Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health tabled Bill C-7, an Act respecting the control of certain drugs, their precursors and other substances, but this legislation has nothing to do with public health.
The government is not being honest in tabling a bill under such misleading pretence. This bill concerns criminal law and nothing else. In its present form, it should bear the signature of the Minister of Justice or the Solicitor General.
Whichever way you look at it, it is hard to find in this muddled document anything but a new criminal law to control drugs. Therefore, for the purposes of this debate, I will assume that this legislation is nothing else than what it appears to be. Obviously, the government would want us to believe that this is a health bill, and for one reason only: Criminal laws have to be precise, clear and conclusive. They are passed by Parliament and leave very little leeway to cabinet regarding the definition of their scope. By making Bill C-7 look like an administrative measure, all the provisions allowing Cabinet to establish regulations become justified. This is perhaps the most comprehensive example of legislation by delegation.
There is no other reason why the government would claim that Bill C-7 is a public health measure. The pretence is simply too obvious. The Liberal government is trying to get full decision powers on the most important aspects of the legislation. It has neither the courage nor the honesty to tell Canadians that Bill C-7 is merely an attempt to fight drug trafficking. Why not be honest? Why is the government hiding its true motive? The government should admit that it is so suspicious of this House, that it tries to hide its real intentions. And those intentions are contained in the wording of the legislation.
Police forces are currently enforcing two complementary acts: the Narcotic Control Act which will be repealed by the bill before the House and the Food and Drugs Act, which will be repealed in part. The government maintains that the new act will give more flexibility to police services, because provocation and undercover activities will be authorized under the new regulations.
However, the explanatory notes of the bill are silent on the government's concerns regarding public health. The purpose of this legislation is obviously to control the movement of drugs and suppress trafficking. Why not clearly say so?
This is nothing but a new Narcotic Control Act, framework legislation, unique in itself, criminal legislation which gives cabinet exceptional discretionary powers as to its scope and its implementation, not unlike the former War Measures Act. This is the context in which we have to consider Bill C-7.
Having said so, I agree with the majority of Canadians that we have to provide police and judicial authorities with the tools they need to efficiently suppress drug trafficking. Therefore, I support the purpose of Bill C-7, to the extent that it tries to put a stop to the movement of drugs. From massive importing to individual possession, the legislative drafters covered all social problems associated with illegal drugs.
On this particular topic, I want to say that I am very pleased with the way the various stages of trafficking are dealt with. The bill considers separately such issues as drug production, and importing and exporting, offenses which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The exemplary nature of such sentences and deterrence must continue to apply. Harsh sentences such as those will not shock honest citizens.
Zero tolerance for illegal drugs means suppression by police and judicial authorities at all levels of distribution. So, I am pleased with the new classification provided in this bill. Offenses, like simple possession, trafficking, possession for purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, production of substance, possession of property obtained by trafficking and laundering are now very well identified. Each category is treated according to the seriousness of the offence and carries proportionate sentences.
I do have some reservations about the way possession of cannabis is handled, but that issue can be reviewed by the parliamentary committee, and I look forward to the testimony of experts in this field.
This bill could meet with our approval if it were to lead to some true legislation, but unfortunately it is not the case. Bill C-7 is essentially the same as Bill C-85 which was brought in by the late Conservative government. The government party cannot claim to have created this initiative.
It would be a mistake to try to make people believe that this is a new measure, inspired and motivated by recent circumstances
and designed to give the police effective emergency powers of investigation on trans-border Indian reserves.
This is misinformation. This piece of legislation has been on the back-burner since Bill C-85 died on the Order Paper in the last Parliament. It was revived by the Liberals who have just missed an opportunity to produce a bill that would be easy to read and to understand and that would respect the jurisdiction of the Confederated States, which are still called provinces.
I am disappointed, because if the legislation is passed as it is, it may well miss the point, above all because it will be torn to shreds by the courts on the account of its lack of clarity and of its possible unconstitutionality.
I am disappointed also because we are again faced with a botched and improvised measure. Indeed, if Bill C-7 were to be passed exactly as it is, it would not be understandable for most Canadians, who have no legal training and who would need whole legal essays to distinguish all its subtleties and references to other laws.
Allow me to read two quotes taken from an outstanding study conducted by professors Usprich and Salomon, of the School of Law of the University of Western Ontario on the old Bill C-85, which I myself apply to the current bill. I think these comments are as valid for C-7 as they were for the old C-85, and I quote:
It would not be exaggerated to say that the bill reads generally as if it had been drafted by people who are not familiar with criminal law and who have acquired their experience writing legal texts on income tax-
In general, the legislation is badly written and even if we disregard several blatant mistakes, it is uselessly complex and generally difficult to understand. We consider this bill to be a step backward.
And yet, if it were only for the inaccuracy of the text, it would still be possible to send the minister back to the drawing board, but there is more. The federal legislator uses a style that is confusing, complex and twisted to describe and define very simple cases of trafficking, production and possession of illegal substances.
The bill often refers to other legislation for its interpretation and this makes for an obscure text with countless legal nuances and exceptions, a text so incomplete as to need Cabinet regulations before its final scope can be known.
We all want the bill to achieve its underlying objectives but we denounce the insufficient means it proposes to fight drug traffickers, who will successfully challenge it in court at the first opportunity. This is an amateurish piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker, mere window-dressing.
This bill should be sent back to the minister, not the Minister of Health, but the Minister of Justice, to be completely rewritten and brought back to the House as soon as possible. We will give our unconditional support to a complete, simple and effective bill in the same spirit, but not this one which was drafted by people who are completely out of touch with reality.
