House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was use.


Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty to inform the House pursuant to Standing Order 81(14) that the motion to be considered tomorrow during the consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Review Board should be guided by ethical investment policies which would ensure that our pension investments are socially responsible and do not support companies or enterprises that manufacture or trade in military arms and weapons, have records of poor labour practices, contribute to environmental degradation, or whose conduct, practices or activities are similarly contrary to Canadian values.

This motion, standing in the name of the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, is not votable. Copies of the motion are available at the table.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

moved that Bill C-471, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (sexual assault on child--dangerous offenders), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in debate on my private member's Bill C-471. If enacted, the bill would amend sections 752 to 761 of the Criminal Code, automatically making anyone convicted of two or more sexual offences against a child a dangerous offender.

With Bill C-471, the onus would be placed on the individual designated a dangerous offender to provide the grounds or arguments against such a designation.

Furthermore, Bill C-471 would also amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, restricting the release of the offender.

Under Bill C-471, the National Parole Board shall not grant parole and shall not grant unescorted temporary absences or statutory release to an offender who has been designated a dangerous offender under section 753 of the Criminal Code, unless the board has first received at least two opinions following thorough psychiatric assessment of the offender. The assessors must be of the opinion that the offender, if released, “is not likely to commit another offence” and “will not pose a threat to persons under the age of eighteen years”.

This private member's bill was prompted by the fact that our current laws do not, in my opinion, deal appropriately with those who pose ongoing risks to society, especially those who pose ongoing risks to the most vulnerable of our society, our children.

To illustrate this point, I would like to refer of the case of Walter Jacobson. Over a 40 year period, this sadistic pedophile was convicted 60 times and yet was never classified as a dangerous offender. Jacobson, who is currently incarcerated for a series of sex related crimes in Kingston and surrounding area, including the violent rape of a 16 year old girl, is scheduled for parole in March 2005. The last time this rapist was paroled, he went out and reoffended.

Why was an application designating Jacobson a dangerous offender never made? The offences for which he was convicted in 1999 were convictions dealing with criminal harassment, uttering death threats and making indecent telephone calls to young, teenaged girls.

These offences did not entitle the Crown to seek to designate him a dangerous offender because these particular offences do not carry a maximum sentence or a maximum term of at least 10 years.

Offenders can be designated dangerous offenders, which permits indefinite sentences, only if they are convicted of a serious personal injury offence and they are a danger to the life, safety or the physical or mental well-being of others. The offender must be facing a sentence of 10 years or more to be deemed a dangerous offender.

Jacobson was not designated a dangerous offender because, as one paper said, and I quote:

--the sad fact is Jacobson isn't the problem. He's the symptom of a justice system that does not know how to deal with repeat child sex offenders, how to rehabilitate them or what to do with them when their sentences are up.

Experts tell us that the least likely offenders to be rehabilitated are those offenders who are sexual predators, especially pedophiles. I will quote another document:

Repeat sex offenders are more than twice as likely to commit further sex offences, much more likely to violate conditional release conditions and more likely than other offenders to reoffend with a non-sexual offence. However, treatment programs for sexual offenders are sorely lacking.

Financial figures from a few years ago showed the federal government spending approximately $98 million to incarcerate sex offenders and only $2 million a year on treatment programs....It is the norm, when it should be the exception, that convicted sexual offenders return to communities without any counselling or rehabilitation therapy.

I know the Liberal government recognizes and agrees with those findings regarding sex offenders because the statements I just finished reading were statements from an old document entitled “Liberal Perspective on Crime and Justice Issues”. It comes straight from a Liberal document.

The information given was fully supported by a number of studies that repeatedly indicated that sex offenders had one of the highest recidivism rates of any criminal group. An estimated 40% of sex offenders go out and reoffend within five years.

As well, research indicates that offender treatment programs have shown limited results. In fact, practitioners in the field of sex offender treatment do not claim to cure the sex offender but would rather suggest that they would do their best to risk manage the offender.

In light of that information I would strongly suggest to the House that if we are going to err at all we should err on the side of caution. I believe that when there is any doubt at all that pedophiles will reoffend, we need to keep them incarcerated and behind bars. The only way we can achieve this measure of protection, protection for the most vulnerable members of our society, is to automatically make all those convicted of two or more sexual offences against a child to be automatically deemed dangerous offenders.

Another case to illustrate my point and substantiate the need for the legislation is that of Karl Toft, a name that is well-known in the country. Karl Toft, who perhaps is Canada's worst ever pedophile, was released over a year ago into a halfway house in Edmonton after serving 11 years of a 13 year sentence in prison.

After his arrest in 1991, Toft denied abusing boys over the 20 year stint that he was a guard at Kingsclear Training School in New Brunswick. However, later, when much came to light, he plea bargained a deal for a 13 year sentence, pleading guilty to 34 charges that included sexual interference, sexual assault and buggery.

As the years passed, Toft's count of victims rose. It rose to 80 victims and then to 100, 150 and finally to 200. However to date 233 compensation claims for sexual and physical abuse have been settled since Toft's incarceration. One victim believes that the 233 cases are only the tip of the iceberg, claiming that that this sadistic pedophile, Karl Toft, abused approximately 700 young wards of the province. Yet Karl Toft, who is scheduled for full parole in the very near future, has never been deemed a dangerous offender. That is a sad indictment on our system.

Another pedophile who has never been deemed a dangerous offender was Martin Dubuc of Laval, Quebec. This career sex offender was first convicted in 1986 for molesting boys on a hockey team that he coached. After serving his time in prison he did not let a lifetime ban on coaching in Quebec stop him. He simply changed locales, changed communities and became a coach and eventually president of a minor hockey association in southwest Montreal. This individual then slithered his way into the school system becoming a substitute teacher until he was arrested and pleaded guilty to threatening several boys aged 10 to 13.

The case of Dubuc is but one chilling example of how predators with long criminal records weasel and worm their way into positions of trust and authority solely for the purpose of bringing harm and victimizing children. The only way to stop these sadistic predators is to ensure they are held behind bars and that the protection of society remains our guiding principle.

How many more children will be victimized before the government takes account? How many more children will be victimized before the government wakes up and does something about repeat offenders like Karl Toft, Walter Jacobson, Martin Dubuc, Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo, all of whom have never been deemed dangerous offenders? It is amazing.

How many more children's lives will be destroyed before the government realizes that there is only one way to keep our children safe? Repeat child sex offenders should be incarcerated indefinitely until there is absolutely no doubt or very minimal risk to putting them back out on the streets.

I implore all members on all sides of the House and in all parties to support my private member's bill which is without precedence.

