed from when I first started in drug enforcement in 1977. Over those 30 years, I saw the sentences for drug offences getting progressively weaker.

And this is a very important point:

At the same time, I saw the problems related to drug abuse getting progressively larger. I also saw the drug scene in downtown Vancouver increase as the enforcement efforts in that area decreased. From my perspective, I do not see how anyone could possibly examine the past 30 years and make a case that weaker sentences lead to less damaging social consequences. My experience is that the more lenient we got, the more problems we got. I also believe that other countries have experienced the same thing, and I would like to make a comparison.

One of the main reasons that so many gangs got involved in cannabis grow operations in the Vancouver area is because of the weaker sentences here compared to sentences for trafficking elsewhere, and trafficking in cocaine and/or heroin. The risk-to-wealth ratio is much better.

This is where we have to realize it is a business. For organized crime, it is a business. The small fines they were receiving were simply considered to be the cost of doing business, much as in the example Mr. Wilks gave.

We are trying in this legislation—and we are getting it right, in my opinion—to be balanced. We know it's important to continue to fund youth crime prevention, which we do. We know it's important to give a pass to someone who has an addiction and is willing to deal with their problems. We know it is important to continue to have the ideas of rehabilitation and reintegration.

But the balanced approach, I would suggest, is to also say—particularly to those who are violent and involved in organized crime—that Canada is not the place for you. We want you to understand that if you target our children, if you are violent, or if you are part of this whole organized criminal element, there are consequences, and they will be consistent across the country.

Thank you.

8:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Ms. Findlay.

Mr. Harris.

8:55 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

I wanted to intervene for a few minutes to respond to a couple of the comments made opposite. I listened to Mr. Rathgeber's discussion about the Alberta Court of Appeal, and I agree with the judge who he was talking about.

But I find that lawyers—and this is no reflection on Mr. Rathgeber, who quoted from a case—don't quote all of the case. It sounds as though the comments of the judge.... It seems to me that that was an appeal from a sentence that was regarded as particularly low, and the judge wanted a standardized sentence and was speaking about the problems, and I suspect he probably raised that sentence—I'm seeing a nod from Mr. Rathgeber—because the court said there should be standards and starting points.

A starting point is something with a range of sentencing or expected sentencing. Some crimes would demand a certain response as a starting point, but that's not the same as a minimum sentence. A starting point could go up and it could, with significant mitigation, go down.

The point that we've been making here is that the sentences we're talking about in clause 39.... The sentence for trafficking, for example, is life imprisonment. That's the sentence.

The minimum sentences being put in are various versions of one year, two years, three years, 16 months, 18 months in some cases, and others. The maximum is life imprisonment, which is indicative of the seriousness with which it's taken.

I've listened to the comments about marijuana, and the strength of marijuana today versus yesterday, and I appreciate Mr. Wilks' comments on that and his opinion about what he believes the effect of mandatory minimums would be. I would make one small comment: I don't think Mr. Wilks heard Mr. Seeback's suggestion as to how many cigarettes come from a marijuana plant. I think it was up to 500 or 600, where your plants are more modest.

8:55 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

You don't smoke the same thing.

8:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

8:55 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

He must have better sources than you do, Mr. Wilks.

8:55 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Or he rolls smaller.

8:55 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Or he has better gardeners.

8:55 p.m.


Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

There's going to be a point of privilege.

8:55 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

I'm surprised at your expertise on this point.

8:55 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

That being said, I don't think we need to make any weather of that.

The point is that when you're dealing with something like trafficking.... Trafficking could be anything, from the things we're talking about here, with big operations, the mafia, Mexico, the cartels, and all of that, or it could be.... Unfortunately, the definition of “trafficking” is very modest. A group of 20-year-olds sharing an ounce, rolling up joints and sharing them, that's trafficking.

The problem is that we're not dealing with.... And trafficking attracts life imprisonment as a sentence. There's no distinction here, unfortunately. That's why we believe the approach that's being taken is wrong. We understand that individual police officers, some police organizations, and you, sir, as an experienced police officer, have this strong feeling. But the evidence of what's happened in other countries is pretty clear. I'll give just two quotes. I know there are lots.

