House of Commons Hansard #166 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was firearms.


An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals and Firearms) and the Firearms ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Calgary Southeast, Foreign affairs; the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest, Softwood lumber.

We will now proceed to the next stage of our debate where members will have 10 minutes maximum for their speeches, without questions or comments.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals and Firearms) and the Firearms ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address Bill C-15B. I want to pick up where my friends left off just a moment ago.

Bill C-15B represents a sea change in how government will treat the issue of animal cruelty. The sea change occurs in the fact that the government is preparing to move animal cruelty out of the list of property offences to a new, separate category and, at the same time, define an animal as a vertebrate other than a human being, and any other animal that has the capacity to feel pain.

In a way it is a shocking development. It is more shocking in the sense that the public is largely unaware that this is occurring. Hopefully we are bringing some light to this right now. The reason it is important is that if an animal is not the property of a human being, then who does it belong to? Does that mean that it has self-ownership like human beings? Does that bestow all kinds of rights on animals via the back door without the benefit of a large public debate?

If that is what it is doing, the implications are huge for the country. I wish we had more time to draw attention to this because I really do think that is where this legislation is headed. The government has been completely disingenuous in moving animals into this new category without clearly stating its intent, because what it is now doing is opening the way for the courts to do the clarifying for it.

Other people have spoken in this debate, including my friend from Calgary Southeast, about the tendency of the courts to go ahead and make law on their own. I want to remind people who think that this is some kind of a fantasy, that already the animal rights lobby has stated very clearly that they will go ahead and push this issue in the courts.

I want members to listen to what was said by Liz White, director of legislative revision with the Animal Alliance of Canada. She said:

My that people will think of this as the means to the end, but really it's [just] the beginning. It doesn't matter what the legislation says, if nobody uses it, nobody takes it to court, nobody tests it.... The onus is on humane societies and other groups on the front lines to push the legislation to the limit, test the parameters of the law and have "the courage of their convictions to lay charges."

I am a pet owner. We have a golden retriever named Jack. We have had many dogs and I have loved each animal we have owned. We have tried very hard to take care of them. As someone who comes from a rural area where we produce animals for human food, I can say that the people who are the most concerned about the good treatment of animals are farmers and ranchers. The first ones to turn in someone who they sense is being cruel to an animal is another farmer or rancher. I can guarantee that is the case. . I know these people and I know that to be true.

Our party has argued that if the issue is that animals are being abused and nothing is being done about it, then by all means we should strengthen the penalties or have more enforcement of the law. We have argued already that we do not have adequate enforcement in Canada today for all kinds of crimes and that instead of making all kinds of new laws, that we should first consider increasing the enforcement.

However, to potentially elevate the status of animals to the point where they have rights on their own is a huge mistake. It certainly is a sneaky way of going about getting something the government may want without involving the public in the debate. It is a serious issue and it has large implications.

If Bill C-15B is enacted it will have a serious impact on rural regions in Canada, and this comes at a time when rural regions are already under assault.

Many of us are deeply concerned about other legislation, such as the endangered species legislation which will have impact on farmers and ranchers. The government has failed to provide a provision in that legislation to remunerate farmers and ranchers whose land is taken out of production in order to protect an endangered species.

Many other pieces of legislation also have huge implications for farmers and ranchers, and Bill C-15B touches on one of them. I am referring to Bill C-68, the firearms legislation, which again is an assault on the rural way of life in Canada. It really indicates a deep misunderstanding of what life is like in rural Canada where a firearm is not a weapon but a tool people use to help them do their jobs.

The government in its wisdom is now going to register firearms across the country at a huge expense to taxpayers. The government has already spent over $600 million and I guarantee it will spend many hundred million dollars more before it gets the job done only to find out that it is completely ineffective and will have no impact. It will not do anything to stop crime because criminals will not register their guns. When will Liberals get that through their heads?

Bill C-15B is wrongheaded in many different ways. I deeply regret that the government has such a shallow understanding of rural Canada. It has completely missed the boat.

I want to touch for a moment on some of the other implications of Bill C-15B. We heard the member for Macleod who is a doctor speak a few minutes ago about the potential impact the legislation would have on medical research. I want members to consider the fact that when animals are used for medical research they are being used to save human lives. However, the government seems to want to place the lives of animals ahead of the lives of humans. This reflects the government's unbelievable mix up of priorities.

The Canadian Medical Association and other research groups, which do fantastic work to protect human lives, are deeply concerned about the legislation. They asked for changes but are not receiving those changes. Many groups have asked for responsible changes. Many groups have asked for changes that would include tougher sentences for people who are convicted of abusing animals but they did not receive those changes. The government has bulldozed straight ahead and has completely caved in to the animal rights lobby in Canada.

We must remember that many of these groups have more respect for an animal's life than they do for a human life. Some of them have blown up trucks, which is what happened a few years ago, and others have destroyed laboratories and all kinds of things. In many cases these people, in their demented view, would put human lives at risk in order to save some animals, mice, rats or whatever, that may be used in a laboratory. It is completely perverse how they have reversed their priorities.

I urge Canadians who are watching today to write to Liberal members of parliament about this issue. It is unbelievable to see these twisted priorities make their way into legislation. When members across the way get the chance to send a message to their own government, I urge them to say that this legislation is completely beyond the pale. I hope they find the courage to do exactly that.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals and Firearms) and the Firearms ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Canadian Alliance Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have time to speak to the bill today.

We have heard several speakers make valuable contributions to the debate, none greater than the justice minister for the Canadian Alliance. I meant to say justice critic for the Canadian Alliance. I jumped the gun a bit. He was the justice minister in Manitoba before he came here, so he has that background. He was also the crown prosecutor in Manitoba so he has seen things from both sides and understands well what happens in courtrooms across the country.

The Alliance justice critic made many good points yesterday that were well worth reading. I encourage anyone interested in the issue to read what he said in yesterday's Hansard . It was an important contribution. He made it clear that he is concerned Bill C-15B would cause extreme hardship down the road for people who work with animals to make a living. It would force them to bear the costs of frivolous court cases brought forward by extreme animal rights activists and other individuals. In some cases neighbours who are ticked off for some reason may phone the police.

Whether a person is innocent or guilty the costs would be there. No one else would pick them up. That kind of burden would in some cases be too much for farmers to bear. They would not be able to handle it. The justice critic for the Canadian Alliance expressed that and many other concerns very well yesterday.

We in the Canadian Alliance fully support increasing penalties for offences related to cruelty to animals if necessary, although I ask why it would be. I am quite familiar with what happens in Alberta regarding the protection of animals. The provincial law is extremely effective. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or SPCA is designated under provincial law as the protector of animals. It is paid to do so. If there is a complaint in Alberta that a pet owner is abusing a pet the SPCA will come in and deal with it. It is extremely effective. It is not overly bureaucratic. At times it may be overly zealous and a bit hard on people accused of doing something wrong, but it is effective overall. Animals are well protected under the current law.

Why do we need Bill C-15B at all, particularly the animal cruelty section? We do not. If there is evidence anywhere across the country that tougher penalties are required let us look at it and perhaps we will impose them. I have not seen the evidence. The government has not presented any such evidence. In Alberta it is not needed. I ask the government to back off on the legislation. It is not too late. I hope that happens.

Bill C-15B if passed would have an extremely negative impact on farmers across the country whether intentional or not, and I believe it is. I believe it is intentional because in the two years since the original version of the bill was introduced we have been saying okay, let us put something in it to protect people who raise animals as a way of making a living. That has not happened, so I have to assume the government is intentionally targeting farmers.

Anyone who knows farmers knows that no one takes better care of animals. Their livelihoods depend on looking after their animals. People whose livelihoods depend on looking after animals are in the vast majority of cases likely to do a good job, and they do.

I was raised on a farm where we raised every kind of animal one can imagine. After finishing university I bought a farm. My neighbours raised livestock. I have a standing joke I have told here before. Because they live on a farm the husband, wife and children are all involved in looking after the animals. On many occasions I have heard wives or husbands say if they were as well looked after as the animals they would be happy. Farmers spend hours caring for their animals. During calving time they are up every couple of hours during the night. One could not ask for better care. In the vast majority of cases animals are extremely well looked after.

In Alberta when someone is not looking after animals properly people will phone the SPCA. Everyone knows the number. It is well advertised. No one has less tolerance for animals being abused than the people who raise them for a living. This includes farmers no matter what type of enterprise they are involved in. No one is more vigilant regarding neighbours who do not do a proper job of looking after animals. We have an effective system in Alberta. Animal abuse on farms is not tolerated.

