House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was police.


Points of Order

March 8th, 2004 / 11 a.m.

Ottawa—Vanier Ontario


Mauril Bélanger LiberalDeputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise to respond to a point of order raised by the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke when the House last met.

The member asserted that a document tabled by the President of the Treasury Board did not adequately respond to the concern raised by the member for Edmonton—Strathcona. Specifically, she suggested that the document the government tabled did not include the years 2003-04 to which the Prime Minister had referred.

The document in question is actually the response to a question brought forward by the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik last year and was subsequently tabled by the President of the Treasury Board on February 18, 2004. If the member inspects the entire document she will find what we found, which is that it does in fact cover the years in question.

I would be quite happy to table the document once again should that be the wish of the House.

Points of Order

11:10 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member indicated that the document was in fact the answer to a question. Was it made an order for return or was the answer printed in Hansard ?

Points of Order

11:10 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer was printed in


Points of Order

11:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I think if it has been printed, it hardly seems necessary to re-table the document. Obviously, it is available. The hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke may want to inspect the document and perhaps that will close the matter.

I am sure we will hear from her later if there is a continuing problem.

The House resumed from February 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be read the third time and passed.

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11:10 a.m.

The Speaker

When the bill was last before the House, the hon. member for London West had spoken and there remained five minutes in the time for questions and comments on the speech of the hon. member for London West.

I therefore call for questions or comments.

Seeing none, resuming debate, the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier.

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11:10 a.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us today is making waves both inside and outside the House of Commons. Talking about decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana is an important issue that has raised much interest in the general public. A number of us have been contacted by various groups that would like to present their points of view.

As the Bloc Quebecois justice critic, I have had the opportunity to talk with various people and groups that have given me their comments. Because it is an important issue with considerable symbolic value, it is the duty of the members of this House who want to address this issue to do so calmly, without demagoguery, and with enough perspective for a clear analysis of the situation and the bill before us. We must analyze what has led to this bill and what its results would be.

Therefore, I call upon the members of this House who are going to speak to this bill to do so without personal attacks, without grandstanding, with a cool head, in short, as rigorously as possible. That would be the least of the expectations of the women and men who have elected us to this place.

This is the third reading of Bill C-10. One of the reasons we are examining this bill is that there is a movement within the population that has been asking for some liberalization of the Canadian legislation. One of the most influential groups, in my opinion, has been the Forum Jeunesse of the Bloc Quebecois, which has been battling on this front for a number of years. This week, it can finally see the result of its lobbying efforts.

Once again, I would like to congratulate the Forum Jeunesse. It has held forums, discussions and debates on this subject of considerable interest to the population group it represents.

We are at this point today because there is a fairly solid, fairly firm, awareness of what should be done. A policy based exclusively on repression will not work in this matter because it does not lead to the desired results. It is an expensive policy, and definitely not a cost-effective one.

So, we must take note of that. We must also keep in mind what we know does work and yield tangible results, which is to increase public awareness.

To smoke marijuana is not good for anyone. In order to fight this phenomenon, we must increase public awareness of course, and particularly that of young men and women, of teenagers who may want to experiment with this substance, which is harmful to health.

I want to be clear. Those who, both inside and outside this House, support a degree of flexibility in the criminal legislation on the possession of marijuana are not promoting its use. They are not promoting the use of a substance which we know can be harmful to a person's health. What these people are saying is that, currently, the punishment is worse than the crime, and this is what this legislation seeks to correct.

This bill seeks to ensure that, while a person caught with a small amount of marijuana should, of course, be punished and suffer the consequences of his or her action, such punishment and consequences should not be worse than the crime itself.

It is important that, in conjunction with this liberalization, this vast awareness campaign that I am calling for be launched, but with the following caveat: this awareness campaign dealing with education and health must be run by Quebec and the provinces. The federal government must not, yet again, use a commendable objective to interfere where it does not belong. It is time that steps be taken to allow Quebec and the provinces to run widespread awareness campaigns against the use of marijuana.

From the beginning, I have been saying that we must debate this issue calmly and objectively, which does not mean not being involved, but rather being objective, in order to examine the situation properly. Most of this work has been done in committee. It is important to repeat in this House what was said in committee, including the fact that other countries that have decriminalized possession have not seen an increase in marijuana use.

For the benefit of those who say that decriminalizing penalties for simple possession of marijuana would send a bad message and entice more young people to use, when we take a cold look at the situation and the studies that have been presented and analyzed in committee, we see that this is not the case. We can all agree that this removes quite a significant amount of rhetoric from this whole debate.

Despite its partisan and ideological differences, I believe the committee did excellent work, which resulted in the a new bill being put before the House, which is better than the one the committee examined.

There are four main reasons. First, many of us feared that there would be problems, despite the fact that individuals charged with and even found guilty of simple possession of marijuana once this bill is passed will not have a criminal record. Many members of the committee from both sides of the House feared that, even if an individual had no criminal record, this information could end up in some database somewhere and that even, for example, if a charge were dropped and the Canadian government did not retain that information, it could end up in the hands of a foreign government or an international organization, such as Interpol. Also, many feared that individuals charged or convicted in Canada for such an offence might still suffer the consequences, for example, when they wanted to travel abroad.

That is why I moved an amendment, the essence of which the government has retained, to include a prohibition on disclosure of a charge or conviction to a foreign government or an international organization, thereby ensuring that the consequences we wish to lessen in Canada will not continue to have as much impact outside Canada and throughout the world. This first improvement was supported by a strong majority in committee. I believe this is an extremely important improvement to this bill.

The aim of the second major improvement is to conduct a review in three years. I supported this amendment because I strongly believe that in three years, once the review is complete, people will realize that those naysayers inside and outside this House who predicted that the earth would all but stop turning and that Canada would basically become a land of junkies were wrong and that these predictions will not come true. The important thing, when it comes to such as a sensitive issue, is to conduct a rigorous analysis of the facts. This amendment will ensure that, in three years' time, the consequences of this legislation can be reviewed. I firmly believe we will conclude that we were right in passing this bill.

