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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.

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed

The House resumed 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, and of the amendment.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2004 / 3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

When the debate was interrupted for question period, the hon. member for Yellowhead had 10 minutes remaining for questions and comments.

The hon. member for Provencher on questions or comments.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was quite interested in the speech given by my colleague from Yellowhead.

The issue of methamphetamine is a very important one which he brought to the House's attention. He indicated that organized crime is treating marijuana with methamphetamine. That certainly brings a whole new dimension to the use of marijuana.

Back in 1997 to 1999 when I was directly involved in a provincial government in a cabinet position, we dealt with the American authorities. At that time they were warning us about the spread of methamphetamine, that methamphetamine was devastating communities right across the United States. They told us at that time that over 80% of child welfare apprehensions in the state of California were directly related to methamphetamine abuse. They told us about the deaths of police officers and emergency responders who would go into methamphetamine labs and would be overcome by the fumes of these very dangerous and inexpensive labs.

Has the member heard of actual meth labs operating in his area? Has he had contact with the police? Does it not put a whole new perspective on the issue of legalizing marijuana when it is being treated with methamphetamine?

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what is happening in Yellowhead. It is such a severe problem that communities are linking arms with all of the resources they possibly can muster to push back against the problem of the methamphetamine within their communities.

This started in a smaller area but the history the member talked about with regard to the experience in the United States is absolutely right. We have been warned that wherever methamphetamine takes hold in a society, it will be absolutely devastating. We had better wake up and realize what we are dealing with on this issue because it is severe.

Not only have communities gone so far as to link arms but the community of Drayton Valley in my riding has hired a police officer and another individual who has actually recovered from methamphetamine use to set up a program to deal with the situation within its schools. One social studies teacher told me that a third of his students are hooked on methamphetamine. If the numbers are anywhere close to being accurate, the repercussions to society are going to be enormous and absolutely phenomenal.

When we link that to this bill which sends the message that we are going soft on marijuana, it is going absolutely in the opposite direction to where municipal governments, local communities and the provinces are going. The federal government is out of step and out of tune with where society needs to go with regard to marijuana use and the repercussions of illicit drugs throughout society.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, as a police officer in the 1970s and 1980s in the city of Calgary, I became very much aware of a problem which is building right across the country. It has to do with the prosecutions regarding marijuana and other drugs. Being that it was all done by a federal prosecutor back in the 1980s with the stroke of a pen, there were judges in this country who would strike the charges off the ledger. Thousands upon thousands of those who were charged with the use of either soft drugs or small quantities of even hard drugs walked free.

My colleague has examined to some degree the nature of the use of drugs and the enforcement side of it. What would he suggest as a solution to this particular problem when it comes to federal prosecution?

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is the nub of the problem. The courts are going soft on this. They are sending the message to society that they are not going to prosecute. That is why so many of our policemen are refusing even to enforce the charge on the small possession of marijuana.

We should send a message to the RCMP and to society that we have had it, that we are sick and tired of the abuse and we are going to push back against the illicit use of drugs. We could do that by changing the bill in the way that we recommended, which is to only allow three to five grams as a small amount that would be decriminalized but increase the fines. We would give the tools to the front line RCMP to ticket aggressively. We would be pushing back much more aggressively in society on the damage that this is doing. We would be taking it out of the hands of the courts. A ticket could be issued rather than taking it to court which would plug up the courts, and the courts are not enforcing it at any rate.

The solution is not to send a message to society that this is not really a problem and let us go soft on it. The message should be that we are sick and tired of the problem, that we have had it and we are going to push back with everything we possibly can. That is what the message should be from the government. That is what we would do. That is what the bill should be reflecting and it is not. That is why we are so opposed to it.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Canadian Alliance Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I come from British Columbia and marijuana growth is a big business in B.C. It is really unfortunate, when we look at the economy in parts of British Columbia, how significant that is compared to other legal lines of business.

I want to ask the member a question, but I will make a comment first. I live in a small community in northern British Columbia. The other day I looked across the street and saw a house being boarded up with plywood. I thought it was another family leaving town because of the tough times in the north. This is right across the street from where I live and I live in a pretty decent part of town. I was shocked to find out on Saturday that it was a meth lab and that was why it was being boarded up. The police had raided it. I had no idea that this sort of thing was even going on in my community. It really brings to a head the comments that my colleague made earlier.