Why do we need this legislation? Why do we need to put farmers through this? I know what would happen. It happened with the gun bill which has a lot of discretionary application. Bill C-15B would allow police, on a call from a neighbour who is mad for some reason, to go in and press charges. Whether or not people are found innocent the costs of the court case and the time involved would be real and substantial. They would have to be borne by the people defending themselves.

Why do we need more discretionary legislation? Cases like these have already happened under the gun act on many occasions. In my neighbourhood a former employee ticked off with an employer because of a disagreement phoned the police and told them the person had a gun he should not have had. It did not matter whether or not it was true. The police came in. The employer had shells which were collectors' items. They were packaged in the original boxes. The police tore them apart and destroyed them. That should not happen. The police normally would not do that kind of thing but they did in this case. It happens in many cases. I know of others. It caused a great loss to that individual. This type of thing would happen under Bill C-15B.

Whether intentionally or not the government would be putting a great burden on farmers across the country. I care about that. I will not stand by and allow it to happen if I can stop it. That is why I am speaking to this piece of legislation today. It should be thrown out. It would make things worse, not better. It would not do a thing to protect animals from being abused.

In 1994 when the former justice minister talked about how the gun registry would save lives we asked him to show us evidence that it would save even one life. It is recorded in Hansard in a response to a question in question period. The minister said he could not produce evidence because there was none. He said the government simply knew the registry would save lives.

Well, it has not. Nor will it. Bill C-15B would be the same. It would not protect one animal. My opinion is based on knowledge of what is happening in the real world. The government had better become connected with the real world or legislation like this will continue to come forward and cause problems for innocent people.

It is important that the government admits it once again made a mistake and backs off the legislation. If it feels parts of it are necessary let us pick them out, deal with them separately and put in place good legislation, because this is not. Let us throw it out.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals and Firearms) and the Firearms ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Anders Canadian Alliance Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to most of the debate here today. I always like to pose questions with regard to government bills.

First, what fruit would the animal cruelty legislation bear? I predict the following. People who see themselves as do-gooders would try to crack down on people running family farms and other operations. Farmers or ranchers practising what they consider to be normal animal husbandry would wind up being called criminals. They would face having to go to court or preliminary hearings. They would have to pay a lot of money to lawyers. The legislation would impose on them yet one more burden in addition to those they already bear in trying to maintain their family farms, cattle ranches or other operations.

Some ministers across the way may be able to eke out a couple of extra campaign workers or votes from their urban constituencies. However at the end of the day the bill would be another pain for the people who deal with animal husbandry on a regular basis. People in urban constituencies think they know better but they live in cities and do not deal with animals that much.

Second, who is asking for Bill C-15B? Who demands this type of legislation? I do not hear veterinarians going hog wild about it and saying we need this type of legislation. It is being promoted by a bunch of people who see it as their moral crusade. I have met with some of these people. They do not deal with animals on a regular basis, certainly not to the same extent as farmers, ranchers, veterinarians or others who make their living dealing with animals.

Again, what fruit would Bill C-15B bear? It would be a burden and a cost on average ranchers and farmers. It would be one more regulatory nightmare they do not need. As a result more of them would face difficulty, financially and otherwise, and we would see an increased corporatization of farms.

Who is pushing for the legislation? The Liberals across the way would fall victim yet again to special interests instead of dealing with the broad cross section of the Canadian public, a public which happens to live in a lot of rural areas on the prairies. These are our votes so why should the Liberals care? They did not care about the wheat board. They did not care about Bill C-68 and the long gun registry. They do not care about farmers or ranchers with regard to Bill C-15B. I guess that is the way the cookie crumbles. That is too bad.

One question I have been asking throughout the day has to do with private property rights and search and seizure. I will relate a story to the House. I recently took in a gun auction on my birthday and was told about someone who had been raided. The police had arrived at the door.

Hon. members should try to imagine this. It is a true story. The person had purchased a firearm at some point. The paperwork was fine. It was absolutely tickety-boo because the person had done everything right. All of a sudden a bunch of police officers in S.W.A.T. team tactical gear arrived at the door at 10 o'clock at night demanding to see all the paperwork and go on a search of the house.

As it turns out, in that case the person was lucky enough to have all the paperwork at hand to show them. That way they did not have to be kept up throughout the night with the police searching farms. Imagine that someone who had their paperwork in proper order had police arrive at their door at 10 p.m. to hassle them. It could potentially have turned into an affair of several hours rooting through that person's home. That is a real consequence of what the government has done with regard to firearms registration. A shame is what it is.

There are a couple of other things I would like to add to the debate which I have not yet done today with all the questions I have asked on this subject. There are things the government can do that will actually go after either the criminal misuse of firearms or terrorists or real criminals. Those are some of the things I would like to see the government focus on. It is a shame it does not.

I have been down to our border posts between Quebec and the United States. There are eight of them along the Quebec border. I have visited them a number of times. Some visits were previous to September 11 and I did not bother to ask very many detailed questions at the time. Subsequently I took the time to ask some of our customs officials what changes they would like to see as we do not seem to get straight answers from the ministers across the way. They do not like to tell us what the problems are or be honest about the problems in their departments or what they actually need.

The customs officials on the front lines say they want sniffer dogs. I do not know if anyone will believe it but for eight border crossings there is one little dog's nose, which is only worth a couple of hours because it gets fatigued and is not able to distinguish between various substances after a few hours of intensive work. One would think that perhaps there would be enough dogs to cover every single border crossing if we were really serious about apprehending criminals.

If people were not just trying to buy votes or looking for a band-aid solution and were really trying to apprehend people who smuggle substances across our borders and if they were really into nabbing criminals and terrorists, there would probably be enough dogs to cover our manned border crossings. But no, instead of having eight dogs, let alone having more for different shifts at 24 hour border crossings, there is just one sniffer dog for all of them. It is ridiculous.

Imagine it is late at night. A car is crossing the border crossing and the customs officer would like to check underneath the vehicle as he or she suspects there may be something wrong. Not only is there a lack of light but it is also drizzling, raining or snowing and visibility is greatly reduced. Perhaps there is even fog, a haze or blowing dust.

Customs officials would like to have a vehicle lift. Rather than relying on a mirror which a person has to use light refraction with in dimly lit circumstances as no one can really see anything, an officer would like to put a questionable vehicle on a lift, raise it up and look underneath. That is entirely reasonable to me.

What customs officials are asking for are not things that aggrandize their own personal titles. They are not asking for executive curls on their uniforms or gold buttons. They are asking for sniffer dogs and vehicle lifts. These are very practical things.

I am going to recap some of the things that have been raised today by my various colleagues, what I think are the best aspects that have been brought forward with this debate.

The government is spending huge amounts of money, $700 million plus, close to $1 billion, on a long gun registry instead of twinning highways or irrigation. Those are things that people in rural communities, the farmers and the ranchers could really use. It is practical, tangible stuff. It provides real, long term benefits. It is actually an enhancement of the Canadian economy and our productivity. For some reason, the government is not considering those things.

The government is continuing to spend money on court challenges programs that allow prisoners to use taxpayer dollars to challenge the government with regard to how many types of toothpaste they have.

Imagine how crazy that is. People would think that prisoners in Canada would be happy just getting one brand of toothpaste. No, they have launched court challenges using our taxpayer dollars over the issue of their not having enough brands of toothpaste to choose from.

I see that my time is up and I have so much more that I could communicate to the House. I will leave hon. members with this thought. This system of either registration or dealing with animal rights aspects of things that interferes with animal husbandry on farms and ranches is ridiculous and is only going to wind up in more red tape and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals and Firearms) and the Firearms ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, anybody watching the debates today on television or perhaps reading Hansard in the future might well ask why people were talking about toothpaste selection for criminals and sniffer dogs and so on. They may ask what on earth that had to do with the animal cruelty bill that is before us today. They could be forgiven for asking that question. I think it is a reasonable question.

Why is that happening? Why is it that not a single Liberal has been up today to defend the bill? Maybe there was earlier in the day, but certainly not in the last few hours. Not a single member of the government is willing to defend the bill at this point in time. Why is that? Why is it that out of approximately 170 Liberal members of parliament not one is getting up to defend the bill right now?

