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House of Commons Hansard #250 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-7.

Topics

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

My colleague, you ask for clarification. What the committee does is the committee's business until there is a report to the House. I do not recall a report coming to the House.

To go back, we had a request for unanimous consent and the unanimous consent was turned down by the House.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Nunziata Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, a question of privilege. Perhaps the false impression has been left with my constituents that the Liberal Party opposes the singing of the national anthem in the House of Commons.

The fact that unanimous consent was denied does not mean that the Liberal Party is opposed to the merits of the resolution. The fact that unanimous consent was denied only means that it was denied with respect to the process that the Reform Party is following to-

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

That is enough now on this. The point has been made and I have heard interventions. We asked for the unanimous consent of the House and it was denied. I permitted two interventions which perhaps in hindsight might have been done at another time.

We are going to proceed now to the tabling of documents.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mary Clancy Liberal Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say on behalf of my constituents from Nova Scotia that those who came to Montreal on Friday and sang "O Canada" loud and clear-

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Tabling of documents, the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

National Housing ActRoutine Proceedings

October 30th, 1995 / 3:10 p.m.

Cape Breton—East Richmond Nova Scotia

Liberal

David Dingwall LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-108, an act to amend the National Housing Act.

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

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important day for Canada which we all know includes Quebec.

Pursuant to Standing Order 36, I wish to present a petition which has been circulating all across Canada. The petition has been signed by a number of Canadians from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

The petitioners would like to draw to the attention of the House that managing the family home and caring for preschool children is an honourable profession which has not been recognized for its value to our society. They also state that the Income Tax Act discriminates against families that make the choice to provide care in the home to preschool children, the chronically ill, the disabled or the aged.

The petitioners therefore pray and call on Parliament to pursue initiatives to eliminate tax discrimination against families that decide to provide care in the home for preschool children, the disabled, the chronically ill or the aged.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, an act respecting the control of certain drugs, their precursors and

other substances and to amend certain other acts and repeal the Narcotic Control Act in consequence thereof, be read the third time and passed.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Lambton-Middlesex has about 10 minutes left in her speech.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rose-Marie Ur Liberal Lambton—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the regulations made initially under the new legislation will not differ substantially from those that currently apply to such activities under the existing legislation.

One of the purposes of the regulation making power is to enable the government to respond quickly to changing professional practices. The flexibility provided by regulations will ensure the availability of such drugs for appropriate medical and scientific purposes while complying with international drug control conventions.

Any changes in the regulations will only be made following full consultation with all affected parties using a regulatory consultation process that has been used for years by the Department of Health. Both the official opposition and the Reform Party member suggested there would be inconsistencies between various provisions of the bill and the charter of rights and freedoms.

One of the aspects of the bill identified as giving rise to charter challenges relates to the powers of inspectors under part IV. Reference was made to the interim order provisions of section 34 which permit the Minister of Health to act to limit professional drug distribution activities where there is substantial risk of immediate danger to the health and safety of Canadians. In addition the requirement to answer an inspector's questions was equated with self-incrimination in a criminal context.

In reply the solicitor general pointed out to members that the Minister of Justice must examine every bill for compliance with the charter before it is tabled.

Inspections that we are referring to here are inspections conducted to determine whether regulated persons are complying with the requirements under which they carry on their business or their profession. There are many acts, both federal and provincial, which confer broad powers of entry on inspectors in the interest of ensuring public health and safety.

These provisions are not criminal law in the true sense, but administrative provisions that either have an independent existence or are incidental to criminal law. The applicable charter principles are not those that apply to criminal law provisions, but those that apply to administrative inspection regimens.

These types of provisions have been in force in Canada under federal drug control legislation for over 80 years. They effectively establish a federal regulatory scheme that governs the distribution and use of scheduled drugs in Canada in a manner consistent with limiting their diversion to the illicit drug market and consistent with Canada's international obligations under the United Nations drug control conventions currently in force in Canada.

Contraventions of designated regulations give rise to a hearing before an adjudicator as indicated in part V of the bill. It may result in a ministerial order which should effectively prevent a reoccurrence. No penalty of fine or imprisonment applies to a breach of these provisions of the regulations. Charter principles that would apply if imprisonment were available as a penalty are not applicable here.

Another area of criticism relates to the impact of the bill on physician-patient and pharmacist-patient confidentiality. Both members identified access to confidential files of patients as an unacceptable interference in the private lives of honest citizens. There is very little new here.

