Mr. Speaker, I want to talk at length about some of the difficulties with the government's budget in terms of not committing to the national drug strategy, and I will in a minute, but I want to follow up on the comment that was just made by the member across the way.
If the hon. member wants specifics, I did not bring with me the litany I have of wasteful spending by the government, but when we look at some of the research programs that it is into and some of the largesse to friends and relatives and so on, things that were just a complete waste of money, we would have thought that over the years the government would have gone through some kind of zero based budgeting procedure, whereby it would look at all these kinds of expenditures. The government would determine that if it was spent one year and was picked up on, why would it spend that next year and the year after, so it would just be removed from the budget.
That really never was done. The big cuts of the 1994-95 era were made at the expense of the provinces through the equalization formula and the Canada health transfer program as well. That money is really still in the budget. That is a shame, because it will not get out of there until we get in and make those kinds of reductions.
That being said, I want to talk about something else that is not in the budget but that I think is in fact very important to a lot of people in this country. I can recall bringing into this House about two and a half years ago a motion to establish a special committee to study the non-medical use of drugs. It was adopted unanimously. We did 18 months of study on that. We went to Europe to look at programs and we went to Washington, New York and all across the country to see what was going on. We made some recommendations to the House of Commons, and lo and behold, on these 41 recommendations one would have expected the government to acknowledge that it had a committee looking at the drug problem. It acknowledged that in the throne speech and said that it would do something, but when it came time to do something in the budget, which is really what drives the initiatives of a government, nothing was said or done. Why is that?
In the interim, at the time we were meeting on the drug issue, the justice minister happened to announce that he would decriminalize marijuana. He just blurted it out without any particular study. He just said we would do it. The committee was not through with its study or its recommendations, so I think the government had its own agenda. Meanwhile, the Minister of Health said the government was in Vancouver looking at the dreadful situation with hard narcotics, crack and heroin, and he said that he thought the government would get involved in pilot studies and start some so-called safe injection sites. I will get into how safe they are in a minute, but there we had two significant announcements blurted out by two separate ministers, basically unauthorized by government and unsubstantiated by a committee.
In fact, the committee was going in neither direction at the time they were announced. Subsequent to those announcements it turned out that our committee, which had a majority of government members, started to move toward recommendations based on safe injection sites and the decriminalization of marijuana. We knew where that direction came from.
I am at a loss as to just exactly why there is no money in the budget for some of the recommendations that we did make. It seems to me that these recommendations were not all that tough, one being “the appointment of a Canadian Drug Commissioner, statutorily mandated to monitor, investigate and audit the implementation of a renewed Canada's Drug Strategy”. To us that made infinite sense. We would put one person in charge and finally get some direction among these departments. The two worst we found were Corrections Canada, courtesy of the former solicitor general, not this one--but it does not matter, it is still there--and Health Canada. We found that the two worst departments were actually heading the drug strategy itself.
We wanted to appoint a drug commissioner to try to get these departments in line and follow some form of notable and practical prioritization of the issues. We asked why a biennial cross-Canada survey could not be undertaken. It would cost money, but not that much money in comparison to the cost of the drug issue itself.
Lo and behold, we found out that in 1997 the government, as some form of cost cutting measure, decided it would no longer survey our young people on the use of drugs in our country. Canada is the only country in the western hemisphere not to do this. We were the only committee ever in a democratic House that did not have that kind of data available to us when we sat down to discuss the drug issue itself. Why? Because the government said it did not need to know how much our kids are using and decided to just ignore it. We asked the government to put some money back in and let us survey and find out where we are at in this country. That was not done.
Let us find out, we said, and let us make a recommendation that under a renewed Canada drug strategy Health Canada be provided with “dedicated research funds” to systematically and regularly collect and retrieve various information across Canada. Notwithstanding the fact that Health Canada was doing diddly-squat on the drug issue, we asked for it to be given some money to see if this could be organized. Was it included in the budget? No, it was not.
We asked what else we could do. We could try to implement “effective Canada-wide mass media prevention and education campaigns”. That is not done in this country today. I think that Canada is the only country that does not. We said, “Let us put some money into the education of our young people and let them know how serious the drug issue is”. We made this recommendation and expected it to be in the budget. It was not there. Maybe the government did something else.
We recommended that the government recognize the need to treat individuals addicted to drugs “in a timely manner”. We suggested putting in some money for that. Was it done? No, it was not. Today this country is virtually void of any effective and consistent national strategy on detoxification of people addicted to drugs. Rehabilitation is almost non-existent for many tens of thousands of addicts, very many of them under the age of 25.
What consistency do we get in this country? What kind of programming do we have? How is it supported? The fact is, it is not supported. It is not supported by government even though it had these recommendations. The government could have said that because this is becoming a real problem--which it already is but at least we could get an acknowledgement--the government would fund something, not a big program, but fund something and see what it could get with that.
We made more recommendations. We talked about a pilot project of “the establishment of two federal correctional facilities reserved for offenders who wished to serve their sentence in a substance-free environment”. Corrections Canada is a virtual sieve for drugs. It is the worst anywhere that we could find. Quite frankly, it would take very little to clean it up. We suggested that two of the prisons in Canada be dedicated to drug and alcohol rehabilitation and detoxification. That would not take very much, quite frankly. I talked to the last solicitor general about it, who actually listened. I know that supposedly we have zero tolerance in prisons, but that is not quite the way it is. It is in the commissioner's directives, but it is not the way it is.