Yet on this side of the House almost every Canadian Alliance MP is getting up to speak against the bill. They are being very repetitive. They are talking about twinning highways and sniffer dogs and things like that. It is a reasonable question, why is that happening?

The root cause of this is frankly the lack of democracy in this place. If people out there do not already know, it is because they are not really debates that we have in this place. They are statements that are put on the record.

Even if we convince every Liberal member that what we are saying about the bill is correct, they will be told to vote for it when we vote on it in a few days time. Even the ones who are desperately against it, who have had tons of input from their own constituents that they should vote against it, will still vote for it. It is because this place for the most part is controlled not by the debates that we have here, not by logic and reasonable discussion, but by decisions that are made elsewhere. The decisions are made by unelected people, by a few people in the Prime Minister's Office, by bureaucrats who often make incorrect decisions.

It defies logic to believe that on the government side of the House Liberal MPs are not receiving the same sort of input that we are. That there is not a single Liberal MP who has not had a letter, a phone call, an e-mail or a fax from a constituent pointing out the problems with this bill defies logic.

I have certainly had letters from the other side urging me to pass it as soon as possible. To those people I have sent letters explaining why we are trying to hold it up. It is because there are legitimate concerns about the way the bill will apply to normal farming practices, to research practices and unfairly to people who may unwittingly cause harm to an animal. These are legitimate concerns and they should be answered by the government.

When people elect their MPs and they send them here, they are hoping to see change. They are hoping that we will come here and be able to effect meaningful change. They hope that when they give us input on their concerns that somehow we will have debates and that we will convince the other side that we are correct and changes to the bill should be made.

Admittedly, sometimes there is incremental change. Sometimes we do cause the government to move slightly. Sometimes pressure groups do the same thing. But the system here remains a long way from being truly democratic. As the saying goes, there are two things people should never see made and they are hot dogs and legislation.

Students of federal politics can certainly attest to the fact that although we are supposed to have a democracy based on the Westminster model, in fact we have quite a distinctly different system here in Canada. It more closely resembles a medieval fiefdom than a democracy. Let us look behind the scenes and see what sort of situation leads to the situation we find ourselves in today.

Our Prime Minister enjoys more power than virtually any leader of any other western democracy. Look at the president of the United States. He can have his initiatives vetoed. It is impossible in this place for anybody, including the Liberals on that side, including the minister of fisheries who is standing there. If he does not like something the Prime Minister is trying to do, he has no power to prevent it from happening.

There is something wrong with that scene. It is not the way to get good legislation. It is no wonder that many of the bills that get passed in this place turn out to be disastrous.

I can remember a classic example a few years ago when we were making changes to the railways act. No one, not a single one of us in this entire House noticed that we were voting away our own railway passes. No one in this place had bothered to read what we were discussing. It was not for a month or two later that people discovered that we had voted away our own railway travel passes and the government had to rush through an amendment.

I guess we are all to blame for not reading the legislation properly. I would advance the possibility that it is not unreasonable that the opposition members, other than the critic, would not always read every piece of legislation. However there is no excuse for the government to be putting forward pieces of legislation when it does not even know what the impact is going to be. Not one of the bureaucrats, not a single member on the government side noticed that they were voting away their own railway passes.

In a much more complex piece of legislation such as the one we are discussing today, what is it that has been missed? What is it that the Liberals are ignoring? What is it that they refuse to acknowledge is wrong in this bill? There are things wrong in this bill. We can give many examples.

There is the badly formulated employment equity bill. Look at the distortions that are out there in the marketplace now. One of my constituents phoned me to complain that the public service would no longer employ her because she was not part of a visible minority. I phoned the office where she had made a job application and that was confirmed. What sort of place are we running when we pass legislation that does that to our citizens?

There is the gun registry that my colleague mentioned. What a disaster. When that legislation was coming through the House, we warned the government that it would cost 10 times more than what it had predicted. It promised a cost of $80 million. It is almost up to $1 billion now and still the commissioner of police cannot identify a single crime that has been solved or prevented by that registry. What a waste of money.

If only we could have real debates in this place with real votes at the end that were meaningful and counted.

Sadly, even our private members' business has become more partisan as time has gone by. We had an initiative a few years ago where we changed the voting process for private members' bills so that we started the voting from the back rows, presumably so that the front row would have less influence on the voting. It has not made any difference because those in the front row I guess still send their message around and make sure that they get their way.

To the average person, the behaviour and the performance that goes on in this place must seem bizarre but there is a simple reason for it. Most of us, I guess we could say almost work in a culture of fear. If we do not behave ourselves, if we do not adhere to the will of the whip, then we miss out on all the rewards. There are no travel junkets. We do not get to sit on our favourite committee. We will not get the things that we want out of this. Yet all the while the interests of the Canadian people fall into the background because of the structured nature of this place.

Even my opportunity to get up and speak today was programmed. Most of the day I knew almost exactly within 10 minutes when I would stand in this place to speak. During question period, everyone knows who is going to be next up. It is not really a question period where there is freedom for a member with an issue to jump up and catch the attention of the Speaker in the tradition that it was meant to be. We sit in our assigned places. We take our assigned times for the speeches. We lobby to get our assigned time for question period. We lobby to get our assigned Standing Order 31 one minute statement.

This is not democracy. This is not the way we should be passing legislation in this place.

We should be having meaningful debates, not trying to hold up a bill today, as we are, just by talking about anything like I am talking about democracy in this place rather than the content of the bill because there is no alternative. There is no way to convince the government that it is a bad bill. I had no option but to fill up 10 minutes so that we can delay it for another 10 minutes, so that the next colleague in my caucus can delay it for 10 minutes as he is going to do, so that we can go into tomorrow and start it all over again.

What a sad commentary on the way we run this place. Is this really the way a government should function?

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals and Firearms) and the Firearms ActGovernment Orders

April 11th, 2002 / 5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, in listening to my colleague's wisdom on so many issues pertaining to the bill, I was so excited, especially when he mentioned that I was to stand and speak, and how I would delay the bill. I beg to differ on that part because I know that my words will be just illuminating to the other side, to make changes to the bill, to improve the bill and to actually have democracy work in this place once and for all. I know you have faith in me, Madam Speaker, to be able to so do. I hope not to let you down.

As I stand in this place at this time of the day, the energy and the electricity in this place are beyond words. I am so excited to see that there is an audience here who wants to hear what I have to say and what I would like to add to the bill. For the people who have been tuned in watching their legislators talk about the bill, I am sure it has evoked a lot of emotion.

Cruelty to animals is something that all Canadians clearly are concerned about. Almost everyone I know has a pet of some sort at home. They love their animals and they want to make sure those animals are loved and protected and that no one abuses their well-being. I do not think we would find very many Canadians who would disagree with that sort of principle, but in attempting to look at the bill we are discussing here today, Bill C-15B, the cruelty to animals bill, there obviously are some concerns, which many of my colleagues have raised during today's debate, as to how in fact this may affect one side of the equation in trying to approach protection of animals.

As I said in one of my earlier comments when I was asking one of my colleagues a question, it seems to me that the government, when producing legislation, tends to try to divide and conquer Canadians rather than bring all stakeholders together, which is such a shame. We saw that sort of attitude when it came to the endangered species legislation. We have seen that sort of attitude with other legislation. Instead of trying to find consensus and bring the various stakeholders together, the attitude is to divide and conquer and see if it can pass legislation where unfortunately one side over the other will be negatively affected.

When I talk about the stakeholders in this case, I am talking about people who are involved in the production of animals in the form of livestock, such as ranchers and farmers, and those who are obviously far from that sort of production and activity, people who live in urban centres or larger towns. Unfortunately many of the arguments on both sides are not coming out. They are not being dealt with effectively and are not being held at merit for the base of their arguments.

In my own riding I have had so many constituents who have taken the time to communicate to me how important they feel the bill is and how they would like me to support it. I think I will support it on that basis because I have had an overwhelming indication from my riding that my constituents would like me to do so. That still does not make it right, because on the other side, the rural arguments I spoke about, there are real concerns. The government has done such a terrible job in trying to raise those effectively so that we can get people on the same page.

We know what the bill is supposed to do. I will just take a moment to read it into the record. The stated purpose of the bill is to consolidate animal cruelty offences and increase the maximum penalties. It also provides a definition of animal and moves cruelty to animals provisions from the property offences part of the criminal code.