The aim of the Bloc's third major amendment is to ensure that anyone possessing from one to three marijuana plants is not charged with production, but is recognized as possessing small amounts of marijuana. I want to explain.

Everyone in the House knows that drug trafficking is controlled by crime rings. We all know and agree that our intention here is not to encourage these crime rings. We do not want to provide any encouragement whatsoever to these criminals.

The occasional user ought not to be forced to buy on the black market which is run by the underworld, thereby criminalizing him or her even further, although they are regular members of society in everyday life, paying taxes, raising families and so on.

The purpose of the amendment passed in committee is, therefore, to prevent the occasional user from having to buy on the black market and deal with hardened criminals.

The fourth element, not an amendment to the bill but rather a report tabled in this House by the committee chair—because there were two reports—has to do with driving under the influence of drugs.

I had introduced an amendment in committee to that end, but it was deemed out of order because it fell outside the parameters of the bill. The committee agreed with me, however, and so we raised that point in an additional report. One of the concerns frequently, and quite rightly, expressed by the public in fact relates to people driving under the influence of drugs.

What we want most emphatically to see is for the government to introduce a bill on driving under the influence of drugs, and to do so as soon as possible. We are aware of the results of the present legislation, as well as the numerous campaigns against drinking and driving. The same sort of approach needs to be taken to driving under the influence of drugs.

Driving under the influence of drugs is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. We must therefore come down very hard on those who contemplate driving under the influence of drugs.

I therefore wish to reiterate the support of the Bloc Quebecois for Bill C-10. I also wish to reiterate our most impassioned plea for a bill on driving under the influence of drugs to be introduced and passed. I call upon my colleagues in this House to debate this without rhetoric, to analyze it coolly and rationally, even if they may feel very strongly about the issue. This is definitely a symbolic debate, but it is also a very important debate for the future of our society.

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11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments very intently. This is an important piece of legislation and I have a couple of thoughts on his presentation.

He presented the example of an individual driving under the influence of marijuana and that we should follow it up with another piece of legislation to ensure that it is looked after. Is that not getting the cart before the horse? Would we not be a lot wiser to bring that in before we bring forward a piece of legislation such as this that sends the message that in society it is okay to smoke marijuana? He is saying that is not what is happening. I would challenge him on that.

I want to ask him, how would he respond to the high school principal I talked to this fall when he said that just the idea of this piece of legislation going through this House has sent the message to the students in his school that it is okay to smoke marijuana?

Most of the citizens who walk the street do not follow the legislation as closely as we do here, but the message is clear to them, and to the students in that school, that it is okay. The courts are not enforcing it and the police are not enforcing it. This piece of legislation would send the message that we are going to go soft in society on this illegal drug.

I know that the bill does not necessarily say that, although it does send a message to our youth that they would get a lesser $50 fine if they were under the age of 18. So, under this piece of legislation, the repercussions to students would be far less than if they were adults. I think there is some justification to the idea that this piece of legislation sends the wrong message to society.

He is saying that the sky is not going to fall and that drug use is not going to increase. I would ask him to explain to me, how would he answer the principal that has seen the drug use in his school double this fall because of the message that is being sent by this legislation?

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11:30 a.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member from the Conservative Party of Canada for his question. I, too, have met with educators. First of all, there is a role for him to play when he meets the principal of his school and the students.

We are often invited to meet with students in secondary schools. At such times, we must clearly state that it is still illegal. It is still forbidden to have marijuana on one's person. We must convey this message. That is the first thing to do.

When certain people inside or outside this House say, “Everything is legal now; you can go ahead”, these people also have a responsibility. If the message that is sent to the public and the message the public receives is that it is legal; well, it is not. Make no mistake. What we are discussing is not that we are going from a system where it is illegal to a system where it is legal. We remain in a system where it is illegal. It is still illegal.

However, the penalty or punishment may differ from a criminal record with all the attendant ramifications. Often, for young people who get caught because they tried it once or twice, the consequences of a criminal record have an impact on job opportunities later, as well as on the possibility of travel to such countries as the United States. And God knows that to travel outside Canada, one often has to wait for a connection in the United States. Thus, the consequences for these young people are worse than if they were to be punished with a ticket and eventually a fine.

What I would like to say to my colleague is that it is a question of balance. What we must do, in the most solid and most logical way possible, is to ensure that the punishment for these young people is not worse than the crime, that is, that they do not lose job and travel opportunities that will have an impact on the rest of their lives, because of a minor offence—still illegal, but minor.

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11:30 a.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the answer by the hon. member opposite.

In his question, the member for Yellowhead implied that the bill is leaving the impression that the government is legalizing marijuana, and that is not the fact at all. The points made by the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier were very clear and I appreciated hearing that from him.

The problem we are having in the school system and the misinformation that is getting to principals and young people is a result of the rhetoric coming from the likes of the member for Yellowhead of the Conservative Party who is implying that the bill would legalize marijuana. It could not be further from the truth.

The fact of the matter is, as the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier indicated, it is still illegal to use drugs in this country under this legislation. It lays out the penalties more clearly than in the past and brings some consistency to the law.

The hon. member spoke about the need for a roadside test. I agree with him on that point. We do need a roadside test. Moneys are being applied in the bill whereby we are going to increase the funding for research into a roadside test and there will be greater training for police officers in order to detect the physical elements of those under the influence of drugs. Does he not feel that this is a step forward in terms of improving the situation and catching those who may be driving under the influence of drugs?

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11:35 a.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I wish to thank the hon. member for his question. This is indeed a step in the right direction. Do we need to do more? Yes. Do we need to speed up the process so that this bill will be passed, as I have so fervently wished right from the start? Yes.