Recently voters in a Swiss referendum backed the introduction of what is being deemed one of Europe's harshest laws on violent criminals and pedophiles. Under the proposals it says that “extremely violent and dangerous criminals who cannot be treated successfully with therapy” would be locked away for life “unless scientific findings show they have been cured or are no longer dangerous”.

In Switzerland the referendum vote was actually initiated by a victims' support group called Light of Hope which was founded by two sisters, one whose daughter was abducted, raped, choked and left for dead. However, under the Swiss system of direct democracy, anybody can initiate a referendum as long as the proposals do not violate the law. What has to happen in Switzerland is that there has to be a petition or a referendum made and 100,000 signatures have to be collected within 18 months.

Although some legal experts have argued that the proposal may violate the European convention on human rights if the laws were strictly interpreted, the sisters went out and collected 195,000 signatures from supporters of the law.

I would argue that what I propose may be similar in nature. I argue that this would be well accepted by the Canadian public, and I also would argue that it would withhold any type of challenge.

I would say that for the sake of the children, of society and the safety and security within our communities, we should support this type of legislation and this bill. I again ask all members of the House to support and vote for this bill, a bill that is solely for the purpose of keeping our children safe.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Ahuntsic Québec


Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Social Economy)

Madam Speaker, I have often heard the members of the Alliance speak in the House and continuously tell Canadians who are watching about the most heinous of cases. If that is their way of ensuring that the children in our society are protected, it is a round about way of getting to the point in my opinion.

How does the member think that bringing out the most heinous cases, thus assuring there is fearmongering in our society, is the way to protect our children? I have two children. The way to do it is to make sure the predators, when they were children, were not victims of the same types of acts. These criminals did not appear out of nowhere. They obviously were children and had families. Most of them, from the research I have done, were abused when they were young. They ended up living a life of abuse and crime, and in the end we are asking to put them away forever.

Yes, it has been proven that most of them are not able to get away from sexual fantasies and being the predators that they have become. There have been laws passed in Canada in recent history. I was a parliamentary secretary in 1997 when we adopted other private members' bills and other legislation to ensure that the courts have the authority to put away the most horrendous of these criminals.

I do not see anything in the legislation before us that assures me, from what the hon. member has said, besides the fearmongering, that our children will be safe in our society. He has not convinced me of that.

What more is in the legislation that will ensure that there will not be more of these sexual predators in society? I believe we have to start with prevention, instead of at the other end.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I certainly did not attempt to stand in the House and only fearmonger. When I say that a person like Clifford Olson is not a dangerous offender, it is not to fearmonger, it is a fact. When I say that Paul Bernardo, as horrific a crime as he was involved in, is not deemed a dangerous offender, I think the Canadian public wonders why not?

I have laid out our approach. We have simply said that when someone has committed two sexual offences against a child, that we automatically deem him a dangerous offender.

The member said that we leave it up to the courts. I believe, in many cases, we would question the courts but how do we hold the courts accountable? The Conservative Party and our party have said in the House before that protection of society needs to be the number one guiding principle in our criminal justice system.

We heard from the member today the Liberal approach. She said that these people have been victims themselves when they were growing up and they need help and therapy. I agree with her. Part of having someone deemed a dangerous offender is that they will be put in prison. If they were to have that dangerous offender status removed, they would have to go through treatment programs.

We have individuals right now who are incarcerated and who have refused treatment. Karl Toft is a prime example of someone who has refused treatment. We are not helping the children.

When we allow these offenders to get out and be pushed back on to the streets without treatment programs, without going through counselling in prison, we are doing them no favours. If we really believe we can help them while they are incarcerated, we need to ensure that if they are to get parole they can show that they have taken the treatment programs.

I believe the Liberal way of doing this is hurting the children, our society and the offender. This is the Liberal approach. We can see it in other ways with drug addicts. Instead of saying that we need more detox centres and more help for individuals on hard drugs, what are the Liberals throwing at society? They are throwing safe injection sites; they are throwing heroin maintenance clinics because heroin is dirty on the streets, so let us give out clean heroin; and they are throwing needle exchanges. They have really bought in to a defeatist attitude. I would ask them to correct that today.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-471, an act to amend part XXIV of the Criminal Code regarding dangerous offender designations and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, introduced by the hon. member for Crowfoot.

The objective of the bill is to jail indefinitely anyone convicted for a second time for any one of three specific sexual offences against a child under the age of 18: section 271, sexual assault; section 272, sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm; and section 273, aggravated sexual assault.

The bill would require new criteria for these specific offenders to be granted parole, specifically requiring at least two psychiatric assessments indicating the risk posed by the offender, and with both assessments indicating that there was no risk of reoffending.

The bill proposes to meet these objectives by amending the dangerous offender provisions of the Criminal Code, specifically section 753, regarding the establishment of new mandatory criteria for judges to consider in dangerous offender applications against this specific group of offenders. The bill would add a new provision to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act establishing mandatory criteria parole hearings regarding these specific offenders.

I commend the overall objective of the bill of enhanced security for children from sexual predators. I do not think anybody in the House would do otherwise. As stated in the Speech from the Throne earlier this month, this is also a priority of the government and has been for the past decade.

However, I do not believe that the bill would accomplish what it is setting out to do, that is, to enhance child safety. I would like to examine how the scheme proposes to operate and in so doing clearly demonstrate why I believe it simply will not work.

The heart of the bill is the proposal to amend section 753 of the Criminal Code. This particular provision defines the criteria that a judge must consider to designate a convicted offender as a dangerous offender. The proposal in Bill C-471 seeks to dramatically change the way a particular class of offenders is designated as dangerous offenders.

This proposal would make dangerous offender designations automatic where the defendant has had two or more convictions for the enumerated sexual offences where the victim was a person under the age of 18. That is what the member for Crowfoot indicated when he introduced his bill on October 6, 2003, and again this morning in his speech.

I must submit that I have serious concerns about this proposal. The bill says quite clearly that individuals convicted of a sexual offence listed in subsection 752(b) where the victim was under 18 years of age is subject to this new provision if they had a previous conviction under the same offences. Again, these offences are for sexual assault, committing a sexual assault while carrying, using or threatening to use a weapon, and aggravated sexual assault.

As I understand it, these specific offences are currently listed in subsection 752(b) in order to define the term “serious personal injury offence”. I note that these provisions are there to do exactly what the member for Crowfoot wants, that is, to make dangerous offender designations against sexual offenders easier. It seems to me that it is working.

At last count, of the 200 designated dangerous offenders since the last major revision to part XXIV, proclaimed August 1, 1997, over 90% of the designations were for sexual offences, and the vast majority were for the three listed offences, I believe about 80%. I would also point out that the Crown success rate for such applications is extremely high, over 90% in most provinces.

