Mr. Speaker, as I indicated earlier, I want to acknowledge the work that has been done by the member for Peace River in bringing forth this piece of legislation in the form of a private member's bill. It is one that addresses a current and very serious problem in the country.
As the House knows, as it is a private member's bill all members of the House are entitled to vote as they wish, but as the critic for my party, I will be recommending support for the bill at second reading and that it go to the justice committee. Having said that, I do have some concerns with it, some of which I have discussed with the member for Peace River. I feel fairly optimistic that we can resolve them.
Let me address those. They take two forms. One is that the creation of this new offence, which is in proposed section 7.1(a) may capture potentially individuals or even companies that we may not want to. We may have to look closely at that wording where it talks about the intended use of the chemical or the equipment used in the production of methamphetamine.
That is one area. It is a bit technical but I can see a potential abuse of the legislation if it catches the wrong people. It may need to be tightened up because it may produce a defence for individuals guilty of criminal conduct but who would have a defence in that the language is somewhat vague. We will have to spend some time at committee to make sure that it is not the case and if it is, see what we can do to improve the language.
The second concern I have is the lack of a specific penalty in the section. Section 7(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as it is now prohibits the production of many drugs listed in other parts of the legislation. That section does not address the issue of equipment or material that is used in the production of the particular drug, in this case methamphetamine.
Maybe it would have been better to create a whole new section of the act, a section 8. In any event the problem is that the balance of section 7 as it is now in the act deals with penalties, but it does not deal with any penalties with regard to equipment or material used in the production of the drug. It only talks about substances.
The law as it is now would not cover part of what we are trying to prohibit in the way of both equipment or other material. It will need an amendment to deal with penalties.
There is another concern I have, although I think I have pretty well satisfied myself, but I will raise it at this point and we will probably have more discussion in committee, assuming the bill is passed in the House at second reading. Clearly, the member for Peace River is after--I do not want to presume guilt--individuals or groups who may very well be part of organized crime or have attachment to organized crime, because they are the greatest number of individuals or groups who are producing methamphetamine in this country at this time. By and large overwhelmingly they produce it and then distribute it, as we have heard from members from the other three parties, primarily to the youth in this country.
We have also heard, and I have not addressed it because so many other members have very accurately and in some cases passionately addressed the consequences of this distribution by these groups, by organized crime in particular. The penalty may need to take that into account. We may be able to put in a specific penalty and then fall back on other sections in the Criminal Code with regard to organized crime. I want to do more thinking on that. I want to hear from the justice department in that regard.
However, the point that I am making is this. For individuals who are long-time criminals with lengthy histories of criminal activity, specifically if they are in organized crime, whether they have criminal records or not, we would want more severe penalties with regard to their conduct. They are really the ones we are after to try to stop this scourge.
In spite of the very debilitating effect that methamphetamine has on individuals who have become addicted to it, it is a reasonably well known fact that there are occasions where because they are so addicted to it and desperate for it, but are still functioning in a reasonably capable manner, they produce the methamphetamine for their own use. In that case we would want a separate penalty for them, which I think would have great emphasis with regard to treatment to try to get them off the drug.
The other penalty that needs to be addressed, and again I have spoken to the member for Peace River about this, is with regard to equipment and material used in the production of the drug. We want to give the courts authority to confiscate the equipment, and that would come from an application from the crown prosecutor. This additional power would allow our judiciary to adequately deal with these labs, especially the more sophisticated ones.
I want to make two more points that are indirectly related.
We know from an experience in the United States that there are other ways of dealing with this. I am not in any way taking away from the importance of doing this because we need this legislation.
New York state, when it first confronted the use of methamphetamine in its jurisdiction, identified early on that it was very important to get at the chemicals, the precursors that are used in the production of this. We know that a number of these chemicals are sold over the counter, mostly in pharmacies but in grocery stores as well.
The state did two things. It regulated the ability to sell those. People who produced the methamphetamine would walk into a pharmacy and strip the shelves. The pharmacy would sell these chemicals to them and they would take out box loads. Obviously, it was much more than was needed for individual consumption, whether it was for a cold, or a flu or some other ailment. That has been regulated. Now pharmacies can only sell a limited number.
The other major problem the state of New York identified, and it is problem we have in Canada and one that I am critical of the government for not acting on this, was big pharmaceutical companies were producing and selling substantially more of the precursors than they could imagine being possible for legal purposes.
Again, the state regulate that. It said that, historically, this was the amount of a certain chemical that was sold in its state, and two years ago it jumped by 100% or 1,000%. The state regulated that and all the company could bring into the state and sell was a certain amount. If the company's market expanded for legal purposes and it could justify it, the state would allow it to sell more.
That is a problem we have in Canada. The government has not acted on this. We have regulations that allow a company to do the same thing. The Department of Agriculture should be doing this, but it has not acted on it, in spite of recommendations from the RCMP and just about every major municipal police force in this country. We can be using the model from the state of New York. This would have a very positive effect on reducing the availability of this drug in our country.
The other point I want to make is this, and we know it from experience. The first time we saw this really develop was in the northern parts of the prairie provinces. We are not quite sure why it happened. We think it is because it is cheap to buy these drugs. However, it has now spread across the country. There are treatment facilities that can respond when we identify this, particularly when our youth get into it. There are not enough of those available. Both provincial and federal governments need to address this issue and allow our youth, in particular, to get the treatment they need to get off this drug.
Again, we will do what we can to improve this bill at the justice committee, assuming that it gets there.