Quite frankly, there is concern for the future of our kids--I have children and grandchildren--and I cannot see how anybody would advocate their kids smoking. They sure as heck do not advocate cigarettes. Why would they be even considering supporting legislation like this that tends to encourage young people to possibly pursue these kinds of things when we look at the effects of meth and so on?

Could the member expand a little more on the future potential societal effects of these kinds of problems?

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question and his concern. He is absolutely right.

As I said earlier with regard to this piece of legislation, all members of the House have these problems in their own ridings and if they do not, they are either just not knowledgeable about it or it has not quite hit them yet, but it will.

This problem with methamphetamine has only come up in the last decade. Where are we going to be a decade from now? That becomes the question. The victims are the children. The victims are also those who rent the facilities because once a meth lab is set up, it permeates the entire facility. Cleaning out a facility is a horrendous thing to do because it is very toxic.

Many of these meth labs are blowing up. The fumes are very flammable and fires are being caused because of them. Good landlords are renting to bad tenants unknowingly and these meth labs are being set up, not in their facilities but in someone else's. It is a problem with organized crime. If members think the problem we have with marijuana is bad, wait until they see the amount of dollars and crime involved when it comes to methamphetamine.

This is serious and we had better get serious about dealing with it. I encourage all members in the House to consider the repercussions of this piece of legislation.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am appreciative of the fact that I can stand in this House and deal with this particular topic.

Being a former police officer for over 20 years, I have seen the usage of marijuana and other drugs and how they can affect, not only the lives of those who have used it and their families, but also society.

I can recap one situation. I was patrolling in the streets of Calgary one evening and a vehicle in front of me, which had just driven out of one of the local bars, was all over the road. I stopped that particular vehicle to determine if the driver was impaired. I thought he was impaired by alcohol. He was placed on the final breathalyzer test and actually blew under the limit, advising me as a police office that he wasn't impaired by alcohol. He had been smoking marijuana at the same time. It was a small quantity of marijuana that he had actually smoked but with the enhancement of the alcohol, his ability to drive was severely hampered.

That is what is happening in too many driving situations today. The roadside testers do not have the ability to detect the use of marijuana on the breath of a driver. In fact, there are accidents happening where drivers are impaired by a drug and not by alcohol. They often, unfortunately, slip through the checkstops and never end up being charged.

There is major problem with the direction that the government is taking when it comes to the legalization or the decriminalization of marijuana, even small quantities. The small quantity, up to 30 grams, is enough to impair any driver. Any person getting behind the wheel of a car would be considered a hazard. And if there is alcohol mixed with that, it is even worse.

I think that sends the wrong message to Canada's youth. Unfortunately, I can recall the statement of a previous Prime Minister who made reference to “marijuana brownies”. That remark was irresponsible and absolutely uncalled for. For it to come from the top person of the land was offensive.

The use of marijuana is not a joke. The use of any drug is no joke. It destroys family. It destroys even those outside the purview because it is costly in treatments and it is costly to fix the damage that is being done by those who are using drugs.

I will relate another situation. Some say that it is not an addictive drug. I beg to differ with that comment. I have arrested individuals who went on house break-in sprees just to get enough money to buy marijuana. The marijuana of today is not what it was 50 years ago or 40 years ago. It is a lot different. It is addictive in many of its forms. It is also being mixed with other more lethal drugs nowadays that make it even worse.

An individual who had been responsible for 400 house break-ins got to the point, just to support his marijuana need, of even using violence if he was confronted by people in the house he happened to enter, which was not very often. However, two or three times is two or three times too many. He kicked an elderly woman so he could make a clean escape with the goods he had stolen from her house.

He was a marijuana user with a habit. He wanted money, no matter how he could get it. In this particular case, he went out to get it by entering houses unlawfully. He stole the goods of ordinary people that were sometimes artifacts that they had saved from one generation to the next. He sold them for peanuts so he could support his drug habit.

I find it reprehensible to think that our government is moving down a path that will make marijuana usage more acceptable by lowering fines and by taking away what should be strong court action to deter this kind of activity. Unfortunately, our government has not taken into account the societal needs of restriction or abstinence from this kind of drug.