This is a step in the right direction, but only the first step. I hope the process will move on as quickly as possible.

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11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to comment because I was challenged a little bit about the message that is being sent under this piece of legislation. It is not saying that it is legalizing marijuana, but it is sending a message to our youth that it is okay.

It says that the punishment for possessing under 15 grams of marijuana is $150 for an adult; however, if one is a student with a student card, it is only $100. What message is that sending to our youth?

If it is one gram or less of cannabis resin, then it is $300 for an adult, but only $200 for a student or a youth. That sends the message loud and clear to our youth that the government is going soft on the idea of using marijuana. That is where this piece of legislation is sending a wrong message to this nation. We had better get serious about it because it is not just marijuana use that is the problem in my riding.

On The National this week there was a report of the massive problem that we are having with methamphetamine which is linked very closely to marijuana. There have been massive marijuana drug busts in my riding and the marijuana is laced with methamphetamine. The addiction to the product is unbelievable. Communities are outraged because of the damage that is being done in schools and in society. They are fighting back with everything they have.

As they are fighting on the home front on this war against illicit drugs, we have a piece of legislation here that is not working in tandem with them. It is actually working against them. This is an absolute mistake. It is a piece of legislation that is sending all the wrong messages for all the wrong reasons. I would like my hon. colleague to comment on this.

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11:35 a.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, there are two points to be made. First of all, we see the Conservatives' attitude toward our young people. We realize—and I hope he realizes—that a student, with the high cost of a university education these days, will be forced to cut back even more on the necessities of life if the fines are hiked to that level. We know, moreover, that many students have trouble making ends meet.

In my opinion, the figures given by the hon. member are substantial enough to make a cegep or university student think twice. I remember my university days. If I had had to find $200, I would have had to do without an awful lot of other things.

Second, I would encourage the member to look at what was said in committee, including the Health Canada study which reported no increase in marijuana use in places where simple possession of marijuana has been decriminalized. These are facts, and facts are what all speeches in this House ought to be based on.

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11:40 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure on behalf of the NDP caucus to join in the debate on Bill C-10.

I would like to begin by paying tribute to and recognizing the effort of the NDP social policy critic, the member for Vancouver East. I think most people who are involved with the bill will agree that she has dedicated a great deal of energy, resources, time and personal capital to try to develop a mature 2004 approach to the issue of substance abuse, specifically the issue of marijuana use.

The member for Vancouver East recommends to our caucus that we not support the bill in its current form. I believe we went into the process with the best of intentions and in the spirit of some cooperation, or at least willingness on our part, to work with the government in the recognition that the current approach to the prohibition of marijuana had failed in the overall strategy to reduce substance abuse, whether it was among youth, or for marijuana alone or for the broader issue of substance abuse.

I would like to recap where we are.

During the previous session of Parliament, Bill C-38 was examined by the special committee for the non-medical use of drugs and was amended through that process. Through that committee, the member for Vancouver East and the NDP pushed for a number of changes. I might add that the touring, travelling committee on the non-medical use of drugs did very necessary and important work, and it heard from Canadians. I want to be balanced and fair and say that we did get some movement from the government on certain aspects of this bill, and I want recognize that.

When Parliament was prorogued in November and the new session commenced, Bill C-38 became Bill C-10. That is how we find ourselves now working on the bill in the House of Commons today.

Let me say that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the bill across the country. The misunderstanding is between those who support more decriminalization or true legalization and those who are opposed to what they believe is too much movement in terms of decriminalization. Both sides are not happy with the bill. Often that is a measurement that we have a good piece of legislation when no one is happy with it.

In this unhappy circumstance, we have to speak against the bill. It not only fails to achieve what it sets out to achieve, but it has the reverse effect in the decriminalization measures imposed by Bill C-10. We have been reminded time and again by the former minister of justice that it is not decriminalization and it has never been decriminalization. However, the shift to a fine regimen for simple possession may have the reverse effect and this level of decriminalization could lead to even more people being punished rather than fewer.

The original role was to take a softer approach to the very small personal use levels of one or two joints. In fact there was a time recently when police would overlook that type of minor offence. However, now that there is an automatic fine associated with even the smallest level of marijuana, it has a net widening effect.

Criminologists have often found that lowering, but not eliminating punishment, results in more people being punished. Previously the police would let people off with a warning and a wave under the old system. However, they definitely will be charged with a fine under this proposed system. In other words, decriminalization could lead to more people being punished, not fewer.

This would be a cutting edge plan if this was 1968. It is not 1968 and our approach toward substance abuse and our understanding about drug abuse has matured since 1968. It has matured since 1920 when this whole mess began.

Today is International Women's Day, and I would like to be one of the first in the House to recognize that March 8 is a very important day around the world. I raise this with all respect, but one of the famous five, a Canadian suffragette who has a statue within the smoke rings drifting from the House of Commons today, had a profound effect in shaping our views toward the criminalization of marijuana through the naivety that existed in 1920 about many social issues. Some of the most socially progressive people in the country at that time were advocating eugenics because they were naive, and they were plain wrong.

I put it to the House that the first female magistrate ever appointed in the British Commonwealth, Emily Murphy, was fundamentally wrong about marijuana. What has been called her vitriolic diatribe against using marijuana set the tone for the legislation that was to follow, and set the tone for what I believe is 100 years of abject failure in our treatment of substance abuse. She was a prohibitionist.

Let me explain some of how this terrible bit of history came about. She was an admirable woman, and a hero today to women for fighting for the vote. She was a prolific writer. She turned out four books and scores of magazines under the pen name Janey Canuck.

