House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.


Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East Ontario


Dan McTeague LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the hon. member for Wild Rose. I heard some of his comments.

Mr. Speaker, from everyone in my riding, congratulations on your elevation. The irony of this debate on marijuana and your province is not lost on many of us who have worked in the House over the years.

This is a very serious issue that concerns all members of Parliament and certainly those who want to make sure that we have effective legislation that meets the test of ensuring that we do not unduly prosecute young people. At the same time, we must recognize very clearly the scope, breadth and strength of organized crime. It has used this product in so many communities across the country in order to achieve what is probably more difficult to achieve in other areas related to drug offences. I am of course referring to marijuana grow operations.

The legislation proposed by the minister, Bill C-17, is an improvement. It is an important step toward some of the amendments that many of us in this House have been fighting for for many years.

In particular, I point out the existence in the proposed legislation of a roadside protocol to ensure that those who are marijuana impaired are in fact able to be prosecuted. They are going to be subjected to an analysis that would determine the level of toxicity and, of course, their ability to operate a motor vehicle. I salute the people at MADD Canada for the work that they have done in this regard.

It was also a very good week in my view. In February 2003 I encouraged, goaded, cried, yelled and screamed at the then minister of justice to try to overturn a lower court decision on the subject of the forward looking infrared helicopters. These are the very tools, the devices the police forces were using to try to combat this scourge by taking heat signatures.

While I understand the decision was based very much on privacy, it obviously ignored the common public interest, the interest that the public has in ensuring that the proliferation of the grow op homes, estimated to be at some 50,000 in Canada, were at least put in check. It is clearly an example of where I am pleased to say the court unanimously agreed with my position and that of many of the people in law enforcement and restored this very valuable tool.

It is for that reason and in the spirit of what the hon. justice minister has suggested in bringing forth this legislation that any amendments to further enhance the legislation's effectiveness will be considered as the bill moves through the parliamentary process.

Mr. Speaker, with your indulgence and that of my colleagues in the House of Commons, I would like to propose just a few amendments. They are done as a constructive way of ensuring that this legislation meets the test of public security, meets the test of ensuring that we do not see a proliferation of organized crime as was identified in project Green Tide by Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario, as well as what has been revealed time and time again by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.

The possession of 15 grams or less being given a fine does raise concerns about the potential for trafficking. One can see a situation where a number of young people would be given so many grams less than 15 and the potential for trafficking and getting around the system is certainly there. Maybe when we come back to this legislation in a few years our police forces will have told us it is a serious problem.

I am not sure that sending a message to young people that they should not be taking this product can be understood if the penalty for youth is less than the penality for everyone else. We should have a blended penalty, certainly as far as the ticketing scheme is concerned.

On that subject, many police forces have identified the concern about the courts being jammed with things like parking tickets. It would be very difficult from that perspective. It will certainly not win us any support among the provincial attorneys general, but we will see where that goes.

In the interests of time, there is possession of one gram or less of resin, of 15 grams or less of marijuana while also operating a motor vehicle, while committing a more serious offence such as break and enter, while in or near a school, which would trigger automatically a serious fine. We could broaden that not just to schools, but to places where young people might want to gather, such as community centres and sports complexes. These should be included.

In my view not only should that be the case as I am trying to describe point by point, but it seems to me to be rather inconsistent that we would not put in place a national drug strategy to inform young people that the bill is not about the legalization of the product, but in fact is trying to get around a very important system through decriminalization. I cannot overemphasize that point. It is extremely important that we have a fully funded national drug strategy in place before the bill is proclaimed and gazetted and is the official law of the land.

Much has been said here. I am one of many members of Parliament who have had the benefit of seeing a marijuana grow operation at various stages of operation. I can say that in seeing what was occurring, quite apart from the health of individuals, children around the area, there is also concern for our firefighters and police and those personnel who would be the first ones to be on site.

It says that the use of traps and explosives will involve some degree of offence and probably will be prosecutable, but there are no specific penalties for those who deliberately set traps or injure individuals as I have so described. It is important that we set in legislation some kind of provision to protect those personnel, especially when there is an issue of setting something up deliberately. While I am not big on specific penalties, I do believe in this case it certainly would be warranted.

I am also concerned about the sharing of information. Where there is a sharing of jurisdictions between governments and police agencies that may need it for other purposes, I am worried about the impact this could have. An individual, a government official for instance, sharing information with another government might find themselves in a situation where there could be criminal sanctions for doing that while the actual offence in play here for which the person has been identified may very well be an important and accessory concern for both governments. It is really important that we understand that and get our priorities right on all of this.

The proposed amount of 30 grams or less in my view is probably a little high. As has been suggested by several members, that could be anywhere between 35 to 60 products. I do not know of too many people who use more than one a day. I hope there are not many who would be in that situation. The effects would be enormous on the individual. We know of the health consequences, particularly from a cumulative effect, such as psychosis from long term use.

I will be meeting in a few minutes with officials from General Motors who are in fact in the lobby as we speak. I am sure they would not want to see a system that encourages workers, young people, to take up a product that could have long term effects.

I heard the hon. House leader for the New Democratic Party talk about this having been around for about 30 years, since the Le Dain commission. It is an interesting time to make an analysis of what this product is all about. Thirty years ago it did not have the potency that it has today. The THC level is much higher today.

The people who are advocating this, particularly the ones who for a $25,000 investment can buy a home in my riding or can rent a home and make $600,000 a year are not, I repeat not, marijuana enthusiasts. These people know there is money to be made. If one could put $25,000 down and make $600,000 a year, I know there would be a lineup, but the reality is that we have to understand the upstream where there is the potential threat of growth in our grow op operations as well as the downstream. If we give more point and purpose to people taking the product, it is obvious we are going to encourage those who take risks notwithstanding the penalties.

This brings me to the subject of the sentences for marijuana grow operations. Seven years on average means 30 days in jail or a conditional sentence, or incredibly as I have seen in some cases, house arrest, in the very house where the person is growing the product. Doubling that from 7 to 14 years will not be as effective as some believe it will be. It would go from 30 days to 60 days. One would probably answer the big question, big deal.

There is wisdom in ensuring that we get this legislation right. The minister has signaled that he has an interest in seeing that these amendments are taken forward. I have pointed out several.

I think we must be sure to reason with young people so that they choose not to consume these substances. We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the law and the integrity of the future of our country, at the same time.

Let us make sure this is good legislation. Let us look at some of these amendments because this bill is heading in the right direction, but it needs help.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have enjoyed listening to the debate on this important matter of Bill C-17, the decriminalization of marijuana. It was known in the previous Parliament as Bill C-10.

We already had a lot of debate on this subject in the previous Parliament. We on this side hoped that if legislation were to come forward again, we would see substantial changes to the bill that would make it possible for us to support the bill. However, the bill as it is presented is unworkable for a number of reasons, reasons that I think expose the Canadian public to risk in a number of areas. Unless the safeguards are put in place to make this a workable plan, it is simply not something that should proceed at this time.

The member for Wild Rose spoke just a few minutes ago, and I commend the member. I know he has a passion for the subject. Having served as a school principal for many years, he is concerned about young people. We applaud the concerns that he has expressed.

I, too, have seen the effects that drugs and marijuana have on young people in my own community. As a health professional, I am concerned about the effect on young people of liberalizing marijuana. I am concerned that some of the effects of the bill will encourage young people to get involved. I am concerned they will be targeted by older people to help them in distributing the product because the young persons would be given lower fines if caught.

I was pleased to hear the member for Pickering—Scarborough East who spoke a moment ago on the other side indicate his concern about some of the weaknesses in the bill, particularly as they relate to grow ops, the terrible problem they represent and the risks to firefighters and police who enter the homes. Also, organized crime reaps so much profit from marijuana grow ops in our communities. There is the spoilage of houses and the effect that has on the real estate market, and on very valuable realty.