Those individuals in the highest governmental position in the land are condoning the use of marijuana. They are saying that marijuana brownies or chocolate brownies could be used to the same degree, but they are also starving our law enforcement agencies from enforcing the law that would restrict those who want to violate the law by distributing and growing this particular drug.

What does it take to crack down on organized crime? It takes organized police action across the country and internationally. To have organized police action we need a national drug strategy. We need strong communication links between police agencies within the country. We need strong communication links to police agencies outside the country. These grow operations and marijuana distribution links are outside the country. They are not just in Canada. People are getting fat off of this kind of activity. Lawyers will go to any length to defend them because they know there are lots of bucks involved in the drug trade.

This legislation could very well increase the demand for marijuana. Bill C-10 could make the illegal production and distribution of marijuana even more lucrative because it is such a minor measure. It is more enticing to those who want to use marijuana. It is more enticing to those who distribute it knowing they would get more of their product out. They would grow their quantities of marijuana in a more aggressive way because the legislation would allow them to do so.

Enforcement agencies always have a hammer that they can hold over individuals who use marijuana. They could use this hammer as a lever to charge those who use small quantities or use it as a lever to determine where individuals receive it or who is pushing the drug in the community. However, that lever has been watered down more and more. The police no longer have that as an advantage to enforce the law. That is a travesty in itself.

The legislators on that side of the House are aware of what they are doing when they diminish the effectiveness of law enforcement to determine who on earth is pushing a serious drug in the community.

If we look at the fines that have been set out, we know right away these are minor fines, especially with young people. I noticed that a 14 year old youngster was caught recently in Alberta. He was looking after one of these grow ops. What will they do with him? The law really will not affect him a whole lot. However, because he is a youngster, he is subject to more leniency within the system because the fines attached to the legislation are considerably different than what they were years back. Law enforcement agencies do not have the leverage over those who even possess small quantities of this product.

Let us now turn to industry itself. Because of the messages being sent from the government side, industry has another fight on its hands, whether it is the trucking industry, or heavy equipment operators or machine operators. Employers are very concerned about the increased use of marijuana by machine operators. Now, many of them insist that their employees take tests and if they are using marijuana, they are not acceptable.

Fortunately with that drug, it stays in the blood stream for a few days and random tests, or even more than random tests, will detect the drug in their systems. However, the problem is that people are using it while operating equipment and while driving trucks on our roadways. Even within police and security fields, there are all kinds of restrictions about usage of marijuana, but the government is not following through with its legislation. Industry and others are bearing the brunt of government legislation that tends to want to make things more lenient.

Where do we go from here? Bill C-10 does not address the issues broadly across our society. It seems to only address those who want to use this substance and makes it lighter on them. The message being sent to our youngsters is that this is an acceptable way to go.

We in the House have a lot on our plates with which we have to deal. As members of the opposition, we are dealing with the scandals on the government side and are spending our time rooting out the truth. We have to look at our farmers who are suffering. These are issues that have grave importance. We are the highest taxed OECD country. It actually is crippling our productivity and our economic growth.

Our health care system has all kinds of demands on it and it is disintegration. The provinces want this to be dealt with too, on a national level. These are answers that come out of this Parliament. On top of all that, our military is in a state of decay. Yet here we are in the House dealing with Bill C-10 on the possession of marijuana.

Where are we going when it comes to our priority list? I cannot understand it. What is our priority list? Is it investigating a scandal? It should be. Let us get down to the bottom of it right now before an election. Is it fixing medicare? No. Is it restoring our military, our troop strength and equipment? No. These are not the subject of a lot of bills when we look at what has gone through the House, but there sure has been a lot of time spent on bills like Bill C-10. All we are talking about in this bill is making the smoking of dope easier. Basically that is where we are.

I think the bill is not worthy of support and I will ask my colleagues not to support it. We should be putting our efforts into something that has much more significance.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Calgary for his speech. He is one who has been in the field as a police officer and has dealt in the past, day after day, with the effects of all kinds of drug use. Certainly, marijuana use back then was the drug of choice and very prevalent in the city in which he lived.