For over 30 years, under the narcotic control regulations the Minister of Health has exercised legislative authority to require a practitioner to provide any information concerning a patient treated with narcotics to the bureau of dangerous drugs, including the diagnosis, history and prescribing information relevant to the patient. This is the very information inspectors are being authorized to copy. Similarly, pharmacists are required to report prescriptions every two months to the bureau of dangerous drugs. Approximately 4.2 million prescriptions are reported to the bureau each year.

Subject to legitimate program activities required under the current and proposed legislation to protect public health and safety, physician-patient and pharmacist-patient confidentiality is and will be fully maintained. This information currently obtained is also subject to the Privacy Act, which prohibits its use or disclosure by any official except in accordance with that act. The Privacy Act ensures that all information collected by the federal government for program purposes is treated confidentially.

Concerning the so-called doctor shopping or double doctoring offence, the official opposition member cited evidence given by the Canadian Medical Association before the legislative committee which examined Bill C-85. It was argued that Bill C-7 would be unsatisfactory to doctors as they would be included within the ambit of clause 5(2). The Reform member asserted that this provision would mean that seeking help for an addiction would be a crime.

In fact, the criticism was accepted by the committee and it was proposed that the provision be changed to essentially return to the existing section found in the Narcotic Control Act. As a result, the provision now refers only to persons who receive prescriptions from doctors.

The Reform member's comments are difficult to understand. Clause 5(2) of Bill C-7 as it now stands could not be applied to a person who goes in any one month to only one doctor for his medical requirements. This provision deals not with dependent persons seeking help, but rather with dependent persons who are seeking drugs from many doctors but help from none.

We all understand that control of controlled substances is a complex matter which requires a carefully constructed legal basis in order to be effective, judicious and fair. I believe this bill is a most appropriate instrument for the administration of the laws and regulations we need.

We are dealing with an aspect of society which demands proper protection of the innocent, the inexperienced and the vulnerable. It also demands forceful prosecution of the exploitive, the criminal and the ruthless.

I believe this bill strikes just the right balance between these two requirements.

While we continue to minimize harm through education and prevention, and while we continue to show compassion for victims through treatment and rehabilitation, we must also strike at the criminal heart of this problem. In passing this bill, we will be making contributions to successful battles against drug abuse now and well into the future.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this bill today. This bill concerns controlling drugs and substances and addresses one of the most compelling issues with which society is faced today, the issue of drug abuse. Constituents in Erie riding have demanded action and this government has responded.

As each member of the House is only too aware, drug abuse and the untold suffering it causes knows no geography, no socioeconomic class, no social graces. The problem is widespread. It strikes hard and with devastation. It destroys families, careers and lives. We must stop this waste.

According to a United Nations survey, trade in illegal drugs is second only to world trade in arms. This is a very sobering fact. The incidence of drug abuse rises considerably among teenagers and young adults who are school drop outs, unemployed, or homeless. Do not be fooled. This disease, this cancer is in our schools as well. Ask your children. Ask your grandchildren. It is truly frightening.

While recognizing that there is a need to emphasize demand reduction, it is important that the Government of Canada complement these efforts with drug law enforcement and crime prevention.

This bill is intended to consolidate, modernize, enhance and streamline the government's drug control policy underlying two current acts of Parliament and to fulfil Canada's obligations under three international conventions.

In 1961 the government of the day enacted the Narcotic Control Act as a follow-up to the single convention on narcotic drugs. In anticipation of the 1971 convention on psychotropic substances, in 1961 and 1969, Parliament passed parts III and IV respectively of the Food and Drug Act. In essence, much of our existing legislation framework is now more than 30 years old and must be reviewed. It is for this reason among others that this legislation is necessary.

Furthermore, as a signatory to three international agreements on the illegal drug trade, Canada is obligated to the terms of the single convention on narcotic drugs of 1961, the 1971 convention on psychotropic substances and the relevant parts of the 1988 United Nations convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychoactive substances.

Consequently, the controlled drugs and substances bill is designed to achieve three prime objectives. First is to provide the government with the flexibility required to better control the import, production, export, distribution and use of controlled substances. Second is to provide the mechanisms needed to implement our obligations under international agreements. This relates to the restricted production or trade of internationally regulated substances destined for medical, scientific and/or industrial purposes. Third is to enhance the ability of the police and the courts to enforce our laws.

