House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was use.


Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it was the Prime Minister who assured all Canadians that there would not be a nuclear problem because there could not be an earthquake. I do not think members of other parties have a crystal ball to make those kinds of comments.

On the question that he asked, I understand very clearly the frustration in seeing the drug use in many cities across Canada. I also think that kind of frustration should not drive us to poorly thought out policies that by all reports, and not just ours, but even reports from the justice department, are shown to be ineffective.

Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of wanting to incarcerate more people, which incidentally, brings about its own costs that are quite incredible, one of the answers may be to reconsider some of the policies that are at the source of these problems of the kind of hopelessness that we see and the increasing poverty that is prevalent in our communities. In my riding 25% of the population is living at or below the poverty line. These are the kinds of issues we might consider in terms of good social policy that might help.

Again, I want to stress that enforcement has to be a part of the solution to address those hardcore cases that the member just referred to, but to go beyond that and talk about using mandatory minimum sentences for the kind of situation that he has raised of robbery is just plain--

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Surrey North.

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4:15 p.m.


Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to share some comments about the bill before us today. It seems this is yet another example of what I consider to be a lack of balance in the actions of the Conservative government.

I come from the city of Surrey, which has some significant drug problems. Every day we see individual drug use and drugs trafficked by very sophisticated organized crime. Just a few months ago we had a tragic incident when two innocent bystanders were killed as a result of simply being in the vicinity of an apartment building where a gang was producing crystal meth. I do not think we would find anybody in any part of the city in which I live who would oppose actions that would impose very significant penalties on those who would produce, traffic drugs and lure children into the drug trade. Nobody would suggest that the penalty should not reflect the crime. It should, but it often it does not, and I do not believe anybody would oppose that.

The city of Surrey has been able to create some successes around grow ops. Some grow ops are quite small, although they would probably still fit the three or more definition. Some are much larger because they are part of chains. Surrey has won an award for the way in which we have taken down grow ops. We have worked not only with the RCMP, but with the fire department and the hydro company. We have made significant inroads into the numbers of grow ops that are shut down. Should those people who run a series of grow ops be in jail for what are very deterrent and I would hope long periods of time? Of course they should be.

We always have to ask the questions: What does this bill say it is? What is it? Who does it help? Who does it hurt?

The bill says that it is about minimum mandatory sentences, which it is. As one of my colleagues said earlier, we have supported minimum mandatory sentences in the House before, under different circumstances, so we are not opposed to a minimum mandatory sentence. However, I do not think it is true to suggest that the bill will make some huge difference in major drug activities, drive-by shootings and crystal meth labs. The bill would make a difference for individual, small time, non-violent offenders who may traffic on their own, not that this makes it okay.

When I look at the recommended sentences, I see one to two year mandatory prison sentences, prison sentences of perhaps a minimum of six months, one to three years, et cetera. These people are not creating the roots of drug crime in our communities. These people are not killing other people. Drugs are killing people and destroying lives. People are being shot as a result of drugs.

Who will this benefit? Neil Boyd from Simon Fraser University said that the people who would benefit from this would be the drug traffickers. The cost of drugs will go up and they will make a bigger profit. That is not the intention of the bill. However, I think it will hurt people who could benefit from a different kind of help, and I will speak in a moment about what we might be able to do about that.

I am worried quite a bit about drug courts, which are a fine thing. A lot of research has shown that as an intellectual concept they work in certain places. However, drug courts only work if people really want help and are able to access treatment after they have gone through the drug court. This is where the entire system fails.

We do not have enough treatment programs for people who are referred by drug courts. Perhaps it is only in British Columbia, which would seem unusual, but we are very short of drug facilities for youth, for adults who have been duly diagnosed, for single women or for women with children who want to take their children with them or want to know they are in a safe place while they receive treatment. The drug court concept is fine, but there are not nearly enough treatment facilities so the system will eventually block up as soon as there is no place to refer people.

These drug courts are going to be funded by provincial governments. The people going to prison, as a result of the sentences I read to the House a moment ago, are going to be sent to provincial facilities using provincial dollars. These dollars could go toward treatment.

We will be in significant difficulty until we find a way to provide resources to the provinces and not simply download on them. Bill C-26 will not make that any better. In point of fact, the bill would probably make it worse.

Others have said that we need a balance, that we need a multifaceted approach to this issue. This is about appropriate sentencing, but it is also about coordinated, well researched, well documented, well shared information about early intervention.

One member said earlier that all kinds of money had already gone into drug prevention programs and so on. However, the evaluation has been poor. We do not know what has worked. We have not evaluated them properly at all. The money is put into programs that may be are good or may not be good. However, there is no way of gathering that information, which I think is a critical federal role. It is one of the most important roles the federal government can play, which is to gather information from across the country, to ensure information is both qualitative and quantitative and then ensure the money put into drug prevention is done in a way that will be effective and efficacious, whether it is for 4 year olds, 14 year olds, 40 year olds or 80 year olds.

