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.