Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the principle of Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).
As many members of the House are aware, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which the bill aims to amend, already permits police officers or crown counsel to refer a young person to an addiction counselling program instead of rushing him or her off to judicial proceedings.
However, it does not do so explicitly and the bill would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act in a way which emphasizes this extra judicial alternative. In doing so, it explicitly acknowledges that addiction treatment rather than addiction punishment should be the Government of Canada's first priority.
Essentially, the bill acknowledges that drug addiction is, first and foremost, a mental health issue, not an issue of criminal justice. It is an important message to communicate explicitly to our law enforcement community. For this reason, I support sending this well-intentioned bill to committee for further scrutiny and refinement.
Nevertheless, however well-intentioned the bill may be, I am concerned that the present minority Conservative government does not truly understand or support the principle motivating the bill. To substantiate this worry, one need look no further than the government's recently announced anti-drug strategy that unnecessarily ratchets up the rhetoric of righteous wrath and retreats from the harm reduction measures favoured by Canadians.
Any strategy that focuses so much attention on the goal of punishment and so little attention on addiction treatment and harm reduction will not make our streets safer, our communities healthier or reduce our overpopulated prisons.
Canadians believe in a balanced approach to drug addiction. The heavy-handed approach recently advocated by the minority Conservative government is not in accord with the values of most Canadians or the fine principle at the heart of the bill. This is a worry worth expressing because, however well-intentioned the bill may be, if the Conservative government does not truly believe in the principles at the heart of the bill, little will be done for the well-being of young persons who get caught up in criminal activities because of a drug addiction.
There is little reason to pass a bill that recommends addiction counselling if the Government of Canada is unwilling to provide the resources necessary to fund such counselling. There is little reason to pass a bill that signals to our law enforcement community that the treatment of addiction is our top priority if the Government of Canada trumpets a heavy-handed, punishment focused approach to drug addiction.
As everyone in the House well knows, the present government is prepared to say anything to confuse Canadians on issues of principle and value and I am worried that any support expressed by the Conservative government for the bill will be one more instance of it trying to mislead Canadians about its true intentions.
Let us vote to send the bill to committee but let us be very clear on why we are doing so. The bill sends a strong signal that addiction should be treated as a mental health issue and not as an issue of criminal justice. We should all work to ensure that the present minority Conservative government always acts in accord with this principle.