I will make a couple of closing comments. We talk about being able to help with organized drug gangs in the community. We cannot even prevent organized drug gangs in prison. There was a riot in Mountain Prison in British Columbia in which two people were killed. We are talking about putting more people in prison when we have a growing drug gang problem there. I am not quite sure how—

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will have to stop the hon. member there.

Before I go to questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, First Nations Technical Institute.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Cambridge.

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4:30 p.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want comment on the member's speech, which I appreciate very much. The member has somewhat more of a balanced approach to this idea.

I want to suggest to the member that no one in Canada denies that drinking and driving has gone down considerably. The R.I.D.E. program goes up one year and then down a bit. No one would deny education has helped to educate folks that drinking and driving is a bad thing. However, I do not think anyone can deny either that tougher penalties have caused a great reduction in the episodes of people killed by drunk drivers. It is sort of a retrospective study that we do what makes sense, knowing full well it will happen, and the proof is there. That takes courage and leadership, which this government is showing.

The member mentioned some of the causes of crime and no one would disagree that poverty is one of the big ones. The government put forward a drop in the GST by 2%, which helps, not help completely, but it helps. The child care benefit helps, not completely, but it helps. There was a decrease in income tax to the tune in some cases of $600 to thousands of dollars a year.

There is help in the budget for the disabled and seniors. Seniors can now make a lot more money if they choose to work. If they do not, they have greater benefits. We have paid down the debt to help poverty in the future. As the member mentioned, this is the multifaceted approach of the government for which the member is looking.

Why did the member vote against that?

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4:30 p.m.


Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, that would be a longer answer than you would allow me.

We all look at our balanced approach and the kinds of programs that are offered in a very different way. I see the ones in the budget, particularly around $100 a month for families to “provide child care”, as being not very effective.

I want to go back to a comment the member made earlier. I live in Whalley, which was probably once known as the worst part of my riding. All of us are very proud of living in Whalley, our city centre, but many businesses are in the position that the member described earlier, and I am glad he raised it.

Some businesses are having trouble staying viable and some may be shutting down. People go to their businesses in the morning and find people sleeping on their doorsteps. They have to step over them to get into their premises. There is garbage, sleeping bags and body waste, et cetera. This bill will not affect those people. That was my point earlier. Who does it hurt and who does it help?

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4:30 p.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, excuse me, but I simply wish to inform you that there is currently no French interpretation.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is there a problem with the interpretation in general or only with the headset at your seat? We will look into it.

It is now working. The hon. member for Windsor West.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for solving that problem so ably and so quickly.

What I would like to ask my hon. colleague about is prevention. One of the issues that we have seen is a lack of attention to prevention from those individuals who have been brought into the drug culture or have been introduced to it, and then have been used by other people as well to promote other people's needs.

I used to work on behalf of Youth at Risk, and we found intervention programs to support youth to either get them back to school or help them find employment. There were many success stories where we actually got people untangled from those environments.

What we found most often was the fact that individuals were looking for hope and opportunity, and what they were not seeing was that developing in their lives because either they had not reached the goals that were necessary or they made bad decisions that needed to be fixed. Hence, bringing in programs that assisted in the facilitation of changing that direction really worked. We had individuals who clearly were able to repatriate their lives in ways that were much more progressive and law abiding, and contributing to society.

The hon. member did mention prevention, but I would like her to highlight a little more in that regard because it is an important issue that has not been discussed enough.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are only about 30 seconds left for the hon. member for Surrey North.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Prevention in 30 seconds. Okay, Mr. Speaker.

We can identify, during pregnancy and early infancy, those families or infants that may be at risk of running into difficulty later. If we ask kindergarten teachers, they can identify children who are going to need some extra support.

As the member said, when youth move into that 10 to 15 year old range, which perhaps he was talking about, if we hold out a hand and get them hopefully before their first contact with drugs or with the law, but immediately after, we know that there is a very high incidence of being able to prevent that second contact with the law.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today at second reading stage of Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This bill seeks “to provide for minimum penalties for serious drug offences” and “to increase the maximum penalty for marihuana production”.

Even though the purpose of Bill C-26 seems clear, we believe that its ultimate goal, to reduce consumption of illegal drugs, would be better achieved with more subtle measures that would produce truly positive results.

The consumption, production, sale and trafficking of drugs are, in my opinion, a scourge throughout the world. That is the case in Quebec, Canada and in all other countries. We are trying in every way possible to reduce drug use among youth and also to prevent adults belonging to organized crime from producing drugs, from growing the plants used to make the drugs, and from seeking out youth where they congregate to sell drugs to them. Young people are being targeted.

At first blush, this is the basis on which the Bloc Québécois intends to assess certain provisions of Bill C-26. We want to look at this bill. At first blush, we can see once again, of course, that the Conservative government is remaining true to its principles and its ideology and using minimum sentences to deal with crime. I believe that there should be harsh minimum sentences for organized crime, which, as I said previously, leads to drug use.

Like many Conservative bills, this bill relies heavily on minimum sentences and on the supposed deterrent effect of harsher sentences. We believe that this is not the only solution. The Conservative ministers and members are forever telling us that minimum sentences are a more effective way to fight crime.