He mentioned part of something with which my question deals. When I look at legislation like Bill C-10, I think what is the upside? What are the positives of the bill that would bring a government, as he already mentioned, to sit down and consider taking us down the road toward legalization, toward a much more liberalized way of dealing with drugs?

We do not have a drug strategy in our country. A couple of years ago a committee was struck, the non-medical use drug committee, to study drug strategy. Not since the 1970s, with the Le Dain Commission, had there been any type of study of the drug strategy. When we come out with Bill C-10, which brings out summary offences and has a fine structure, what is the upside? Does he see any upside in the bill?

Another point I would like him to make reference to is what message is being sent to the children? We heard in another member's speech that in one small community of about 7,000 people, already 780 possession charges have been stayed. Charges have been laid, but the courts have stayed those charges pending the outcome of Bill C-10. Therefore, we have young people running around, many who believe we already have legalized marijuana. Many of them believe we have said that pot is not that harmful, that it will not hurt them, and that is why the government is working toward legalization. I agree with those members who have said that this does not make marijuana legal, but the public believes that it does.

Therefore, could he comment on the upside of this, if there is any, and could he comment on what our messaging to our young people is?

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I guess there is one upside in the bill and that is maybe to bring some attention to the issue of drug usage. I believe there should be a lot of health debate in reference to drug use. However, I do not think that is what will come out of all of this, given the fact that the fines have been diminished for those who have been charged.

There would be a broader distinction now in the Criminal Code between adult and youth when it comes to fines levied against those who use it. I do not see that as being an advantage. If there is a determination on the part of the government to discourage users of drugs, users of marijuana, then I think the fine issue would be reflected in the bill and even beyond that. There would be an even stronger position taken against those who distribute it. I do not see that in the legislation.

I think we are bent on an even more aggressive, organized element within our society to ensure that marijuana gets into the hands of the youngsters. That scares me. I do not believe the government has really taken into account what the use of marijuana has done to families, such as their breakdown and the lack of enthusiasm or productivity of those who use it. We have not had a sound debate in reference to that side of drug usage, which I believe has been missing in this Parliament. The legislation on the government side continues to flow.

Just for once, I would like to see a bill come before a committee for honest debate, and not necessarily laid out in stone. For too long the process in committee has been a top down process. It comes out of the legislative branch, it hits committee, the Liberals tout it as gospel and it goes through committee with very few changes. Let us for once have a good debate in committee and see where this all goes. I will bet the outcome would be a lot different than what we see here.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, one thing that has come out in the media over the last number of months has been the increase in grow ops. There are places throughout probably every province where people do not even realize they live next to a grow op.

A year or so ago the former finance minister said that she believed that if we continued with this type of legislation, and I will paraphrase basically what she said, that we could expect to see marijuana use spike, that we could expect to see an increase in usage.

Given that we will see increase in use and given that we would very likely see an increase in grow ops, does the member believe the government would then keep up with a stronger commitment to resourcing the law enforcement agencies that would be asked to basically handcuff themselves and then go out and prevent crime? They would not go out and lay a criminal charge. They would go out and catch these guys and bring this small pittance of a fine back into the coffers. Does he believe we would see a commitment from the government to radically adjust the level of resourcing that would be needed to enforce these laws?

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, if we were to poll the leaders of all drug units in every police department in Canada and ask them what this legislation means to their operations, we would find that the government, if it were to respond to that need, would be spending millions more dollars in helping to enforce the law.

The government has failed at this juncture to put resources forward to enforce our laws. Even within the courts, it has failed. Law enforcement is using precious resources just to deal with the events on the street without having to get into specialized areas. However, they have to get into specialized areas. For instance, grow ops have sprung up all over the country. It does not matter what the climate is, they are there.

For the police to go after them, they will need every tool they can get. One of those tools is to have a criminal charge on simple possession so they can follow the chain. If they do not have that and there is no hammer for them, then it will be by chance, and it will take a lot more resources to find out where all these operations are.

This legislation operates against enforcement. The resources will have to be much more substantial. If we have some teeth in the law, we will knock it down. Unfortunately, the Liberal government has no intention of putting any teeth in it.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

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.

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4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before we go to questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency; the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, Employment Insurance.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question with regard to the issue of youth, which he spoke about to a great extent today.