The Toronto Star, for example.... You may not like the The Toronto Star, but The Toronto Star article in December of 2007 talked about mandatory sentencing, not about drugs in particular. It says that even though “American courts mete out sentences that are double that of British and three times that of Canadian courts, the U.S. violent crime rate is higher” than in those two countries.

The point being made is that higher sentences, longer sentences, don't necessarily lead to a safer society. That's what we're talking about here. The example of the U.S. is one that I talked about earlier and that we heard evidence on as well.

The Calgary Herald—a little bit close to home for Mr. Rathgeber—in a May 15, 2010, editorial called “Reefer madness” and subtitled “Automatic jail for six pot plants is too harsh” noted that

Despite 25 years of harsh mandatory minimums, disproportionate numbers of the poor, the young, minorities and the drug addicted have been thrown in U.S. jails with no impact on the drug business itself, which has flourished.

That underscores the concerns we have that we're going down the road others have gone on. We're going to have people.... The complexities of the drug trade, we understand that. There are people at the top who are making the organized efforts, and they're the ones who are benefiting. The ones who are at the bottom, at the lower level, are the ones who are likely to be picked up by these mandatory minimums. They are the ones who are going to end up in the jails. I'm not saying they shouldn't go to jail for what they do. What I'm saying is that they're the ones who are going to actually be the low-hanging fruit, if you will, and the criminal element is not going to be attracted by this.

We're not interested, in any way, in supporting or promoting the drug trade. The matters that Ms. Findlay talked about, the destruction of houses through grow ops of the nature you have in B.C.... I have every sympathy for anybody whose house or property is victim to that, or the fires that.... These are all horrific things.

The question is, when these matters come before the courts, they're not given $500 fines and told to walk away. I'm satisfied that the sentences that would be given in a situation like that would reflect the seriousness of the events.

Yes, we need some consistency in sentencing. That's exactly what the Alberta court was doing in the case Mr. Brent Rathgeber referred to.

We do have a difference of opinion. I'm quite happy to acknowledge that. But I don't want anyone to get the impression that we're singling out marijuana as being separate.

We have a whole series of amendments here. We are opposing all of the mandatory minimums here because we are convinced, based on the evidence of other countries, based on the experts we have.... We'll be making a series of amendments—and we hope we get to them soon—on an individual basis, although I know Mr. Cotler wants to speak on the generalities, that will replace the mandatory minimums with the life sentences that are there, and we would expect the courts to respond to the courts of appeal, to appropriately deal with sentences.

What we don't want to see is an arbitrary situation where an individual, a 19-year-old, is in a situation of a very minor nature and is treated in the same way or under the same laws and the same rules and is caught up in something that's really designed for something else.

So that's the aim of our changes here, and we will be seeking to remove all of the mandatory minimums even for the other offences, as well as the marijuana ones.

9:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Mr. Woodworth.

9:05 p.m.


Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think the issue here is whether or not you are satisfied or dissatisfied with what the increase in illegal drug trade has done to the youth of our country, has done to our country. To put it in another way, are you going to stick your head in the sand and do nothing but more of the same or—to mangle Shakespeare a bit—are you going to “take arms against a sea of troubles” and at least try to find a solution?

This is a sad debate to have, but it is where we are at, and I have to tell you, one of the biggest surprises to me, sitting as a member of this justice committee over the last three years, has been to sit and listen to respected academics come to committee and actually say that they recommend that all illegal drugs—all illegal drugs—from marijuana to cocaine to heroin to Rohypnol, no longer be criminalized. This is one academic opinion, and I won't bore you with the reasons, but they had their reasons. I suggest to you that this is simply not in touch with what's going on in our country, and I know one of the other members provided this quote earlier, but I would like you to contrast that academic opinion with the opinion of someone who's on the street.