We are told that this would be an improvement compared to the present legislation, and that the bill is needed to control illegal activities on the Mohawk reserves. Nothing is farther from the truth. I challenge anyone to find something in this bill that gives the police more effective power than the present legislation does.
Finally, this bill is unacceptable because it is outright interference in provincial jurisdiction over civil law procedure and the administration of justice. In the disguise of a bill on public health, the government is actually trying to impose a real code of legal and administrative procedure. The administration of justice inside a province is its exclusive jurisdiction, as is public health, by the way.
Whether you approach the constitutional study of this bill from either of these aspects, namely public health or the administration of justice, the conclusion is the same: it is an unacceptable encroachment upon areas under exclusive provincial jurisdiction.
In order to ensure compliance with the forthcoming regulations, the bill allows the Minister of Health to designate inspectors who have considerable powers. As long as these inspectors do nothing else but examine stocks of designated substances held by licence holders, there will not be any problems. I think that the minister responsible for enforcing the legislation must have the administrative means to fulfil his or her mandate. But the bill authorises these same federal inspectors to contravene any provincial legislation regarding the confidentiality of medical records.
Quebec's privacy legislation, particularly with regard to access to medical records, serves as model. Through its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, its new Civil Code and its privacy legislation, Quebec has become a world leader in this area. In particular, medical records in Quebec are better protected than a fortress. Now, the Minister of Health introduces a bill that would authorize any federal inspector, whose qualifications could be inversely proportional to his or her partisan activities, to enter the place of business of a physician or a pharmacist, to demand access to records and computer data, to make copies of this information and to distribute it to all kinds of people within the federal government. We do not accept that.
Nor do we accept that, in a much more insidious way, the legislation authorizes the cabinet to make compliance regulations that will manifestly go beyond the scope of the bill and that will constitute new attacks on provincial jurisdiction. The minister has done her homework poorly, and, moreover, she leaves it to Cabinet to finish the job. Clause 54 empowers Cabinet to make regulations on what the legislation does not cover. Not only does the legislation say nothing about important
aspects of its implementation but we do not even know which minister will be responsible for it. This will be up to Cabinet to decide.
Even the professional corporations that should be the first to be concerned by this new legislation do not know whether their members will be affected by the bill. Again, it will be up to Cabinet to decide whether pharmacists, veterinarians, doctors and dentists will have to get a licence to sell and distribute designated drugs. If this were not legislation in the field of criminal law, we might be willing to leave it to Cabinet to make regulations. As in the case of several other pieces of legislation, we would only have to define parameters in framework legislation and give Cabinet extensive regulatory powers. In administrative matters, there is no great risk in proceeding that way. To the extent that Cabinet does not go beyond the powers with which it has been entrusted by Parliament, the regulations are generally valid.
It is quite another thing in criminal matters, for the citizen ought not to be forced to read every order in council to understand the content and the import of the bill. Yet with this legislation we are asked to give the cabinet the power to impose its will. Who can believe that we will accept, for instance, that Cabinet could use its regulatory powers to legislate on the conduct of members of the professions governed by the Quebec Professional Code? The activities of doctors, pharmacists, veterinarians and dentists in Quebec are exclusively regulated by legislation that controls the practice of their professions.
In addition to being submitted to their organization's monitoring, professionals in Quebec are governed by the Professional Code. When the government proposes that the cabinet be given the authority to determine the conditions of practice of certain professions, it is asking us to make a clean sweep of provincial jurisdiction in that matter, to disregard the exclusive privileges of professional corporations and to grant itself supreme authority over the main fields of activity of pharmacists.
We cannot tolerate that this government would take advantage of a piece of criminal legislation to give Cabinet regulatory powers that so blatantly intrude into provincial jurisdiction on professional practice.
Here are two examples.
When the bill, in the preamble to clause 54, entrusts to Cabinet the regulation of the medical use of drugs, it deals with medical practice and not drug control.
When the bill gives to Cabinet all powers over the sale, supply and administration of drugs, it deals with the provision of pharmaceutical, dental or veterinary services.
When the bill gives to Cabinet the power to deliver licences for the sale of controlled substances, its affects the provision of all pharmaceutical services.
When the bill hands over to Cabinet the authority over the sale and storage of those substances, over professional qualifications of people authorized to sell them, over records those persons should keep, over the dealings of a professional corporation with its members, it is really a code of ethics and a whole set of regulations that the government is trying to impose to pharmacists.
We could go on for hours about this bill, which ignores the fact that the Constitution of this country is based on a division of powers.
Two recent initiatives confirm our misgivings.
The bill has still not been passed and debate at second reading has yet to be completed and two ministers, with contempt for basic decency, announce enforcement regulations which show how much power Cabinet seeks.
I said that this bill was incomplete. I now add that it is only a general and confusing preamble to a series of regulations that Cabinet will be empowered to adopt at its whim and for any reason.
The Solicitor General announced, in a tendentious press release that the police would have a clear and definite legislative basis for engaging in clandestine activities.
What the minister does not say is that this clear and definite legislative basis for new police powers will be in the regulations and not in the law.
This technique could be called legislative trickery.
It is a blatant lack of respect for Parliament. As if we could not legislate intelligently in this House as the cabinet can behind closed doors.
And the Minister of Health announced through the media that growing cannabis could be allowed for commercial purposes.
This government is trying to acquire full powers. It is presenting a bill only for the sake of appearances.
It is not surprising that the Minister of Health, who is apparently sponsoring the bill, announces without batting an eyelash that she is already trying to amend the law without going through the House.
That shows what little consideration this governement has for the elected members of this House.
We will vote against this piece of legislation which is badly written and thrown together and cannot hide the ambitions of the government to regulate professions that fall under exclusive provincial jurisdiction and gives Cabinet unacceptable and excessive regulatory authority.