The bill provides for the seizure and forfeiture of property used in offences involving controlled substances. It also allows for the restraint and forfeiture of fortified drug houses. The use of fortified drug houses for the purposes of drug trafficking is an increasing problem.

The houses are generally family dwellings that have been modified for use as centres for drug trafficking. They are veritable fortresses of crime. The houses are fortified by adding steel doors, boarding up windows and adding cement walls. In some instances, trap doors are used to exchange money and drugs so that there is no contact between the trafficker and the purchaser. The purpose for building such houses is to delay or prevent entry by police. During the extra time it takes the police to gain entry, any evidence of drug dealing is destroyed.

The existing Narcotic Control Act and the Food and Drugs Act do not effectively deal with emerging trends in drug abuse. We must be able to adapt to rapidly changing criminal activity. These trends see the appearance of new illicit or new designer drugs which can escape effective control under current law. Their methods, their tactics and their products are forever undergoing change. We must respond and quickly. We need flexible legislation which

allows those on the front lines of enforcement to adapt quickly to these new developments as they occur.

For example, one of the more recent developments in the drug underworld is the production and illicit sale of so-called designer drugs. Designer drugs are potent substances with chemical structures slightly different from substances presently controlled by the Food and Drugs Act and the Narcotic Control Act, substances such as stimulants, tranquillizers and pain killers. Yet these drugs affect abusers in similar ways and can lead to the same health and social problems produced by more conventional drugs. Much harm can result from the abuse of these drugs. Primary targets are often school age children.

The manufacture and sale of the designer drugs can be a very profitable business. Under the current Food and Drugs Act and the Narcotic Control Act drugs must first be listed on a schedule to the act. This regulates the conditions for the sale of that particular substance in Canada.

Only once a given substance is listed can it become an offence to sell it. To correct this deficiency the controlled drugs and substances bill proposes the inclusion of analogues to cover these substances. Analogues are non-listed substances that have highly similar chemical structures to those of listed substances. Under the proposed act new illicit drugs appearing on the street which fit this description will be covered automatically.

The bill also permits the control of precursors. Precursors are chemical substances used to produce controlled substances. New provisions contained in the bill will enable authorities to regulate the import and export of these substances.

Other sources of drugs sold on the street are substances intended for medical or scientific use. They may be stolen from a hospital, obtained through illegal prescriptions, secured by obtaining numerous prescriptions from different doctors for the same ailment or via a forged prescription.

People who deal in diverted pharmaceutical drugs are collecting very large profits. This bill enhances present controls that deal with this issue. Under this bill the monitoring of the distribution of drugs will continue.

We know there exists a criminal element which is using more and more sophisticated networks to illegally produce, sell, export and import controlled substances in Canada. These people buy property and consumer goods to further their criminal activities and bolster their personal wealth. As I see it such people should be prevented from retaining illegally obtained capital and goods.

The bill before us today in tandem with the proceeds of crime legislation strikes at the heart of criminal enterprises. Together the legislation will enable the courts to strip criminals of profits and property illegally amassed through drug dealing. Traffickers will no longer be able to flaunt their Rolex watches, fancy cars and mansions, flashy boats and planes, and rightfully so.

Trends in illegal production, distribution and use of controlled substances change frequently and quickly. This bill is designed to deal with current problems and to anticipate future needs. This bill proposes a significant strengthening of our current legislative framework.

Nonetheless I believe this bill merits the support of all members on all sides of the House. Given what is at stake, I submit Canadians expect no less of us.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville—Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak on Bill C-7, the controlled drugs and substances bill. I would like to discuss for a few moments the rationale for this legislation, in effect why Canada needs this bill and why the government is appealing to members of this House to support it.

The current situation the world faces regarding illicit drugs is unsettling. The problem of addiction and those who profit by addiction troubles the nation. It troubles my constituents and speaking as one who is elected to represent those same constituents, it troubles me. The bill is a major contribution to effective law enforcement and prosecution of offenders as it consolidates, enhances and modernizes current drug legislation.

It is true in many communities that there has been some decline in drug abuse among the general population, but there are also some distressing trends. Some abusers are taking much more potent drugs and the results are very harmful. Others are using drugs in very dangerous combinations.

There has been continuing inclination by youngsters to adopt the dangerous practice of taking anabolic steroids to try to build up their bodies. Unfortunately, prompted by constant and uncritical coverage in the media, uninformed people have come to abuse the drug without thinking of the consequences and equally unfortunately dealers have responded to this new demand.