Certainly, in British Columbia it is a huge issue. Officials estimate my home province has about 44% of the grow ops. We know it is also a big problem in the metro Toronto area. It is a huge problem in the Lower Mainland. I am sure the Speaker is quite aware of this.

I want to outline some of my concerns. I have four reasons why I am concerned about in the bill, and I will address each one of them. The first is the health consequences. The second is the hazard to society from impaired persons. The third is the increased effect it will have on criminal elements in our society and on the corruption of youth. The fourth is the effect on our borders.

First, on the health effects, smoking anything is not good for one. How much evidence do we need for this. The government has committed some $500 million supposedly over five years to help convince Canadians that smoking cigarettes is not a good idea. It is a lot of money that could be spent on other valuable projects and on other urgent health needs.

Along with a proposal from the minister that we would invest a further quarter of a billion dollars encouraging people not to smoke marijuana, we are at the same time looking at loosening the restrictions on marijuana. That is a lot of money, $250 million, that could be used on other things. It seems to me that the inconsistencies in these messages are something we ought to seriously investigate as members. I wonder if that does not tell us that we are headed in the wrong direction.

The other thing is the objective that has been set with this so-called $500 million targeted toward convincing people that smoking cigarettes is not good. We are not spending that money. I recently had people who were concerned about the effects of smoking cigarettes visit me in the office. Now the government, because of concerns about other sponsorship programs, has decided we had better scrutinize advertising very carefully. It has capped the advertising limits, including the advertising targeted toward young people to expose them to the risks of smoking cigarettes.

We have some terrible inconsistencies with this. On one hand we are loosening controls to make it available to people. On the other hand, we are spending money to convince them that they should not do it.

Smoking anything is not good for one. One's lungs take in the oxygen that is so important to keep us all healthy. I know all members in the House are interested in the effects of exercise and ensuring that we get aerobic conditions in the body that help us resist bacteria and viruses. Frankly, as a health care practitioner, exercise is an important ingredient in maintaining a healthy body. Part of that is due to getting the circulation going and getting oxygen around the tissues.

We will foul up our lungs, regardless of whether it is with tars and nicotine or with the stuff that is in marijuana, which is yet to be fully studied. We know there is THC in it which people are after for the buzz. It appears that the benzopyrene and the tars in marijuana are far more potent than what is in cigarette tobacco. If we are going to pollute our lungs with these compounds, some of which are known to be carcinogens, up to 20 times as toxic as what is in cigarette smoke, it certainly would indicate that we will see increased health consequences as people smoke more marijuana.

For those who want to make it available for medical reasons, I would suggest there are probably safer delivery systems. That may be through an oral route. However, smoking it is a non-starter from a health standpoint. Also, how effective THC is as a medication has yet to be studied.

As a health care practitioner, I am concerned about the rising health costs in Canada, which are sabotaging our ability to meet other needs in society. They are making it impossible for governments to administer to other needs of Canadians, such as education, infrastructure, roads, highways and all the other important things that governments have to deliver.

I have to go on the record as saying I think it is a bad idea. If we want to make marijuana available, let us not smoke it. Smoking anything is not good.

We could do what is done in other areas of insurance. For example, if one is a high risk person with many car accidents, the insurance company charges more for one to have the ability to drive. We should talk about that. If persons are going to do something that is of high risk to their personal health, which is going to put the liability on the public to look after them, then perhaps there should be some accountability and they should pay a higher health premium of some kind to access that product.

That is not party policy. I am talking as a health care practitioner who is concerned about an unmitigated risk. As members of Parliament, we are contemplating doing something without making adequate provisions to look after the consequences. Therefore, I am concerned about the health effects of smoking marijuana.

I am also concerned that we do not have any means of testing for impairment. We have many heavy equipment operators where I live. There are guys working on the side of the road with graders. They are working with heavy equipment. We have many elderly people in my riding. We could have grandma coming out of the driveway while the plough is coming along doing some road work. We want to know that the guy operating that equipment can notice her and not plough her off the road. Some of these dear seniors in our area have stiff necks and sometimes their vision is not so good. We want to ensure they are safe.

Therefore, we have no means for testing the ability of someone to operate heavy duty equipment. Yes, we are talking about a blood test. Perhaps there is a blood test that would be available. Imagine a police officer on the side of the road trying to administer a blood test to someone who might be impaired? I have seen people impaired on marijuana. They can be as plastered and as disabled as someone on alcohol or any other intoxicant. That is a concern.

I am also concerned about the effect on our borders and on organized crime. The effect of loosening up the marijuana restrictions are going to have untold consequences at our borders. We already have huge problems.

Our automakers visited us today. They are concerned about the delays their products at the border. That can make a difference as to whether an auto manufacturer wants to create parts on one side of the border or the other. We will be tying up our borders even more if we are as concerned as U.S. is about what products might cross them.

A lot of issues need to be addressed. We need to look at the fines that will be imposed. For young people to get a lesser fine is a clear signal that older people will to target young people. They will make sure they have a young one to pass the goods to, so he or she gets the lesser fine. That is a very risky way to go. It is a way to guarantee that older people will target younger ones to avoid the consequences of their own misbehaviour.

I hope that members will pay attention to the debate and that we will do the right thing on this bill.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-17, which has now become known as the bill to decriminalize marijuana. In its brief title alone it sends the wrong message to anybody who hears it, because obviously the bill is not to decriminalize marijuana. It is subject to certain conditions and amounts.

It leads me to phrase my comments in this sense. Since this is a brief debate to refer the bill to committee before second reading, where a lot more work will happen, I want to lay out a few of the questions I might have and hope that members of Parliament will consider the answers at committee.

I oppose the bill. I oppose the decriminalization. If we were to take a step here, let us not be coy. If 15 grams is okay, why do we not decriminalize it and let us deal with it. It really is almost like a step. Let us take a little step and maybe later on down the line we will see.

There are too many other questions that we have to ask. I have spent a lot of time with my own police chief talking about this. We are very concerned that this is the wrong message to send to our young people. This is the basis for my concern about the bill.

Here are a few points The Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, content of marijuana today is about 10 times higher than it was 25 years ago. People talk about experimenting with it when they were in university. We could smoke a whole field of the stuff and it would not have any impact. Today it is different. We have to ask ourselves this question. Is a few grams of something with low THC the same as the same number of grams with a high THC? It seems to me that the level of THC content in terms of how many grams it is okay to have and then smoke really is relevant. I do not know why we have not talked about that. We know it impairs one's ability to operate machinery, et cetera.

Bill C-16, which is coming forward, deals precisely with how do we determine whether someone is impaired when driving a car, et cetera. We will probably spend about 75% of policing costs trying to find who is 15 grams below and those who are above. What a waste of money in my view. Let me pose that rhetorically. I cannot say it is a waste, but it seems we should find out whether it would be a waste.

What about customers versus the criminals? It seems to me that a young person in high school who wants some marijuana has to get it from somewhere. Under the law it will still be a crime to produce or to distribute. Therefore, anyone who will be using marijuana has to have obtained it from someone who is committing a crime. Most of it is coming directly and indirectly from grow houses which are controlled substantively by underground criminals, the Hell's Angels and the like.

The marijuana dollars will not go to finance fancy lifestyles for bikers. It will go to finance prostitution rings, loansharking and all kinds of criminal activities. We do not have to talk about the terrible situation we have around the world with this crime element. It is very concerning. A lot of things that are happening in the bill are on the backs of grow ops. It is like saying that we will deal with grow ops.