Right now there are over 340 dangerous offenders in the corrections system. Of those, over 90% are sexual offenders. About 80% of sexual dangerous offenders are there because of a section 271, 272, or 273 offence. Clearly, the current provisions are hitting the mark. These are the offenders that the provisions target and with great success. The bill seems to imply that this is not good enough.

Under the current provisions, one of the prerequisites for making a dangerous offender designation is that the defendant must have committed a serious personal injury offence with the criteria being defined in subsections 752(a) or (b). That is, if the offence was one of the listed ones in subsection 752(b), then no further inquiry by the court would be needed regarding the serious personal injury offence requirement.

The court must then turn to the test outlined in subsection 753(1)(b). This requires the court to satisfy itself that the Crown has met the prerequisites of proving that the individual, by his conduct, has shown a failure to control his sexual impulses and, further, that there is a likelihood that he will cause injury, pain or other evil to others in the future as a result of his failure to control his sexual impulses.

I would emphasize that the prerequisites for a dangerous offender designation for individuals convicted of the listed sexual offences are already significantly less stringent than for all other offences. Specifically, I would point out that if the Crown were to seek a dangerous offender designation for an offence other than the three mentioned in subsection 752(b), the first step for the Crown would be to meet the burden of establishing that the offence was a “serious personal injury offence” as defined in subsection 752(a).

This would require, first, that it be an indictable offence with at least a maximum penalty of 10 years and, second, the Crown must prove, under subsection 753(1)(a), that the offender constitutes a threat to the life, safety or physical or mental well-being of other persons. Subsections (i) through (iii) provide the criteria which the court would use for making such a determination.

I make these points and I know they are technical, but they are important points. I make these points to clearly demonstrate to the House that part XXIV of the Criminal Code already makes dangerous offender applications against individuals committing the listed sexual offences easier than non-sexual offenders. That is not in fact my primary concern with the bill. Far from it. My real concern lies with the mandatory imposition of the dangerous offender designation.

I would draw the attention of the House to subsection 753(1), which states that the court may impose the dangerous offender designation on the offender if the Crown satisfies all of the criteria I have mentioned above. This is the same for both categories of offenders, the designated sexual offenders and all others. This wording provides the court with discretion on whether to impose the designation. It is there for a reason and that reason is critical to the constitutionality of this provision.

When we lock up any individual, we are depriving that individual of his or her liberty, but we do so for specific reasons and we only do so where we provide due process and protection of fundamental rights of the individual. Since 1982 that right has been clearly entrenched in the Constitution by section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would point out that even before 1982 those fundamental rights existed and were in fact vigorously protected by the courts.

Since 1982 that right has been codified and entrenched. The Supreme Court of Canada has had a lot to say about how section 7 interplays with the desire to protect society from habitual and violent offenders. The leading cases on this are the decisions of the Supreme Court in Regina v. Lyons 1987 2 S.C.R. 309, and more recently Regina v. Johnson, 2003 S.C.C. 46.

In Lyons, the court made it clear that Parliament could indeterminately imprison offenders in order to protect Canadians from harm, but if and only if the charter rights of these individuals were protected. In Regina v. Johnson, the Supreme Court reviewed the provisions as they are now and again found them to be constitutional. However, it emphasized, as it did in Lyons, the importance of the discretionary aspects of the provisions as a fundamental method to ensure that the rights of these offenders were protected.

Both of these cases provide an exhaustive examination of the constitutional viability of part XXIV, both before and after the 1997 changes. Both cases emphasize the discretion afforded the courts in refusing to impose a dangerous offender designation as a critical aspect of the viability of the scheme.

The bill before us today simply goes too far. It says that the court shall have no discretion and if there are two convictions it is automatic. I simply cannot support the bill regardless of the laudable objectives--and I know my colleague has put a lot of work into the bill--of protecting children. I simply do not believe the courts would uphold it. It would be irresponsible to amend the Criminal Code knowing that it would be unconstitutional. Along with the fact that part XXIV already successfully targets these specific offenders, I submit that this proposal does not merit the support of the House.

In theory we must envision the constitutional aspect. The Constitution is real and not just theory. The constitutionality of our laws is very important.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I speak on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois on Bill C-471, tabled by my colleague and friend from Crowfoot. The bill will amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (sexual assault on child--dangerous offenders).

The objective of the member for Crowfoot is to substantially toughen up the legal framework with respect to sexual offenders who assault children.

Members from all parties in this House know how passionate and determined I am about protecting young people, especially children. As you know, Madam Speaker, I have had the opportunity to express my point of view many times, including during the last session, during consideration of Bill C-20 to protect children and other vulnerable persons from sexual exploitation, which resumed last week with Bill C-12.

I cannot emphasize enough how preoccupying the safety of children can be. As legislators, we have the moral obligation to make such protection the best and most effective possible. All victims of sexual exploitation end up deeply affected and scarred for life. This is especially true of children.

Children are the people who are dearest to us, of course, but they are also the most vulnerable. It is our moral, political and philosophical duty, and our human responsibility as legislators who make the laws that apply in cases like this, to provide and ensure that these dear little ones, these children and grandchildren we all have, are protected as effectively as possible.

Seen in that light, the bill before us this morning takes on particular importance and requires the utmost vigilance regarding its legislative objectives. I remind the House and those listening to us that this text amends the Criminal Code to provide that, if a court is satisfied that an offender has had two or more convictions involving sexual assault on a child, the court must find the person to be a dangerous offender unless the offender can satisfy the court that he or she should not be so designated.

Thus, we are faced with a serious reversal of the burden of proof. As a lawyer myself, I am particularly reluctant to support such a provision. Nevertheless, I sincerely believe that the safety of children should take precedence over the rights of a known criminal, and that, because of this, the proposal by the hon. member for Crowfoot should be further studied by the Standing Committee on Justice.

I want to emphasize this part of the position of the Bloc Quebecois and to qualify our support for the bill, because of a decision by the Supreme Court in R. v. Johnson. A judge would be obliged to declare a defendant a dangerous offender without having to do a case-by-case analysis.

In this, there is a risk of overzealous action that I, as an individual, am ready to assume. But as a legislator, I cannot ignore this reality. Therefore, I suggest that we also examine this important and contentious element in greater depth in the Standing Committee on Justice and that we ask witnesses and experts to appear before the committee.

The bill will also amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in order to severely restrict parole in certain cases. Under our colleague's bill, anyone designated a dangerous offender, under the circumstances I indicated earlier, would not qualify for parole, unescorted temporary absence or statutory release unless no fewer than two independent psychiatrists are of the opinion that the offender is not likely to reoffend or pose a threat to children.

This major statutory amendment deserves very close consideration. I still believe that the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness should hear from a number of witnesses and experts so that it can reach the most equitable conclusions possible.