Abuse has now spread to gymnasiums and high schools, putting at risk the health of young men and women. As is common in drug dealing, the anabolic steroids may be adulterated, raising the risk even higher.

The bill is designed to provide the government with improved means to prosecute people who deal illegally in anabolic steroids. It furnishes a framework to target purveyors of poison, the drug dealers who are the instruments of destruction of too many young citizens.

Despite a gradual decline in the abuse of most drugs, there are several alarming trends emerging on the horizon. Many drugs which are abused today are extremely potent with more potentially damaging consequences. Abusers are consuming drugs by much more dangerous means and they are using drugs in more dangerous combinations.

There is a growing frustration among law enforcement officials, community leaders from across the nation and Canadians in general. They are calling on provincial governments and the Government of Canada to assign a higher priority to dealing with drug abuse and its costly impact. Demands are being made for more severe sentences, a streamlining of the judicial system and assignment of the proceeds of drug crimes to help finance education and enforcement programs.

Court delays and complexities of administering the law have only helped to fuel the public's growing concern. Some law enforcement agencies have declared that the costs of enforcing the law against drug dealers have become high.

The government recognizes that these concerns require deliberate and sustained action, including combating the evil of addiction on three fronts: education and prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, and enforcement and control.

Bill C-7 corrects the deficiencies of existing drug control legislation. It encompasses all listed substances and declares them illegal for other than legitimate medical, scientific or industrial use.

In conjunction with the proceeds of crime legislation adopted in 1988 and proclaimed on January 1, 1989, the bill will empower the courts with the right to confiscate all property and capital accumulated as a result of or used in the commission of drug related crimes. This will provide police forces and the judiciary with the tools they need in a manner consistent with the charter of rights.

With the bill Canada will fulfil its international obligations found under the 1961 single convention on narcotic drugs, the 1971 convention of psychotropic substances and an international treaty governing the trade of illicit drugs.

The proposed bill can become an effective instrument in enforcing the law and controlling the import, export, production, sale, distribution and possession of illegal drugs. The bill seeks to update, enhance and consolidate a section of the Food and Drug Act and the Narcotic Control Act, both passed long ago in the sixties.

While the whims and wants of society have become more and more sophisticated since that time, unfortunately so has the network of drug producers and dealers.

The bill is designed to correct certain anomalies and shortcomings in our current law. In so doing it will enable law enforcement agencies to deal more effectively with a cunning, determined and resourceful adversary, the dealer in illicit drugs.

The new main provisions of the bill include controls on the import and export of precursor chemicals used by drug manufacturers. These chemicals include substances, usually not themselves psychoactive, which criminals can change easily into illicit drugs.

The bill also provides for provisions to control the production, sale, distribution, import and export of androgenic-anabolic steroids; provisions to control the possession, production, distribution, sale, import and export of designer drugs developed by dealers for the purpose of evading current laws; provisions to search, seize and have forfeited property used or intended for the purpose of committing drug offences, also known as offence related property including fortified drug houses.

The bill also includes a complete scheme for obtaining search and seizure warrants; the expansion of offences concepts relating to trafficking and production; the enhancement of control over disposal of controlled substances including forfeiture; new provisions to control the possession, production, distribution, sale, import and export of designer drugs; provisions which will facilitate Canada's commitments under the international conventions; and treatment by the courts of drug dealing in and around schools and other public places frequented by children and dealing drugs to minors as aggravating factors at the time of sentencing.

The principal purposes of the bill are to provide one comprehensive act for the drug control policy of the government and to provide for the enforcement and control aspects of Canada's drug strategy.

I will review briefly the seven principal parts of the bill as well as the introduction. Part I sets out the offences and punishment commensurate with breaking the proposed new law. The particular offences may include possession, trafficking, importing and exporting, production, possession of property obtained as a result of certain offences, and the laundering of proceeds obtained as a result of certain offences.

Part I also sets out specific aggravating factors to be considered by the court at the time of sentencing. These are directed particularly at drug dealers who target children, those who use weapons and violence, as well as those who have previous drug related convictions. This part also included a purpose clause dealing with sentences and, more particular, encouraging rehabilitation and treatment in appropriate circumstances.

Part II deals with enforcement of the proposed act by police. This includes provisions relating to search, seizure and detention of property or illegal substances, forfeiture of offence related

property, as well as a complete scheme for protecting innocent third party rights over such property and forfeiture of proceeds of drug related crimes.