The bill is trying to deal with far too many questions and it is trying to resolve far too many issues. Maybe somebody at committee will ask this question. Why do we not come up with a bill that is focused and targeted solely toward addressing the issue of grow ops? Let us deal with it. Are there tools that are necessary to deal with it? I know we talked about infrared technology to detect heat in houses, et cetera. An important privacy issue comes up on that. It is an important debate and I think it would be lively.

There are 50,000 grow houses in Canada. Our objective should be to deal with that in a separate bill, not bury it in a bill with a bunch of other things. It is an important issue.

Is marijuana an entry level drug? I do not know of any expert who has ever discussed this who would deny that marijuana is an entry level drug. Do hon. members think that pushers just sell marijuana? Do they think maybe they could also sell some hard drugs? Absolutely.

I know a little about this. I chaired a committee for a couple of years that was studying Bill C-7 on controlled drugs and substances. I heard the RCMP and the various police agencies. I heard some of the proponents for the legalization of marijuana. I heard all this stuff over a two year period of my life. I came to the conclusion that people were not being honest with the facts.

What is going to happen? Even the former justice minister said that if we were to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana there would be a significant spike in marijuana usage. We need to find out whether that would be temporary or a reflection of the fact that we really were sending the wrong message and all of a sudden a whole bunch of other people are engaging in so-called recreational drugs. I do not know what recreational drugs are. It is just a fancy name that people use. It is drugs, drugs that impair one's ability. It is drugs that lead to other drugs that can harm not only that person but others. It harms all of society. There are some very serious questions here.

People talk about not wanting kids with records because they would not be able to get into the U.S. if they have a criminal record for the simple possession of marijuana. However I know what the facts are. Many of these people who have been convicted of simple possession of marijuana, those charges are also in conjunction with other criminal charges. It is not just people being charged because they had marijuana. It is because in the act of a crime other things were found. How much of that is there?

In a survey, which I read in the paper this morning, 10% of Canadians said that they had tried marijuana at least once in the last month. Well, excuse me, even if that is correct, that means that 90% of Canadians have not. Is 10% the threshold for us to say that we should decriminalize it for everybody? What is this arbitrary thing about 10% being socially acceptable? I do not accept that at all. I would challenge that. I do not think behaviour should be driven by a minority. Behaviour is the consensus. Consensus in our place does not mean 10%. It means the preponderance, the majority.

Drugs are in the schools in my own community. The teachers are concerned but they do not have the tools to deal with this. This is not going to help them. Our police chief needs to have his officers spending all their time trying to deal with these things. They cannot keep up with it because we have not enforced the laws. We have cases now where policing authorities are not enforcing even the current laws. Some courts have stopped opining on these cases because somebody sent them the signal that it would be changed, so why would they want to deal with those case. We have put ourselves in such a mess that I think it is time to question whether we are doing the right thing.

What would this do to our anti-smoking program? If people are going to smoke marijuana I suppose they could start smoking cigarettes too even if they are not smokers. It could happen. What are the numbers? We should find out.

I have heard a lot of people talk about a national drug strategy. This is something we have had for a long period of time. It covers a broad range of stuff, not only drugs but alcohol and tobacco. If we look at the programs, we have spent an enormous amount of money with a fundamental theme of healthy lifestyles, healthy choices. This bill leads us on another step of abdicating our position on healthy lifestyles, healthy choices. It creates some concerns. Where do we get a foothold on this whole question of decriminalization?

I would have much preferred, quite frankly, if the bill had been split where we could deal with grow houses and some of the serious issues and then be able to deal with the marijuana issue, but not decriminalize, because nobody understands the difference between decriminalize and legalize. It has confused the heck out of Canadians. We should have come forward with a bill to legalize marijuana and watched the House defeat that bill.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and speak to the bill on the issue of marijuana, an issue to which I spoke when it was first introduced in the last Parliament.

One of the serious problems that has crept into my riding and has caused a lot of concern for the residents is prostitution. After checking with the police and others, prostitution is driven by drugs. What we have now in my riding, right in the middle of Calgary, are drug growing operations, which is another serious problem. In trying to address that issue, we have met with law enforcement agencies to see what can be done. One of the things they always say is that they want the tools they need to crack this vicious trade that takes place.

At the end of the day, these guys who are engaged in these drug activities and all these things, are not law-abiding citizens. For them, any kind of a law that is weak sends out a message that it is okay for them to carry on because the punishment will not match the severity of their crimes.

The marijuana bill, from the Conservative Party's point of view, would send the wrong message, a message of tolerance toward using drugs, because it would create a system whereby fines would only given for the possession of a certain amount of drugs, and there would be a difference in the fines for adults and the fines for younger children.

I do not understand why we would have this kind of a difference for younger children. Is that to say that because younger children do not have money or whatever that their fine should not be as high and that it is okay for them to smoke? No.

Let me quote from the background material of the special House of Commons committee on the non-medical use of drugs which stated in its findings that reforms should be accompanied by prevention and educational programs--and here is the point--outlining the risks of Canada's use of marijuana and, in particular, the heightened risk it poses to young persons.

I want to read from another report which talks about the same thing. It says:

Combining cannabis reform with this public education campaign will reinforce the message that marijuana is illegal and harmful to one's health.

Now we know that it is harmful to one's health. If it is harmful to one's health, especially younger people, why are we coming along with a fine system that tells young people that their fine will be reduced? I do not understand the logic in that. We know and we have identified this as being a health hazard for young people.

As recently as two months ago, my young teenage son and his friend, who are studying at the University of Alberta, were arguing with me that it was okay to smoke marijuana and that it was not harmful to our health. I asked them where they had read that information and they said they had read it on the Internet.

If we want to stop people from smoking, we have to be tough, but now, when we introduce a bill such as this, we are sending out a message that it is okay to smoke and if they get caught it is a small fine, a lower fine for younger people and a higher fine for older people. The fact is that marijuana would probably be less harmful to older people.

I have been lobbied by people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes. We have recognized that use despite the fact that it is bad for their health but it does give them relief from their chronic diseases. That has been taken into account and I am glad we have addressed that issue.

However, concerning the issue we have before us today, we should have a zero tolerance policy. We need to have educational programs to tell young people that smoking marijuana is bad. The committee recommended that. On one hand we are saying that we need educational programs but on the other hand we are saying that the use of marijuana up to a certain level is okay. However, it is not okay.

The government claims that it is not saying it is legal but that it will not be a criminal offence. Well, we do not want our law enforcement agencies, which already have scarce resources, going after people who possess one or two joints, but let us make the level of possession at perhaps one or two joints, which will probably not affect anyone's health and will not be a criminal offence. The Conservative Party is recommending the possession of up to five grams only which means about six or seven joints. However, when we are talking about 30 grams, that translates into 50 or 60 joints, which is pretty hefty.

We also need to address the issue of drug driving detection. All the reports from committee have said that marijuana does impair one's mental capabilities and that it is dangerous for drivers.

Bill C-17 has a lot of flaws. At this stage the Conservative Party finds it difficult to support it. It is a great headline maker to make a statement indicating that certain small amounts of marijuana will be decriminalized, but if the government wants to do it that way it has to be done in a more responsible manner. Parliament has that responsibility to our young people and the public at large.

On Monday a Calgary city councillor was on the same plane with me and indicated that Calgary's police chief did not think this was a good idea because it would make law enforcement officers weak in fighting this crime.

When the bill goes to committee my colleagues and I will try to make sure there are enough changes in it that will send the message that we will not tolerate the use of drugs.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Vancouver Centre B.C.


