Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to follow up on a question I asked last fall regarding the government's plans to deal with the crisis in marijuana grow operations that has exploded out of control across Canada in recent years.
Specifically I asked the Minister of Justice about mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of cultivating marijuana. I noted that the offenders were getting slaps on the wrist even for repeat offences. While we knew that to be true from many individual cases, we are now seeing harder evidence come forward in the form of actual statistics from the Vancouver police, which were leaked to my colleague, the member for Abbotsford, the official opposition's illegal drug critic.
Here is what he found: The average grow op was worth $300,000 at the street level. Only two-thirds of operators charged were convicted. That is unbelievable. Of those convicted the average sentence was four months, although with our lenient parole system the time served behind bars was actually much less. The longest sentence handed out was just 18 months. With parole, that convict likely only served six months. It makes a total mockery of the minister's plan to double the maximum sentence for production to 14 years when the longest sentence given is 18 months.
If the government's hand-picked appointee judges will not even consider a maximum sentence, then clearly the time has come to send the judges a message by imposing mandatory minimums. Can the minister give me a reason why we should not go this route?
Let me recite for the minister some of the cases which are typical. In November 1997 a suspect was caught with an estimated $440,000 worth of marijuana and was sentenced to a 30 day conditional sentence and a $5,300 fine. In September 1999 a suspect caught with an estimated $514,000 worth of marijuana was sentenced to a four month conditional sentence in the community.
The study further highlights a number of offenders who were given light or stayed sentences despite having long rap sheets. For example, in 1999 a grower was given a $10,000 fine and two years of probation despite having compiled previous charges involving assaults and kidnapping. What happened? He paid the fine and was later arrested on weapons charges. How is that for a justice system? In fact, what Canadians find most disturbing about the lack of concern shown by the Liberal government is the potential for violence.
We saw a war fought on the streets of Montreal a few years ago among organized criminals. Most people still remember that a 10-year-old boy was killed in the crossfire. Canadians are also aware that marijuana grow houses have come to their neighbourhoods. Despite shutting down 250 grow houses a year in Surrey alone, the police estimate that there are still hundreds more they have yet to get to and find. These grow houses are often booby trapped with chemical, electrical or explosive traps, or those tending the grow ops may be armed.
My question for the minister is, who is going to have to be hurt before he will start to crack down on these grow ops? Is it going to be a 10-year-old boy in Surrey? Canadians are becoming increasingly aware of how out of touch the Liberal government is. One only needs to look at this past weekend when the justice minister and his party embraced the former leader of the Marijuana Party and his agenda. Yet even some card carrying Liberals disagree with the minister's approach.
The president of the Liberal riding association from my riding agrees with me that there should be mandatory minimum sentences for convicted grow operators. On the weekend the Deputy Prime Minister finally admitted, after years of denial, that perhaps the government should consider tougher penalties.
Does the minister now agree that we need mandatory minimums for grow operations?