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.