A lot of Canadians may ask what has changed since the last time this type of bill was presented in the House or since the last time we debated it. The government has made certain changes from the previously proposed legislation dealing with cruelty to animals, Bill C-17. The main change was a requirement for a person to act “wilfully or recklessly” in killing or harming animals. However, there are still significant concerns that many organizations, businesses and individuals have with respect to the bill. I started to talk about some of those concerns among some industry people. The people who do have concerns about this legislation, and I will go on to talk about some of them, are agricultural groups, farmers and industry workers. As well, one of my colleagues addressed the idea of medical researchers quite thoroughly this afternoon in regard to some of the concerns they have raised.

All these groups have consistently said that they welcome amendments to the criminal code that would clarify and strengthen provisions relating to animal cruelty. They obviously do not condone intentional animal abuse or neglect in any way. Many of these groups obviously rely on the production of livestock. Their whole livelihoods are based on that. In the production process, some of them actually have relationships that are of the utmost respect for these particular animals because they know that their livelihoods are based on that. The last thing they would ever imagine is to put any type of livestock under any form of cruelty. In fact, they look at ways to be able to minimize the risk or hurt to many of these animals in their production processes.

Many of these groups in fact support the intent of the bill, as its objective is to modernize the law and increase penalties for offences relating to animal cruelty and neglect, but they do, however, have some concerns as to how far the bill can then penalize them if there is an unfortunate feeling that there has been neglect on their part. As I have said, many of them have never approached the issue of animal cruelty in a negative way. They do not intent to hurt the animals. Despite the minor improvements to the legislation, these groups advise that the bill requires significant amendments before their concerns are alleviated. There are a number of main concerns they have raised.

I would like to focus on just a couple of these issues. My colleagues have talked about a few of these issues, especially when it comes to the definition of animal. The definition in the bill is so broad that we could have a number of challenges in court and a lot of confusion as to how animals may fall into these categories. It sure raises fear in my mind about what sort of door the government is opening by not looking specifically at how we can tighten up that part of the legislation.

There is also this idea, which I think hits it on the head, of moving the animal cruelty section out of property offences to a new section in its own right. That is seen by many as emphasizing animal rights as opposed to animal welfare. This is a very important point because the significant alteration in the underlying principles of the legislation is something that needs to be carefully considered. The Canadian Alliance told the government in committee, at question period and in other ways, that this is something that really needs to be considered carefully. The Canadian Alliance asked government members to retain the cruelty to animal provisions in the property offences section of the criminal code but they refused.

It becomes a fine line, especially when it comes to the idea of animal welfare and animal rights. That is something we all have to come to terms with, because when it comes to the development and production of many of these animals there is no doubt that the concern among Canadians is that these animals are being treated properly, cared for and not being abused. As I pointed out, many of these groups that have a concern with the change realize that it is the last thing that they do when they approach how to treat these animals. They actually treat them with the utmost respect and try to make it as painless as possible and give them the best conditions they can have outside of the wild.

I would like to take a moment to talk about the whole process of trying to put forward amendments. We in opposition try really hard to work with the government, to improve its legislation and support it where we can, but we are shut out at every turn. The opposition has tried on a number of occasions in committee to make legislation better. We know that there is a majority government and that the government will pass the legislation it wants passed.

What disappoints us is that when we try to put amendments forward and try to work with the government to improve legislation so that everyone can live with it happily ever after, the government is concerned only about itself and its own interests and refuses to bring stakeholders together. That is just a shame. I wish we could work together more effectively to protect animals and to bring all stakeholders together but in fact the government is going to force the opposition to vote against the bill and that will not do animals any good.

An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Cruelty to Animals and Firearms) and the Firearms ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dale Johnston Canadian Alliance Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, today we are talking about Bill C-15B, which refers to the prevention of cruelty to animals act and some aspects of the Firearms Act.

I have spoken to the bill before. As a matter of fact, Madam Speaker will recall that I have spoken to the bill a couple of times. I do so from the standpoint of being a farmer for 35 years. I would like to pick up on some of the comments made by my colleague from Edmonton--Strathcona. Although he does not have experience in raising livestock he certainly has made some excellent points about animal welfare.

Some groups nowadays talk about animal rights. I have a bit of a problem with that. I have no problem, however, when we talk about animal welfare. My colleague made the point that not only it is in the farmers' and producers' best interests not to be cruel to livestock, but it is also in their interests to make sure that livestock does not even suffer any undue stress. Stress affects the way the livestock perform.

For instance, in regard to milk cows, I know there are groups in Canada who think that even the taking of milk from a milk cow is somehow a violation of the animal's rights. We can see how I would have a problem with that concept. If milk cows are not properly fed, if they do not have a high protein, fairly high fat and high energy diet, their milk production drops. After all, producing milk does two things. It supplies nutrients to a hungry nation and it supplies a livelihood to the person who does the milking. If the animal is stressed, milk production goes down, the hungry nation goes with less milk, unless more milk cows are provided, and the producer and his family make do with less income. It only follows, then, that it is in the best interests of the livestock producer, the dairy people or the poultry producers to put their animals under the least stress possible for the benefit of everybody, for the benefit of the system, for the benefit of the country, for the benefit of the economy.

I have no problem with dealing harshly with people who deliberately, maliciously and for no reason at all are cruel to animals. I have no problem with dealing severely with them. However, when the point is reached that the penalty for killing one's dog is a more severe penalty than it is for killing one's neighbour or wife, then I think we have crossed the line of common sense, and indeed, reality.

If we need to strengthen the laws to deal more harshly with cruelty to animals, I think it only follows that we need to strengthen the law so that we deal more harshly with people who are cruel to people, not only for murder but for mental cruelty. We all know people who have suffered at the hands of a parent, a sibling or people at school. There is a case in the news right now about a young person who took his own life and the possibility is that he did that as a result of the taunting and teasing received in school. That is the worst form of cruelty, cruelty to the point that it may have driven this young person to end his life at age 14 because he simply just could not bear the thought of continuing this miserable existence and being constantly teased.

If it is necessary to be more severe and have more severe penalties for those who abuse animals then let us balance the scale. Let us put something on the other side of the scale and make the penalties more severe for those people who are cruel and malicious to people.

Over the years we raised thousands of head of cattle for slaughter. According to what I read in the bill, even if one causes instantaneous death to an animal, one might be subject to these severe penalties. I cannot quite comprehend that because oftentimes in the cafeteria we are served roast beef, hamburger or fried chicken. Today the entree was fish. It is necessary to kill these animals to make meat. Someone has to kill these animals and I am sure that we do it in a humane way but under this law if the animal dies immediately it may be subject to penalty. That is ridiculous.

It is also ridiculous that in committee at least 150 amendments to the bill were passed. Somehow they were dropped, lost or kicked out somewhere between the committee and the House. What kind of way is that to run the legislature? When we--

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Order, please. I have received notice from the hon. member for South Surrey--White Rock--Langley that she is unable to move her motion during private members' hour on Friday, April 12. It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence. Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

Private members' hour will be suspended, and the House will proceed with the business before it.

It being 5.44 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from February 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-344, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana), be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, whenever the occasion permits I try in my remarks to the House to develop arguments that form part of a larger, more coherent whole than is permitted by the 10 minute speaking slots that are assigned to us under the Standing Orders.

A larger, more complete picture on an issue under debate in the House can be developed by means of public addresses, published papers, opeds or other media. In this way I try to ensure that my contributions to the debates that take place in the Chamber will become part of what I hope will develop over time into an ever more complete, thoughtful and well reasoned organic whole on whatever subject is under discussion.

Ideally, the longer term result of this approach would be that as time progresses these disparate commentaries could together be taken as part of a coherent and tolerably exhaustive review of the background to a subject as it percolates its way through the realm of public debate. By the time it is ready to be dealt with legislatively I will have completed a thorough review of the subject accompanied where possible by something that amounts to a kind of policy manifesto.

In my remarks today I will be expanding upon a thesis with regard to the subject of banned and illegal substances that I had partly addressed in an essay entitled “Should we end prohibition?” in the October 2001 edition of the journal Policy Options. Today's remarks are given some context by these earlier thoughts. If hon. members find what I say to be of interest I encourage them to seek further information along the same lines by looking at that essay.

Today's debate centres on Bill C-344, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana). Under the bill it would no longer be a criminal offence to possess marijuana for personal use. However, the possession of marijuana would remain a non-criminal offence and persons found to be in possession of the substance would face fines of $200 for a first offence, $500 for a second offence and $1,000 for any subsequent offences.