Mr. Chuck Doucette, the vice-president of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, said the following, and I'm going to read it because I think it contrasts with the academic opinion I just mentioned to you:

Things have changed from when I first started in drug enforcement in 1977. Over those 30 years, I saw the sentences for drug offences getting progressively weaker. At the same time, I saw the problems related to drug abuse getting progressively larger. I also saw the drug scene in downtown Vancouver increase as the enforcement efforts in that area decreased. From my perspective, I do not see how anyone could possibly examine the past 30 years and make a case that weaker sentences lead to less damaging social consequences. My experience is that the more lenient we got, the more problems we got.

Now I ask you, does that not strike a chord? Does that not ring truer to what we really all know about what has happened with respect to sentencing in drug offences in Canada? Is that not a more realistic sentiment than the academic notion I mentioned to you earlier of some academics who simply want to legalize all drugs?

I want to comment a little bit on the issue of deterrence, because once again I have sat here and I have listened to academics come to this committee and virtually say—and I don't want to paraphrase too much—that there is no point in deterrent sentencing. This rather surprises me, because I'm only three or four or five years away from the practice of law and I can tell you that to say deterrent sentencing is practically of no value is simply to be out of touch with what is going on across our country.

Every day, in every major city in Canada, in every courtroom, there are judges who pass deterrent sentences. Are they all wrong? Are all the police who ask for deterrent sentences wrong? Are all of the parents who actually often plead with the court to impose deterrent sentences on their children wrong? Are all the victims who have come to this committee asking for deterrent sentences wrong?

I have to tell you, I swung both ways. I was a defence counsel and a prosecutor for many years. Most of my defence counsel friends recognize that deterrent sentences are often required in order to stop the revolving door of people going in and out of jail. I'm not a big fan of jail, especially when it comes to younger people. I'm happy that this act, along with the previous Youth Criminal Justice Act, indicates to judges that jail should be a last resort for young people.

We had a witness here a couple of years ago, a young man in his twenties, who said he got a lot of little sentences and they didn't faze him at all. Finally, he got a three-year sentence and was able to take some treatment programs to bring some stability into his life, and he came out a much better man. He was grateful. Not every jail sentence has all of the terrible consequences catalogued by the NDP members.

I want to relate something about a judge in my community, Justice Hardman, a youth court judge. Every time someone came before her in an assault offence, she made a point of telling him that if the assault occurred at a school where children are required to be, where they're captive, where they are defenceless, she would impose a prison sentence. Now why do you suppose she said that? She said it so that she would be deterring other young people from committing assaults at school. It seemed to work. She thought it worked, and so did I. You can call that anecdotal evidence or you can just call it common sense based on years and years of first-hand legal practice. Maybe it doesn't measure up to a textbook, but it works.

I want to say one last thing about the issue of deterrence. This bill that we're looking at is targeted largely at organized drug crimes. In the last year or two, we did a study in the justice committee. Some of the members with us today weren't here for it. Do you know what we discovered? We found that, ironically enough, organized crime is run by organized criminals and—what do you know?—organized criminals determine their actions based on their pocketbooks. The more expensive it is, the higher price they pay, the less likely they are to do it, and the more effective the deterrent is.

I wish to comment briefly on the issue of judicial discretion. The NDP always supports judicial discretion when it permits a judge to be more lenient. In the last few days, however, we have been trying to pass a law that allows judges the discretion to exercise a little deterrence, to permit custody or more consequential remedies. Now where are the NDP principles in favour of judicial discretion? They disappear like the wind. There's a place for judicial discretion, and there's a place for removing it. But if you're going to hang your hat on the notion that it's good to give judges discretion, then there's absolutely no reason to deny judges discretion to impose more consequential remedies as well as more lenient ones. I notice, by the way, that this same inconsistency appeared every time the Canadian Bar Association representatives came to our committee.

A brief word is necessary about the rather misleading comparisons that the NDP members often make between what this government is doing and what occurs in the United States. Much was made in the media recently about Texas adopting a more lenient approach to sentencing, and warning Canada not to go down that path of being less lenient. Well, my friends, it's necessary for you to know that even the more lenient sentencing rules that Texas is adopting still result in an incarceration rate five times greater than anything you see in Canada.