We have said and our justice critics have said repeatedly that this is not the only solution. The United States imposes harsher sentences, for example. Our neighbours to the south send more people to prison, but the American homicide rate is three times ours.

Nonetheless, the Bloc Québécois is a responsible party and, as such, intends to study this bill in depth, because we are concerned about drug use among youth. I say youth because young people aged 16 to 24 are the main users of these mind-altering substances. Although it is true that drug offences are up slightly, we want to make sure the legislation we adopt meets the ultimate goal of reducing drug use. There is no point in getting tough by introducing bills if those bills do not really have any positive impact on the use, production, sale and trafficking of drugs.

In my opinion, we must listen to the various stakeholders, health agencies and detox facilities across Canada and Quebec, but also to the testimony heard by the various committees to see whether we can improve the situation even more and reduce this problem in our society. That is why we are prepared to study this bill in committee.

We believe that prevention and rehabilitation remain effective ways to meet this goal without undermining the war on drugs. When it comes to justice, we firmly believe that prevention is and will always be the most effective approach.

We must attack the causes of crime, poverty and social exclusion, addiction, suicide and violence. All of these things are often linked to addiction, and we need to be aware of that. Attacking the causes of delinquency and violence, rather than trying to repair the damage once it is done is the most appropriate and, above all, most profitable approach from both a social and financial point of view. We cannot ignore that.

We will not improve the drug situation by cutting prevention and health promotion programs, as the Conservative Party seems to have been inclined to do since it came to power. We have to study new measures and propose alternatives to drug use. That is what many stakeholders are often doing throughout Quebec and Canada.

I worked for a number of years as a social worker, mostly with youth. On many occasions I saw how beneficial the prevention and awareness programs about the negative effects of drugs could be in fighting the problems of addiction.

I am convinced that an approach that takes into consideration individual, family and social realities is much more effective, even though that is not the only solution.

We have to realize that drug-related sentences affect young people. According to Statistics Canada, roughly 2.5% of young people between 15 and 24 have become addicted to drugs, compared to 0.5% of those 35 and over. The drug phenomenon greatly affects young people.

It is important to have addiction programs, prevention programs and awareness programs in schools, in addition to various projects run by community organizations in youth centres and alternative programs. Detox centres and addiction centres, as well as street work, are other forms of intervention currently available in our communities. These agencies need support. These are forms of intervention and we have to encourage young people to turn to these alternative measures and resources.

Young people do not wake up one day and decide to use drugs for the sheer delight of it. Of course, some adults encourage young people to use drugs, but young people who use drugs often are going through some sort of pain and suffering. We have to address that aspect as well.

We are fully aware that drug trafficking offences must be severely punished. The government has a duty to intervene and use the tools at its disposal to allow Quebeckers and Canadians to live in safety.

We are also aware that drug use in young people is on the rise and that sentences related to drugs primarily affect young people. This is a tragedy, an alarming situation that we must tackle with the right tools.

I fear that Bill C-26 will only penalize a greater number of young people. We have to be careful: it is the criminals we should be going after. As legislators, we must ensure that our young people can benefit from measures that will facilitate rehabilitation.

With Bill C-26, we risk sending more young people to prison. It is a risk because prison is and will always be a crime school. Let us not forget that. It is a place where young people can become resentful toward society.

That is why we have to study this bill and the new measures it contains carefully, in order to ensure that the principle of rehabilitating young people remains, but that we also wage an effective war against drugs.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member talked about rehabilitation. Could he elaborate on that in some more detail by referencing some success stories, especially in his riding?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of success stories, throughout Quebec and in many regions of Canada as well. The drug phenomenon is nothing new, and there are many people who specialize in this area. There are social workers, psychologists and criminologists who have studied this phenomenon. They have developed approaches and have intervened to try to help young people struggling with this problem. We are talking about young people but also adults.

There is an interesting provision in the bill. It states that a person struggling with a drug problem could be sentenced to participate in a drug treatment program. If a person is caught selling drugs because they have a drug problem, that person is sent to prison or to a detention centre. But that will not always solve the problems, as our NDP colleague mentioned. People take drugs in prisons.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, from the statistics I have read and the information that I have at hand, I know that harsher penalties and putting people in jail longer actually increase recidivism, repeat offenders.

By putting money and resources into treatment and prevention, the chance for success is much enhanced. What we find in Canada today is that we are spending 73% of our drug policy budget on enforcement but only 2.6% on prevention, 14% on treatment and 2.6% on harm reduction.

Looking at those statistics and that information, how could we actually be entertaining a bill such as the one that is before us here today?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree entirely with our NDP colleague that of course we must develop and invest more in prevention. My speech touched on that.

As for the bill before us, we know there has been an increase in the number of offences related to cocaine trafficking in our society, for example. Is this bill the solution?

We are saying that perhaps this is a document that can be studied in committee, for we cannot ignore the issue. We must look at ways to improve the situation, as well as to get tough on crime in certain cases. Indeed, we talk about prevention for our youth, but as I said in my speech, it is often adults involved in organized crime who produce and traffic in these drugs.