Currently, the penalties laid out under subsection 462.2(a) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for a first conviction can include fines as high as $100,000 or six months in prison. The penalties for reoffending range as high as $300,000 and one year's imprisonment.

The present standard for determining whether marijuana is intended for personal use would remain in place under the proposed law. If any person were found to be in possession of amounts in excess of three kilograms this would be regarded as prima facie evidence of an intent to sell some since it is highly unlikely that one person could possibly consume such a large quantity on his or her own.

My inclination is to support the proposed law for reasons that I will explain in a moment. However, if the law makes it through the legislative process and is presented to the House for third reading I will attempt to hold a survey of my constituents as to how to vote and I will respect their wishes even if these wishes do not correspond with my own preferences.

With this caveat in place I would like to state my personal views. I favour the legislation for two reasons, the second of which I will spend more time on than the first.

First, it would greatly reduce the amount of Canada's limited police and law enforcement assets that are being consumed by the enforcement of the current Criminal Code provisions relating to marijuana possession. About $200 million is spent each year in this country on enforcing laws against the simple possession for personal use of all illegal drugs. Of this, $150 million goes to the enforcement of the criminal sanctions against the use of marijuana. This proposed law would therefore save our police departments $150 million each year which could be used instead to deal with the many other urgent issues that face our law enforcement officials.

Second, it would pave the way for marijuana to be used under careful monitoring for medical purposes. The most important of these purposes would be for use as a pain relieving agent. It is to this subject that I wish to focus the remaining portion of my remarks.

Marijuana, whether smoked or ingested in another manner, can provide relief from chronic pain and in some cases from debilitating pain when no other remedy is available. It is for this reason that several American states, including California and Arizona, have legalized the use of marijuana for pain relief.

Those of us who do not suffer chronic pain in our everyday lives have little idea just how devastating it can be. In many cases severe, untreated pain can be so overwhelming that individuals who are not able to find relief, find that the pain outweighs all of life's joys. In extreme cases life ceases to be worth living.

I will give one example among the many from which I could choose. A retired New York state police officer named David Covillion suffered chronic back pain as the result of a traffic accident. He was deprived pain medication in the form of a prescription drug that combines acetaminophen and the narcotic oxycodone after his long term use of the drug raised red flags with medical authorities. When this occurred Mr. Covillion tried to go from one doctor to another seeking narcotic prescriptions. Mr. Covillion described his pain in the following words:

As I ran out of medication, I was confined to my bed totally, because it hurt to move...At times I'd have liked to just take an axe and chop my arm right off, but I would have had to take half my neck with it.

When he had been completely cut off from prescription narcotics Mr. Covillion approached Jack Kevorkian, the famous suicide doctor, to ask how to end his life. Dr. Kevorkian refused to assist Mr. Covillion end his life. He then turned to a group called the National Chronic Pain Outreach Association which for a few months was able to re-establish his access to the pain relievers he needed. During this period his quality of life improved and Mr. Covillion's story came to public light. He conducted a number of interviews including the one from which I have just quoted. However he was cut off again from medical supplies, his pain became too intense to bear, and on September 11, 1996 he killed himself.

In a general sense Mr. Covillion's story draws our attention to the need for more generous rules for the distribution of prescription pain relief. In his case the medication in question was not marijuana. It was a story like this one that caused voters in some parts of the United States to reconsider their harsh rules with regard to all forms of pain relief, including marijuana.

In California, in 1996, the voters chose by means of a binding referendum to change their state's laws to allow the use of marijuana as a means of relieving chronic pain. This change to California's law and the United States federal government's subsequent decision to ignore state law and to continue to prosecute the users of medical marijuana allows us to engage in an interesting experiment in finding out what happens when marijuana is available for the relief of chronic pain and what happens when it is taken away.

I would like to illustrate this story by referring to a specific example. I am referring to a man named Peter McWilliams, the editor of Liberty magazine of which I am also an editor. In 1996 he fell ill with AIDS and with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Like many people who are afflicted with these illnesses his medication caused him to have severe nausea.

In 1996 it became legal to use marijuana for pain relief and Peter McWilliams began to use it. This allowed him to temporarily conquer his nausea and as a result he was able to keep his symptoms under control. However federal authorities cracked down and seized his marijuana from him. In order for him to be freed from jail where he would not have had access to his medication and to necessary lifesaving treatments he was required to put up as bond his brother's and mother's house. He also had to submit to regular urine testing to confirm that he was not using drugs. As a result his viral load began to soar. He said:

Unable to keep down the life-saving prescription medications, by November 1998, four months after my arrest, my viral load soared to more than 256,000. In 1996 when my viral load was only 12,500, I had already developed an AIDS-related cancer...Even so, the government would not yield. It continued to urine test me. If marijuana were found in my system, my mother and brother would lose their homes and I would be returned to prison.

He stopped using marijuana, and tried to carry on with his medication and the nausea he suffered without the aid of the pain relief drug. On June 14, 1999, his home care nurse arrived at his home to find him dead, having choked on his own vomit.

I suggest that the availability of marijuana for medical use and for pain relief could prevent this sort of tragedy. For this reason the legislation is an excellent measure which the House should consider.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-344, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I already had the opportunity to indicate that I would be wholeheartedly supporting my colleague's private member's bill. Why? Let me try to explain myself as clearly as possible.

I believe that the debate our colleague has launched with this bill requires us to ask the following fundamental question: should a person found in possession of less than 30 grams of marihuana be considered a criminal? Should this person be subject to a possible six month prison sentence and, or a fine of $1,000 for being found in possession of the said substance?

It is important to remember that having a criminal record can have a major impact on one's life—problems finding a job, problems travelling outside of Canada's borders and problems reintegrating into the community—all because of being found guilty of simple possession or marihuana, as set out in the criminal code.

Our colleague is encouraging us to give this some thought by suggesting a certain from of decriminalization. The bill proposes a maximum fine of $1,000 or six months' imprisonment. What this boils down to is a form of decriminalization.

As I have already said, I therefore support the very essence of this bill without hesitation. We in the Bloc Quebecois are not the only ones who want to see this decriminalization. I have already said publicly a few months ago that I would like to see a pilot project similar to the one in Belgium introduced in Canada, in other words a form of decriminalization, as long as members of the public do not use it in a socially irresponsible manner.

For example, I feel that it is no more acceptable to drive one's car after using marihuana than it is to drive with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.08% after having consumed some form of alcohol. As long as an individual has less than 30 grams of marihuana in their possession and is not behaving in a socially irresponsible manner, we could consider a form of decriminalization. This concludes my remarks on the substance of the bill.

Today, however, I wish to speak to the motion and to the government's amendment, which would prevent us, as parliamentarians, not only from debating fundamental issues, which is what the public expects of us—and this is another such issue—but also from being able to vote on such an issue.

The government has brought forward an amendment that will mean that the Standing Committee on Justice will not be able to study this bill. Whether one is for or against the bill introduced by the Canadian Alliance member, that is neither here nor there. What the government has done by bringing forward this amendment is to make it impossible for parliamentarians to vote on this fundamental issue, which is what the people of Quebec and of Canada expect of them.

Through this motion, the government has indicated that the member's bill, if passed, cannot be studied in committee. It is as though the government already expected parliamentarians to vote in favour of the bill, and is seeking to avoid further legislative measures and studies in committee.

This is, to our minds, a totally undemocratic approach. It limits the opportunity of citizens, and MPs in particular, to debate an issue and then reach a conclusion on it. We are parliamentarians who represent the people for whom we have a duty to act as legislators. The public expects us to do so as well as possible.

The stalling tactic being used by this government, with the motion from the hon. member for Erie--Lincoln, is totally unacceptable. I am issuing a solemn appeal to all in this House, regardless of which side of the floor they are on, whether Bloc Quebecois, Alliance or Liberal. I invite them to take into consideration the fact that the government's motion and amendment are aimed at preventing parliamentarians from voting on this fundamental issue.

We as parliamentarians, regardless of which side of the floor we are on, have a mandate. The public expects us to enact legislation. The members on the other side there, who believe they hold the true power in this House, must vote down the government's motion.

I realize that others want to speak as well. I trust that the colleagues on the other side who may speak after me will back up our approach, which is that the members of this House must be able to decide on issues and must vote.