Nothing this government has proposed comes anywhere close to the ten-year mandatory minimum penalties that are imposed in some U.S. jurisdictions. Nothing this government has proposed comes anywhere close to the infamous three strikes and you're in jail for minor, puny little offences. That's not even rumoured anywhere by this government; it's not going to happen. The comparison is completely untoward. Instead, we have carefully targeted penalties for the worst offences or the worst offenders. In fact, if you actually read this bill, you'll be surprised by some of the things you see in it.

For example, if someone is convicted of trafficking in cannabis without any aggravating features—they haven't produced it, they haven't gotten children under 18 involved, they're not doing it near a school, they're simply trafficking in cannabis.... Do you know how much they can traffic without any mandatory minimum penalty? You will find this, by the way, in what will become under this act subsection 5(3) paragraph (a.1). It's three kilograms. Regrettably, I'm still a pounds and ounces type of guy, but it seems to me that three kilograms of anything is a good whack. Under this bill you can traffic three kilograms of cannabis. So if all you're doing is trafficking it—you're not producing it or invoking any of the other aggravating circumstances—there is no mandatory minimum penalty. That's how non-draconian this bill is.

I want to mention one or two other clauses that are of interest in this respect, Mr. Chair. I'm simply relating them to the comments about clause 39, but I want to jump ahead a little bit. You'll find that this bill will insert a new section 9 into the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Do you know what it requires? It says:

9.(1) Within five years after this section comes into force, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act, including a cost-benefit analysis of mandatory minimum sentences, shall be undertaken by any committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament that may be designated or established for that purpose.

In other words, ladies and gentlemen, this Bill C-10 has built into it a five-year review that will tell us what the cost benefits are of mandatory minimum penalties. So why don't we give a chance to those carefully targeted instances that I'm going to refer to in a moment?

One other provision that is of some interest, and showing you how moderate and balanced Bill C-10 is, is what will become subsections 10(4) and 10(5) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. What this section says, and it's not mentioned by my opposition friends—or perhaps they mentioned it when I wasn't listening earlier—is that the mandatory minimum penalties under this part that we're discussing are not going to be required if the offender attends a treatment program and successfully completes it.

So when you hear the NDP talk about these drug addicts who are going to be thrown in jail because they're lower-level participants in the drug trade and happen to get caught up using a weapon or assaulting somebody, the reality is that those folks, if they successfully complete a drug treatment program, will not be subject to any mandatory minimum penalty under the act. That is how moderate and balanced this bill is.

I truly recommend to anyone that they read the bill, because what they will find is that it is targeted.

So I ask my NDP colleagues, if you found that someone was trafficking drugs for the benefit of an organized crime group, would you think that maybe they ought to go to jail to put a dent in organized crime? That's one of the aggravating features that requires a mandatory minimum penalty in this act.

Is it so terrible for the government to want to try to put a dent in organized crime? I don't think so, and I don't think most Canadians believe that either. I think the NDP and others who argue that we should not try to put a dent in organized crime in this fashion are out of touch with what's required in Canadian society today.

If it's not enough that a drug trafficker is working for organized crime, would it be enough for you that the drug trafficker used violence in the commission of his offence? Would that be enough to suggest that maybe a jail sentence was warranted?

I see Mr. Harris nodding his head yes. That happens to be the second aggravating feature in this act that would invoke a one-year mandatory minimum penalty.

But if it's not enough that violence was used, would it be enough that somebody used a weapon in the commission of their drug trafficking? We have a great concern about gun offences in this country. Surely if someone uses a weapon in the course of trafficking drugs, that ought to justify a mandatory minimum penalty. Indeed, that is another one of the aggravating features that will allow a mandatory minimum penalty of one year.