As I indicated earlier in my speech, the Bloc Québécois wants to examine this bill in a responsible manner in committee and make any changes that could improve it. If these suggestions and amendments improve the bill and serve to improve the situation for young people in Quebec and Canada, then we will move forward. If, however, this bill does not meet our expectations and contribute to the development of better methods to effectively address the use, sale and trafficking of drugs, we will not support it.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, there are several reasons I would like to get this bill to committee. I will talk about some of the positive items first because that will be a very short part of my speech, but I am pleased with the objectives of the bill to further inhibit organized crime, to prevent harm to youth, to increase security and to enhance health and safety.

I am also in favour of moving GHB and flunitrazepan from schedule III to schedule 1 so there can be more serious penalties for those date rape drugs. However, I have a lot of problems with this bill and I will go through a number of them now.

One of the reasons I would like to get the bill to committee is because the government does not seem to listen to the facts presented by the various opposition parties. At committee, it can once again hear evidence from the experts, as witness after witness comes forward with what are becoming pretty commonly known facts, and maybe get the government to change its direction so that its crime package will not be such a disaster and fall apart the way it has. Members will notice that it has fallen right off the radar screen because it has really been much of a disaster in a lot of ways, based on what these experts in the field have come forward with.

One of the reasons the government has had this great problem with its crime agenda is the process. Normally in the bureaucracy, in bringing forward government bills, the process is that experts, in whatever federal department, in this case the Department of Justice, who have had a lifetime of expertise to study what happens in other countries and to do studies on the effects, propose to the government effective potential changes.

When the justice committee was in Toronto, I asked one of the witnesses why we were getting so many bad bills that did not make any sense. He said that the process, from the bottom up, was not the process that was being followed by the government. It was not the normal legislative development. Of course, that would obviously lead to a number of problems that even would be beyond the control of the Conservative backbenchers, so I cannot blame them.

It is kind of ironic that the Conservatives called this justice week and an hour and a half ago, for the fourth time, their chair of the justice committee walked out again, halting all progress on justice bills like this and a whole line-up that we have at the justice committee, and actually not following the standing rules of order in doing that. It is ironic that it is justice week when no progress is being made in a number of committees that are looking at other types of justice issues.

In the United States, it has tried the mandatory minimums. I think a number of members have pointed that out. I will not get personal, as some have, but I will say that the results of sweeping mandatory minimums in the 1980s in the U.S.A. have been overcrowded prisons with no appreciable reduction in drug crime.

That is our closest example of something that does not work. Why, in heaven's name, would we in Canada want to implement something that has proven to be an abject failure? The problem is that not only would it be a failure for the objective that every member of Parliament here wants, which is to reduce drug crime, and I honestly believe everyone here wants that, but we would actually be moving backward.

What happens when we increase the numbers in prisons that are already overcrowded? We do not have enough treatment facilities. We do not have the capacity to deal with existing prisoners so they are corrected and healed and do not get out and hurt us or revictimize the victims who we are trying to protect. The whole problem is exacerbating and we are taking a step backward.

If we do not want to take the evidence from the United States, there are all sorts of studies showing that mandatory minimums, to a large degree, do not work except in some very select cases. However, in the area where it works the least is where the bill is focusing, and that is drug crimes. If members do not want to believe all the expert studies by professors from other places, experts who any normal academic or rational person would believe, they can go to the study done by the Department of Justice in 2002 which stated that mandatory minimums do not influence drug crime in any way.

Therefore, mandatory minimums in many ways are not helping the situation. As was mentioned on Monday, it is one of the negative aspects of the massive attack on judicial discretion that we have had under the government. Obviously, the more choices and options a judge has the more likely the judge will make the right decision on the alternative treatments and sentences that would help a person stop from reoffending and, once again, save victims and make society safer. Any time we put caps on that, we are reducing the potential to have a better outcome and a safer Canada.

An item in the bill suggests that the Conservatives may be understanding that a bit and going in the right direction. They have actually increased one of the maximum penalties from 7 to 14 years. Unlike most of their previous bills, which limited judicial discretion, a total mistake, as the academics have said, in this case they are expanding judicial discretion. They are actually making a maximum penalty longer, which may or may not be warranted but in some cases it would, and the judge would have that option to make Canada safer in that way.

A member of the government made an interesting comment when he commented on a statement made by a member of one of the opposition parties. He said that just because it does not work does not mean we should not do it. Of course it does not mean we should not do it. If we have a fire, everyone wants the fire out but throwing gasoline on it will not help. We do not do something that makes the matter worse. We look for another solution. A number of people have spoken about those options and I will speak to them later today.

The member for Cambridge talked about the crime rate in his riding expanding dramatically. Considering that crime in Canada has reduced over the years in general, that definitely is a big problem in his riding. If I were that member I would be looking at all the various solutions, such as more police officers, which the Conservatives had promised in their first term and which I think they are acting on now. It was a problem for the north. I am glad to see my colleague from Western Arctic here because the distribution of those police are on a per capita basis, which means that he and I get approximately one police person and assorted support to cover an area larger than any country in Europe. That will not make a lot of difference.