Hedy Fry LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak in favour of Bill C-17. I was a member of the special committee on the non-medical use of drugs, one of the two committees that are quoted as having studied this issue. We spent a great deal of time not only studying the issue in the literature, but we had appearing before us educators, enforcement officers, addictionologists, physicians, and various people with a great deal of understanding of these issues.

Moreover, this committee travelled to the United States and Europe, and looked at various jurisdictions and the ways in which they dealt with this particular issue. We clearly recommended what is seen in this piece of legislation.

We did not believe, as some people said, that we should legalize the issue. We felt that it was far more important to deal with a specific component of the use of this substance and deal with it in the manner in which we are dealing with it in this bill, which is to treat it as an infraction.

Some people have said that most people do not understand the difference between legalization and decriminalization. The committee felt that the legalization is the removal of all sanctions regarding sale, possession or production of a given substance. Whereas, decriminalization is the removal of criminal sanctions for some activities relating to the substance, while retaining legal prohibitions on the others. This is exactly what has happened here.

Bill C-17 deals simply with the simple possession of a particular amount, 15 grams. This would be dealt with in the same way that we deal with any kind of infringement in a motor vehicle accident or in other ways that we deal with provincial legislation dealing with that kind of thing.

One of the things that we felt was really important dealt with that fact that many of the criminal charges brought against people for cannabis use and cannabis possession was very inconsistent across the country. In some places it was ignored. In many places there were charges brought and it was beginning to take up 90% of the criminal justice resources in terms of court time on something which many of us felt, when we looked at the issue, we could deal with in a very different manner thus freeing up the justice system to deal with other areas.

What people forget is that this bill and other parts of the legislation is going to allow for continued criminal prosecution for sale, production and trafficking in this particular substance. In fact, the prohibition against this particular drug has been increased with regard to production, trafficking and sale.

One of the things that I have also heard people say is that this will allow people to use this substance, more people will be smoking cannabis, and this will create a sort of a free for all for everyone. In fact, we looked at what has happened seven years later in countries such as Australia where this was done.

We found that what was most important is that this should not be a stand alone. It is important to see this piece of legislation not simply as a stand alone piece of legislation. It is part of an overarching national drug strategy. Some $245 million dollars has gone into this overarching drug strategy. A big chunk of that will be dealing with increased awareness, education, prevention of the use of illicit substances, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. This is a continuum of a strategy. This is just one small piece with which we are dealing.

By removing the criminal sanctions from simple possession, we are in fact going to be increasing education, awareness, and prevention strategies. We will be increasing the penalties for those who traffic, produce and grow this substance. In fact, we are talking about moving forward in the enforcement area in a larger manner and increasing all of those other areas, which are components of a good strategy.

We also need to look at legislation that will be coming forward that is going to look at impaired driving. It does not matter what impairs the driver, whether it is cannabis, alcohol or whether it is some other drug or whether it is puff medicine that impairs the driver.

The point is that there are very real physical side effects that occur when one is impaired, so testing for those physical side effects would be the same. Deciding what actually caused the impairment becomes a moot point after that. One of the things to remember is that currently we have two very legal substances that are far more dangerous from a medical point of view and from any words we have heard from any addictionologist, and those are tobacco and alcohol. Yet, they are legal; they are licit. The violence that occurs with the use of alcohol, the impaired driving, and the loss of life that occurs with the use of alcohol is continuing and it is still a legal drug.

We are saying that we have cherry picked one drug. We have found that very few people actually drive under the influence of this particular drug because it is a drug that decreases motivation so that one tends to want to sleep, as far as I have heard from all of the addictionologists, rather than go out and do any kind of activity at all, never mind drive a car. The amount that would have to be used to cause an impaired driving offence is going to be large. By that time, I understand the person would be passed out cold and not be able to get behind the wheel of a car.

We need to take something like this and put it into perspective, and not merely knee-jerk to it. We are trying to make consistent the way we deal with certain drugs and bring cannabis into the same realm in terms of the way we apply sanctions to it as we do with tobacco and alcohol. Everyone must realize it is still an illegal drug. We are only taking a small part of what we are doing and building some sanctions over it.

I have heard people complain that this could cause a problem in Canada-United States relations, but when we visited the United States we found, and the literature told us, that in California and in certain other states this kind of decriminalization has been going on for many years.

It has been found that if paired with good awareness, education and prevention, especially among young people and in the school system, that in fact the use of a substance went up for a very short time, levelled and then began to fall. As young people became more and more educated with regard to the harm caused by the use of the substance, they were more concerned about the harm caused by the use of the substance in the long term, and that itself is what drove down usage whether it was tobacco, alcohol or cannabis.

This bill is part of a drug strategy that is comprehensive, integrated and has a continuum from the very beginning. It allows young people to begin to understand that the use of substances, whether they are legal or illegal, whether they are prescription or off the counter, carry with them impairment of some kind and a risk of addiction. That is where we want to focus our message.

In the meantime, taking young kids of 16 who are caught with a joint in their car and for the next 10 years are not allowed to travel across borders or able to find a job is a difficult thing because it does not happen if those kids are found with alcohol or cigarettes.

We need to look at this as part of an overarching substance strategy in a national drug strategy. We want to eventually bring down the use of substances and allow people to have an informed understanding about what substances can do to them, and to be able to make good choices in the long run.

I support this bill. We should think about it as part of an overarching strategy and not as a stand alone piece of legislation.

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4:30 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on what my colleague from the Bloc said earlier. It is not always a pleasure to be back in the House speaking on the same issue that has sort of been hanging around for a number of years and that we never seem to be able to deal with to finality. We cannot seem to show Canadians that we actually can see some change take place. I am not going to say that I am pleased to speak on this issue again. However, I would hope that this time, as we discuss this issue in the House and it goes to committee, we can put some finality on this issue and see some changes.

I am not going to comment on everything that is in the legislation. My colleague from Vancouver East who spoke earlier today mentioned a lot about the bill, specific clauses within the bill, and amendments that the NDP had made to the bill in the previous Parliament. Those amendments would see a more justifiable change that would benefit Canadians. We will be working on those amendments again as it goes to committee.

I want to comment on the government's overall drug strategy. That has been raised a number of times by different representatives from the different parties. It is a bit strange that as a government it appears there is no particular drug strategy in place. That is an issue.

All that we see in place is a punitive justice type situation where people who have problems with drugs are picked up and charged, some are thrown in jail and some are not. It all depends on who one is. That is the reality of it. It all depends on who people are and whether they are going to have criminal charges brought against them, whether they are going to be fined, or whether they are going to be thrown in jail. That in itself is a major issue.

I am glad to hear my colleague from the Liberal Party mention two other drugs that are extremely bad within Canada. We see extremely negative impacts from alcohol and tobacco use. We have put them in a legalized perspective and we have made tremendous changes within the public as to how these drugs are perceived.

We have seen smoking rates decrease in a number of areas. We have seen alcohol consumption decrease in the amount individuals drink, not necessarily overall but individuals themselves, and it is no longer okay to be impaired while driving. It is also no longer okay to be impaired in a lot of instances, even socially. It is just not accepted any more. I think that is an absolute plus. That has been done through the use of education and prevention.

What we have seen from the Liberal government most recently is a cut of I believe $70,000 or $80,000 to tobacco education at the same time that it is supporting the tobacco industry on a challenge within the courts. That is not acceptable and I think it is sending a negative message.

I would question anyone in the House who thinks it is okay to drink and smoke tobacco but somehow thinks cannabis use should be illegal. I have been chuckling throughout the day as the debate has been going on because we keep hearing about young people who are going to have criminal charges. There are a lot of middle aged people out there who have criminal charges because as young people, 30 years ago, they were partaking in cannabis use. Some have been lucky and had their charges dropped, or what is the other terminology that we use?

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An hon. member

Absolute discharge.

