Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on third reading of Bill C-10 which will reform Canada's laws as they relate to the possession and cultivation of cannabis.
Bill C-10 is the culmination of a long process that illustrates how the House should approach a major reform of the law in a non-partisan spirit.
All parties in the House can point to parts of the bill that respond to concerns that they raised and points that they made. Of course, there are divergent views in the House as there are across the country, but Bill C-10 represents a modern made in Canada approach to dealing with the harm caused by marijuana.
Members are well aware of the major steps that led to this reform. The House in May 2001 agreed that a special committee on the non-medical use of drugs should be established. The special committee undertook extensive public hearings across Canada. Witnesses from government departments, specialists in drug issues, educators, police and concerned Canadians made their views known.
The special committee made many recommendations regarding overall drug policy. The government has responded to those recommendations by renewing Canada's national drug strategy and providing $245 million over five years for education, prevention, law enforcement and harm reduction strategies. The special committee also recommended alternative measures for dealing with possession and cultivation of up to 30 grams of cannabis.
It is important to note that there were three minority reports. While the Canadian Alliance considered 30 grams too much, both the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois supported the intent of the recommendation, although they both had concerns.
Bill C-38, introduced by the government in May 2003, followed up on the recommendation of the special committee. This bill was referred to the special committee before second reading.
At that time, the Minister of Justice said that this demonstrated that the government was listening and willing to consider amendments to ensure we got it right, and that the special committee on non-medical use of drugs was well positioned to examine this issue after the exhaustive work it did to prepare its report, which was released last December.
The special committee in turn took its responsibility seriously. At this time I would like to thank the members of that all-party committee, including the chair, the member from Burlington.
It did make important improvements to the bill. In particular, it recommended that the bill make it an offence to release personal information to foreign governments and international organizations in relation to the offences of possession or cultivation of small amounts of marijuana that are punished by a ticket. They are still offences, but it is the way of handing out the fines and the sanctions that have been adjusted.
It makes the cultivation of one to three plants for personal use punishable by a fine of $500 for an adult and $250 for youth. It provides that where there is an agreement between Canada and a province, the offence could be prosecuted by a ticket under the Contraventions Act. It requires that the government review the impact of the new legislation within three years. We are pleased with that addition.
The amendments to Bill C-38 proposed by the special committee were accepted by the government. The result of all these actions is the bill now before us, Bill C-10, which I believe meets the expectations of Canadians.
Members of the House are aware of the problems that a criminal conviction for the possession of a small amount of marijuana can cause for a person. It can close opportunities for employment and prevent travel to certain countries.
As a society, Canadians have decided that it does not make sense that a young person who makes a bad choice in life by experimenting with marijuana should receive the lasting burden of a criminal conviction and face such serious consequences.
The members are also aware that Canadians want stricter sanctions on large marijuana growing operations, which are both a danger to our communities and a source of revenue for organized crime.
Bill C-10 reflects what Canadians want. Marijuana remains a prohibited substance and its possession will remain a criminal offence. This is the message that youth must understand, that there are sanctions. This is not legalization.
Bill C-10 reflects what Canadians are telling us. Marijuana remains a prohibited substance and its possession will remain a criminal offence. However, the procedure for punishing a person who is convicted of possessing a small quantity of marijuana or cannabis resin for personal use has been changed in a way that better reflects the attitudes of Canadians toward the seriousness of the crime.
Possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana will be punished by a summons or a ticket and not by summary conviction. The fine will be set at $150 for an adult and $100 for an adolescent, if there are no aggravating circumstances.
Police officers will retain the discretion to give a ticket or a summons to appear in criminal court for the possession of more than 15 grams of marijuana and up to 30 grams. If a summons is issued, then the maximum sentence will remain a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. These fines would be higher in many cases than what offenders are getting now.
It is important to note that when a youth is facing a charge, his or her parents will be notified. We believe the punishment for possession will now be seen by Canadians as fitting the crime.
Bill C-10 also responds to Canadians' expectations concerning the cultivation of marijuana. It will double the maximum penalty for cultivation if the offender has more than 50 plants. In addition, it sets out a number of aggravating circumstances which would require courts to provide reasons for not imposing a prison sentence.
It is appropriate that the penalty for cultivating up to three plants be reduced. The person who is growing only three plants or less is likely to be cultivating for personal use; however, we deplore the use of marijuana. Canadians recognize that there is a difference in culpability where the person is growing for personal use as opposed to cultivating for sale to others. Bill C-10 makes that distinction.
All members are aware that Bill C-10 by itself will not solve all the problems that drugs are causing in our country. It is of course important that criminal law be modernized. Bill C-10 should lead to more uniform enforcement of the prohibition of possession of marijuana.
