Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today and debate Bill C-10. Only a number of weeks ago, we in the House had the privilege of debating Bill C-10 at report stage. At that time I stood in the House and brought out some of our major concerns about the bill. I brought out some of the concerns we have with a government that is moving toward decriminalization.
I really believe that deep down the government is moving toward legalization of marijuana. Although this bill does not make it legal, we are moving in that direction. The government is moving in that direction and to that I say shame. I say shame on stepping forward and coming up with a program or a plan that would tell people, tell Canadians and tell young people that using marijuana is not all that bad, not even as bad as not wearing your seat belt and not as bad as drinking. It is just not that bad, says the government, because the level of fines the government has included in this bill sends the wrong message to Canadians.
First, let me mention that about two years ago a committee was struck to study drug use and our drug strategy. It was called the Special Committee on Non-medical Use of Drugs. At that time my leader asked me to sit on that committee. We had a government that was bent on recognizing a drug problem in our country and felt that the answer to the drug problem was to build safe injection sites, clean places where people could shoot illegal drugs into their veins. The government felt that it would certainly help solve a drug problem that is even more prevalent in our nation today.
Besides a drug strategy, there was another part of what that committee was studying, which was whether, because heroin on the streets is so dirty, the government should provide clean, pure heroin to drug users in what we would call a heroin maintenance program, that is, should heroin addicts be given clean, pure heroin free or at a greatly reduced price? It would then be guaranteed that the drugs were clean and it would help prevent problems down the road.
I have a problem with that type of philosophy. I have a problem with that type of strategy of the government. I believe it is the wrong message. I believe it is the wrong way of dealing with the drug problem. Certainly the longer we went on in that committee, the more we realized that the government had no plan. It had no indication and no idea of how to fight one of the problems that hurts so many families, hurts so many Canadians and hurts productivity.
Therefore, our committee began to travel. We travelled across the country. Indeed, we travelled to many countries. We went to Germany and Switzerland and we travelled to Amsterdam. Many times on that trip I had the opportunity of looking into the eyes of young people who had lost hope. I had to keep telling myself that somewhere those young children had mothers or fathers who cared for them and loved them. Yet these young people had lost any type of hope and any type of opportunity that they ever might have been able to attain.
As I went into that committee, I did not know how much of a problem this drug use was in my constituency. I have what is basically a rural riding. I found out very quickly and to my own shame that this is not only a problem in the urban centres. It is a problem that is throughout our country and too many people have given up on it.
I believe the government has given up. I believe the government has looked at it, thrown its hands up in the air and said, “We surrender”. It has said that it has no plan so it will try to help in some type of so-called harm reduction. Again, that sends the wrong message: that as long as people shoot drugs in a clean environment it will be all right, that as long as people shoot drugs that are clean they do not have anything to fear.
That is not the case.
At the time, the government was committing $4 million to safe injection sites and pilot projects. When it came to bringing up the point of having more resources for detox centres, my colleague, the member for Langley--Abbotsford, and I went to that committee and said that we were committed to fighting drugs. We asked that we make sure that if people needed or wanted adequate help they were going to be able to get that help.
We heard the member from Calgary talk about the number of break and enters because of people needing money for drugs. When we brought up the point that perhaps we should have detox centres right within the prisons, we were met with total opposition. The government asked why we would want to put detox centres in prison, why we would want to bring people down off their drugs while they were in prison. It was almost like the government felt that would be going against their rights. We have a prison system that believes in zero tolerance, yet when we go there we see that this is indeed not the case.
Then, right in the middle of the study, one day the government suddenly dropped the whole ball on the question of decriminalizing marijuana right on the table of our committee. It upset the whole strategy and plan that we were going through as far as hard drugs were concerned. It suddenly became the focus point. It became the focus point of the minister and the government. It became the focus point of the media. Every media call was saying to us, “Forget the safe injection sites and forget the heroin problem. What is the committee going to do about marijuana now?”
It really pre-empted the committee's study when suddenly the minister told us what the government was going to do. He said the government needed to move toward decriminalizing marijuana. There was the committee, set up to study marijuana, set up to study illicit drug use, and the minister pre-empted it and basically rendered everything we had studied and brought forward inconsequential, because, he said, “This is what the government is going to do”.
Now we see legislation, Bill C-10, that again is what the government is planning to do. Let me make it very clear that this opposition party, the Conservative Party of Canada, is going to oppose this type of open-ended decriminalization that basically sends the wrong messages and tells Canadians this is all right.
What would this bill do? It would establish a new system of fines for possession of marijuana. Right now we have a problem with courts that are not bringing down any type of deterrent sentences for marijuana use. We have a problem with courts that are in some cases giving a little slap on the wrist and putting people back into society. There has to be some recognition that the status quo is not working right now.
The government said initially that possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana should be punished by a fine of $150, and for youth, by a fine of up to $100. I can tell members that this type of sentencing, this type of fine, will be no deterrent to anyone starting to use marijuana.
We believe we need to send the message to Canadians that marijuana is harmful, marijuana is illegal, marijuana should not be tried, and they should stay away from all these mind-altering drugs. This type of legislation does nothing to do that.