Part III outlines procedures for disposal of controlled substances. Part IV covers administration and compliance.

There are seven parts to the bill and its most important provision is that it moves Canada 30 years in time from the sixties to the nineties. It codifies and empowers police while at the same time it protects citizens. It gives us a Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that has merit and is enforceable.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

The Speaker

Notice was given to another Speaker and I was just given a paper indicating that the member for Oakville-Milton is splitting her time with the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. The parliamentary secretary has approximately 9.5 minutes.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore Ontario

Liberal

Jean Augustine LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill C-7, a bill in which many in Etobicoke-Lakeshore have an interest. I am talking about individuals who work in the areas of education, prevention, rehabilitation, treatment, enforcement and control. Those individuals are very interested in the general types of control substances outlined in Bill C-7.

Narcotics are covered under the Narcotic Control Act, as well as some from the 1961 single convention. Examples of drugs in this group are cocaine, opium, codeine, morphine and marijuana. Controlled drugs, as defined under the Food and Drugs Act, are stimulants such as amphetamines and sedatives such as barbituric acid. Restricted drugs come under the Food and Drugs Act, the so-called designer drugs, as well as the anabolic steroids, the precursors and the drugs from the 1971 convention on psychotropic substances.

The majority of the substances are diverted from legitimate manufacturers and then illegally imported and sold. Until recently dealers have been able to sell the steroids at up to 20 times their prescription value with little risk of getting caught.

The amendments to the Food and Drugs Act and its appended regulations contained in the bill have resulted in 42 androgenic-anabolic steroids and their derivatives being classified as controlled drugs.

In the grim world of the effects of illicit drugs on the lives of abusers can be severe. This is the crux of my argument. If the effects on the lives of the abusers can be severe, the penalties proposed for convicted dealers in the most dangerous drugs should be severe. Sentences for the most serious offences of trafficking, importing or exporting narcotics remain life imprisonment in the bill.

We know that the specific provisions of the bill have been given the close scrutiny they deserve by a subcommittee on Bill C-7 of the Standing Committee on Health. I will comment on the work of that committee. Members heard from many national groups and associations representing a community of thousands of people, as well as officials from the departments of health and justice.

I will quickly list some of the groups that made representations before the committee: the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Department of Public Health, the city of Toronto, the Addiction Research Foundation, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, Lambton Families in Action for Drug Education, the Quebec Bar Association and the Criminal Lawyers Association, et cetera. Many groups appeared before the subcommittee.

The subcommittee fully addressed each and every concern with the intent of improving the bill before us today. Several amendments were made at committee stage. Some particular issues of discussion resulted in amendment. The main amendments to Bill C-7 are the ones in which my constituents are interested.

The amendments create a new offence for possession of marijuana and hashish involving certain quantities. They create a new offence for trafficking in marijuana and hashish in certain quantities. They provide for a purpose clause dealing with sentences and, more particular, they encourage rehabilitation and treatment in appropriate circumstances.

The aggravated circumstances section has been expanded to cover in or near public places usually frequented by minors. This means that when an offender has been convicted in those circumstances a judge will have to give reasons for not imposing a jail term.

The amendments will delete subsection 3(1), which was meant to cover non-scheduled substances having or presented as having the same effect as scheduled substances. There were some apprehensions among other things that it might cover herbal products.

At the same time there is a limit on the ability of inspectors to examine the records so that they may not examine the records pertaining to the medical condition of patients.

The bill clarifies those situations where a practitioner would be considered to be trafficking by providing that unless authorized by the regulations it will be illegal to sell a prescription to obtain a scheduled substance. Several things have been done and several amendments have been made to the original Bill C-7.

I am confident that the current situation facing Canada today as it relates to drug abuse will prompt each member of this place to consider the facts in his or her own constituency, to reflect on the implications for the future, and to respond accordingly by supporting this bill.

Through education and prevention we must continue to inform our young people, alerting them to the seductive snares of addiction. Through rehabilitation and treatment we must reach out and free those already trapped in the nightmare of dependence and desolation. Through enforcement and control we must strive to disinter the roots of those criminal enterprises that prey on the young and defenceless, those who otherwise risk being enticed into a never-ending cycle of addiction and deprivation.

The bill gives the police new authority without giving them sweeping authority. It gives us greater power to prevent dangerous substances from entering the country. It gives us the tools to help ensure that justly prosecuted criminals do not benefit from their crimes.