For the sake of freedom of expression, for the sake of the freedom of MPs to vote on important issues when a House committee has so decided, for the sake of democracy, my hope is not merely that the government's amendment will be defeated, but that at the end of the day there will be a vote in favour of this matter so that the committee may at last look into it.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

6 p.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on Bill C-344, a private members' bill put forward by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

The bill, if enacted, would change the type of proceedings and legal regime governing the offences of possession for the purposes of trafficking in one gram or less of cannabis resin and 30 grams or less of cannabis marijuana. In other words, it would decriminalize the possession of smaller amounts of marijuana.

In thinking through this very important policy issue, I would like to thank my colleagues and friends in Esquimalt and Saanich and the Gulf Islands in the Victoria area for their advice and input. Having said that, the comments which follow are my own.

I support the thrust of what is being proposed for reasons that I am about to elaborate on. The debate, however, should be focused on whether or not the amounts of cannabis proposed are the appropriate levels and also whether or not the bill goes far enough.

In order to create a policy on this, a fine balance must be struck with respect to a number of factors. These include the social and economic costs, the health effects, and the effectiveness and efficiency of various possible strategies.

First I will give some background. After caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and certain prescription medications, cannabis is the most popular psychoactive drug in Canada. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in the country.

In this debate we should not forget that the use of marijuana does have health effects. There is a link between chronic heavy marijuana use and damage to the respiratory system similar to that caused by tobacco. Cannabis impairs co-ordination and may affect memory.

There are other negative effects as well. We know that marijuana is a substance that merits serious attention.

One of the strongest arguments, in my view, to support the decriminalization of marijuana possession arises from the misdirection of significant resources that are focused on the control and enforcement of marijuana possession. These people and budgets could be redeployed to combat the use of more destructive drugs such as cocaine, crack and heroin. Costs of illicit drug enforcement to Canadian police, courts and correctional services according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse total more than $400 million per year.

Seventy per cent of all drug offences that occurred in Canada in 1995 were offences involving cannabis. About half of all drug offences were offences for the simple possession of cannabis. Approximately 2,000 Canadians are sent to jail every year for cannabis possession. However the evidence suggests that the control and enforcement measures do not deter the use of marijuana.

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provides a maximum sentence of a $1,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment for first time cannabis possession offenders and double the amounts for repeat offenders. Many of these charges lead to jail terms or fines and a stigma of a criminal record. This could mean the death of a job offer to someone otherwise completely qualified and ready to take on a new challenge or career. Despite this, cannabis use remains high and there is no demonstrated relationship between enforcement measures and cannabis use.

It is reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that 1.5 million Canadians smoke marijuana for recreational purposes. A large number of Canadians use cannabis for medical reasons. A study in Toronto found 92% of the drug users who were convicted offenders reported continuing use, typically at the same level as when they were convicted.

It is equally problematic to realize how much cannabis users flout the law. Few of us have not walked into a room or passed a spot where there was an overwhelming odour of marijuana.

British Columbia's marijuana industry in the underground economy employs an estimated 150,000 people and earns some $4 billion per year. This certainly does not justify its use or the rationale for its decriminalization but it does give food for thought.

Our government more recently legitimized the medicinal use of marijuana. I applaud this step, but more is needed.

A six month trial that was recently completed in the United Kingdom in Lambeth, South London forcefully makes the point that police efforts could be better directed to hard drugs rather than marijuana. Under the experiment people found in possession of small quantities of cannabis were given a formal warning rather than being arrested and cautioned. The six month initiative is estimated to have saved 2,000 police hours and saved potential court costs of £4 million. In addition, the approach used in the six month trial led to a 19% increase in arrests of cocaine, crack, heroin and other hard drug dealers.

In my riding of Etobicoke North hard drugs are a problem and need to be focused on.

At the same time, the number of arrests of cannabis dealers rose by 11%, suggesting that police officers may have targeted dealers found with larger amounts who were excluded from the warning scheme.

The very significant and positive results of this experiment are being closely reviewed by the city of London's metropolitan police with a view to extending the policy throughout the city.

The question before us today, if one supports some form of marijuana decriminalization, is whether or not Bill C-344 is the appropriate response and instrument to achieve this end. In my view it is not for the following reasons.

A system of fines, while preferred to incarceration, may end up consuming more police and more court resources than the current system. In two jurisdictions in Australia, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, where marijuana offences are not criminally prosecuted or penalized but where fines are imposed, approximately 45% failed to pay the fine and eventually ended up before the courts.

The Lambeth, South London experience in my view may be the more appropriate policy model to examine and pursue. In my view, trafficking and possession of cannabis for the purposes of trafficking, even for small amounts, should continue to be viewed as a serious offence. This bill does not appear to do that.

For these reasons I will not be supporting Bill C-344 in its present form. Perhaps a committee of the House, like the special committee on the non-medical use of drugs, could review the subject matter more comprehensively.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on Bill C-344 and I wish to underline my support for this bill and congratulate the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca. To me this is a very important piece of legislation. It is long overdue in terms of government action and much needed from all aspects. I wanted to indicate this although it is private members' hour.

My support for this bill is certainly in line with NDP policy and our longstanding position to decriminalize marijuana. There are obvious reasons for our support. They have been enunciated by many members in the House. One is obviously and clearly the whole question of a more appropriate way than is presently the case for dealing with a victimless crime and providing an avenue for dealing with marijuana in a more appropriate non-criminal way.

The second reason, as we have heard so clearly from the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs, is that we are talking about a lot of money and a lot of resources that are tied up in pursuing folks for possession of marijuana.

I understand from the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca that we are looking at about $400 million a year as a result of the police having to deal with charges for possession and prosecuting those offences. That is a lot of money that could be invested in so many other desperately needed areas of our criminal justice system and in pursuing crime prevention in all aspects of our society.

I also think it is important because right now as we speak we are facing a great deal of concern from Canadians about the government's decision to provide access to marijuana for medical purposes. We know that whole approach is replete with many difficulties. There are many problems in the system. The doctors are concerned. Patients in need of marijuana for medical purposes do not have access to it. It is not clear at this point when that will be sorted out. It probably would make sense at this point, in the context of that issue, to remind the government how useful it would be to move on this long overdue area of decriminalizing marijuana.

That is the essence of our position and why we support Bill C-344.

I want to take one minute though to speak on the process that we are all engaged in and add my voice to those concerned about the hijacking by a Liberal member of this parliament of this private members' hour and the parliamentary process.

It is clear, as others have said, that this has been a poison pill. It has been an attempt to remove our parliamentary rights to pursue business and to promote ideas through private members' hour. Taking away from members the right to put forward an idea and to have members of the House vote on that idea is clearly unconscionable in a democratic process.

We have seen too many times where legitimate private members' business has faced many hurdles along the way, notwithstanding this incredible arbitrary decision on the part of what would appear to be the Liberal government. We have seen so many private members' initiatives actually discussed, debated, voted on and then sent to committee where the government then has used the heavy-hand of the process to shut down a bill, shut down the idea, delay, stall and prevent action on a very important initiative. This is just like the icing on the cake. It is the worst possible scenario we can imagine in terms of private members' work in the House and the whole parliamentary process.

I hope the government will see its way clear to give some direction to its own private members to withdraw this amendment and allow this legitimate and constructive proposal by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca to go forward, to be voted on and then proceed to committee. It is much needed, and we appreciate the member for his contribution to the work of the House.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to the bill. I would like to take a moment to thank the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca for bringing the bill forth. The bill is extremely timely and important. It is an issue that has been ignored by parliamentarians and parliaments of Canada for far too long. It is time we dealt with in a serious and legitimate manner.

I understand there are other speakers trying to get some time on the floor tonight so it is not my intent to speak for a lengthy period of time. However before speaking to the bill, it is extremely important that we first speak to the amendment. The member of the NDP who spoke before me used the word hijacking of the bill. I would use the word treachery; treachery of another parliamentarian.

Private members' business is the single opportunity for individual members of parliament to bring issues of importance forth on their own. It is so important that we have changed the way we vote in the House when we do private members' business. We vote from the back to the front, so we cannot see how the leaders of the various parties vote first and therefore cower some of their own members into falling the lead of their colleagues who happen to sit in cabinet.

We get five hours a week to deal with private members' business. To put an amendment in that would verily remove this bill from the justice committee and put it over to another committee is absolute treachery on the part of any parliamentarian. I do not care in what party that individual sits. The issue of private members' business and the issue of free votes on private members' business should be sacrosanct at least in this place.