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Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Absolute discharge. They got a bit older, they are tax paying individuals, and somehow had their case heard and their charges wiped away. But there are an awful lot of others who may not have had the money to proceed or pursue it and still have the stigma of a criminal charge for cannabis possession.

I am not going to get into these arguments of how much constitutes possession or trafficking or anything else as I think all that will come up again in committee. It is crucially important for members of Parliament to be really honest with themselves. How is it okay for an individual in the House to drink or smoke tobacco and yet somehow feel that some other individual smoking or using cannabis is any less of a problem? In my view, they are the same.

Quite frankly, I have experienced being around people in both instances, and I can say I would much rather be around someone who smokes as compared to someone who excessively drinks and gets a little carried away.

The other point I want to make in regard to this issue is the fact that our police system, whether it is the provincial police or the RCMP, have had their resources taxed to the maximum.

I have listened to my colleagues in the Bloc talk about the number of RCMP detachments that have closed. I think we have all seen in our areas that RCMP detachments have taken on bigger and bigger areas. Pretty soon the RCMP detachments in some areas will have ridings the size of some of ours. That is how bad it seems to be getting in some areas. There is one detachment that has to cover this area, and in some cases they have to fly into communities and they do not have the resources.

From a purely economical perspective, it is ludicrous to have RCMP officers having to try to deal with simple possession charges, knowing that it will go to the courts and, as has been mentioned in numerous instances, there is no real follow-through on anything--not that I think there should be. In a good many instances even the judges have realized it is not the right thing to do, to have someone get a criminal charge on simple possession of marijuana, because they have seen this year after year and they have not seen the drastic consequences. I believe in some cases they are making sound judgments.

Now, on the issue of major grow ops and the charges that are followed through, I have had some disagreements, but I think we take every case as it happens.

From the perspective of the best utilization of our resources, just as I do not believe it is the best utilization of our resources to have a gun registry, I do not think it is the best utilization of our resources to be going after people for simple possession of cannabis. I think we need to be honest as to how we deal with these things.

About five or six years ago I was at a meeting out in B.C. in one of the areas and there were a lot of older women at this meeting. It was interesting to hear them talk about the fact that they thought cannabis should be legalized, not decriminalized. They were talking about it should be legalized because they were tired of the RCMP officers in their area having to deal with these issues when they were worried about home invasions, assaults, and all these other things happening, and they did not have the resources to deal with it.

I implore my colleagues in this House to look at this from all perspectives, not just that somehow we do not want to be seen as allowing a new drug to be legalized, but from all aspects. It is legalized in the sense that we have not been able to put any controls on that part and there is an unjust system throughout the country as to how the rules are played out. I would hope that we do not just look at this from the perspective of not wanting to appear as if we're legalizing another nasty drug. I would hope that is how we end up doing this in the House, that we look at it from all aspects.

With the one minute I have left, I just want to say that I am also greatly concerned, and I see this in my riding, that simply trying to get access to marijuana use means that a lot of young people in this case--and it is young people, because I can say that the older people do not have to contact someone directly tied to a local gang, because they know where to get their cannabis somewhere else--it means that young people are being pulled into gangs and then they cannot get out of them. That bothers me to no end.

I have seen some pretty violent situations where these young people want to get out of it and cannot, and I want that to end. I want a legalized system in place where young people, and I'm not talking about ten and eleven years old, have access.

I do not have any more time, Mr. Speaker. I know that in the future I certainly will have the time to say some more about it. Thank you very much.

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4:40 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the time to add a few comments to the record.

I have a few concerns with the bill. First, the bill will increase demand. That is what law enforcement officials are telling us: that the taking away of these penalties or reducing the criminal penalties will fuel demand. At the same time, production is kept illegal.

What does that mean? We are ensuring that organized crime has an increased amount of market share. So this bill is tailor-made for organized crime--let there me no mistake about that--when we increase demand and keep the production illegal. Let's not fool ourselves on that.

I have talked to the schools in my area about this, and they are very concerned. They believe that this bill is also tailor-made to encourage small-scale trafficking among youth. That is what this is going to do. Thirty grams of marijuana or 15 grams of marijuana is enough to ensure that trafficking goes on in our schools on a small scale.

There is some disinformation that has been provided that the reason we are doing this is to get rid of criminal records. Every member of the House knows that at present there are conditional discharges available and absolute discharges available for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and that is in fact what is given for these kinds of offences. To suggest to the Canadian people that this is the reason we are doing that is simply wrong. There are enough mechanisms in the current law to avoid criminal records.

The other point is the health issue. My colleague from Churchill has indicated that marijuana is just as bad as alcohol and tobacco. I don't know if it is just as bad, but I don't see the justification for putting yet another drug onto society. I am concerned about that. We have not looked at the health issue.

Health professionals are telling us that present-day marijuana is a very addictive drug. When I was growing up people always said that it was only psychologically addictive. No. Marijuana is physiologically addictive. And in the hands now of organized crime, which cures marijuana in methamphetamine and uses it in that way, we are ensuring that our children are going to be addicts.

I am not saying alcohol is good and I am not saying tobacco is good, but neither is this. Why are we doing this to our society?

If none of those arguments impress anyone in this House, let's take a look at the trade issue. We deal with the Americans in the amount of $1 billion a day. The Americans have made it very clear to me and others that there will be repercussions in terms of the passing of the bill.

We can say we are an independent nation and we can do what we want, but remember, they are our biggest customer. Eighty percent of our goods are going across that border. I would rather see those goods go across our border and ensure that the people in my riding have jobs. Quite frankly, I think we are blindly going ahead on the basis of disinformation, and especially in the absence of a national drug strategy.

I am going to reserve my comments on the drug impaired driving bill, Bill C-16. I will be speaking to that bill, which is a tremendously bad bill, and again is a matter of disinformation.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this time.

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4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the motion now before the House.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members


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4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour will please say yea.

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4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


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4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members


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4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The recorded division on the motion stands deferred until this evening at 6:15 p.m.

(Bill C-16. On the Order: Government Orders:)

November 1, 2004--The Minister of Justice--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Bill C-16, an act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

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November 2nd, 2004 / 4:45 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec


Lucienne Robillard Liberalfor the Minister of Justice


That Bill C-16, and act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

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4:45 p.m.

Northumberland—Quinte West Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak in favour of sending this bill to committee.

First I would like to look at the existing situation. There are some situations that do allow the police to do some work with testing when they are investigating drug-impaired driving, but only in narrow circumstances. Of course if there is a voluntary participation in physical tests for drug impairment, the police may investigate along those lines.

If the police demand a blood sample from a conscious driver based upon an alcohol demand, or if they obtain a voluntary alcohol test sample of blood, the Criminal Code does provide that the sample may be further analyzed for the presence of a drug. However, and this is one of our concerns, there is no blood-drug concentration offence in the Criminal Code. It would be necessary to call an expert scientific witness to explain what impairing symptoms can be linked to the particular concentration of the drug found in the blood, and witnesses would be needed for the actual impairing signs that were observed.

Another provision of the Criminal Code authorizes police to seek a warrant to have a blood sample taken from a driver who is unconscious. The police officer must reasonably believe that the person was committing an impaired driving offence and was involved in a fatal or injurious crash in the previous four hours. This is a very narrow situation, which does not frequently occur. It would mean that police might have a passenger from the driver's vehicle who has given them information sufficient to seek the warrant.

Another way the police might pursue a drug-impaired driving investigation would be to obtain a search warrant to seize a blood sample taken in the course of medical treatment. Again, this would depend on obtaining sufficient evidence from a witness who may have been with the accused when the drugs were consumed.