Let us take two facilities. There are facilities such as this. I have been in them. I have been in them in the United States, actually, where they were very effective, where zero tolerance meant zero tolerance but the people who went into these prisons went in there by application and recommendation before they were released from prison so they could get their act cleaned up before they got out. They were not sending inmates out of prison addicted to drugs. I do not think that is such a lofty goal that it could not be achieved or at least tried. It could at least be tried. It has not been and there is no indication in the budget that it will be.
I want to talk about the cost of the decriminalization of marijuana. A lot of people in this country are saying that we should decriminalize marijuana because we do not want young people to get criminal convictions for having a joint or two. That would make sense to virtually everybody, I would think. The difficulty with this concept as the government will come out with it, which scares the living daylights out of me, is that it does not quite have the concept right. It is not going to be good enough to just say “30 grams of marijuana is for personal use” and if a person uses that there will be a summary conviction, which is a fine.
Here is the problem. Thirty grams of marijuana basically rolls anywhere from 30 to 60 joints or, if they are thin, up to 70 joints. That is not personal use. If someone is hanging around with 30, 40 or 50 joints in their pockets, that is not personal use in my opinion. In fact, in Holland 30 grams was personal use and they reduced it to five grams. Five grams makes anywhere from three to seven joints.
If the government said that it would give people that, that it would decriminalize five grams, it means that if someone is caught with roughly five grams there is a fine. That seems simple enough. We would not give a criminal record to those who are caught with that, like students, the university students, the high school students and so on and so forth. That sort of makes sense.
The problem with that concept is that before this goes into place the government has to come up with some conditions. Some of this costs money. It should have been in the budget. There have to be conditions upon which one goes from five grams to a criminal conviction for marijuana.
The conditions are these. After the five grams, the legal industry out there, the judges and the lawyers, has to understand that somewhere there is a criminal offence. There has to be some kind of sentencing grid or schedule. Otherwise, decriminalization is a waste of time. As it is today, for a person caught with 50 grams, in British Columbia courtrooms the judge usually will say, “Bad guy. Don't do it again. Go home.” That is not a criminal offence. That is not how a criminal offence is treated.
The problem will be if the government does not come in with a condition that will treat five grams as decriminalized, and for over five grams, if the sentencing grid is not identified then we have the same problem all over again. It is just a different amount, that is all. This has to be taken care of. There has to be some money spent, not only for training of these judges and lawyers, if we can imagine that they need it, but a commitment on it has to be received from all the provinces.
There also has to be a schedule for the fines that are imposed. The provincial attorneys general have told me that they already have a difficult time collecting on summary convictions, speeding fines and so on, so all the federal government would do is throw more fines at the provinces for collection. They cannot collect what they already have, so how are we going to do this?
When I meet with the advocates for the legalization of marijuana from time to time they tell me that even if we fine them they will not pay the fines.They said that they would force us to take them to court and that they would hold their breath, cross their arms and wait for the judges to eventually say that they cannot deal with it so it might as well be legalized.
What have we achieved so far? We have achieved nothing, but that has to be a condition of decriminalization. We need to have a progressive fine schedule, which has to be a condition, whether it is $200, $400, $600 or whatever. The inconsistency in the courts today is a serious problem. We need to have a consequence of the payment of fines. Fine revenues should be directed to the communities where they were collected. We made that recommendation in the drug strategy itself. We also need a national advertising program on the problems with drugs, which was not in the budget. We asked for it to be in the budget. What is the point of going through all this stuff if we are not telling the young people that there is something wrong with it?
The whole process of implementing these kinds of strategies in this nation, which are very important, is being ignored on the other side. Unless there is something to back it up with money and action, it is lip service.
We asked for a national advertising program but it was not done. We need drug driving laws and roadside assessments to be in place before we decriminalize. That has not been done. These things are all left alongside because some minister blurts out what the government will do and the amount that it will do it with, with absolutely no forethought to all the other issues.
I will talk very briefly, because I will have time to talk about it a little later, about the national sex offender registry, which I, quite frankly, wrote about two and a half years ago and modeled it after Christopher's Law in Ontario. It takes money and some commitment to do that. I note that the government has tabled a bill for a national sex offender registry, which was like pulling teeth.
Basically what we asked for was put into the bill, with the exception of the last two pages. I would like to get some kind of logical commitment from the Solicitor General that the government will at least look at the two very serious problems in this, which are serious indeed. We should not use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as an excuse not to do what is right because Ontario did not.
The first thing is the idea of retroactivity. If we implement that particular registry and do not include those sex offenders who currently are incarcerated provincially and federally, we are making a very serious mistake. The recidivism rate for those individuals is high and we know that crimes committed tomorrow will be committed by individuals who are sentenced today for sex crimes. I have a long list of them here but it is not worth going through at this point in time. I want the government to understand that that is a very serious problem.
The legislation has two other problems. The government wants to leave it to lawyers, the crown, to make the application for a person to be a sex offender, which is a big mistake. I have a litany of cases where they have made mistakes on that. The government also wants to leave it to a judge to decide, after all this, whether a person goes on to the registry. Again, judges these days are making more and more serious decisions in the negative in courtrooms than ever before. I would not leave it to judges and lawyers in the courtroom to express the will of the Canadian people, which resides here in the House of Commons.
I want to say that a budget is only as good as the issues contained within it. We spend a great deal of time and money in the House of Commons trying to implement a rational, progressive national drug strategy and it has no consequence in the budget. It is not even there in the government's budget. I would hope that the message gets across to the other side.
In closing I want to say that I just listened to Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and the president talking about the war in Iraq. When I listen to Tony Blair, I am so proud and pleased to hear him being so decisive and direct and who knows where he is going. I am embarrassed, to say the least, that what we have on the other side is not even close to that. I hope one day the House of Commons has a leader who is decisive and for whom we can be proud when we send him or her to other countries of the world.