I said upon rising that the issue for the decriminalization of marijuana and an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or specifically marijuana, Bill C-344, is a timely bill. It would put this issue to the justice committee and allow for further study. It is the job of every parliamentarian in the House to vote down the amendment and ensure that the process is followed and that the bill actually gets to the justice committee.

Whether or not members support the bill, it is absolutely incumbent upon individual members of parliament to ensure that the process is followed. If we allow this process to be hijacked for nefarious and treacherous means, then the whole point of being a member in the House is in question. The right to be here is already then given up.

We can talk about the dollars that are spent on law enforcement and trying to control marijuana. We can talk about the fact that we have already legalized the medical use of marijuana. It is still extremely hard to access even for medical use. The issue here is simple. The majority of Canadians at some point in their life have broken the law and smoked marijuana or cannabis.

Are we going to continue to have young Canadians and Canadians everywhere hold a criminal record because they were caught with a marijuana cigarette or because they made a mistake in judgment at some time in their life? I do not think so. I think it is up to the Parliament of Canada to deal with this issue in a comprehensive way, and decriminalization is a start.

There are other issues here and those issues should be fleshed out in committee. We should come back here with a package that we can all look at, that we can weigh the pros and cons and make a decision about this substance.

There are other health issues. We have talked about tobacco, and there is a serious health issue with smoking marijuana. There is the definite tar in the substance that will cause the same effect on our lungs as tobacco smoking causes. We know for a fact that it lowers the white blood cell count. Therefore, there are health issues around marijuana.

There is also the fact that with the prohibition on alcohol everyone was drinking. With prohibition Canadians finally came to their senses and said “We cannot control this, so let us legalize it and that will give us some form of control”.

Some kid who is 16 years old who has a criminal record because of being caught with too much marijuana in his or her pocket would not be arrested when crossing the border to the United States. However people might not be 16 when they are arrested. They might be 24. They might have graduated from university and have a job south of the border but find they cannot access the job because of a criminal record.

There are all kinds of issues around this. That is why it is important, whether one supports Bill C-344 or not, that it goes to the justice committee which has an opportunity to study it and bring back legitimate proposals to the House on which we can make clear decisions.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. members who spoke in their eloquent interventions on the bill.

I address my speech not to the House but to the Canadian public. There are two parts to it. Number one is private member's Bill C-344 that seeks to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. However the much larger issue is the poison pill amendment that the fascist, draconian government has--

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

That is borderline. We must respect the use of certain words out of respect for our colleagues and the House.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I was not addressing it to any particular individual. I was merely speaking the truth about the organization across the way.

I wish to tell Canadians what the government has done to a votable private member's bill. Since the last election there have been 245 private members' bills introduced into the House. How many have been made votable? Two. Two out of 245 private members' bills introduced in the House have been made votable. There are none from the government.

Government members have as tough a time to introduce private members' bills in the House as we in the opposition do. The government on one of only two votable private members' bills introduced a poison pill amendment at second reading that prevents members of the House from voting freely on a private member's bill. It violates our basic rights and the rights of the public of the country to vote freely on legislation.

The Prime Minister's Office, by introducing the amendment, hijacking the bill and hamstringing the democratic rights of every single individual in the House and every Canadian, has violated the basic tenets of democracy in Canada. The government has prevented the House from voting freely on a private member's bill. Whether we agree or disagree on the substance of the bill is irrelevant.

I beseech all members of parliament, if they have an ounce of democracy within them, if they believe in the reasons why they became members of parliament, and if they believe in their hearts that they are here to legislate and innovate for the people of the country, to vote against the amendment.

If they vote for the amendment they are voting for an undemocratic violation of the basic rights of every Canadian and their rights as members of parliament. They are voting against their freedom to vote freely on a private member's bill. In fact they are destroying private members' business forever.

I do not think the public understands what my colleagues have mentioned on this side. They used the words hijack, treacherous and draconian to describe this particular amendment that will prevent the House from voting freely on it.

It means that by allowing the government to introduce the amendment and have it voted upon they are allowing and destroying the right of every member of parliament to vote on private members' business. It is making a sham of private members' business, forever destroying the rights and ability of every single member from every part of the House, including the government, to innovate and fight for ideas.

If we cannot do that the House is a sham and should be closed down. The government may as well call a spade a spade and tell Canadians that Canada is not ruled by a democracy. It is ruled by a dictatorship called the Prime Minister's Office. That is what is taking place in Canada.

If members from the other side vote for the amendment then they too have given up the last single sliver of opportunity to innovate and fight for ideas in our country. All of us may as well go home and quit this job because it has no purpose and meaning whatsoever.

The bill would decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana. It is a bill that would save money and lives. If members disagree with the essence of the bill they could vote for or against the bill. If they want the bill changed then they should vote for the bill because it would then go to committee where we could all fight over it and change it for the betterment of the public. By doing so the bill could come back to the House where it would be voted on democratically by the representatives of the people of Canada.

The bill is not new. Some government members want to have the essence of the bill sent to a committee with no power. This is not new. The government had the Le Dain commission study this issue ad nauseam. How often must we study an issue. How often do we have to study the studies on an issue? Why does the government not have the guts and the courage to do the right thing and act on issues that are important to Canadians? Why does it not act rather than maintaining this persistent level of inaction, subterfuge and treachery which continues to make a mockery of this parliament? Why does it persist in that? Why does it not just tell the public that we now live in a dictatorship, violating and abusing the history of this country and the lives that have gone before us laid down through two world wars fighting for democracy and the basic principles of freedom? Why does the government not say that to Canadians and be honest?

The bill will save lives and save money. It can be used as a stepping stone to deal with the more important issues of reducing substance abuse. I have a private member's motion, Motion No. 358, that deals with four particular points: reducing consumption; preventing substance abuse through the head start program which was passed by the House in 1998, yet the government has done nothing about it, but the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia are moving in that area; reducing trade barriers so that countries like Colombia can produce other substances; and reducing consumption here so that wars, for example, in Colombia will be stopped, which are driven by drug consumption in North America.

I encourage everybody to vote against the amendment and vote for the bill.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 6:29 p.m., the time allotted to debate has expired.

Pursuant to order made on Wednesday, April 10, 2002, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion are deemed put, and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until the end of government orders on Wednesday, April 17, 2002.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Adjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, on March 6 I attended a major speech given by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Canada-Israel committee which elicited an extremely negative reaction for suggesting that civilian casualties regardless of their cause were equally reprehensible. In other words, making no distinction between civilians tragically killed as bystanders in the course of defensive military operations and civilians deliberately targeted and killed in terrorist attacks.

Understandably, members of the Canadian Jewish community, people who know personally many of those innocent Israeli civilians under daily threat from suicide bombers, snipers and rocket attacks, were extremely upset by these remarks. Only a few days later there was a vivid illustration of the folly of the minister's remarks. On the evening of March 9, as Israelis came out onto the streets after the Sabbath, yet another horrifying suicide attack killed 11 Israelis in a Jerusalem cafe one block from the prime minister's residence.

I rose in the House on March 11 to ask the minister whether in light of this new terrorist attack, and we have seen many more since then including a suicide bombing which took the lives of 26 Israelis as they celebrated a Passover Seder Supper, military action to root out terrorists was the moral equivalent of those terrorists killing innocent civilians?

The minister responded with indignation to this question saying that he had not suggested any moral equivalence whatsoever. Unfortunately, both as the former chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and now as minister, he has been guilty of embracing the worst kind of moral equivalency when it comes to Canada's relations with countries ranging from Iraq, Cuba, the United States and Israel.

In the days after the September 11 attacks the minister made comments endorsing the absurd root causes theory of terrorism, blaming the attack on New York City on some combination of poverty in the Arab world and U.S. foreign policy. This notion is interesting, considering that most of the September 11 hijackers came from privileged backgrounds in Saudi Arabia, a country which has been a prime beneficiary of U.S. foreign policy.

More recently we have seen the minister's moral equivalence theory crop up again in his hasty press comments from Barbados last week. The foreign affairs department had no comment when the Netanya Passover bombings occurred. However, when Israel in the wake of this terrible provocation responded by attempting to root out terrorist cells it still knew to be at large Canada quickly joined in the international condemnation.

Canada's position vis-à-vis Israel often seems to be one of «cet animal est méchant: quand on l'attaque il se défend».