I submit that passage of the controlled drugs and substances bill is but one step toward a healthier and safer tomorrow. It is nonetheless a very important step in the right direction. I urge all members from all sides of this House to give this bill the scrutiny it richly deserves. Anything less would be an abdication of our responsibility.

Let us pass this bill so the government can get on with its mandate to protect and promote the health of Canadians in a way consistent with what we have a right to expect. I call on everyone to support this.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to some excellent presentations today on Bill C-7, an act respecting the control of certain drugs, their precursors, and other substances and to amend certain other acts and repeal the Narcotic Control Act in consequence thereof.

On balance, I find myself in support of all the concerns raised. Members have pointed out some of the highlights of this legislation and its attractiveness. As the previous speaker has just mentioned, it is one step toward a healthier and safer tomorrow. On that there is no question.

However, it does pose a more fundamental issue. Yes, this bill takes some steps to fight drug dealers in their pushing of illicit drugs and illicit substances of all kinds. Some time or other we have to have a debate that asks why so many people, particularly young people, are attracted by these illicit substances. What is it about their lives and the way they view the world that makes abusive substances such an attractive option? What are the causes of drug abuse? What are the causes that enable drug dealers and drug pushers to make such lucrative incomes in our country? That is the debate that is absent here.

If we believe that passing legislation and getting tougher on drug dealers is going to solve this problem, we have to admit that it will not. Yes, indeed it is a step closer. Yes, we have to get tougher. I particularly like the section of the bill that refers to those traffickers and so on who are trafficking illicit substances in or near a school, on or near school grounds, or in or near any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of 18 years.

To say that those convicted who have been pushing their illicit drugs in and around schools will obviously receive a harsher sentence is an excellent start. However, I do have to say that until we as a Parliament start addressing the fundamental causes of drug abuse we are not going to solve the problem. I do not think we want to feel too good about ourselves, that passing this legislation is going to be a major step toward the elimination or reduction of the use of illicit drugs. As the previous speaker said, and I think very accurately, it is a small step in the right direction.

I have two concerns about this legislation. One is the fact that once again we missed the opportunity to deal more effectively with marijuana and the use of marijuana. We all appreciate that this legislation began under the previous Mulroney administration and was brought forward by this administration with very few amendments at that point.

At that point one of the hopes a lot of people had, particularly those involved with the court system and with the real world of illicit drugs and substances on our streets, was the possibility that marijuana would not be listed in the same penalty class as heroin and cocaine, that perhaps now was the time to follow the call from the police and so on in terms of the decriminalization of this substance. I am not saying the legalization; I am talking about the decriminalization.

Alas, Bill C-7 continues the tradition of treating marijuana possession as a criminal offence. All of us have known probably on a personal basis friends and constituents who now possess criminal records for having had in their possession a small amount of marijuana. They are lumped into the same category in many cases with cocaine dealers and that problem element in our society. This was a missed opportunity.

I want to make a few comments about the herbal remedies that were once a major part of this legislation. It is fair to say that increasingly Canadians are turning away from traditional medical systems and sources to more natural ways. The herbalists are coming into their element and coming into their time. People realize that many of the substances we use in the traditional pharmaceutical way are in fact derivatives of natural substances. Increasingly today physicians will say that many Canadians are taking advantage of natural herbs to solve some of their medical problems.

The lobbying that went on by those involved in herbal medicine was quite astounding. I suspect all of us received numerous petitions and letters and visits from people who were concerned that this legislation in its previous state would have eliminated a whole set of possibilities that herbalists were using. I particularly refer as an example to Natural Way Herbs, headed up by Mr. Jim Strauss and his son, who led a tremendous campaign from the western part of Canada to point out to parliamentarians that many of the substances that were being eliminated under this legislation were in fact being used very successfully today to resolve people's medical problems.

I can say that I am aware in a personal way of dozens and dozens of people who found the traditional, if you like, medical approach to their illnesses and physical problems were failing and yet found the solution in the use of natural herbs. I thank Mr. Jim Strauss and his son, seventh generation herbalists, for the contribution they make to their community and their patients. As a result of much of this positive lobbying, the herbal remedies continue to be regulated by the Food and Drugs Act. That was a good change in this legislation.