Some of her famous publications were stories on the grave drug menace, which bordered on being racist because it really was tied up with the use of opium on the west coast among the Chinese community. It was their fear that marijuana, opium and opiates were all one issue, and they pointed to the menace on the west coast. Some say that the country's war on weed was prompted by little more than a racist, erroneous dossier on the non-existent marijuana menace in a 1922 essay penned by Emily Murphy, with the help of a seemingly delusional Los Angeles police department chief.

It is galling to hear groups who support prohibition argue that there must have been some sound reason for criminalizing this drug in the first place, when there was no such thing in 1922 or today. Unfortunately, it was based upon misinformation that stemmed back to Emily Murphy, who is clad in her sensible shoes in her statue among the famous five. We have all had our pictures taken under her broad-rimmed hat and her sensible shoes.

However, this misinformation has caused us years of clogging up the court systems and the criminal justice system, with kids being busted for a bag of pot. We were trying to lock up a whole generation of children over some naive position taken in 1922 by a woman who was not an authority. It has been crazy and frustrating for me to have grown up in a generation where I saw friends arrested and their careers jeopardized for simple possession.

There are still kids in Texas jails serving the final years of 30 year sentences, having been busted in the 1970s for marijuana. Those who believe that tougher penalties will deter substance abuse are naive to the point where they are ignoring everything we know about substance abuse and what leads people to abuse narcotics, alcohol or anything else.

Locking people up does not work. We know that because the tougher the penalties get in the states, the worse its drug problem gets. It is a directly inverse scale that is 180 degrees wrong-headed and stupid. At least Canada, I believe, will not follow the Americans on their war on drugs, which has been so fundamentally counterproductive that they have had to privatize their prison system because their jails are bursting at the seams with people locked up for simple things like substance abuse, people who may need treatment but certainly who do not benefit from years in prison.

I raise that only because it is a cruel irony that Canada has been following misguided recommendations. Because of her concerns about opium use among Chinese immigrants, particularly at a time of growing unease in B.C. over B.C.'s growing Asian population, Murphy, an Alberta magistrate, launched a high profile campaign against drugs of all kinds. She was a prominent suffragette and social activist, but that does not mean she could not be wrong.

The police chief for Los Angeles, Charles A. Jones, who she was influenced by, was quoted throughout Murphy's editorials. They were being influenced by somebody in the United States who was wrong.

I do not have time to go through as much as I would like to on this matter. Twenty minutes is not long enough to do justice to this issue. However, I want to go through a brief history of the prohibition of marijuana in Canada as we know it today. I am trying to defend why the NDP will vote against the bill.

In 1908 the Opium and Narcotic Act created a framework for prohibiting illicit drug use in Canada. In 1922 Emily Murphy's book, The Black Candle , sounded an alarm about drug addiction in Canada. One chapter was devoted to “Marahuana--A New Menace”.

The addition of cannabis indica, not cannabis sativa, to the federal schedule of prohibited drugs in 1923 made marijuana illegal in Canada, killing an industry on the prairies. Prairie farmers were growing marijuana, or hemp, for rope. Anyone my age probably knows the difference between cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. We learned metric by those things.

In 1932 marijuana cigarettes were seized by police in Canada for the first time. Ten years went by between the passage of that law and the first time marijuana cigarettes were seized by the police.

In 1938, reflecting on the reefer badness scare, the Toronto Daily Star ran a story from a United States headline, “Marijuana smokers seized with the sudden craze to kill”. That was sensationalism.

In 1961 Canada signed the UN convention on narcotic drugs. It toughened its laws for possessing, cultivating and importing marijuana.

In 1966 the number of cannabis related offences nationally exceeded 100 for the first time. Look at how much this has escalated since 1966. How many court cases per year have there been since that time? The number has grown exponentially. It has crippled and bogged down our criminal justice system to the point where it is handicapped.

In 1973, with thousands of young people then being convicted annually for smoking marijuana, the federal Le Dain Commission recommended ending criminal charges for possession. The report was never implemented.

In 1980 a growing consensus in Canada on decriminalizing marijuana possession was derailed by the U.S. declaration of the war on drugs under President Ronald “star wars” Reagan. Thanks a million Ronnie. We really appreciated his valuable contribution to the issue of substance abuse. That was another bright move by the bright light of American politics, Ronald Reagan.

In 1984 New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield was charged but later acquitted. Rich people do not go to jail. We save those spaces for Indians who steal a loaf of bread. We do not put rich white guys in prison. Indians steal a loaf of bread, they go to Stoney. Even though the bag of marijuana was found in his luggage before being loaded on to a plane during the royal visit by the Queen, we were willing to forgive that. He brought dope on to the plane with the Queen. That was no great hazard.

In 1992 marijuana advocate Umberto Iorfida was charged with promoting the use of illicit drugs. The case was thrown out of court two years later by a judge who ruled it was an infringement of free speech to advocate the use of marijuana.

In 1992 the federal Conservative government introduced a bill doubling the penalties for marijuana possession. I guess it went arm's length with Ronnie. When Irish eyes were smiling, the Irish eyes were also doubling the penalty for marijuana possession. What madness was that? Did that party not read any textbooks about substance abuse? Did it not talk to any scientists about the treatment of substance abuse? Was it completely stupid? Fortunately, that party was kicked out in 1993 and the bill for doubling penalties was never implemented.

In 2003, an Ontario judge ruled that Canada's law on possession of small amounts of marijuana was no longer valid and dismissed the charges against a Windsor youth. Finally a judge said it was time to stop clogging up our criminal justice system and ruining the lives of young people by giving them a criminal record for the simple possession of marijuana, something we on the prairies used to make rope out of, for a profit, until unfortunately a misguided magistrate from Alberta started her own vitriolic campaign against marijuana and put us in the trouble we are in today, almost a century later.

Let me back up a bit to 2000, when the Ontario Court of Appeal declared that federal law prohibiting the possession of marijuana was unconstitutional and gave the government a year to amend it. The highest court in Ontario declared a federal law prohibiting the possession of marijuana unconstitutional and gave the government one year to amend it.