Currently it depends in what city, town, province or territory one lives. This hopefully will assist more police officers encountering a problem. Tickets will be issued that then will get paid. The amounts for youth will be of the amounts that they can pay and the money will not come from parents pulling dollars out of their pockets. These are sanctions for youth.
Those sanctions will free up police officers so that they can do more important work and not be there handing out numerous charges in some areas and voice reprimands in others. It does not seem to be much of a sanction for youth if they are in a city or town where it is just a verbal warning as opposed to this ticket that is going to cost money each and every time.
Bill C-10 should lead to more uniform enforcement for the prohibition of possession of marijuana. The greater penalties for cultivation combined with the extra police resources that the government is funding under the national drug strategy should reduce the prevalence of grow ops. We all know how important it is to go after the grow ops.
However, the drug problems being experienced by our communities across Canada require a comprehensive response to address the underlying causes of drug abuse. Much of what has been done does not fall on the shoulders of the federal government. It is therefore particularly important to note that the government's commitment in renewing the national drug strategy is to work with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, addiction agencies, non-government organizations, professional organizations and associations, law enforcement agencies, the private sector and community groups to reduce the harm to individuals and to society of drug abuse.
The government is playing the leadership role that it should play in the fight against drug abuse and it is rejecting the “Ottawa knows best” attitude that in the past has hindered cooperation with our partners. Through the mechanism of a bi-annual conference, the first of which will be held this year, the government will bring all the stakeholders together to set research, health promotion and drug prevention agendas.
In that regard, the amendment made by the special committee and accepted by the government that, after three years, there must be a comprehensive review of the effects of the alternative penalties on Canadian society is to be welcomed. This was a good addition.
It is my sincere belief that when Parliament reviews the effects of Bill C-10 on Canadian society, it will find that the legislation struck the right balance, and that Bill C-10 will have played an important part along with the many individuals and initiatives who are working and being funded under the national drug strategy in reducing the harm caused by drugs to Canadians.
I want to point out to Canadians that operating a motor vehicle while impaired by any substance remains a serious criminal offence. Driving while impaired by drugs including marijuana is included in the offence under subsection 253(a) of the Criminal Code. Section 254 of the Criminal Code calls for minimum penalties for impaired driving including a mandatory minimum $600 fine on a first offence, a 15 day minimum sentence on a second offence, and a 90 day minimum sentence on a third offence. The maximum penalty for impaired driving is five years unless someone is hurt or killed putting the maximum penalty up to 14 years.
The challenge for police dealing with drivers impaired by drugs is proving a person's impairment because as yet, no scientific screening device exists to determine the levels of impairment by drugs. The government is proceeding to deal as expeditiously as possible with practical difficulties inherent to proving the drug impaired driving offence.
Consultations that were started last fall have been completed. We intend to move forward very quickly in this area. This is an important area to the government, and I do not want Canadians believing that we will let this area go. We are actively working on it right now.
I know the bill has proven to be of some difficulty for members in the House, but we are not sent here to do the easy things. I firmly believe all of us in the chamber, on every side of the House, want to improve the lives of Canadians. We want to make penalties and sanctions fit the offences in a manner that is appropriate and in a manner that will not destroy lives, but will allow in some instances, especially with our youth, them to make an error in judgment, to be sanctioned, then to move on with their lives and not carry a penalty for the rest of their lives.
Many of my colleagues have talked about pardons. Canada has a pardon mechanism. People can apply for pardons on an individual basis. Some members, who have worked very hard on the bill, wish we could wave a magic wand and erase the criminal records of people who carry these records because of a simple possession charge. There are maybe over 6,000 people in Canada who carry criminal records because of a simple possession charge.
Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to do a broad amnesty or pardon because we have to look at the specific situation of everybody's case. When examining pardons, it is a material part of that process to see what exactly is being pardoned, such as whether the original offence was a plea bargain down from a more serious offence. We should not do a retroactive blanket pardon.
There are students heading toward universities or professional schools who would make good and productive members of society, but who may have in their youth taken part in activities that are still illegal in this country. They might be unable to obtain employment, or they might be unable to take university courses, or they might be unable to work in a government office if they carry that criminal record. They may have to delay their education.
I do not think anybody excuses bad behaviour. However, we on this side of the House, with the help of those who look seriously at the bill before us and who look at what we have a chance to change in society, think there is more than ample reason to change the law today.
Bill C-10 deserves the support in the House. Ladies and gentleman, colleagues in the chamber, it has been a long time coming. The Le Dain commission was nearly 30 years ago. I believe we should move cautiously forward. Some people advocate going immediately to legalization. Most of the time our bills move forward step by step. Law, just like anything else, is a living tree. I urge all members of the House to support Bill C-10.