Given the importance the Bloc Quebecois accords to child protection and the protection of all members of our society, we will support Bill C-471 at this stage. On several occasions, I mentioned the importance of strengthening the legal framework with regard to sexual predators and child abusers. The Bloc Quebecois' stand on this is extremely consistent and has sound reasoning behind it. Our support for this bill at second reading is based on this. This responsible attitude also requires that the legal framework be adequately, but carefully, amended.

Consequently, I invite my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois and the other parties to support Bill C-471 at second reading, but I want my colleague from Crowfoot and the other members to note that this support is not without reservation. We will have to re-evaluate our position on this bill in accordance with the work of the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

I assure my colleague of my utmost cooperation in this important work, which I hope will be done in committee, because our number one priority when debating such a bill is, naturally, the protection of the children we hold so dear.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to make a number of comments on Bill C-471, which gives dangerous offender designation to individuals with two or more convictions. It is high time we look seriously at this. I am glad to see the Bloc is looking at it very carefully as well.

It is unfortunate the government is taking the position it is. If I heard the members right, their concerns are somewhat concerning in and of themselves. Scaremongering was mentioned, and it is a standard comment from them when they do not like what they hear about what goes on the courtrooms. That is unfortunate because some of the examples put forward my colleague, the member for Crowfoot who developed this bill, were absolutely accurate.

Some individuals in my riding are not necessarily nationally renowned for their misdeeds, but they have created some serious problems, and I will mention one of them. This is not in any way shape or form scaremongering. It is reality in our communities. Perhaps some of the folks on the opposite side have similar concerns, but it does not appear so.

Also, another government member said that this went too far. This does not go too far at all. In fact it gives a very reasonable approach to something that is a growing concern in our country.

The bill actually does something else that I like. It does not provide release provisions for serious sex offenders. We do not see UTA and ETA, that is unescorted temporary absence or escorted temporary absence, or parole. We do not see these people out on the street. When they are out on those types of releases, that is usually when the second, third and fourth crimes occur.

One wonders what one is supposed to do when constantly we hear about repeat offences from sex offenders who are the most difficult to rehabilitate. It is well known that better than 40% of sex offenders recommit other crimes. What is one to do if we cannot keep them inside? Continuously releasing them time after time creates more victims. These individuals go back into the pen and they wait for their time to get out. They go before the parole board and give what I call “the big four”: that is, the reasons why they should get out such as, “I found Jesus, “I have a woman”, “I am sorry for what I did”, “I have taken all the courses and now my time is coming up so let me out”.

That is exactly what happens in a parole board hearing. The unfortunate part is that these individuals do not have to take any courses. They do not have to do anything in prison. They can sit there and wait until their time to get out.

In fact not too long ago I was in a sex offender's cell in one prison. I found all four walls and the ceiling coated with pictures of women in various poses of pornography. I could not even see the paint on the walls or ceiling. Now this individual is probably out again and has probably reoffended. My colleague is trying to prevent that kind of scenario.

I want to talk for a moment about something that I suppose colleagues across the way will say is fearmongering, which it is not. It is reality in my community. I want to talk about James Armbruster who had 61 prior convictions. One of those convictions was raping his grandmother. James Armbruster, who I believe was 45, had been out time and time again. Every time he was released, he damaged somebody else's life. Imagine how many times he has done that. He has had 61 convictions against him.

Not too long ago he went from maximum to a community release centre. He did not cascade down to medium and minimum. He was released directly to a release centre. He was there six days, walked out of the system, sexually assaulted a lady and robbed a store.

When I went to the courtroom to listen to the hearing, I could not understand why crown counsel would not bring a dangerous offender designation for this individual. I found out later that they were too darn busy. They had a lot of files, a lot of things to do, which took a lot of time, and they felt he would likely go in for a long time this time. That was conviction number 63.

As it turned out, because of the complications of the law today, this individual, who was incarcerated, was out on a form of release and his full sentence, his warrant expiry, was not up, so the crime that he had newly committed got tacked onto the crime for which he was currently committed. Therefore, he received virtually no extra time. He will be out very shortly. He will be on my streets and he will commit another crime.

Surely, after 20 convictions, one would think the lawyers and judges would probably say that they should stop that. After 30, 40 or 50 convictions, one would think someone would say that we could not continue to allow the person to get out of prison. After 61, now 63 convictions, we will still let him out. This fellow is a dangerous sex offender. He will repeat his crime. My colleague is trying to prevent that.

This is not an isolated case. I could go through a litany of stories like this, having seven federal prisons, unlucky for us, in the immediate area. I know my colleague from Red Deer has a case like this or more. Colleagues in the House, every one of us, have cases like this.

We have to decide how we are going to stop it. Simply leaving it up to the courts will not get the job done. It is much like a sentencing grid today. The reason why people want sentencing grids is because the job is not getting done in the courtroom. We want some way of directing the courts as to what should happen to offenders, in particular, sex offenders.

Bill C-471 is well worth supporting. I think every one of us in the House could stand and give an example of it, and it is not fearmongering. It is the reality out there. It is not going too far. It is going to the distance where we have to protect society and not the sex offender.

We are running out of options. There are far too many sex offenders walking our streets and far too many going back into prison and going through the roundtable of law courts just because we are letting them out time and time again.

In conclusion, even with the national sex offender registry, for which I wrote the legislation, we ended up in the House with the government giving options for that. Even though someone commits a designated sex offence, the government wants to leave open options for the crown to apply, for a judge to use discretion and for criminals to appeal the fact that they will be put on a sex offender registry. Bills like C-471 are coming forward because the options do not work. They work in favour of the offender. What we are working toward are laws that favour the law-abiding citizens in our country.

I ask the government to have another look at this because I am sure that people on this side, the opposition, are all pretty well in support of it.

I might add this. There is an election coming pretty soon, and people like my colleague from Crowfoot and I and many other justice individuals like us in the House are going to make sure things like this do get into law, so it is one way or the other. How about it?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Ahuntsic Québec


Eleni Bakopanos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (Social Economy)

Madam Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to take part in the debate on private member's Bill C-471 introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Crowfoot. As has been previously mentioned, the purpose of this bill is to protect children from repeat sex offenders. This protection is to be enhanced by amending the sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code.

Obviously, our government is just as concerned as the Canadian public about protecting our children from sexual predators. But as for the arguments that the courts of this country are too soft on these offenders, that their current sentences are not severe enough, that sex offenders ought to have their basic rights withdrawn, that these predators get released without any concerns about children's safety, I have been hearing them for years from the other side of this House. They may get great press coverage, but they do nothing for public safety, as I have already said.

The Criminal Code states that the fundamental purpose of sentencing is “to contribute to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society”. The objectives of sentencing in the Criminal Code include denouncing unlawful conduct, deterring those who would commit offences and promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders in acknowledging the harm they have done to victims and to the community. The most vulnerable victims in our society are our children, as has already been said.