It is kind of ironic, when some of the polls report that marijuana use among Canadian teens is higher than tobacco use, that the Liberal government promotes an aggressive campaign to dissuade youth from tobacco but its proposed changes to the marijuana legislation actually sends the very opposite message.

I wonder what remarks the member would have in respect to that hypocrisy of the Liberal government.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, an individual who met with our caucus, and probably with many different parliamentarians, told us about the crisis that we have in the demographics with an aging population and a health care system that, in the way it is going right now, will not be able to sustain itself.

We constantly need to be looking for ways that we can tell Canadians that we need to be very mindful of the health that we are in. We have set up wellness clinics because we recognize the value of them. We have other people who are busy, as the member said, educating us about the harmful effects of many things.

We are educating Canadians that obesity is harmful. We educate Canadians that drinking may be harmful and that drinking and driving may be harmful. We educate Canadians that smoking is harmful, and rightly so. We recognize that lung cancer, emphysema and other illnesses are caused by inhaling any type of smoke into our lungs and using it as a drug.

The member is right. This drug is harmful and we need to have a balanced strategy. There is no strategy. We need to have a balanced plan. There is no plan. We need to educate. Let us pour money into the resources we need to education people on the harmful effects of drug use, including marijuana. We need to have more resources for enforcing the law.

The RCMP and police officers have told me that we are basically handcuffing them while telling them to go out on the streets and uphold the law. They do not have the ability to detect if someone is driving impaired by drugs. They can tell if someone is under the influence of alcohol through tests but not if they use marijuana.

The member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin mentioned that some of the statistics show that there are more Canadians who have smoked marijuana than tobacco. I have not seen those statistics but in talking to a lot of young Canadians, they know the harmful effects tobacco has on them. If we ask them about marijuana, they say that we have legalized it. In the high schools they believe we have moved toward legalizing it.

I am not sure if it is that we have not done our job as far as educating the public. I am not sure if it is the media that has just run with this story of marijuana for so long and the whole question of decriminalization and legalizing from the Senate and other places that we have not done our job, but young Canadians feel like there is no problem with marijuana. Our courts have turned a blind eye to it; 780 charges stayed in a small community in northern Alberta. If this law goes through I guarantee those guys will get a free walk, and it is not right.

We need to make sure there is a balanced plan in how we tell our young people and all Canadians about the harmful effects of this drug.

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4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Canadian Alliance Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, when we look at the one billion dollar-plus gun registry; the softwood lumber committee adjustment fund of some $55 million for British Columbia where very little of it has gone to the people in the communities that need it at this stage of the game, some 450 days later; the ad scams, some $450 million program; shoot-up sites in big cities like Vancouver; and then we get legislation, such as Bill C-10, which will likely exacerbate the problem; it appears to me that the government needs to change its priorities.

How does the member for Crowfoot feel about a suggestion that the firearms registration be cancelled and that the government cut its losses and put future funds that would have gone into that ridiculous program into crime prevention, including developing an adequate roadside test for marijuana use and firm enforcement of existing marijuana laws? Would that not make a whole lot more sense to Canadians?

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4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, the short answer to the member's question is yes. We do need to look at all kinds of ways to get the message across to Canadians that it is wrong.

He is also right. Here we are on a Monday afternoon in the House of Commons. We have issues that are absolutely devastating, especially to my constituents, and the legislative agenda has us debating Bill C-10. That is fine.

We have BSE right now that is absolutely killing the cattle industry and the agriculture sector as a whole and we are here debating a bill to decriminalize marijuana. I guess the bill has to be debated but there are so many other things that should have the attention of the government but does not.

We have a billion dollar gun registry that is so ineffective that it is not preventing crime and yet over $1 billion will be pushed into the registry regardless of what effect it has. There will be dollars for that.

We have a softwood lumber industry with as many people in the unemployment lines now as there were months ago.

There are so many issues, especially the beef industry issue, that I feel I should be here debating but we are on Bill C-10.

I believe we need all the resources possible to educate the public. We have already seen many grow ops being raided. People with homes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or maybe even millions of dollars have cut out rooms in their basements for marijuana grow ops. If we were able to confiscate the money from this type of criminal activity the money could be put right back into fighting crime. Let us take the money that is tied up in these grow op houses and put it back into fighting crime and to educating Canadians about the harmful effect.