None of the situations I have described happens very often. Most frequently, the police may suspect the presence of a drug in a driver's body but cannot investigate further. Consequently, it is very important to adopt legislation that authorizes police officers to ask drivers to submit to physical tests and provide samples of bodily substances, so that will our roads may be safer.

A survey by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation revealed that in 2002, almost 20% of Canadian drivers had taken the wheel less than two hours after consuming a potentially impairing drug. This included both legal and illegal drugs.

In my opinion, we must integrate the proposed amendments on drug-impaired driving with other measures, including public education, in order to make them effective.

Evaluation and treatment are also important elements in making our roads safer.

The proposed amendments are a prescription for safer roads. They address a problem that is serious and they do so in a measured way. They are based on the science that particular drug families have particular sets of symptoms that can, through physical testing, be observed by persons who are given proper training.

I am under no illusion that all police across the nation are ready to immediately proceed to drug testing of suspected impaired drivers. There is a need to complete training and to bring in the testing based upon the need and capacity in the various provinces and areas of the country. I am really pleased that some police agencies have already commenced such training and that in some provinces trained officers have already done physical testing for drug impairment, if only with suspects who voluntarily agree to participate in the tests.

I note that British Columbia has been in the vanguard in Canada and that some prosecutors and many police officers in British Columbia have participated in drug recognition training.

It is good to see that police agencies are working together to establish the capacity to train the trainers. This is what we need to transfer knowledge and skill around the country.

It will be up to the police forces to determine where the trained officers are most needed and best deployed. This legislation would enable provinces and police to use a tool that is far better than what now exists under the law in order to investigate drug impaired driving. The legislation does not force them to use this tool if they determine that they do not wish to use it.

It is important to think of the drug impaired driving legislation as covering all drugs and not just cannabis. At the same time, it is important to remember that the drug impaired driving legislation includes cannabis and that it can be seen as part of the measures that are being directed against individuals and organizations that are illegally involved with drugs. These other measures include Canada's renewed national drug strategy, police enforcement against grow operations and the proposal to give tickets to those who possess small amounts of marijuana in an effort to increase enforcement against possession.

The drug impaired driving amendments to the Criminal Code should also be viewed as part of the measures that are being taken to improve road safety in Canada generally. The Canadian Council of Motor Transport administrators report to federal, provincial and territorial transport ministers.

I believe that in the proposed amendments we have a measured response to a serious problem. In fact, Parliament has been addressing the problem of alcohol and drug impaired driving for a long time, and the end is not yet in sight. The first alcohol driving offence was placed in the Criminal Code in 1921 and the first drug impaired driving offence was placed in the Criminal Code in 1925.

With the proposed amendments, the police would have a way to investigate drug impaired driving. They would also be able to investigate drivers who have low alcohol but who are impaired because they have combined alcohol and drugs of impairment.

I am under no illusion that legislation by itself will eradicate impaired driving. Lots of other measures that are non-legislative are needed. However I firmly believe that where legislation can help then it should be put in place. Here I am convinced that the legislation will help.

One of the great difficulties with impaired drivers is that so many of them are persistently doing impaired driving trips. Often they make it home without being apprehended and without crashing. They start to think that they are okay to drive when they are under the influence when in fact they are not. Their so-called successful driving under the influence is rewarded and reinforced by the absence of detection or crash. However many do crash and many are caught. It is at the point of such health and criminal law that these impaired drivers could be assessed and sent for education and treatment. It may well be that many of them face multiple life problems and the saving to society would not only be from avoiding alcohol and drug impaired crashes but many other economic and social costs.

Turning our attention to the consequences of an impaired driving crash that is fatal, the great tragedy is that death is so avoidable. For surviving family members of a fatally injured impaired driver, or that driver's passengers or innocent road users, these deaths are emotionally devastating. We really have to thank our service providers and volunteer organizations that do so much to help the surviving victims of impaired driving crashes.

I will conclude by saying that it is very important that we proceed with the legislation, to take it to committee and to review it fully and completely. Although it may not be a panacea, it would certainly go a long way toward dealing with the issues that we see in drug impaired driving that needs attention.

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5 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, the admission by the parliamentary secretary that the problem is serious and that the bill is not a panacea were about the only things he got right.

This is in fact a very serious problem. Drug impaired driving will be fuelled by the companion legislation, Bill C-17, which is the decriminalization of marijuana. Bill C-16 would not address that problem.

Bill C-16 is nothing more than window dressing and a very lame attempt by the government to try to deal with a serious situation that it will be creating on our roads, a situation that will directly lead to more deaths and injuries. I want to say, before I begin my debate on the bill, that by its action the government will be killing and injuring more people on the streets of Canada.

The public should also understand that there is no effective roadside testing device like the alcohol technology that has been developed. When a police officer sees a motor vehicle wandering along the road, if the individual is stopped and there is a smell of alcohol on his or her breath, the officer can demand that the person breathe into a roadside testing device. Those are good indicators of the amount of alcohol. There is either a pass, fail or a warning on the machine.

We do not have that kind of technology when it comes to dealing with drug impaired drivers. Drug impaired drivers are no less dangerous than alcohol impaired drivers. In fact, many people do not realize that when the effects of alcohol and drugs are combined, including marijuana, an even greater impairment occurs.

When people say that they are only going to drink a couple of beers, then smoke marijuana and get into a car, that is much more serious than even taking a lot more drinks. The impairment is multiplied. The government needs to know that information when it turns this legislation loose on our public. The technology for that has not been developed. In fact, a justice official said that the RCMP or the other police officers would have all kinds of physical tests. They will make drivers hop on one leg or they will look at the involuntary reaction in their eyes. What nonsense. What is terrible is that it is coming from legal minds in the Department of Justice of Canada. These individuals know better. They know the poor rate of conviction for impaired driving when there are not these technological devices. That is the kind of nonsense they are trying to tell the people of Canada. They should be ashamed for telling Canadians that this kind of detection will result in more convictions.

As a former prosecutor, I know how difficult it is to convict people of impaired driving. Even in the situation where alcohol is involved and where the smell of alcohol is on people's breaths it is difficult to make a charge when there is no alert or breathalyzer to help.

There are situations though where there is no alcohol involved and it is simply drugs and that becomes even more difficult for the purpose of trying to prove that an individual is impaired by his driving through drug use. Hopping on one leg or involuntary reaction in the eye can be excused in many ways and the justice department lawyers, who have been telling that to the justice minister, know that and should be ashamed of themselves.

The statistics are overwhelming in respect of the acquittals for impaired driving. Some provinces will not even bother prosecuting an impaired driver if there was no breathalyzer or no alert. Impaired driving used to be called section 234 when I was prosecuting and .08 was section 236. That was the way it was done. The impaired driver was simply stayed and the prosecutor tried to get them on .08.

There is another thing that Canadians do not realize. Take a look at Martin’s Annual Criminal Code and see how many technical defences there are to impaired driving and .08. It is more difficult to convict someone of impaired driving and .08 than an average murder or an average rape. It is a much more difficult offence.

What will the government do now? It will accelerate the amount of drinking and driving or the use of drugs and driving through these twin laws, Bill C-17 and Bill C-16.

The parliamentary secretary says that we will train the trainers. Is that not interesting. Manitoba and Quebec have the same problem. The government is shutting down RCMP stations in Manitoba. In my home town of Steinbach the RCMP highway patrol was shut down. In Selkirk, Manitoba, the RCMP highway patrol is shut down. Of the 65 highway patrolmen and women in Manitoba, 35 are off highway patrol, leaving long stretches of highway without highway patrol.

Train the trainers: Who will the trainers to train? There are no more RCMP officers left on our roads because of the government's nonsense about things such as the gun registry. It has poured $120 million of money into a gun registry, but it has not hired police officers. The government thinks the bureaucrats will run the justice system. If we do not have police officers out there, our justice system does not work, and the government does not understand that.