That was about the time that Chuck Guité and others were right in the heart of the sponsorship scandal, so I can imagine why the Government of Canada was seized with other issues in the year 2000. That was essentially a lost year for progress in terms of social issues in Canada.

The law was deemed a violation of the rights of sick people who were using marijuana for medical purposes, which was an interesting development. In July 2001, Canada became the first country in the world to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. That is not bad. I commend the government for doing that.

In 2002, the special Senate committee on illegal drugs sparked a national debate by recommending the legalization of marijuana. It caused a huge furor and uproar, even though that was 2002 and not 1922, when the fearmongering was such that people tried to convince others that by stiffening penalties we could influence social behaviour as it applied to addictions and substance abuse. What absolute folly. What a terrible and tragic mistake. Not only do the people who are sick and have a substance abuse problem not get the help they deserve, but we are clogging up our police departments, the courts, prosecutors' departments and the criminal justice system with unnecessary offences and we are perhaps ruining the lives of some innocent young people who may in fact just be dabbling with that biodegradable substance.

The NDP tried to push for changes. Amnesty provisions regarding past changes or convictions for simple possession were to be erased. Records for contravention and for the receiving of fines for simple possession or cultivation for personal use were to be sealed and not shared with Interpol or other foreign jurisdictions. These are all things that the member for Vancouver East raised at the committee.

There was also the non-commercial transfer of marijuana. Currently, even simply giving marijuana for no money--in other words, passing a joint--is trafficking. If somebody says “don't bogart that joint”, under Bill C-10 that is a non-commercial transfer. That is trafficking. We argued that a gift of up to 30 grams should not be considered trafficking. We lost on that issue.

The NDP strongly believes that the bill needs to contain amnesty provisions for people who currently have criminal records for simple possession. If simple possession of marijuana no longer risks a criminal charge, those who now have a criminal record for similar conduct should be entitled to automatic amnesty. We should erase it from their records and stop messing up the careers and the lives of young people who may have been convicted under a law that we now accept to be wrong-headed. If we have now come to the conclusion that we have been wrong for the last 80 years, why are people still suffering from that persecution?

The federal NDP believes the federal government must move beyond decriminalization and examine and introduce a non-punitive, rules based approach to adult marijuana use, with an emphasis on prevention, education and health promotion. Marijuana policy needs to eliminate the criminalization of users and focus on reducing harm and preventing crime.

The federal government should be putting resources behind public education, not criminal prosecution. Even for the fines regimen it is putting in place, what if people do not pay the fine? They would wind up in the courts because they would then be guilty of the offence of not paying the fine. The government has not really simplified or decriminalized to the extent we are advocating.

Taking the example of tobacco, consistent and strong messaging on the health risks of tobacco has greatly reduced tobacco use. It is not necessary to use criminal law to discourage harmful forms of drug use. In many cases, it is counterproductive.

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Elinor Caplan Liberal Thornhill, ON

Madam Speaker, there is a question that I would pose to the member opposite. It would appear to me that his party's position is inconsistent with what he has had to say and that is because the law is being inconsistently applied today. We have a situation where in the big cities the police are, rightly, looking at grow operations as a priority and are often not clogging the courts and not charging young people with simple possession, while in the smaller towns across this country young people are ending up with criminal records that affect their lives and careers.

I would add to this analysis that at the very same time he and his party are very supportive of anti-smoking laws because he knows that smoking is bad, whether it is smoking tobacco, marijuana or any other substance. We know that cancer causing carcinogens are in marijuana as well as tobacco. Therefore, surely this legislation, which says marijuana is bad, should be supported by his party in that instead of having the criminal law applied inconsistently across this country, a series of fines and penalties hopefully will send out the message that smoking is bad.

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Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, it has been long recognized by public policy that prohibitionist laws continue to fuel organized crime and other violent organizations in our society and that prohibiting drugs creates a black market that greatly inflates the value of those drugs and the profits to be made by selling them.

Governments and police agencies claim that organized crime in Canada obtains most of its funds from the illegal trade in drugs, a trade that interests organized crime only because our laws prohibiting certain drugs have created an enormously lucrative black market. Yet those same governments and police bodies refuse to acknowledge the role that prohibition plays in creating that black market.

Canada needs to look beyond its closest neighbour and come up with a comprehensive and safe marijuana policy. The U.S.-driven war on drugs is not a made in Canada solution and Canada should not be intimidated by the U.S. record. Canada should look instead to the United States as an example of a country with a disastrously failed drug policy, a policy that has failed because of its perennial reliance on prohibition.

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Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the last few speakers on this topic. The party of the member for Winnipeg Centre talks so much about the need to put more funding into health care. Not only his party talks about it, but we all talk about it, because it is the most important issue in this country. Any poll that anyone takes will tell us that the concerns about health care and the cost of health care are extremely important in everyone's view.

However, if we are going to bring in legislation that further opens the door to substance abuse, which will eventually lead to more health care costs, how can we justify that in light of the concerns of our already overburdened economy in relation to paying for the country's health care needs?

There is another question I would like to ask him. I am not sure what his experience is, but in speaking to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the local constabulary, I have yet to find one single police officer who agrees with the present legislation for the decriminalizing of marijuana.

I have real concerns about what we are doing here. I would like to ask the member where he sees this in relation to increasing the need for health care funding. Second, what is his experience in dealing with law enforcement agencies in relation to this legislation?

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12:05 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for a very sensible question and the very valid points he raises. First, on funding, obviously the NDP is advocating that the government bridges what we call the Romanow gap: that we come up to 25% federal funding for our national health care program to the provinces and stop listening to the Kirby report. A person who actually sits on the board of directors for private insurance companies should not be allowed to comment on our not for profit publicly delivered health care system.