The government acts as if it is only one joint or two joints that people are smoking. However, where are they getting this drug? They are getting it from organized crime.

The government says that if we decriminalize it and allow people to grow their own then it will no longer be organized crime any more. That shows that this is a government that does not have a clue how to fight this kind of crime and how to recognize the problems that we have in this country.

I appreciate the question from the member for Skeena. Yes, let us fight crime using the criminals' resources. Let us shoot the money back into fighting crime. Let us take the gun registry and absolutely get rid of it.

We have a budget coming up. We have a new Prime Minister. I ask the Prime Minister to show Canadians that he understands what is happening out there and get rid of the gun registry. If he wants to fight crime and he wants gun control, all he has to do is tell people that if they perpetrate any type of crime using a firearm they will be on a registry and they will never own a firearm again. That is the gun registry that I can accept. It is not going to cost anything.

If the Prime Minister wants to have gun control he should tell Canadians that we will stop the illegal smuggling of guns that are coming across the border daily and that we will have a greater commitment to stopping them, because we do not.

Instead, we are debating Bill C-10 on how we should tell Canadians and young people that marijuana is not all that bad. Shame on that government.

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4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Please address your comments to the Chair and not directly to any other member.

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4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10 on behalf of my constituents of Calgary Southeast.

This has been an unusually difficult issue for me to analyze and on which to arrive at a position. I find the argument offered by libertarians in favour of the decriminalization of minor possession of marijuana or the decriminalization of marijuana all together reasonable and compelling.

Their argument is predicated on the notion that marijuana is not a harmful substance. Therefore, it does not damage the users of marijuana, is not addictive in a destructive sense, and does not endanger the broader common good or society. I find that a reasonable and compelling argument, although I am not sure that I agree with the predicate that marijuana is in all instances a harmless drug.

I balance that reasonable libertarian appeal on this issue against the personal experiences that I have heard from many constituents and other Canadians, particularly parents. Those who like myself do not have children do not have to worry about the difficulties that young people have growing up in today's society and perhaps are not as concerned about the deleterious effect of marijuana on young people.

However, I know many parents who believe very passionately, from their firsthand experience, that they lost their children, that their children became ensnared in an entire lifestyle that was unhealthy and unproductive, and that it was in fact destructive of themselves, their families and their relationships because of their principal use of marijuana.

It is my sense that a majority of my constituents believe that there should continue to be significant sanctions for the production, sale and possession of marijuana. On the other hand, most Canadians and most of my constituents do not believe that individuals who are arrested and in possession of one joint should face a lifetime criminal blemish because of perhaps an isolated mistake in their youth.

I do believe that this is a complex issue. I am quite frankly someone who sees things in black and white. This is one issue where I see reasonable arguments on both sides.

However, as I do more research on this issue and talk to more constituents, and look more closely at the bill, I have come to the conclusion that the bill is an inappropriate response to the desire to prevent an undue lifetime penalty of the burden of a criminal offence on someone. That is understandable and the bill simply goes too far.

Basically, Canadian society is seeking a balance on this issue and that is a reasonable thing to expect. I do not think this is a balanced bill.

Effectively, the bill seeks to decriminalize possession for amounts of under 30 grams, for all intents and purposes. The expert testimony is that 30 grams of marijuana can produce as much as 60 marijuana joints, which is certainly more than what most Canadians and certainly most parents would regard as minor possession.

Indeed, the position that the previous Canadian Alliance arrived at, which has now been adopted by the new Conservative Party, is a reasonable one. It is to decriminalize possession of cannabis for amounts of less than five grams, which is essentially one or two marijuana joints. That would be a reasonable balance. It would take into account the circumstances where young individuals made one small mistake in their lives. It is a desire to give them a second chance without burdening them for the rest of their lives with a criminal record.

On the other hand, if we were to adopt the five gram limit proposed by my party, we would still maintain a significant criminal law disincentive for the production and distribution of marijuana.

This is really a critical issue which the bill fails to adequately address; that is, the enormous proliferation of marijuana production in Canada and the involvement of organized crime in that field.