The member for Cambridge also mentioned that one of the biggest problems the police have night after night is dealing with drug problems because, once again, the prisons are not working and that system is not working. As we know, virtually everyone gets out of prison so obviously it is not working. The member should be looking at other solutions so that the police in his riding do not need to deal with a problem that has not been fixed. We have just delayed it for a few days or a few years, to whatever time offenders will get out.

When a member suggested a drop in the GST would solve the problem, one member went laughing from the House. Most of the people who are in such desperate straits do not have a huge amount of disposable income that would give them a substantial savings on the GST to head in the right way of life. Had the income tax rate not been increased by .25% in the Conservatives' first budget and another .25% in the following year, they at least would have had that off their basic income if they had any income at all.

The murder rate across Canada has gone down in the last 20 years. That point was made earlier.

There is an item I am pleased with in the bill. It would allow the drug treatment court to impose a penalty other than a mandatory sentence when an offender who has a previous conviction for a serious drug offence where the offence involves no aggravating factors and the offender successfully completes the DTC treatment program.

I commend the government for this move. This is a recognition that we have to deal with the problem, not just put it on hold for a year or two, so when the person is released it continues to be a problem. We can actually take a serious look at the problem. In fact, the government is making provision for the drug courts, which have proven to be successful in a number of cases, to seriously consider the problem. I commend that particular part of the bill.

I also commend the attack on organized crime. I support any items that would reduce organized crime, but once again, most of the speakers today have suggested that the bill would not have that effect. I want to read a quote from a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy. He is one of the most experienced experts in Canada. He said:

Organized crime doesn't care about the law. With these changes, the government is doing a service for organized crime.

That was from Eugene Oscapella, a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy at the University of Ottawa and once advised the Law Reform Commission of Canada.

The Law Reform Commission and the court challenges program, which the Conservative government unfortunately ditched, can no longer help improve lives. They probably could have given very wise advice in this particular area.

I am not saying it is my opinion because I do not know, but it has been suggested by others that this particular bill would scare off the lower criminals, the mom and pop operations, so that there would be even more of a market for organized crime. However, I am certainly in favour of anything that the government can prove to me would reduce organized crime.

Everyone in the House wants to reduce drug crimes. We should be looking for solutions that actually work rather than solutions that research has shown do not work, and which every single MP through speeches in the House and expert witnesses at committee have shown do not work very effectively. What would work in a lot of cases to reduce this problem?

As I have said before in the House, to a large degree we have had a criminal justice system, a penal system that for 1,000 years has not really worked. People who have been to jail reoffend when they are released. Extending their sentence another day or another year will not make any difference. They will still reoffend when they are released. That is a total failure and it happens far too often. What can we do to stop that?

There were some good examples from experts in the city of Ottawa at restorative justice week a few months ago. Hundreds of enthusiastic people in the city of Ottawa have worked on some of these new restorative justice programs, such as, alternative sentencing, diversion, treatment, group conferencing, family group conferencing, which has been very successful in my riding, and family circles. There are all sorts of different ways when simple incarceration will not work.

The Ottawa police chief is very enthusiastic about finally having an alternative that has a greater degree of success. He suggested at the conference that even these methods I have spoken about fail 30% or 40% of the time. That means 30% or 40% of the time the youth that often go through alternative sentencing, restorative justice, still reoffend. However, had they gone through the regular justice system, had they been incarcerated or their incarceration has been increased, as this bill suggests, they would have reoffended 70% of the time. It is an amazing success story.

What have the Conservatives done with this amazing success story, what was their strategy? In Bill C-23 they tried to reduce the increase in crime. The use of this in a large number of cases would have been an absolute disaster for the country and particularly in my riding. More victims we are trying to protect would have been victimized. When we finally came upon a solution that in a number of cases worked, it was not allowed to continue.

I mentioned earlier today another program in my riding, a positive preventive measure, which is a carving course for aboriginal and other youth. These are very artistic people who either were having trouble getting employment or have substance abuse problems. They have produced some incredible work, some beautiful art.

At one time the operators of the program needed more funding. I hope the government has continued the funding because it has been a success so far. If the government has funded them to continue the program, I give it credit for that. It is the Sundog Carving Centre, a wonderful model that we could try in other places.

Another example I cannot imagine people would not be very supportive of is improving the treatment of prisoners. As I said, what good does it do to put people in jail when they come out and reoffend? Most people who have visited prisons would suggest that there be a wiser investment of money in prisons and in after care for such things as drug treatment, literacy, anger management. The programs are too minimal and are not nearly enough. More could be done to solve the problem than simply building more jails.

I also decry the lack in all the justice strategies of any significant mention of assistance to aboriginal people. There is a much higher rate of incarceration. The aboriginal justice strategy was a success story, way higher than the traditional system of putting people in jail when they just get out and reoffend. The aboriginal justice strategy was having a great success. I have to commend the minister that at the last minute he extended that program. He is a fan of it, so I commend the minister for that but I want him to make that strategy permanent and to do it soon because it is such a successful program.