Second, in terms of dollars, this issue versus health care, the introduction of Bill C-38 in June 2003 was also accompanied by an announcement of the renewal of the Canada drug strategy providing $245 million over five years. But the Auditor General's report on illicit drugs sharply questioned the reliance on enforcement and pointed out that 95% of those federal funds spent on illicit drug use in Canada is used toward the enforcement and interdiction rather than education and any measures we take to actually reduce the number of people involved in substance abuse.

I would argue, then, in answer to the hon. member's question, that we do not have to take money away from other important budget lines and social policies. We could redirect or re-prioritize the use of the existing $245 million and dedicate more of it toward prevention, education, health promotion and a rules based and non-punitive approach to marijuana use.

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12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I was going to get up and ask the same question that was asked by the member for St. John's West and was not answered by this member. I learned a long time ago that good laws are only as good as the enforcement of those laws, the case in point being the gun registry. The police have indicated that they will not support any kind of decriminalization of marijuana, but I am confused about this. There is a bit of a contradiction. We have just heard that in fact those same police officers are not enforcing the law for simple possession.

Here is where my difficulty comes in. I will ask the member from Winnipeg this: Why it is that the police themselves are not prepared to look at changing the current laws if they are not enforcing them? Why is it that they are not supporting that change but at the same time not enforcing the laws on the books at present?

It just does not make any sense to me that they would not look forward to changing the law so that it could become better for our society, as was mentioned by the member from Winnipeg. Why is it that the police departments and the officers are not prepared to enforce the law or not prepared to change the law, but want the status quo?

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12:05 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I can only say that the latitude police officers currently enjoy has really been taken away from them. I share the frustration of enforcement officers who pick up somebody with 15 grams of marijuana and spend the rest of the shift processing that particular charge. It takes police officers off the street. They are unable to do the work they probably believe they were hired to do. No cop wants to spend his or her time arresting drunks or arresting kids for a half a lid of pot, but the decriminalization contemplated by the federal government would have the effect of even more people being punished, not fewer.

Police used to have the latitude to say, “It's only a few joints, let`s just seize it from the kid, flush it down the toilet and send the kid home”. Now that person will get a ticket. Some people will not pay their tickets. Then a bench warrant will be issued. Then they will be in the criminal justice system, not for the marijuana but for not paying their fines, and we will be clogged up again.

The prediction is that there will be literally hundreds of thousands more of these fines given out than there are prosecutions and charges laid currently. Many of those people will default and fail to pay them, so again we will be wasting our resources on something that is really meaningless.

As I said, the Liberal government is proposing what would be viewed as a cutting edge plan if this were 1968. It is not even as progressive as the Le Dain commission of 20 years ago.

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12:10 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-10, which is really a follow-up and re-introduction of Bill C-38 from the previous Parliament. I had the opportunity to speak at second reading, but after reviewing some of the remarks by some members I feel it necessary to speak again.

Some people say that the bill does not go far enough and therefore we should not pass the bill. Just a moment ago the member for St. John's West said that the bill would further open up the door to substance abuse. He could not be more wrong. The bill would not open up the door to substance abuse. It lays out the specifics and the law in a consistent fashion across the country.

Those who say the bill does not go far enough could not be more wrong. Does anyone in the House actually believe that if we do nothing things will improve? The bill is a major step in the right direction. If we do nothing, how many more lives will be destroyed? How long will it be before the House is again this close to changing the laws on marijuana use and making them consistent?

The bill would increase penalties for marijuana grow operations and it sets out some conditions to the courts. It sets out clearly in law how to handle small amounts of marijuana. It is not about legalization or decriminalization. It is still illegal to use marijuana. The bill would set out in law clear penalties by which the police forces should abide. It educates the public, and especially youth, on the harmful effects of drug use and that it is still illegal to use drugs. It brings consistency to the law.

Let me put it quite bluntly. If we do not act now and the current situation is allowed to prevail, then the House and all members would, by our lack of action in my view, allow more lives to be destroyed. That is a tremendous loss of human potential. The bill would move us forward.

As a former solicitor general, I have had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact of drug use and its devastating effects; lives destroyed. In downtown eastside Vancouver, where drugs are the scourge in that community, lives have been destroyed, loss of human potential, families disrupted and just human disarray.

I also had the opportunity to see the dangers of marijuana grow operations. These operations are run by people who profit from growing marijuana through illegal means. It is a crop that destroys lives and human potential. It is a product that is used by some within our high school systems. It could be used by a son or daughter of anyone in the House. It is not necessarily the fault of those young people that they get on marijuana. They give it a try but they become addicted and as a result they lose the potential of their lives.

I want to refute some of the remarks that have been made by other members. I will quote from Hansard what the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough said on February 23. He was talking about a Statistics Canada Report. He said:

It, in essence, points out that drug use and crimes related to drug use have increased substantially in recent years. In police reported drug crimes the rate has gone up an estimated 42% since the early 1990s and now stands at a 20 year high.

That is absolutely true. I agree with his point but he argues against the bill. The bill is a new drug enforcement strategy. The current laws are not working. We have to make them consistent. This bill would move us forward. It would change the laws so they would in fact work. Therefore, I encourage everyone in the House to support the bill.

On the part of the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, who was the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party for a spell, his point in spouting the statistics, admitting there is a problem but saying that we should stay with what we have and not change anything, shows an extreme lack of leadership. To lead one has to address the issue and that is what the current bill before the House would do. It addresses the issue so we can change the drug situation in Canada.

It does it in these ways. It would implement a prevention and education program with dollars attached that will enhance the regional and national coordination. With increased funding it will utilize better the Canada Centre on Substance Abuse with better research into the impact and in terms of some of the solutions on how to get young people and people of all ages off drugs. It would increase the level of contribution to international drug bodies. That is the intent of the national drug strategy. The intent is also to increase enforcement and protection.