We have all read and seen the stories about the thousands of so-called grow operations that exist in disproportionate numbers in the Province of British Columbia. I think the bill fails to take that into consideration.

My colleague from Provencher points out that apparently some of these very prosperous grow operations were helpful in financing the recent leadership campaign of the right hon. the Prime Minister in acquiring memberships in British Columbia. There is now a very serious criminal investigation in that province.

If we were to decriminalize for amounts of 30 grams and under, essentially, we would be giving a green light to trafficking and a green light to a grow op production on the scale that we have before us today. In fact, these grow ops, which are fuelled by organized crime, are growing like top seed right now under the current law, which criminalizes any kind of possession or trafficking of marijuana.

It seems to me that if we were to send a signal that Parliament is less interested in prosecuting possession and trafficking of marijuana, we would only get more grow ops, which would mean more resources for organized crime. That seems to me a rather perverse, perhaps unintended, consequence of this bill.

Another aspect of the bill which I find troublesome is that it would create a two tier law. The Liberals always demagogue about the notion of two tier health care, but they seem to be rather attached to the idea of two tier criminal law. They have passed amendments in this place which make certain offences even greater offences if they are committed for particular reasons. Rather than simply making all acts of violence equally abhorrent under criminal law, they have identified acts that are motivated by certain subjective impulses as carrying greater penalties.

Similarly, in another field of course, we know that the government has legislated less strenuous penalties for people who violate the law based on race, which I find quite an outrageous offence against Canadian liberal democratic values. Similarly, in Bill C-10, the government would propose separate fines for the minor possession of marijuana for adults versus youth.

Surely we can all agree in this place that Canadians are equal under the law and that if a young person commits an adult crime, then he or she should face the consequences. To suggest that young people are somehow less responsible for their actions is demeaning. It creates all sorts of perverse messages and unintended consequences.

If a 17 year old is able to transport 60 joints, under this law, and face potentially a third less fine than somebody who is 18 years old, that means that 17 and 16 year olds would become pigeons for drug traffickers. That would be one of the perverse outcomes of this bill. In a sense, it would encourage drug traffickers to use younger people as stooges in their businesses. I do not understand why the government does not see this.

Furthermore, the government has actually decreased penalties for the production of marijuana in this bill through its schedule of fines related to the number of plants. Again, this is completely naive.

Grow operators can limit themselves to a potential fine of $25,000 for growing up to 25 plants, but if they have 26 plants they could face 10 years in jail. Guess what they are going to do? Instead of having one grow op with 100 plants, they are going to have four grow ops with 25 plants.

This is such an absolutely and transparently absurd understanding of human nature that we find in this bill. It is an incentive for marijuana producers to be even more stealthy in the amounts of marijuana that they grow to avoid the penalties under the law. The police, instead of identifying one significant grow op, are going to have to chase dozens and dozens of smaller ones that are established precisely to avoid the 26 plant limit in the law.

Similarly, the bill does nothing to assist police in cracking down on organized crime that is currently profiting from lax enforcement. The legislation will increase demand for marijuana and therefore make the illegal production and distribution of it even more lucrative for organized crime.

The fines set out in this bill do not increase for subsequent offences either. This is a major flaw. It seems that if we want the law to have an instructive capacity, to teach people, particularly young people, about what constitutes acceptable conduct, then we should increase the penalties with the number of repeat offences.

If a college student is caught with one marijuana joint, I personally do not believe that the person should face a lifetime criminal record, but if a young person is arrested and found to be a serial user and possessor of marijuana, chances are that there is more to it than just the possession. Chances are that the person is involved in trafficking or has a serious habit, and the law needs to assist in breaking that habit. I would propose that the bill see increased penalties and consequences for repeat offenders.

I have mentioned some of the deficiencies in the bill. My colleague from Crowfoot spoke about the need for a broader national drug strategy. I believe that there is compelling evidence, certainly anecdotal and I believe empirical evidence, that marijuana is--not in every instance, but can be in many instances--a gateway drug to more serious narcotics, narcotics that destroy and kill people.

If there is anybody in this place who thinks that the drug trade in narcotics is just a lifestyle choice and that we ought not to make any moral judgment about the use of such drugs, then I invite them to come down to the lower east side of Vancouver and literally see hundreds of mainly younger people whose lives have been completely, for all intents and purposes, sucked out of them by the addiction to narcotics.