I have two other items. One is related to harm reduction. I know the government is opposed to this in spite of the evidence of its positive effects. One of the corollary benefits to people coming in and keeping them alive and not passing their disease on to other people, which would add huge costs to the health care system, is they also get directed in the process to other resources that can help them with therapy, direct them to treatment centres when they have decided themselves that they want this help. Those corollary effects show that those are also good investments in the system.

In my last minute I would like to mention the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce which in the last month unveiled a strategy in conjunction with the crime prevention office. It is looking at some innovative ideas to reduce crime in the small business sector. It is looking at education, prevention and other items so that crime does not happen in the first place. Maybe the causes of the crime can be dealt with so that we do not have the unfortunate situation of a person going to jail, not getting any help, maybe learning lessons from other prisoners that should not be learned, and coming out not rehabilitated, not able to face society any better than when the person first went in.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member for Yukon if he feels that the way the Conservative government is dealing with criminals can be tracked in dollars, that this is the amount of money and this is what we are doing to prevent crime in our country, instead of investing in the programs that were mentioned, crime prevention and other initiatives that prevent crime before it ever happens. When someone is a good contributor to society I do not think we can put a dollar figure to that. I do not think we can say that for a good healthy person we spent so much money and this is the person's output for the country.

I honestly say the more we invest in the good health of people, the better the outcome for the country. However, because we cannot put a dollar figure to that, I keep thinking that the government is trying to go for initiatives where it can actually apply dollar figures to what it is doing on preventing crime.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the member for Nunavut is always very thoughtful. She has a special constituency.

First, whether the Conservatives could put a dollar figure to what they are doing, I think she is actually giving them too much credit in that respect. Although we disagree with their philosophy, if they were going to be efficient in implementing their philosophy, they would have done an actual dollar analysis. One of the major problems is that with respect to their program to increase incarceration, we asked officials at various committee meetings what analysis had been done on the results of this, and there was not sufficient analysis done. There was not a careful extrapolation of the expenses for the prisons, for therapists, for treatment, for longer aftercare. There was no money set aside for those types of things. They are not even putting in the dollars needed for their own solution, which of course we proved is wrong.

The member also made a very good point that with Canada being the best country in the world in which to live, we do not see the results because the crime does not occur. The facts are that everyone in this country, low income earners, seniors, and other people, has access to food. We have training for people with disabilities. We have pensions for seniors. We have retraining and literacy programs. It is very hard to reflect the effect of all these types of things because in many cases crimes are not occurring. It has been proven that poverty and a lack of literacy increase the crime rate. That much has been proven.

Finally, in relation to the member's riding, the problems that I mentioned with this particular philosophy of the Conservative government have hurt her constituents more than any others in the country. They are so far removed from penal institutions. If we move a person from such a unique culture and take the person away from his or her family, culture, supports, and the person has a problem to start with, how is the person ever going to heal and reintegrate into that society?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments and I agree with him for the most part regarding the significant investment to be made in prevention and health promotion as well as the various programs to be established to provide greater support for young people dealing with addiction.

I would like my colleague to speak about current sentences and the treatment of criminals, namely those who really target youth, those who produce and import drugs and who have very organized networks for feeding the drug habits of youth. Sometimes, these vulnerable young people are even forced into prostitution to obtain drugs.

Does my colleague believe that the measures and legislation put in place by the government provide an opportunity for restorative justice?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the member's question relating to sentencing and in particular to youth is a thoughtful one.

With regard to the philosophy of the Conservative government, the problems I suggested are even exacerbated for youth. What happens when young offenders are put in prison for the first time? It is called the university of prison. What access are they going to have to all sorts of other criminal activities and ways of doing things so they can be learn to be more successful criminals from the people they meet in prison? What types of role models are they going to have? What type of acceptable behaviour in society are they going to learn if their role models are other prisoners and hardened criminals?

That is why I believe that restorative justice, alternative justice and family group conferencing have had twice the success rate, statistically, of the prison system. In our aboriginal justice strategy, it was remarkable. From what I remember, in a lot of cases there was no recidivism at all. It had a remarkable success rate in dealing with youth.

Some people think that family group conferencing is an easy way out, that people just sit down and chew the fat and do not have to do hard time in prison. Let me tell members that they can talk to anyone who has been through this, the victims who went through it, and they will hear that those people would much rather have gone to prison. It was a lot harder to face up to their peers and families, to make the apologies, to make retribution and pay back--

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Western Arctic.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, today it is my turn to speak on Bill C-26, a bill introduced quite a while ago by the Conservative Party that has now come forward for more debate.

If we look at the history of the concern over the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in this country, we will see that the pattern has been in a fashion that is different from what we are dealing with here today. Many people of my generation and the generation that grew up in the 1960s looked to the leadership of the government. In the early 1970s, the government came out with the Le Dain commission report, which made certain recommendations about the use of controlled substances at that time.