Train the trainers: Who will train the trainers? The police will train the trainers. We take more police officers off the street to do the training. Who will pay? It will be the provinces who will pay. In the same way the federal government has downloaded every responsibility in justice on to the provinces, the province will now pay for that training the trainers.

What did the government say? It said that the police would take care of this. It is dumping the problem on the police. It is interesting that in Manitoba the federal government cut the number of highway patrolmen and women to 35. Then it says that the police can take care of this issue.

How will the police officers take care of this issue? They cannot even attend fatals. First responders are out there, not police officers. They deal with gasoline spills, oil spills, bodies on the road, with no police officers available. Train the trainers: we cannot even get police officers on to our street. What nonsense to be telling Canadians that the government is serious about the problem of crime in the streets.

It breaks my heart that 16 years ago the province of Manitoba embarked on an ambitious fight to reduce the amount of drinking and driving on its highways, through administrative suspensions and seizure of motor vehicles. There was no help from the federal government. Certainly the Liberal government has done nothing. The provinces have done it because the federal government does not care about the deaths on our highways.

The federal government has dumped the problem on the police. The administrative suspensions have reduced the number of deaths on the highways. They have reduced the injuries on the highways. I fought to protect those laws in Manitoba. Now those laws have been adopted across Canada. The government is going back on the progress the province made.

The government should immediately withdraw not only this bill, but also Bill C-17 until proper technology is in place. I care about the people in my riding and I care about Canadians even if the Liberals do not. If they do not want to do it, they should step aside. We would get rid of the bill and we would ensure that the technology was in place before we went ahead on something like this.

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5:10 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that any death or loss of life is in and of itself a tragedy, especially if the tragedy could have been avoided, or the death or accident prevented.

That is why we in the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-16. Let us give credit where credit is due. In the previous Parliament, the issue of decriminalization of marijuana, which we support, was debated. Incidentally, I would point out to the NDP House leader that the NDP is not the only party to have passed at a congress a resolution in favour of the decriminalization of marijuana. The Bloc Québécois passed one also, at the instigation of its youth wing. I wish to salute its diligent and efficient work as well as its thorough job on an issue as important as this one.

When the bill on the decriminalization of marijuana was introduced during the previous Parliament, several stakeholders expressed concern about this bill's not having a companion bill on drug-impaired driving. This point was raised a few times in committee. The hon. parliamentary secretary will no doubt remember. Naturally, the Bloc Québécois always welcomes good ideas from witnesses, contrary to the Liberal Party while under the command of the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who, when he was the government House leader, did not always listen to us. Much to his displeasure, he is left with only 21 members from Quebec, but that is another story.

Witnesses came before the committee to suggest that and, during consideration in committee, I put forward an amendment to the bill on the decriminalization of marijuana. The NDP House leader must recall, because there are similarities between that bill and Bill C-16. At the time, the chair, on the probably wise advice of the clerk, rejected my amendment on the grounds that it did not fit in with the decriminalization bill per se.

As a result, instead of the committee tabling a single report, two reports were tabled: one on the bill on decriminalization and the other calling on the government to quickly present a bill on drug-impaired driving.

Thus, it is thanks to the Bloc, with inspiration from numerous witnesses—I thank them—that the government, having listened to us for once, decided to present Bill C-16. We support this bill. We also agree with referring it to committee for full consideration before second reading.

An aspect of interest to me is the one mentioned by the member for Provencher regarding technology and the possibility of properly screening people under the influence of drugs. This is something that has been pointed out to us many times. I look forward to hearing the witnesses, experts, and police officers who will present their views on this. It would be irresponsible for us to present or support a bill without knowing at second or third reading what its full consequences could be.

Another aspect is the matter of the funding announced by the federal government. If I remember correctly, the figure is $6.9 million. And if I also remember correctly, there are 52,000 police officers in Canada. As well, I believe I recall that we were told in committee that, for a bill like this to be enforced properly, for it to be workable, about 40% of those 52,000—some 20,00 to 25,000—would have to be trained to administer the standard sobriety tests we are talking about today.

Is that $6.9 million sufficient to train this number of officers? I rather doubt it, particularly since—as I said in my speech on Bill C-17—this government has decided to close several RCMP detachments throughout Quebec, if I remember correctly, at Drummondville, Saint-Hyacinthe, and Joliette. My colleague from Provencher has also referred to this.

Yet the mayors, municipal councillors and reeves are asking the government not to close these down. They are in at least some of the regions of Quebec where there is large-scale marijuana cultivation. So, just as the police forces start working together to deal properly with organized crime, this government decides to close down some RCMP detachments.

That government is the same one claiming to be so serious about dealing with organized crime. To paraphrase Yves Boisvert from La Presse , the government will have a test of political will concerning the bill introduced by the Bloc Quebecois and supported by my colleague from Provencher and my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh, the NDP justice critic. This bill involves the reversal of the burden of proof when it comes to those guilty of involvement in organized crime.

If the government is so serious about its desire to fight organized crime. if it wants to show its goodwill, I invite it to do two simple things, and with these I will end my speech.

The first is to tell us in the very near future that it will be supporting Bill C-242 on the reversed burden of proof for persons guilty of involvement in organized crime, and the second is to reverse its decision to close down RCMP detachments all over Quebec. These would be two good ways of proving that it really does have the desire to fight this social, political, economic and societal scourge: organized crime.

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5:15 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-16, which is the companion bill to the bill we debated earlier in the day, the so-called decriminalization of marijuana bill.

I must say this particular bill which deals with drug impaired driving has not received nearly the same amount of attention or scrutiny as the bill that we debated earlier today. In fact, when this bill was introduced in the last Parliament, many of us felt that it had been very hastily thrown together and the government had responded to a criticism that it had not adequately dealt with the issue of drug impaired driving.

I would like to begin my remarks by drawing attention to some of the information that is contained within the government's own background information in presenting this bill. In the backgrounder it is pointed out, for example, that the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec has determined that 30% of fatal accidents in that province involve drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol. A traffic injury research foundation poll in 2002 found that close to 20% of Canadian drivers had driven within two hours of taking a potentially impairing drug, whether it was an over the counter legal prescription or an illegal substance.

I find this very interesting because it really highlights that the fundamental issue we are dealing with is not whether or not a substance is legal; it is whether people take prescription drugs, an illegal substance or drink alcohol when they drive. This point really needs to be driven home, excuse the pun. It is very pertinent to the critical issue of education and people taking responsibility for their actions.

While we believe it is very important in dealing with the decriminalization of marijuana to ensure that there is a rules based approach and that there are proper regulations around use, including impairment, while under the influence of drugs, the most important thing is probably education and self-responsibility. If anybody doubts that, one only has to look at the laws we have. There are all kinds of laws around drunk driving. There are all kinds of criminal prohibitions.

There is massive enforcement, although some people would argue there is not enough. I would argue that over the years what has changed in terms of people's attitudes around drunk driving has come from education, from groups like MADD, local organizations, parent groups, youth groups, through peer education and training in schools. People have come to the realization that driving while under the influence of a legal or illegal substance that can impair one's ability is something that is very wrong and which we all have to take responsibility for.

I want to make that point first and foremost. We can always say that we rely on the law and police enforcement to correct a problem, but we should never overlook, but in fact we often do overlook, the significant value of education and a sense of responsibility that we all have.

In dealing with drug impairment, it should be pointed out that this already is an offence. The problem is there is no sound scientific or objective process for having a test done similar to what there is for alcohol. In fact, again reading from the backgrounder prepared by the government, there is no legal limit offence for drugs as there is elsewhere in the Criminal Code for alcohol.