I will leave it at that. It is appropriate that we get on with this legislation. For those two reasons, I will oppose the legislation. That is not to say that there are not a whole set of very positive elements in the legislation. I want to acknowledge that. But the hassle the natural herbalists experience today is partly as a result of lobbying by the traditional health care system and the international pharmaceutical companies. We have to be aware that there is a holistic approach to solving medical problems and that the natural way, the use of natural herbs, is one way. We ought to be taking more steps to encourage that, as opposed to hindering it.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.

Liberal

Hedy Fry LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond briefly to the two very important points the hon. member just made. One had to do with herbal remedies. It was the last one, so I will deal with it first. I will be very quick.

There never was in Bill C-7 anything that impacted on the use of herbal remedies in health food stores. That was disinformation and misinformation, whichever way we want to look at it. The sale of herbal remedies in health food stores is dealt with in parts I and II of the Food and Drugs Act. This bill only deals with parts III and IV, so it never was going to impact on it. We removed that whole section because of so much disinformation and so much concern. We thought if we struck that whole clause it would in fact allay these fears.

The second point the hon. member made was regarding the cause of young people using drugs. That is such a multifactorial question. It deals with so many other issues. As a result of that and as as result of looking toward that kind of broader prevention and long-term strategy, the hon. member should know that a recommendation came out of subcommittee to the Minister of Health asking that Canada's complete drug strategy be reviewed. This is obviously going to deal with some of those issues.

I would be distressed if I thought the hon. member would withhold voting on what is a very important and a very creative and progressive bill for two reasons that actually I hope I have answered to his satisfaction, one of which will be dealt with and the other of which never existed at all.

Controlled Drugs And Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's response to my latter issue and I accept what she says as being accurate. Disinformation was prevalent across the country and caused undue alarm to a lot people unnecessarily. I am pleased she has pointed out how that was dealt with. However, I do not accept quite so easily her latter comments that there has been a recommendation to have a broader approach to combating drug abuse in our country.

Perhaps the record will show that this is the crucible where critical debate takes place in Canada. This is the centre where government and on occasion opposition members through opposition days and perhaps even private members' initiatives bring forward the issues we feel are important. By and large, we acknowledge that the government sets the agenda for most of what goes on in this House. But I do not recall in all my years in Parliament ever having a debate on the fundamental causes of substance abuse in our country. In other words, yes, debate takes place on specific pieces of legislation, but I am talking about the fundamental causes of drug abuse, like poor housing opportunities, poor educational opportunities. We all know the causes, as opposed to the symptoms.

I appreciate what my hon. friend is saying. I do look forward to a time when we say to ourselves in this country that passing legislation, imposing stiffer sentences, and getting tough on drug dealers is only a small step to resolving the growing substance abuse in our country.

I was disturbed recently when I was attending a number of junior high schools in the constituency of Kamloops. After the formal talks and presentations I arranged a lunch get-together with students who were interested in talking about issues. In every high school concerned students raised the matter of drug abuse in their schools. These were junior high schools, not senior high schools. Their views were that large percentages of the students were becoming regular drug users, and of course cigarette use was leading this initiative.

As parliamentarians, all of us are concerned about this issue. Are we doing anything to come to grips with the fundamental causes of this growing use of drugs in our society? I think not. As a matter of fact, if I were going to be truthful with myself today I would say that we are taking a number of steps that will enhance drug abuse in the future, will make life more miserable for more Canadians, tougher for more Canadians, and will abandon more young people

as a result of policies that are being considered or brought forward in these times.

I appreciate the minister's intervention but perhaps in six months we will look at the record of Parliament and ask ourselves how much time we spent as elected representatives dealing with the fundamental causes of drug abuse in our country.

That is the way we will measure whether we are taking this seriously.

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4 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary answered the first two items. I simply advise the member that under the three international conventions to which Canada is a party and to which Bill C-7 addresses the problem we have with, for instance, benzodiazepines, it is required that simple possession and use of marijuana remain a criminal offence. This is not an option for Canada in terms of opting out, as the member might suggest.

We did not miss an opportunity. What we did was bring our legislation into line with the requirements of the international conventions to which Canada is a party.

With regard to the attitude, I agree with the member. There is no question we have to look for every opportunity. Our national drug strategy spends 70 per cent of the moneys available to it on rehabilitation, treatment and prevention programs, most of which, as with regard to tobacco, directed at our young people, those most susceptible to these problems.

I agree with the member that there should be a review. Our subcommittee of which I was the chair has recommended to the Standing Committee on Health and to the minister that a comprehensive review of Canada's drug policy and our overall drug strategy be conducted.