Canada is totally opposed to the use of draconian measures like the death penalty or the various forms of “three strikes and you're out” legislation, which would call for life sentences with no chance for parole. Our legal system has always respected the discretionary power of judges to adapt their sentences to the severity of the offence, the offender's behaviour, and the risk that offender poses to society.

A judge who has taken into consideration all the facts and all the testimony on the circumstances of the offence and the situation of the offender is in a better position than the members of the opposition to bring down a sentence that is appropriate to each case.

The recent Speech from the Throne confirmed that the protection of children continues to be a key priority for the Government of Canada. As a part of this renewed commitment to protect children from sexual predators, the government has reinstated the former Bill C-20, now Bill C-12, regarding the protection of children and other vulnerable persons.

This legislation proposes criminal law reforms that would provide increased protection to be given to children against abuse, neglect and sexual exploitation. It would strengthen the child pornography provisions by broadening the definition of written child pornography and narrowing the existing defences to one defence of public good.

Bill C-12 would also create a new prohibited category of sexual exploitation of young persons resulting from the existence of such factors as the age of the young person, the difference in age and the degree of control or influence exerted over the young person.

Bill C-12 would increase the maximum penalties for offences against children and would make the commission of an offence against any child an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes. It would also facilitate testimony by a child and other vulnerable victims and witnesses.

These changes would build upon amendments that have been in force since July 2002 for protecting children from sexual exploitation through the use of new technologies. These amendments addressed the communication of child pornography through the Internet and created a new offence of luring that made it illegal to communicate with a child on the Internet for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against the child. The changes also simplified the procedure to prosecute Canadians who sexually exploit children in other countries.

Another example of our focus on the protection of Canadians from sexual predators is the reinstatement in the House of Commons of former Bill C-23, now Bill C-16, the sexual offender information registration act, as was mentioned by my hon. colleague who first presented it in the House. That proposal seeks to establish a national sex offender registry requiring sexual predators to report to police agencies on an annual basis, which will allow rapid police investigation through an address searchable database. Under the proposal, failure to register would be a Criminal Code offence with serious penal consequences.

The February 2 Speech from the Throne also indicated a new commitment by the government to do more to ensure the safety of children through a strategy to counter sexual exploitation of children on the Internet. Under the lead of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we are working with our federal, provincial and territorial, private sector and international partners in the development of a strategy to coordinate and enhance our efforts to counter child sexual exploitation on the Internet.

Certainly I would be remiss if I did not point out that in 1997, when I was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, the dangerous offender provisions of the Criminal Code were amended to toughen up the provisions against the most violent sexual predators.

The private member's bill before us today seeks to amend these provisions to go after repeat sexual offenders against children. Really, that is exactly what the 1997 amendments did. Individuals who are declared dangerous offenders by the courts are now subject to a mandatory indeterminate sentence. The 1997 amendments also included a provision that permits judges to impose a long term offender designation resulting in up to 10 years of community supervision after serving a penitentiary term.

Moreover, in 1997, we also toughened up the conditions for recognizance under section 810, particularly by adding section 810.2, a new category dealing with serious personal injury offences. Section 810 has been very useful to the police in protecting vulnerable persons—even when there was no conviction, or even charges against a potential sexual predator likely to attack children.

I would also like to say a word about the 1993 Criminal Code amendments that created a potentially life-long order of prohibition, prohibiting convicted sexual offenders from frequenting daycare centres, schoolyards, playgrounds, public parks and swimming places where children are likely to be seen.

The order also prohibits these offenders from seeking or continuing any employment, whether remunerated or volunteer, in a capacity that involves being in a position of trust or authority. Another provision was added to permit an individual to obtain a peace bond—a protective order lasting up to a year—if he or she fears that another person will commit a sexual offence against a child.

In closing, I want to insist that all efforts have been made in order to protect Canada's children.

While recognizing the validity of the concerns of the hon. member for Crowfoot with respect to sexual predators on children, I simply do not believe that his proposal would improve the existing provisions.

Moreover, the latest reforms now before Parliament will translate into changes in our laws to give our children even better protection.

We also are doing everything we can for the safety of Canada's children. It is for the sake of our children that we have to stop scaring them with the worst, most heinous crimes cited in the House. In fact, sexual predators are not the majority of criminals but the minority, and thank God that is the case.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-10, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders


The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

There are seven motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-10.

Motions Nos. 5 to 7 will not be selected by the Chair as they could have been presented in committee.

Motions Nos. 2 and 3 will not be selected by the Chair as they were defeated in committee.

As well, Motions Nos. 2, 3 and 6 have not met the notice requirement pursuant to Standing Order 76(2).

All remaining motions have been examined and the Chair is satisfied that they meet the guidelines expressed in the note to Standing Order 76(5) regarding the selection of motions in amendment at the report stage.

Motions Nos. 1 and 4 will be grouped for debate and voted upon separately. Motions Nos. 1 and 4 shall now be proposed to the House.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario


David Pratt Liberalfor the Minister of Justice


That Bill C-10, in Clause 3.1, be amended by replacing lines 12 to 23 on page 2 with the following:

“trieval system maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or any other law enforcement information system maintained by an organization that has a law enforcement role, and who knowingly discloses to a foreign government, an international organization or a person who acts in the name or on behalf of such a government or organization information contained in that system respecting an offence referred to in subsection 4(5), (5.1), (5.2) or (5.4) or paragraph 7(3)(a) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, is guilty of an”

That Bill C-10, in Clause 9.1, be amended by replacing lines 1 to 8 on page 7 with the following:

“9.1 (1) Within three years after this section comes into force, the Minister shall appoint one or more persons to carry out a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act.

(2) The review shall be completed and a report of the review submitted to the Minister within one year after the appointment referred to in subsection (1).

(3) The Minister shall have a copy of the report laid before each House of Parliament on any of the first 30 days on which that House is sitting after the Minister receives the report.”

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I was going to call a point of order on that but I trust we are still speaking here about four amendments to the bill. I had better call a point of order on this before I start my time, Madam Speaker. I understand that there are four amendments to the bill. I would like confirmation from the Table, please.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

There are in fact two amendments to this bill. If it is helpful, I would be happy to read the first portion again.

There were seven amendments submitted and only two have been selected. If you would like me to repeat it, I will.

Motions Nos. 5 to 7 will not be selected by the Chair as they could have been presented in committee.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I was concerned about the motion to allow the bill to be reviewed within three years. I understood that amendment was still in there and it was agreed to by the committee as well.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

If you would like further clarification, you might be more comfortable speaking to the clerks at the table. They may be able to answer some of those questions more thoroughly for you.