It went on from there. In the late 1970s in Parliament, many of the politicians of the day were more open-minded about questions of drug use in Canada, especially those who dealt with what was probably the largest single illegal drug used in Canada, cannabis. At that time, they were moving toward a different point of view on that particular controlled substance.

Then, of course, we had the introduction of the Reagan era in the 1980s. Through many of the international law enforcement agencies, the United Nations and many of the protocols at that time, we saw much hardening of attitudes toward the illegal use of drugs from the United States, which filtered through to the rest of the world. In this Parliament, that led, I am sure, to in some ways kowtowing to the United States and to going away from any semblance that we would go in the direction of the probably 20% to 25% of Canadians who use certain drugs at certain times. We made that conscious decision.

Once again, in the intervening years, the war on drugs went on and on. We saw the results in many third world countries. We saw the results in the United States.

Certainly we do not want Canada to follow the U.S. on its drug policy. Many people in the U.S. do not want us to follow them on the path the U.S. took through the 1980s and 1990s with highly restrictive legislation that led to incredible hardship and incredible increases in incarceration in the United States. The situation grew to where the United States as a population ranks first in the world in per capita incarceration, with roughly 5% of the earth's population but 25% of the total incarcerated population in the world.

Of the 2.2 million people in the United States behind bars today, roughly half a million are locked up for drug law violations and hundreds of thousands more for related drug offences. The war on drugs in the United States costs the U.S. government $40 billion a year in direct costs and tens of billions of dollars more in indirect costs. That is useful information for all Canadians to think about when we approach the question of controlled substances.

We have a bill here that we in the NDP are opposed to and I am glad we are, because it is a hodgepodge of various types of efforts to bring to Canada what is in many respects a very harsh regime in regard to many of the controlled substances that are present in our society. They are used by people in our society and are there as a result of that use. When we speak to the direction that we should take on drugs now, in 2008, we find this bill to be absolutely the wrong direction.

As well, it flies in the face of previous Parliaments in the new millennium, where we had much more direction, such that we actually would move in some ways to lessen the sentences for possession of drugs. We had a greater understanding of the need for harm reduction in dealing with many of the other drugs.

We can see that today with some of the facilities across Canada that deal with drugs such as heroin, such as Insite, the injection site in Vancouver. I went to a presentation the other morning that was given by a woman who had worked at Insite for many years, including getting it established and working through the politics involved for many years. I wish every member of Parliament could have heard her heartfelt talk.

I wish they could have heard about the good that has come out of that kind of work in turning to harm reduction in a sensible and practical fashion for the many people in our society who, for one reason or another, do not make it. They fall off the path of righteousness and good grace and end up living on the streets.

These people are chronic drug users. They are the most victimized people in our society. This safe injection site in Vancouver has saved many lives, each one of them important. The life of every single Canadian should be important to us, should be meaningful to us and should get our attention.

I felt so strongly about it when I heard that speech. I would recommend that all members consider the good that comes from having tolerance and from understanding other people's situations and making our way toward that.

Instead, we are dealing with a bill today that is going the other way. Recent statistics have pointed out that over 24% of Canadians have used cannabis in the last year. Some 1% or 2% have used cocaine. Another 1% or 2% have used other substances. The crime industry in this country makes about $10 billion a year from illegal drugs, of which the vast majority is cannabis.

We have a situation in Canada in which we have a lot of users. A lot of people do this and we are not going to change that with Bill C-26. However, what we will do with this bill is create a situation whereby more and more people will be targeted by this legislation for what they are doing. They will be directly targeted for any infractions of the Criminal Code, any of the things that go on in their daily lives.

That is what this bill does, and this bill is not what Canadians want. The majority of Canadians favour decriminalizing cannabis. They favour the medical use of cannabis. Our society is tolerant. We are not like this bill. This bill is different from what the vast majority of Canadians want.

The Conservative government has lumped many things into this legislation. It has included some things that it thinks might be attractive to its political base. The Conservatives have taken a stand that should guarantee the support of many of the people who support them already.

However, Bill C-26 is draconian in its approach to the problem. It is approaching the problem in a way that is the exact opposite of what we were doing a few years ago in this very House. That really is unfortunate. It is unfortunate that we have moved in this direction. It is unfortunate that the minority Conservative government feels it has the right and direction to do the things it is doing with respect to this legislation.

I am glad our party is standing up against it. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to it.

When we talk about mandatory minimum sentences and increased minimums for drug related crimes, this is a particularly flawed piece of legislation. In all cases, these types of crimes need the discretion of the judge. They need the judge, in these particular types of crimes, to have the ability to say whether granny with her pot plant in the corner is going to be put in jail for six months because it is the mandatory minimum that the bill proposes. The judge should really have a say and should have a way to deal with this in a correct fashion.

I know this is only the bottom of the heap in terms of where we are going with the bill. As it moves through other phases, we are seeing even greater sentences that would be given to people who--

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but he will have nine minutes left in his speech.

It being 5:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

April 15th, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.