I would venture to guess that virtually every one of the junkies on the lower east side of Vancouver whose lives have been destroyed will tell us that the first contact they had with drugs was with marijuana.

We have to be very alive to the connection between marijuana and the larger drug culture in terms of more serious narcotics. There is no national drug strategy attached to this bill. No provisions have been made to amend the proceeds of crime legislation. No provisions have been made to deal with damages to real estate through residential grow ops, a very serious problem. No legislation has been developed to curtail financial institutions from funding mortgages related to grow ops that would require them to exercise due diligence to stop the money laundering that occurs through these operations. No coordination has been proposed by the government to work with provincial welfare departments and federal authorities to stop welfare fraud, which is used to fuel the drug trade.

No commitment has been obtained from the judiciary to increase penalties within the limits set out in this bill in terms of maximum penalties, or to follow the established possession guidelines. No provisions have been made to deal with the increasing toxicity of THC content.

My colleague from Crowfoot discussed the fact that toxicity of cannabis today is several times greater than it was when the former minister of justice, the former minister of health and much of the frontbench of the government were recreational users of marijuana, according to their own admissions, in the 1960s. They look back at that as some kind of romantic period.

The former minister of health, Alan Rock, no longer a member of this place and now our ambassador to the United Nations, glories in his hippie days, hanging out with John Lennon and he snickers about illegal drug use. We can let him have his psychedelic romantic memories from his youth in the 1960s, but that has no relevance to the lives of young people today who are dealing with a product in cannabis that is 10 to 20 times more potent than when the current ambassador to the United Nations was a recreational user in the 1960s.

I would ask the members of the Liberal government to put aside their romantic attachment to this as the drug of the summer of love. I ask them to look at real families and young people whose lives are being negatively affected by addiction to what can in many instances be a very damaging drug. I would ask the government to reconsider the bill.

In closing, I would support amendments to the act that decriminalized possession of very minor amounts. I do not seek to penalize in perpetuity young people who make an occasional mistake, but we do need to use the law to stop the enormous and unchecked growth in the organized criminal drug trade in this country. Therefore, I will oppose this bill unless the government agrees to substantially amend it along the lines proposed by my colleagues.

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's speech was very well done. I learned some things and some other things were reinforced for me.

It is a very important and crucial matter because we do so much trade with the Americans just over the 49th parallel. The Americans have made it very clear that new soft on pot legislation will probably result in tighter border restrictions between our two countries.

I would like the hon. member to respond to that in terms of its effect and impact. We already have problems at the border and if we make this kind of a change, how much more significantly will it hurt trade and the flow of goods back and forth between our two counties?

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, that was a very reasonable question.

I serve as the opposition critic for Canada-U.S. relations. In that capacity I have occasion to meet frequently with American law enforcement officials, legislators and administration policy makers. This issue of Canada liberalizing its marijuana and drug laws is very much on the radar screen of policy makers in Washington.

In the post 9/11 environment, we have a critical national imperative to make Americans comfortable with sharing an open border with Canada. For our economic survival we need to ensure an open border that right now encompasses $1.8 billion Canadian in daily trade. Bill C-10 would only increase pressure in Congress and in other sources of authority in Washington to increase border inspections and to increase the number of customs officers for surveillance of Canadian vehicles and passengers going into the United States, all of which would mean longer lineups, more hassles, and a greater cost for the Canadian economy.

I am afraid that this will have an unintended economic cost in terms of greater American border vigilance as they seek to intercept the increase in the supply of marijuana in Canada which they anticipate will be the unintended result of the bill. Let us be very mindful of that.

Let me make a related comment. It is interesting to note that three U.S. states, Oregon, Nevada, and one other, have had referendum campaigns on decriminalizing marijuana. They had very vigorous debates in those states. In each instance, the voters in those states decided to maintain the prohibition against production, trafficking, and possession of marijuana.

I am not suggesting that we should always govern ourselves according to American domestic policy trends, but we have to be mindful of them. When we look at the post 9/11 security environment and we add on to it the growing American unease about Canada as an exporter of drugs, particularly cannabis, into the United States, the bill is particularly unhelpful.