If you require clarification, I could move on in the speaking order and come back to you.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I wonder if we could just suspend sitting for a moment until we sort this out.

Of the four amendments that I am referring to, I do not know how two of them got removed. I think we do have to know that before we speak to it. I am not trying to play games; I just want to make sure it is right.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

We will suspend sitting for a moment or two.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 12:09 p.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:14 p.m.)

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I have so much to say and only 10 minutes in which to say it. There are several things that must be pointed out here.

The question is why Bill C-10 is before the House now. I suppose it is to try to take the focus off the government's stealing antics, of taking money from the public. I think the other reason it is here is to take the focus off the national drug strategy, which there really is not one. Here we are trying to do a little bit of a national drug strategy and we are not doing a good job of it.

I will provide a quote from the Ottawa Citizen . The Prime Minister said:

I think one's got to take a look at the fines, I think that you have to take a look at the quantities and I think that there has to be a larger effort against the grow ops and those who distribute it.

The heading of this article is, “Marijuana bill will be back, but stronger: Martin favours higher fines than Chrétien's version”.

The fact is that virtually nothing has changed. The new Prime Minister has tabled in the House virtually the same bill that was tabled before. Nothing has changed. We were told that something would be better in this bill and it is just as bad as it was before.

I also want to remind everyone that we are talking about a harmful substance. Before I get into the bill itself, I want to provide the medical evidence of what marijuana does.

Marijuana has a strong addictive capacity. This is emerging more and more in research and it is obvious for many marijuana users. Marijuana clearly impacts school performance and developmental trajectory. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned of the possible effects of marijuana on the developing fetus, especially in the parts of the brain responsible for attention and memory. Marijuana has the same effects on the respiratory system as tobacco. Marijuana impairs motor functions. Estimates suggest that up to 15% of fatal motor car crashes involve marijuana.

The use of marijuana as medicine is highly questionable. Research has not demonstrated clear and unique benefits. Even Holland has refused to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

This is the product we will be talking about throughout the whole debate. I want people to know that we are not talking about a substance that we want to give a green light to in this country.

The Prime Minister suggested that he would change the bill. I want Canadians to know what is not in Bill C-10.

Bill C-10 sends the wrong message to Canada's youth. Penalties for the production of marijuana have actually decreased from the current legislation where 25 plants or less are found, when they should have increased. Fines for growing the plants were decreased even further at committee stage for amounts under three plants.

Having a lighter fine for young people than for adults sends the wrong message. On one hand the Liberals are saying they are trying to prevent youth from using drugs and on the other hand they are effectively eliminating any real penalty for them to do so.

I also take note that no resources have been provided for police to crack down on organized crime that is profiting from lax enforcement. Nothing has been done in that area.

The fines set out in the bill are much too low and do not increase for subsequent offences. In other words, if a person is caught once or 30 times it makes no difference, the fine is the same. That is a major flaw in the legislation. Repeat offenders should always pay tougher consequences for their crime.

The whole idea about a national drug strategy is interesting. We started out with the drug committee of the House of Commons, although it was biased, and we can appreciate that, from the government's point of view. We wanted a national drug strategy. We do not have a national drug strategy. What we got is a government throwing out this idea of decriminalizing marijuana and leaving it at that. No proceeds of crime legislation has been advanced, or put into this legislation, or amended along with this legislation.

I have just dealt with one case and there are thousands of cases like it. The individual came from another country and has been on welfare since the day he got here. He got caught in a grow op. We found out that he owns three houses. How does one person who has been here for nine years on welfare own three houses? It is from proceeds of crime. The houses should be removed from the individual under the tax act or any other legal means and used for drug rehabilitation or some other facility. That was not advanced in this legislation.

No provision has been put forward in this bill to deal with the damages done to houses and other facilities as a result of grow ops.

What really irritates me about this more than anything is the fact that I am talking about marijuana legislation and there is not one single Liberal sitting in the House. That is really irritating. I have to say there is something wrong in this country when we are debating an extremely important bill and not one Liberals is sitting over there.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

I understand your frustration but you are not allowed to refer to how many people are or are not in the House.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I know I am not allowed to say it, but I said it to bring to the attention of the Canadian people what is wrong on the other side.

No legislation has been developed to curtail financial institutions from funding mortgages relating to grow ops. That is happening in this country. I know there is one particular financial institution in this country that has funded up to 400. There is something wrong with that.

No coordination exists between provincial welfare departments and federal authorities of people on welfare having marijuana grow ops and making a lot of money that is non-taxable. If anyone thinks there are not that many, I have a list of individuals who are making money like that.

No commitment has been obtained from the judiciary to increase penalties within the limits set out in the bill or to follow the established possession guidelines. In other words, the government is going to tell us, and we will hear about this in a few minutes, that it is toughening up the penalties for grow ops. Wait for that comment. What the Liberals are saying is that the maximum penalty will be increased but there is no minimum penalty. There is not a courtroom in this country today that is giving the maximum penalty for marijuana grow ops or for crystal meth labs for that matter.

Time and time again people are getting caught with a $200,000 to $400,000 grow op and are getting a $1,000 fine. That is non-taxable money. If the government says that it is toughening up on those penalties, it is absolutely wrong. I have here a litany of cases of judges that are basically letting people off.

No provisions have been made to deal with the increasing toxicity of the THC content itself in marijuana. What the government is doing here is talking about a drug with a certain toxicity today that is increasing every single day. The government is talking about giving it a green light. It is talking about giving minor fines for possession. What it is not talking about is Ecstasy, crystal meth, heroin, crack, cocaine.

The government is playing around with fines for marijuana but does not have the courage to develop a national drug strategy to deal with the real harmful problems in our society.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

London West Ontario


Sue Barnes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, we on this side of the House accept the Speaker's guidance on the motions that have been forwarded on report stage debate. The Speaker has accepted two technical motions brought forward by the government to amend Bill C-10. These amendments flow from the amendments that were made by the special committee and will make the bill a better bill while maintaining it, in each case the intention of the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs.

The amendments were proposed by the government after it had the opportunity to consider the amendments that were made by the special committee. Members are aware that, in the somewhat unusual circumstances of last October, the special committee did not feel that it had time to wait until another day for the government to present amendments to implement the changes it wanted. Thus, we have those amendments before us today.

Accordingly, the amendments were drafted in some haste on the night when the special committee began its clause by clause review of the bill. It is therefore not surprising that these technical amendments that we have today are necessary to consider the wording of the amendments made by the special committee. The government believes that the improvements to the wording can and should be made.

I will walk hon. members through the amendments so they will be able to vote on them with a full understanding of their implications. I am confident that members will then support the changes.