We cannot bury our head in the sand, as the member for Pictou--Antigonish-Guysborough implies we should do. We must address the problem, which is what the present bill tries to do.

The current laws are not working. They are not being enforced by the police consistently across the country. That is well-known, as was mentioned in the previous debate in the House. If people are caught with marijuana in my community, in a rural community, then probably they will be charged, they will have a criminal record and it will affect their lives for years to come. If they are truck drivers they may not be able to cross the Canada-U.S. border and as a result their livelihood suffers. However if they are in one of the bigger Canadian cities, they may get a little slap on the wrist. That is not a consistent application of the law.

What the bill attempts to do is to make it a consistent application of the law across Canada. Yes, I know, as some people have said, not all police forces in the country are in favour of the bill. To a great extent the reason is because they lose police discretion.

Yes, I would like to see them have police discretion in most instances but the current law is not working. Therefore, in this case, from zero to fifteen grams, they would lose police discretion. I personally would have favoured lowering the rate to five grams instead of fifteen. I lost that fight but I still believe the bill moves us a giant step forward.

The penalties right now are not applied to the extent intended by the law and differ considerably from one province to another. The bill would change that. I do not have time to go through how it would change that but it is in the bill in proposed 10(2.1) where it lays out the kind of criteria that the courts must apply. Proposed subsection 10(3) states:

If the court is satisfied of the existence of one or more of the factors enumerated in paragraphs [above], but decides not to impose a custodial sentence, the court shall give reasons for that decision.

I have seen this firsthand in terms of my meetings with police forces. The legitimate feeling right now is that the courts are not imposing the penalties intended by the law.

Why is it necessary to outline in legislation better direction to the courts? It is because the courts have not been proposing heavy enough penalties on those involved in marijuana grow operations. The court has consistently let people off with a slap on the wrist. This legislation would force the court to explain itself if the penalties are not applied.

I feel very strongly about this section of the bill. During my experience as solicitor general, I had the opportunity to meet with RCMP officers and other police forces across this country. One of the meetings I remember most vividly was in Richmond, British Columbia where I held a round table with a number of RCMP drug enforcement officers who take down marijuana grow operations. They said that they put their lives on the line, that doors are sometimes booby-trapped and that one of their colleagues or themselves could lose their life or limb.

They take these people in and charge them. However, all too often, before they arrive at the office the next morning these people are out on the street. I did a tour with those officers and saw the houses with marijuana grow operations. I saw the dangers to the neighbours, the booby-trapping of doors, the stealing of hydro electricity and the damage to real estate. It is absolutely unacceptable. The courts have a responsibility to close them down when the RCMP and other police forces take those people in and charge them. This bill would move us a giant step forward by laying out the conditions by which the courts should lay down those penalties.

I vividly remember the frustration of some of those police officers, who had been in the ranks for perhaps just 18 months to a year, nearly in tears over the work and the effort they put in to dealing with the people who run marijuana grow operations that destroy lives and are so frustrated by the courts when they do not impose the penalties intended by the law.

We cannot lose our highly trained police officers. We need them but we need to help them deal with their frustration. The bill would move us a step forward to laying out better directions to the courts in terms of the intent of the law so they do impose the penalties intended by the law. The bottom line is the bill would more effectively deal with marijuana grow operations than is currently the case.

If we are going to stand with police officers doing their job, then we need the bill. We need the stronger directions to the court outlined in the bill. We need the increased penalties outlined in the bill. We need the increased financial resources for enforcement outlined in the national drug strategy.

I was rather dissatisfied, would be putting it mildly, when I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs who spoke in the House in opposition to the bill. He said:

It is so much so that as confirmed by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, this product is becoming the product of choice for members of organized crime, who I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, are not, and I repeat not, marijuana enthusiasts. Instead, they see opportunities of renting or buying a house and for $25,000 they can make a $600,000 return on investment.

In terms of the problem, his point is correct. However, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in opposing the bill, is leaving the situation the same. The bill would improve the situation. It would lay out the penalties, as I already said a moment ago.

The same Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs opposes the bill because there is no roadside test. Again, let me quote him:

Number one, there is no protocol to take roadside sampling for individuals who have imbibed the product. We now know through studies in Ontario, through various organizations, and I am not just talking about MADD Canada, that young people are choosing marijuana as a means of evading detection.

The national drug strategy that accompanies this bill would move us ahead. It would put money into greater training for police officers. It would put money into research for creating a roadside test.

It makes no sense to bury our heads in the sand and not deal with the problem because we do not have the test. We would be putting moneys in place, through the national drug strategy, to find the test. This bill would move us forward substantially. As part of the national drug strategy, moneys would be put in place for police officer training and research.

Before I conclude, I would like to deal with the misperception promoted by those in this House opposed to the bill. I want to quote the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough who said on February 23:

The legislation sends entirely the wrong message as far as the public perception is concerned.

There are some members in this House who oppose the bill, and they have reasons for doing so. To say that the bill would legalize marijuana is wrong. Those people who are talking about this bill as if it would legalize marijuana are in fact creating a misconception out there that would move some young people to greater drug use.

This bill is about laying out the criteria, establishing the penalties, and keeping drug use illegal in Canada. It is about improving the situation. Members should be upfront and say what the bill is trying to do because that is what the bill spells out.

In fact, the bill is not about legalizing small amounts of marijuana. It is about changing the penalties. It would bring consistency to the law by ensuring penalties are imposed.

The legislation is based on four pillars. The first pillar is prevention, through drug awareness, community programming for youth, parents, athletes, coaches, the RCMP community actions programs for children, et cetera. It is about a prevention program that talks about the harmful effects of drug use in Canada and how it can destroy lives.

The second pillar is enforcement of the law and laying out before the courts the criteria that they should follow, in terms of imposing penalties under the law.