The minister accused Israel of employing “disproportionate force” in its actions on the West Bank while merely calling for Arafat to condemn terrorism. Counting on Arafat to condemn terrorism makes a fundamental mistake. Yasser Arafat is not a helpless bystander who cannot control more radical elements who commit terrorism, nor is he even a silent, passive endorser of terrorism. He stands at the head of a hierarchy including his al-Aqsa brigade which organizes and plans its own terrorist acts and deliberately tolerates similar acts by others.

Canada calling Israeli actions disproportionate when we have seen the evidence over the past two weeks, invoices for suicide bombs discovered in Arafat's offices, bomb factories found in secret tunnels, terrorists on Israel's most wanted list who have been in and out of Arafat's revolving door jails captured, is another error.

The minister is once again playing the dubious game of moral equivalence. Canada is engaged in a war on terrorism in Afghanistan which we have endorsed. It is led by the United States. That has not been criticized by the government as moral equivalence.

In closing, I would like to quote Frank Dimant of B'nai Brith Canada when he said last week:

It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a double standard in the war on terror. When Americans are attacked, Canada supports and even participates in an unremitting campaign to eradicate the terror.... When Jews are attacked, when every day brings another suicide bomber--

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Adjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Adjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford Ontario


Aileen Carroll LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to respond to my colleague on this issue.

The number of recent victims of the conflict in the Middle East since it began 18 months ago is some 1,500 dead on both sides. Many thousands have been injured. People's livelihoods have been destroyed and mutual trust has been shattered as the habits of dialogue which once existed over the last decade between the Palestinians and the Israelis have been abruptly abandoned. The only way to end this conflict is to convince the Israelis and the Palestinians to cease their fighting and to resume negotiations and dialogue.

Canada makes no moral equivalency between suicide bombings and the response to terrorist attacks. We have consistently condemned all forms of terrorism while we have repeatedly affirmed Israel's right to defend itself and to protect its citizens. However, an escalation of this conflict will not result in any solution to the underlying problem. Innocent civilian casualties, regardless of their background or religion, regardless of anything of differentiation, are not justifiable. Canada condemns the death of all innocent civilians.

We have strongly and repeatedly urged Chairman Arafat to take all necessary action to prevent further terrorist attacks, including the horrific suicide bombings which are an affront to us all. The use of suicide bombers against innocents is intolerable, a perversion of all religious faiths, an offence against humanity, and a tactic that is never acceptable including in resistance to occupation. Employing children as instruments of war to target the innocent is a moral outrage. It must stop.

Chairman Arafat and those in positions of authority who fail to prevent such practices bear the gravest personal and political responsibility. The world sees post facto condemnations for the empty gestures for what they are. We have called on the Palestinians to bring justice to those who are responsible for such atrocities. When the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council visited Ottawa recently, we indicated to him that there is no alternative to such action if legitimate Palestinian aspirations are to be realized.

The Canadian government will continue to urge the Palestinian leadership to eradicate terrorism. Canada does not finance the Palestinian Authority through CIDA which was mentioned earlier. Canada's development assistance program in the West Bank and in Gaza is entirely administered through credible Canadian partners and international organizations such as the World Bank, or it is managed by our missions themselves. These funds aim to alleviate poverty and promote development and are subject to very strict criteria. By encouraging such measures to reduce poverty and yes, promote democracy, our assistance is indeed a tool to promote peace and tolerance.

In closing, Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Peres have both expressed their appreciation for Canada's assistance to the Palestinians as they encourage us to increase that support, recognizing as they do, that it is economic development which will be a necessary condition for peace and stability.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, in that response we really hear the inherent contradiction in the government's policy. On the one hand, the parliamentary secretary and the minister say that they affirm Israel's right to self-defence but in the next breath they say that they are opposed to the escalation of violence. What she did not quote were the remarks of the foreign minister when he characterized the Israeli response of counterterrorism as a disproportionate use of force.

Is our military action in Afghanistan an escalation of violence? Of course it is but it is a justified and necessary escalation of violence in order to put an end to the perpetration of terrorist violence. Possessing the right to self-defence and recognizing it is utterly meaningless unless we recognize the right of a responsible state like Israel to use it as it has.

Israel is not being disproportionate. It is not sending suicide bombers into Palestinian villages. What Israel is attempting to do is exercise counterterrorism against acts of terrorism. I submit that is a proportionate and responsible use of force by a democratic state against an outlaw band of terrorists trying to kill innocent civilians. That is neither disproportionate nor an unjust escalation.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Adjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Aileen Carroll Liberal Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford, ON

Madam Speaker, I will first like to correct the record. I think it is very important to say that the Minister of Foreign Affairs did not say that the actions on the part of the Israelis were disproportionate. The Minister of Foreign Affairs made it clear that what would not ameliorate the situation would be a disproportionate response. There is a big difference between judging something disproportionate and indeed calling for responses that are not within the category of disproportionate.

If we were to look back at the history of war, which we could spend a longer time doing than the one minute that I am allowed, we might see that frequently what is perceived as disproportionate or what is perceived more along the lines of what the hon. member has said, is that escalation is frequently in the eyes of the person who would make the judgment call.

He says that escalation is necessary to succeed but I submit that the view of further escalation is what causes wars to grow and continue.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Madam Speaker, I am up tonight on a question I asked the Minister of Health some time ago. In fact I wrote the Minister of Health on February 7 on an issue regarding pressure treated lumber. It was another softwood crisis in the looming. The pressure treated lumber industry needed approval of a chemical called CVA.

The reason I raised that issue on the floor of the House of Commons was that CVA was not approved by the Government of Canada for use in this country which meant that the pressure treated lumber industry was at risk. About 2,000 workers depend on this industry for their jobs.

What happened was that the chemical, CVA, was approved in the United States but not in Canada. Canada only approved the use of CCA, a different chemical which was outlawed in the United States. I have basically abbreviated a very long and complicated story.

When I raised this issue on the floor of the House of Commons it was a follow up to a letter that I had sent the minister.

I took the courtesy of approaching the minister on February 18, the first time I had raised the question in the House. The minister, based on the letter I gave her, was really interested in getting the question resolved. She understood the importance of getting the chemical approved because 1,800 jobs across the country were at risk, 300 of them in the constituency I represent here in the House of Commons. A company by the name of Marwood was certainly at risk if this chemical was not approved.

The good news is that I am here tonight to congratulate the minister for her really quick action on this. She fast-tracked its approval. It is a temporary approval because the approval of any chemical takes some time but the good news is that she paid special attention to this issue and worked very hard on it, along with her parliamentary secretary who is here tonight representing the government. I want to thank him as well because in the follow up question a couple of weeks ago, I again spoke to the parliamentary secretary and he gave me some very encouraging news on the approval of this chemical. About two weeks or 10 days ago, that chemical was approved.

I am simply here tonight to thank the government for its very fast action on this. It has saved at least 300 jobs in my riding and 1,800 jobs or more across the country. It is a perfect example of how the House of Commons can work and work well when we want it to.

Madam Speaker, again, I want to thank you for the opportunity tonight to speak on this issue and thank the Minister of Health.

I know the parliamentary secretary is not used to this type of thing because it is usually confrontational back and forth, but I wonder if he could explain to the listening public whether it is the Minister of Health who actually approves these types of chemicals because it is the pest control management branch of the Department of Health which usually does this, which is another story in itself.

Again, it is a good news story and I want to thank the government for its fast action on this.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Adjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick


Jeannot Castonguay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, first I want to thank the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest. There is no question that on this specific issue we have the same view. There is no question in my mind that this is a great example of what we can accomplish when we take the time to share information in a positive way and look at the objective we are reaching for. Even if we have different views at least we can co-operate. This is the way I was in my previous life when I worked as a physician in my own community. I welcome this type of approach here.

I believe that we on this side of the House have a role to play and the other side of the House has a role to play. It is a great demonstration of what we were able to accomplish in establishing priorities. There is no question about it. I was also aware of the importance and urgency of the situation for people from New Brunswick and people from the rest of Canada.

We were able, through this generous approach, to talk to each other, to focus on the objectives and to realize what was important to do. Through this we were able to have the Pest Management Regulatory Agency approve two new products. One is called ACQ and the other is called CBA. Through this the industry will be able to provide the new products on the market and at the same time slowly eliminate the other one, CCA. The producer has agreed that it will eliminate this in domestic products by 2003. It will remain available in industrial products.

This is great news and I want to thank the member again for his generous remarks to the minister. I hope that in the future we will be able to continue to work with this approach.