The first technical amendment is to clause 3.1. The special committee added a prohibition regarding the disclosure to a foreign government or an international organization or their agents of information relating to a cannabis contravention offence maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or by an organization having a law enforcement role unless the disclosure is required by a court order. Violation of the prohibition would be a summary conviction offence.

The wording adopted by the special committee is somewhat imprecise and vague. Reference to “other law enforcement information systems” and “organizations having a law enforcement role” are vague and need to be clarified. The government's proposed amendment would bring added clarity and precision to the text. However there is a very important change suggested.

The wording of the bill currently refers to “an agent of a foreign government”. The concern is that “agent”, which is undefined, could be interpreted quite narrowly. Therefore the government believes that the special committee's intent to foreclose unauthorized disclosure to anyone of information regarding tickets would be best accomplished by replacing “agent” with “a person who acts in the name of or on behalf of such a government or organization”.

The next amendments deal with the review of the provisions of the act. Members of the special committee heard conflicting testimony about the consequences of moving to a ticketing regime. They also heard from some witnesses that the increased penalties provided for major grow ops would have little effect in part because the courts would not respond to the signal provided by Parliament and that the offence of cultivation was to be treated very seriously. Some witnesses called for mandatory terms of imprisonment.

Given the importance of the changes which Bill C-10 is making in the way we would punish the possession of a relatively small amount of marijuana and in the way we would treat the cultivation of marijuana, the government fully accepts that there is a need for the review but the question is how best to ensure in law that the review will take place. The amendment of the committee is somewhat imprecise and vague.

The expression “national drug strategy”, for instance, is undefined in the bill. We know there is enough national drug strategy, announced by the government, and $245 million would be devoted to fighting drug abuse over five years. However, in law, the national drug strategy is not specifically existing.

Moreover, the term “government” is not defined in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as it is in some other acts. To rectify this, the government is proposing an amendment that would bring added clarity and precision to the text and make it more effective in four ways.

First, the responsibility to appoint someone to carry out the review is placed squarely on the shoulders of the minister who is charged with the administration of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and who has the primary responsibility for Canada's drug strategy, and that would be the Minister of Health.

Second, the scope of the review was significantly expanded. The provision in the bill currently calls for a review of the “Alternative in Penalties”, which refers only to the ticketing regime. The proposed change will cover “the provisions and operation of the act”. This means that the report should cover the effects of the increased penalties for grow ops.

Third, the existing provision provides no timeline for the completion of the review. In theory, the mere appointment of the reviewer of the act would constitute compliance with the provision. If this amendment is accepted the review will have to be completed and submitted to the minister within one year of the appointment.

Fourth, the minister of the day will be obliged to table the report in both Houses of Parliament within 30 sitting days after receiving it.

Clearly the process that is proposed in these amendments is preferable to the process currently in Bill C-10. I put these motions and their explanations before the House for its consideration.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, again it is with pleasure that I rise to speak, this time to Bill C-10, which was previously Bill C-38.

The issue of simple marijuana possession has been studied frequently by many groups and often at great length. One such group is the Bloc Quebecois' youth forum, which has repeatedly looked at the risks associated with decriminalizing simple possession. In starting my speech, I would like to acknowledge and thank them for the work they have done on this issue.

Most analyses, if not all, have to be based on the premise that the repressive approach does not work, or, in any case, does not work well. This is a fact, despite the millions upon millions of dollars that have been invested. What we do know works well is prevention, and raising the awareness of everyone in our society, but especially of young people. That is the direction we should be taking.

Beyond raising awareness and prevention, we should adopt the principle that the possession of a small amount of marijuana must remain illegal and be penalized, but not under the Criminal Code. Leaving simple possession under the Criminal Code often makes the punishment worse than the crime. Bill C-38, the predecessor to Bill C-10, set out to eliminate this paradox. However, in the last session, the bill was not nearly as good as Bill C-10, which is currently before the House.

I believe we must give credit where credit is due and pay tribute to the special committee that was formed to work on this bill. I would like to acknowledge, among others, the work done by the member for Burlington, who chaired the committee. She did her job well, despite the fact that feelings often ran high in the committee. The subject matter the committee had to deal with naturally raises strong emotions and to many Quebeckers and Canadians is quite gut-wrenching, pardon the expression.

For many reasons, Bill C-10 is an improvement over its predecessor, Bill C-38.

First, this bill is an improvement because it contains the prohibition on disclosing a charge or conviction for possession to a foreign government or international organization. Many committee members believed, quite logically, that, if we want to avoid stigmatizing for life someone caught possessing a small amount of marijuana, it was essential not only that the Canadian authorities not use such information but that the knowledge of the offence for possession, the charge or perhaps even the conviction of an individual for possession not be disclosed to an international organization, agent of a foreign government or any individual working on behalf of another country. In this information age, we wanted to prevent a foreign country from learning about the offence committed by an individual, who would then be stigmatized not only in Canada but also abroad. We had to find a way to prevent something we did not want done directly from being done indirectly.

The other very interesting improvement is the comprehensive review of the effects of Bill C-10 within three years. Many people sent us e-mail messages, all based on feelings and very unscientific methods.

People claimed that, if marijuana possession were decriminalized, the earth would stop turning, civilization as we know it would end, and everyone would smoke up almost all the time. To avoid succumbing to pure demagoguery, we must base ourselves on the facts. What better way to do this than with a tri-annual review of the effects of enforcing Bill C-10. We will see that the naysayers predicting endless misfortunes as a result of the decriminalization of marijuana were wrong, and their fears and the consequences exaggerated.

I am not saying that the consequences of smoking marijuana are positive. That is not what I am saying; it is still a dangerous drug, and bad for our health. Nevertheless, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts will not lead to the decline of western society, as someone from Calgary commented in a letter to me.

Another improvement in the bill concerns possession of one to three plants. We have been told on so many occasions that organized crime was in control of the black market. So forcing occasional users to buy on the black market was forcing them into contact with biker gangs, making them into “worse” criminals, as well as encouraging organized crime because they made profits from the marijuana trade.

I brought in an amendment concerning growers of one to three plants. While this would still be illegal, it would not result in a criminal record, would not be a criminal offence under the Criminal Code. I was extremely pleased to see that my colleagues on the committee supported passage of that amendment.

It should also be pointed out that the special committee produced two reports. There is of course the one we are discussing today, with the amendments I have already mentioned, and then there is the one which called upon the government to step up the process of examination of legislation on driving under the influence of drugs. A number of different organizations, MADD Canada among them, came to us in order to raise our awareness of the problem of driving under the influence of drugs, and this they did most effectively, moreover.