The third pillar is treatment. There are substance abuse pre-release programs and, through the Canadian Centre for Drug Abuse, treatments--for those people who, for whatever reason, get drugs--to get people off drugs.

The last pillar is harm reduction. It would ensure that human beings do not harm themselves as a result of drug use.

The bill would move us a huge step forward. We may differ in terms of the amount, from zero to 15, and on the front end penalties. However, as a whole, the bill would move us a giant step forward from where we are currently. If passed by the House, the bill could save the loss of human potential as a result of drug use now.

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12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I listened to the speaker from the government side articulating the reasons why we should support Bill C-10.

The former solicitor general articulated some of the problems that we have with drugs. Articulating those problems and recognizing them in no way improves the fact that this is extremely flawed legislation. I listened to him very carefully and I would say that good intentions do not make good legislation.

Because the government intends to do something about the increasing drug problem in this country does not mean that this legislation does that. The member started out by asking, is this better than doing nothing? It probably is better to do nothing than to introduce extremely flawed legislation.

I will give the House one example. In my hometown of Yorkton, I have young people coming to me because the problems have increased in the high schools in Yorkton. Yorkton has several high schools. However, in one particular high school problems are already being increased in the classroom and the legislation has not even been passed. I have already raised this in the House the week before last.

The member talked about all these things and how we should get on side. What has been put into this legislation is virtually unenforceable. If we were to talk to the police, they would tell us that there is no mechanism to collect fines from these people.

The fact that young people have a reduced fine compared to older people may in some cases communicate the message to youth that it is not a serious problem.

The way this legislation has been put together is deplorable. The government does not have an overall drug strategy. The greatest problem with this legislation is that it is not part of a greater effective framework. The government will tell members that it is, but there is no effective drug strategy.

I will be speaking in a few minutes and I will make all of these points. However, I want this member, because he is before me, to answer some of these questions. He talks about the grow operations. Why not deal with that problem? The legislation does not do it. I challenge the member to tell me how decriminalizing marijuana would create a stronger penalty for grow operations? It does not.

He talked about putting money into research to find a roadside test to check people who might be on marijuana while they are driving and creating a hazard on our roads. The test should be put in place first and then the legislation should be passed. It is not done the other way around. The horse is put in front of the cart.

There are huge problems and I will deal with them in my speech. However, it is incumbent on the member to come clean and answer just a few of the questions I have raised.

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12:30 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, the hon. member kind of half made his point when he said we should put the test in place first, in other words, bury our heads in the sand. When is the test going to be available? Will it be two months, will it be two years?

I would encourage the member opposite to go to downtown Vancouver's east side, and see and talk to some of those individuals, see the loss of human potential there, and see the lives that are being virtually destroyed. How many more lives must be destroyed before we deal with the problem? Waiting for the test implies that we are basically sitting back and waiting another little while.

The bill and the national drug strategy will put in place funding for research work and for the training of police officers. We did not always have a breathalyzer test for alcohol. In my time, we used to have to walk the white line, but eventually a breathalyzer test came along. The police forces used to use observation and training to detect if people at that time were driving under the influence of alcohol. The same training could take place for being under the influence of drugs.

The member opposite accused me of articulating the problem but not proposing solutions. He obviously did not want to hear what people had to say. He did go to great lengths to emphasize that people are coming to him and saying that there are problems in high schools. He is blaming it on what he claims is the decriminalization in this bill.

As I said earlier, this is not about decriminalization. If the Conservative Party would go to western Canada and tell the people what the bill is really about, that it is about changing penalties, then maybe those young people would not have to come to him. They are coming to him on the basis of the misinformation that is put out by the Conservative Party. That is the problem.

The bill talks about changing the penalties, doing a better job, education, getting people off drugs, increasing the penalties and closing down marijuana grow operations, and about finding the solution to roadside testing. If he were to state those facts then maybe young people in the schools in his riding would recognize that the bill moves us forward and then they would not need to come to him.

If he were to put out the right information instead of the wrong information, we would be moving forward.

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12:35 p.m.

London West Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his continuing interest in this bill. He has a special area of knowledge about the workings of this bill and its passage through the House, which has not been the easiest passage because people are still debating the misinformation as opposed to the actual bill, and that makes it difficult for people.

There are some myths that have taken hold. One of the myths is that the U.S. will not like this legislation. I know that, as a former solicitor general for this country, he has had discussions with the representative from the United States. I would like to hear a little more about those conversations.

I would like to tell the House that grow operations are becoming a big problem in just about every community. They are becoming a safety issue and they are an issue in and of themselves.

I would also like the member to address these questions. What do we say to the police who have to work on these difficult issues? If we were to stick with the status quo and not pass this legislation, what would happen to all the measures in this bill that would help police get at the grow operations, involve more parents, and issue fines that younger people would pay on smaller amounts? What does this say about where we want our resources to be expended in this country?

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12:35 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary has worked extremely hard on this bill. Yes, it is difficult to get the real facts out as they relate to the bill and the positive direction in which the Government of Canada is moving.

Her first question related to the United States. I have had the opportunity to discuss the proposed bill with Attorney General Ashcroft and the drug czar in the United States at the cross-border crime forum. There is no question that they are not overly enthused about the moves we are making, but when the facts were explained to them, not the propaganda put out by those on the other side, they could see the merits of the bill. They are willing to live with it. They know their own system is not working well either.

I certainly believe that to a great extent we can bring the Americans onside because we are showing some leadership on this issue that has not been shown elsewhere around the world. We have to explain the correct information. I know it is very hard for members opposite in the Conservative Party to put the accurate facts out there, but if they would, I think they would see a different response.

With regard to grow operations, I said earlier in my remarks that there are serious problems with them in this country. The bill addresses that issue by increasing penalties and by laying out the direction to the courts in terms of the imposition of those penalties. Therefore the bill does move us forward. If the bill carries, I think that three years down the road we will look back and say that we made great decisions in the House.