I ask Canadians and I ask the government, when was the last time that any court sentenced anyone to a maximum fine on a drug charge? If I get a seat belt violation while puttering around in rural Alberta, I am going to get hit harder than I would if I were caught smoking a joint of marijuana.
Again we say that this type of summary offence and this type of sentencing show how out of touch the government is with what is going on out there. I had the opportunity over the last couple of weeks to travel throughout my constituency and speak to different RCMP detachments. In the southern part of my riding, Strathmore and Gleichen, the new part that will become part of Crowfoot, I asked the members of those detachments how prevalent drug use is in their communities. Again, drugs are the driver of crime. As my colleague from Calgary, a former police officer, has said, drugs are what drive crime. When I look at these kinds of fines and sentences, I realize the government has no commitment at all to deterrence.
I have already talked about the fact that this sends the wrong message to Canadian youth. I talk to some of the teachers and principals at schools and they say young people already believe that marijuana has been legalized. Again, this is the wrong message coming out of the House. It is the wrong message coming out of the Parliament of Canada, but that is what young people believe.
The question is, how do we enable our law enforcement officers to go out there and uphold the law? Anyone who is caught at a check stop for drinking and driving realizes that when a person blows into the breathalyzer and is told he or she is over the legal limit of alcohol, the police have substantive evidence that they can bring to any court to say the person blew over .08 and was impaired.
I can only imagine the types of trials dealing with drugs that are going to take place because of this legislation. The question will be whether the person was impaired or was over any legal limit. How are officers going to explain it? Are they going to say they tried to make them walk the line and they were not able to do that? Is that going to hold up in court? I can say absolutely that this bill is going to make it very difficult for any prosecutor to prove that someone was driving while impaired with marijuana. There will be much more use of marijuana. We will see it in our driving, on our highways and in our cemeteries. We will see it with people who are buried because someone was driving while stoned.
I had a chance to chat with the member for Yellowhead about crystal meth. We have a problem in some of our provinces. Even in my constituency of Crowfoot we are seeing much more crystal meth being brought in and used. That is why one of the things we are looking at is a private member's bill to deal with precursors of all the ingredients that go into making crystal meth. We are also looking at ways to help families that are being torn apart by people who use crystal meth.
Today I do not want to get into the argument on whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug, but I want to say that we are seeing marijuana being used with other drugs to heighten the high. The member for Yellowhead told me about marijuana being soaked or dipped in crystal meth and then smoked for a better high. I met with police officers who say that sometimes people soak toothpicks in it. They are driving trucks, the toothpicks are in the visor, and they will just suck on toothpicks that have been laced with crystal meth.
We are seeing more and more drugs out there all the time because we have not sent the right message on marijuana or on any type of drug; we have not sent the right type of message. We are reaping what we have sown. Unfortunately we are reaping it with kids, with families breaking up, with productivity going down and with education opportunities being lost. In every high school across the land, we are seeing the effects.
We should have the courage in this place to put in tough laws that show we really care about the effect these kinds of drugs are having on Canadians.
At committee I recall a question being asked of one of our witnesses: “Do you believe that people who are caught with marijuana will pay their fines?” At that time we were talking about a $500 fine as a deterrent. A number of witnesses said no. They did not know how we could force anybody to pay a fine.
In that committee we had a blackboard behind us. We wrote down things that we believed had to happen if there ever were to be decriminalization. We talked about the roadside tests. We talked about having the methodology for determining if someone is under the influence of any type of narcotic or marijuana. We talked about fines as a deterrent. We also discussed whether we could structure something that would force people to pay their fines, or would it just be another fine that would never be collected. We referenced tying it to the driver's licence, but that would come under provincial jurisdiction.
This is a bill that does not set out how we force people to pay these fines. People simply will not pay them. Until I hear someone on the government side say that we have a way to do roadside tests, we have the ability to have substantive fines in place, we have the ability to make sure those fines are paid, I do not really want to hear any more about the road we are on in decriminalizing marijuana.
The use and possession of marijuana must remain illegal. Canadians must realize that not only is it illegal but that there must be a substantive fine to show the damage and the harm that it can cause.
Every year police officers take the DARE program to schools. They talk to young Canadians about the damage that is caused by violence and drugs. There are ads on television and in newspapers showing the terrible effects of drugs. There are some good drug abuse education programs happening. However we have a government that wants to move toward decriminalization and in effect is telling Canadians that it is not as bad as we once thought it was.
Someone gave me a piece of information a while back which talked about the difference between today's marijuana and the marijuana of 30, 40 or 50 years ago. The high that one gets from the drug now is so different and yet we are saying that it is time to decriminalize it. The marijuana now is so powerful, with B.C. bud and some of the other types of marijuana, in toxicity levels. It is so much different from that of the 1960s during the hippie movement and the 1970s and 1980s when I was growing up and in high school. It was harmful then but it is much more harmful now. We knew it was wrong then and we know it has no benefits today, but we want to make it easier for young people to possess.
The government is wrong. The government has missed the mark. That is why this party does not support Bill C-10.