Unlike alcohol, for the vast majority of drugs there is no scientific consensus on the threshold level of drug concentration in the body that causes the impairment and makes driving hazardous. Technology to detect drug concentration at the roadside is neither an available nor an effective option.

Given this background, I think this should give us some real cause for caution in examining what this bill is about. As I say, from the perspective of the NDP, we certainly support the principle and idea that there has to be effective regulation, but I think we have to proceed on the basis that we examine the proposed bill and that we do it, wherever possible, on a scientific and objective basis.

For example, right now police can ask for, and people can voluntarily subject themselves to, a certain level of testing that can involve blood samples, saliva or urine testing. That is now only done on a voluntary basis. Under the bill police powers would be extended to compel that to be a mandatory requirement.

The issue for doing that involves a series of procedures that are known as drug recognition expert training. At this point only 123 officers in Canada have that training. That is obviously a serious shortcoming. In fact, this testing, if we can call it that, is only used by police in Quebec, B.C. and Manitoba. Again, I emphasize it is only when the driver has voluntarily agreed to participate.

If this is to be extended, if it is to be made mandatory, I would certainly echo the concerns of my colleague from the Bloc, of whether or not there are adequate funds to make this happen. This is something of great concern that we will have to examine when the bill goes to committee.

There are other issues. The Canadian Bar Association has raised some questions about whether or not demanding bodily fluid samples without a warrant is something that could be subject to challenges under the charter. This is something that needs to be examined.

From our perspective in the NDP we support the idea that there needs to be clear regulations. We support the idea that there needs to be enforcement. We believe it is very important that the committee hear from expert witnesses on this issue. I think there is some ambiguity about how these tests are applied, about what the longer term consequences are of these tests and whether or not there are areas where they could be considered to be infringing on people's civil liberties based on the fact that they would be mandatory and not voluntary.

I am sure we will have an opportunity at the committee to go through the bill, to put it under the microscope of that kind of examination and to hear from witnesses.

At the end of the day, because there is a nervousness, there is a jitteriness about proceeding with the first bill, we have to be very concerned that the government does not rush through this companion piece of legislation which may have some serious problems with it. We want to make sure that the examination by the committee takes place with expert witnesses with proper training. We must ensure that whatever rules are put in place for drug impaired driving are rules that can be backed up, that can meet various charter tests. We must ensure that adequate training is involved. Most of all, we must understand the importance of providing education to people.

I would say all of the attention is focused on marijuana. If we really want to worry about what is taking place, we should think about the people who are taking prescriptions and getting in their cars and driving in a way that they are impaired and not in full control of their faculties.

In some ways, perhaps this is an opportunity for us to focus on the broader issue because the marijuana bill is before us today. We should not lose sight of the fact that whether it is legal or illegal is not the issue. It is the issue of substance use and what happens when one is impaired and driving. We will give that full examination at the committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, a moment ago I was speaking with a colleague about a time in our country, a long time ago, when people drove while inebriated. If such a driver were stopped by the police, usually he would get into the police car and be taken home, quite politely; the next morning he would go and pick up his car. That was one way to avoid drunk driving, but it certainly did not encourage such individuals not to repeat the offence the next day or the next week.

That is why there were so many deaths and why so many people had such terrible experiences. There were lobbyists on the Hill today, some of them dairy farmers. One farmer from my riding who was here today reminded me that his brother, whom I knew well, too, had been killed in an accident about 10 or 12 years ago, when he and his wife were struck by a drunk driver. Nearly every family has been through this or knows someone who has. There were, sadly, too many victims like that in the past.

At one time, there was reason to wonder why the biggest parking lot in a village belonged to the bar or tavern. Even though drunk driving was not permitted, the business that sold the drinks that got people drunk had a big parking lot. There was a paradox in that, and perhaps it is still true in some cases. Nevertheless, society today has become much more aware of the problem. I am very happy that it is no longer acceptable to drive under the influence of alcohol.

I am coming back to what the hon. member for Vancouver East said, and I think she is right. She mentioned that many people imagine they can drive a vehicle after consuming prescription medication, for instance, that can have as detrimental effect as alcohol. And yet it is just as bad to cause a death or put someone else's life and health in danger whether the driver had three bottles of Labatt's 50 or four pills of some kind. The effects can be as serious in one case as the other.

We have before us today a bill concerning another form of impaired driving, dealing more specifically with those who drive after having used illegal drugs.

If we look at the existing situation, there are some situations that allow the police right now to do some work with testing when they are investigating drug impaired driving, but as we know this is only in limited circumstances. Of course if there is a voluntary participation in physical tests for drug impairment, the police may investigate along those lines. If the police demand a blood sample from a conscious driver based upon an alcohol demand, or if they obtain a voluntary alcohol test sample of blood, the Criminal Code does provide that the sample may be further analyzed for the presence of a drug even though the analysis was taken for the purpose of establishing whether or not there is alcohol.

However, there is no blood drug concentration offence in the Criminal Code. It would be necessary to call an expert scientific witness to explain what impaired driving symptoms can be linked to the particular concentration of the drug found in the blood and witnesses would be needed for the actual impaired signs that were observed.

Another provision of the Criminal Code authorizes the police to seek a warrant to have blood samples taken from a driver who is unconscious. The police officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the person was committing an impaired driving offence and was involved in a fatal or injurious crash in the previous four hours. This is a very narrow situation that does not frequently occur.

It would mean that the police might have a passenger from the driver's vehicle who has given them information sufficient to seek a warrant. Generally, things being what they are, the person driving the car and the passenger are often known to each other, are often friends and so on, and it gets to be very difficult to get that kind of participation.

Another way the police might pursue a drug impaired driving investigation would be to obtain a search warrant to see the blood samples taken in the course of medical treatment. Again, this would depend on obtaining sufficient evidence from a witness who may have been with the accused when the drugs were consumed, not the ideal candidate to stool on the other guy, to put it mildly.

All the situations I mentioned are not an everyday occurrence, to say the least. In most cases, the police may suspect the presence of drugs in a driver's body, but they cannot investigate. It is therefore important to pass legislation to enable the police to demand physical tests and bodily fluids from suspected drivers, which will help make our roads safer.

That is what matters. We talked earlier about the finding in certain jurisdictions, certain provinces, that a disproportionately high percentage of accident victims and drivers involved in accidents have been using drugs.

In his great wisdom, the hon. parliamentary secretary reminded me that the bill before us enjoys the support of various groups in society. I have a bit of a problem with something the hon. member for Provencher said earlier in this House. On behalf of the Conservative Party, he told us he was prepared to pass this bill, if the one on decriminalization were withdrawn.

I tried to analyze all that, but I have a bit of a problem with the hon. member's remarks. Imagine a person who uses drugs and drives illegally. A person who is prepared to drive illegally does not care too much about the substance being legal when they are about to commit an illegal act. I fail to see the link. I think that tying one to the other does not work.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving have indicated, I have been informed, that they support the bill, whether or not the other bill is enacted. Therefore, I fail to understand why the hon. member for Provencher does not feel that the bill should be supported. It is a good measure to increase highway safety overall. I cannot see why any member would not want the bill to proceed in the House to increase the safety of the travelling public in Canada.

Some years ago we moved in very forceful ways, and it was about time, to strengthen the rules about drunk driving. Today, this is another phase of the same thing. It is driving under the influence of another product, but the effect can be equally serious, sometimes fatal, regrettably, and so on.

I hope that all my colleagues, on both sides of the House, will see fit to pass this bill, in spite of our differences of opinion, in certain instances, on the bill on the decriminalization of marijuana. This is a bill that was discussed earlier today in the House.