We in committee felt there was sufficient consensus to make it a kind of twin brother—if I may call it such—to the bill decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana, by being far more severe on driving under the influence of drugs, and providing more efficient means of detection. At that time, I proposed a amendment to Bill C-48 in committee and was told this was out of order because it did not fall within the parameters of the bill. The idea was a good one, however, which is why we all decided to produce this second report. I must thank my colleagues for their support.

Today I saw reports in the media indicating that the Minister of Justice had heeded me, had heeded the committee, and will be taking steps to ensure that this bill, which is in preparation in various offices within this department, will be available for our discussion very soon.

That bill will make it possible for us to deal with driving under the influence of drugs, and is at least as important, if not more so, than Bill C-10. It must not drop out of sight. So we reiterate our support for Bill C-10.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to enter into the debate on Bill C-10 on behalf of the NDP caucus.

I wish to pay tribute to the work done by the NDP's social policy critic, the member for Vancouver East, who has dedicated a great deal of energy and resources to this issue. She has tried, as is her way, to introduce a voice of reason into a highly charged and emotional debate about the decriminalization of marijuana. Her contribution has been noted by other speakers in the House and I too would like to acknowledge the good work she has done on the bill.

It was during the previous session of Parliament that Bill C-38 was examined by the special committee for the non-medical use of drugs and was amended. Throughout the committee process, the member for Vancouver East and the NDP pushed for a number of changes. We did get some movement from the government on certain aspects of the bill. When Parliament was suspended in November and the new session commenced, Bill C-38 became Bill C-10 and is now up for debate in the House today.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about this bill and about the government's effort. On September 30, 2002, the Speech from the Throne indicated that the federal government would consider the possibility of the decriminalization of marijuana possession. This piqued the interest of a great deal of people across the country. Many of us believe that it is a waste of time and resources to lock up a whole generation for the simple possession of marijuana.

Many of us are reminded by our own youth when we learned that places like Texas were locking people up for 30 years for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana. There are still people in Texas jails serving the remainder of 30 year sentences that they received in the 1970s for marijuana possession. Our belief is that this is absolute folly.

We should be clear though that what was introduced in the Speech from the Throne was never passed because by May 2003 a government backgrounder on the bill stated that:

Under the proposals included in the bill, cannabis possession and production will remain illegal in Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. What will change is the approach to enforcement.

The justice minister at the time made a public statement. He said:

--you say I'm saying it's not decriminalization. It has never been decriminalization.

Let us not let the Liberal government mislead people to think that the bill is about the decriminalization of marijuana. It is not and it never has been. What has been introduced under the bill is a fine regimen for simple possession under 15 grams.

Our problem with that approach is that, if enacted, the bill may lead to increased prosecutions and increased waste of resources by having this mandatory fine system and having fewer people charged criminally. The reason being is that quite often police let people go for a simple possession of under 15 grams because it would tie up the courts.

That would now be eliminated. Those people would now be fined. Criminologists have found that lowering, but not eliminating a punishment, results in more punishment. Among criminologists, it is called the net widening effect.

Individuals charged with fines and the people the police would normally have let off with a warning and a wave under the old system will instead be guaranteed to be hit with a fine. In other words, decriminalization in this formula could lead to more people being punished, not fewer. The Ottawa Citizen on May 28, 2003 stated:

A cutting-edge plan--if this was 1968: Replacing the criminal charge for possession with a fine will change little, or nothing at all.

What did the federal NDP push for? Our member for Vancouver East was very active in the committee and she pushed for the amnesty provisions that past charges or convictions for simple possession of marijuana should be erased. A pardon does not go far enough. We said that it should go back as far as records were kept.

I still have people who have difficulty travelling to the United States because on their permanent record they have a simple possession from back in 1970. If they answer honestly at the border if they have ever been convicted of an offence and they cite their simple possession charge in 1970, they run into difficulties.

We made suggestions that the records of people who received a fine for simple possession and/or cultivation for personal use would be sealed and not shared with Interpol or other foreign jurisdictions. That is a sensible thing that the NDP member for Vancouver East pushed for at committee and we are happy that the government side did accept it. This is truly something to celebrate.

I also wish to recognize the member for Burlington and her efforts on the committee and her willingness to work toward a reasonable resolution to some of these issues.

Under the non-commercial transfer of marijuana, simply giving marijuana for no money, in other words passing a joint, would be technically trafficking. When someone says “Pass that joint over to me”, technically the person who passes it may be guilty of trafficking.

Bill C-10 should be amended so that the non-commercial transfers of up to 30 grams of marijuana would not be considered trafficking. We pushed for that idea.

Under reasonable grounds for searches, changes should be made to the provisions which are required for police to obtain a search warrant to enter a person's home. Currently, under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act suspicion that an illicit drug of any amount in a home is enough for a warrant to be issued.

The bill should include new provisions that are more consistent with decriminalization. The bill should be amended to require that police demonstrate reasonable grounds to believe that an amount of marijuana in the home would exceed 30 grams or that trafficking is in fact taking place in order to receive a search warrant.

Under fines, the NDP proposed that we eliminate the proposed fine for possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. That was our base line position. Our member for Vancouver East argued that as aggressively as she could.

Under personal cultivation, non-punitive provisions for personal cultivation should have been included in the bill allowing for the personal cultivation of up to five plants. This has always been an irritant to any reasonable person in the country, that something that grows wild in the ditches could be a criminal matter if it is grown in their home.

The NDP did succeed on some issues. Throughout the committee stage, the two primary issues the NDP pushed for were ensuring that information on people who received fines for personal possession would be kept sealed and not shared. We are pleased that is the case today and that the laws would be amended to allow for the cultivation of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. We did get some improvements in these two areas.

The committee amended the bill to prohibit the disclosure of information on people who had a fine for simple possession. That is a very important measure because it would prevent law enforcement agencies in Canada from sharing that information with other countries. The U.S., in particular, often prohibits people from crossing the border if they have marijuana related charges or convictions.

Although the federal NDP pushed for amendments to allow personal cultivation of up to five plants, the Liberal dominated committee chose to set the maximum at three and it still supported imposing a fine. However, rather than the risk of jail time, those found with up to three marijuana plants would face a $500 fine. This is not satisfactory.

The NDP believes strongly that the bill needs to contain amnesty provisions for people who currently have criminal records for simple possession. Let us put a retroactivity measure in the bill, which we should have had, to correct an historic injustice and an historic wrong.

If simple possession of marijuana no longer risks a criminal charge, those who now have a record for a similar conduct should be entitled to amnesty. We feel very strongly on this point.

We had hoped that Bill C-10, or Bill C-38, would be a first step in recognizing the harms associated with a prohibitionist policy toward marijuana.

However, the new Minister of Justice has not given any indication that he supports further changes in this direction, leaving intact the myth that the criminal law can resolve problems relating to the use of drugs. We disagree and we feel it is sad that we could not get more of our amendments put through.