I don't often quote from The Toronto Star, but I want to mention an article on a rather in-depth study of young offenders court. It appeared on October 29, 30, and 31 of this year in The Toronto Star. With respect to weapons, at least—I'm going to come back to this point—and the use of young people in drug offences by organized criminals, but in particular with respect to drugs, it stated: “So many are arrested, charged and convicted of carrying, pointing and shooting guns, prosecutors call the problem a scourge.” They're right. Young people should not be using weapons, using guns, pointing them, and threatening with them. A justice of the peace in Toronto is quoted as saying about Toronto that our city is plagued with guns that exist in the hands of young people. So maybe a mandatory minimum penalty to deter the use of guns and weapons isn't such a bad idea.

If that's not enough to justify a jail sentence, would it be enough that a drug trafficker is hanging out at your daughter's or your son's school, at the skating rink where young people are accustomed to going, or any other place where young people are accustomed to going, in order to lure young people into the use of drugs? Would that be enough, I ask my friends across the way, to justify a deterrent mandatory minimum penalty? That's another aggravating feature under this act.

I'm going to mention one more. If it's not enough that drug traffickers are out where children congregate, luring them to purchase drugs, would it be enough for you if a drug trafficker actually enlisted someone under the age of 18 to sell drugs for him or her? Would that be enough to justify giving that trafficker a jail sentence?

Before you answer that I want to quote again from that Toronto Star article. I'm not going to mention names, but there were examples of three young people referred to in that article. One of them was convicted of marijuana possession after a car he was riding in was pulled over and found to contain hundreds of dollars in cash, half an ounce of crack, and a gun holster jury-rigged from a coat hanger. This was a young person engaged in the drug trade.

Another one was convicted of attempted break and enter and marijuana possession in April, then re-arrested in June after police allegedly found two starter pistols in his bedroom and more than a gram of narcotics up his rectum. A third one is referred to as one of the many crack dealers—a sixteen-year-old—to come through the youth court in 2011.

There is no question that organized criminals are recruiting young people to traffic drugs because we have to treat young people differently when we sentence them. They don't get penalized as heavily as adults. So if we know that an organized criminal has recruited a young person, surely that's enough to justify putting that drug trafficker in jail. That, my friends, is another aggravating feature that is one of the instances to invoke a mandatory minimum penalty under this act.

I could go on, but I think you get the drift, ladies and gentlemen, that this act is specifically targeting aggravating features and aggravating offenders in an effort to do something about a real scourge in our community. It is simply recognition that our government is in touch with police, parents, courts, and prosecutors in attempting to respond to a problem in a way that, unfortunately, for ideological or other reasons, you will never see from the NDP.

I will perhaps have an opportunity to speak later about the other provisions of this bill, but I appreciate this opportunity to express myself, Mr. Chair. Thank you.

9:25 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Jacob.

9:25 p.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

I am going to continue along the lines of what Ms. Findlay said. I have a lot of empathy for the points she raised, drug addiction, organized crime and street gangs, which are a scourge on society. Ms. Findlay said there are treatment programs. There are, but there are not very many in adult prisons. I am not talking through my hat: I have worked in that setting.

We talk about intervention under the YCJA, in Quebec, differentiated intervention. I do not know whether you are aware, but when a young person is offered a choice between a mandatory minimum sentence and treatment, they choose the mandatory minimum sentence. A young person actually prefers to go to prison, at the beginning. They know it is a trophy, and they proudly believe it is the university of crime. They think there is not much rehabilitation because they are in a state of revolt. They are more afraid of having to get down to the nitty-gritty in individual or group therapy. That is the only place we can have an influence on this offender. When their revolt dies down and they agree to get involved, they do it positively.

Certainly the success rate is not 100%, but it works: the crime rate is going down. On the streets of Montreal, when I come across the ones who have not changed, they cross the street, but the ones who have changed say "thank you, Pierre". In many cases, I do not recognize them because I have not seen them in five or 10 or 15 years. They have grown up, they have jobs and wives and children; they are involved and are contributing to society. Those ones, I never see them again. In other words, it works. That is all I wanted to add.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.