John Cummins Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

moved that Bill C-520, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (Home Buyers' Plan), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-520 will increase from $20,000 to $25,000 the amount of money first time homebuyers can borrow from the savings they have accumulated in their RRSPs. This will be the first adjustment in the borrowing limit since the home buyers' plan was created in 1992.

This increase in the $20,000 loan limit to $25,000 will help first time buyers in every region of the country and will allow couples to withdraw up to $50,000. This increase will allow new homebuyers to maximize their down payment.

The home buyers' plan was proposed by finance minister Don Mazankowski to allow homebuyers to have access to their own retirement savings. Mazankowski viewed it as a win-win. In the 1992 budget he said, “The Plan will stimulate the housing market without reducing tax revenues or risking retirement savings”. It was a win-win in 1992 and it is a win-win in 2008.

Canadian homebuyers like the plan. According to the Department of Finance, Canadian homebuyers have used the plan more than 1.6 million times since 1992. They have borrowed more than $16 billion from their own savings.

Clearly, homebuyers prefer to borrow from their own savings rather than borrow from the banks and pay interest. As popular as the home buyers' plan is with homebuyers, its value has been eroded since 1992 by the dramatic increase in the cost of housing in many parts of Canada.

Home prices have climbed 152% in metro Vancouver since 1992, severely eroding the value of the original home buyers' plan put in place by Don Mazankowski. If the home buyers' plan were to keep pace with the rise of home prices in metro Vancouver, the plan's borrowing limit might have increased to well over $50,000.

The increase proposed in Bill C-520 is a very modest proposal that builds upon recent tax measures, such as the reduction in the GST from 7% to 5% and the creation of the new tax-free savings account, all which give Canadians an increased opportunity to buy their first home. This is the least we can do for aspiring homeowners in British Columbia and, indeed, throughout Canada.

The British Columbia Real Estate Association told the finance committee earlier this year that the borrowing limit should be increased to $25,000. It was a laudable recommendation, worthy of our support today.

The finance committee agreed. In its February report on the budget it recommended that the Minister of Finance:

--increase the amount that can be withdrawn from a registered retirement savings plan to purchase or build a qualifying home for the holder of the plan or for a related person with a disability.

Bill C-520 will enact the increase recommended by the B.C. Real Estate Association and supported by the Canadian Real Estate Association. While a recommendation to increase the borrowing limit to $25,000 may have come from British Columbia, it also has widespread support throughout the country.

The actions that will flow from this private member's bill will address one of the most fundamental desires shared by most Canadians: to own a home. A home is more than just a roof over one's head or a place to hang one's hat. It is a symbol of permanence, an investment in something bigger than one's own property. It is a connection with the community.

The privately owned home is perhaps the strongest keystone in the building blocks of a community and the strongly shared values that flow from being part of a community. We are often buoyed when we hear that the housing market is booming because we know that housing construction is a huge economic driver. In some parts of the country, it is the only economic driver.

We have also welcomed news in the last decade that has pointed to the growing rate of home ownership. In fact, some would argue that the home buyers' plan introduced in 1992 helped to drive the expansion of home ownership with a rate of home ownership increasing from 62.3% in 1992 to 66.1% in 2001.

However, we must dig deeper into the statistics to see an alarming trend that runs contrary to the positive results I have just quoted. Statistics show that young people are struggling to meet the promise of home ownership. Home ownership rates in the first time homebuyer age groups are well below the level of two decades ago.

According to research by the Vanier Institute of the Family in a 2004 report entitled “The Current State of Canadian Family Finances”, the home ownership rates for those households aged 34 and under fell from 44% in 1981 to 41% in 2001.

Among households aged 35 to 44, home ownership rates plummetted from 72% in 1981 to 67% in 2001. The report reveals that both of these groups had flat earnings for almost two decades.

The lower home ownership rates are confirmed by a Statistics Canada analysis which indicates that there was a slight increase in the proportion of young adults living with their parents and 41% of Canadians aged 20 to 29 were living with their parents in 2001 compared to 33% in 1991 and 28% in 1981.

The decline in home ownership among the young is due to factors which are not measured in traditional analysis of affordability. The latter generally concentrate on mortgage payments on a typical dwelling versus average incomes. Such analyses tend to exaggerate the effects of lower interest rates and do not take into account other important factors which together determine whether someone is able to afford to purchase a home. For many young Canadians, purchasing their first home is extremely difficult, particularly accumulating a down payment.

The challenges faced by first time homebuyers are not clearly understood by many housing analysts and policy makers. It is important to note that the decline in home ownership rates among the young is not a reflection of diminished desire to own a home. Research shows that this desire is as strong as ever. While most people wish to own a home, home ownership has become less viable for a large proportion of Canadians.

This bill takes direct aim at that decline. It helps young Canadians meet the challenge of coming up with a down payment. The home buyers' plan is unique in that it both encourages savings and it maximizes down payments available to homebuyers.

It addresses directly two important Canadian desires that strengthen the economic health of our nation by strengthening the economic health of individual Canadians: buying a home and putting away savings. These are worthy financial goals for ordinary Canadians and worthy goals for a nation that believes in home ownership and believes people are most able to care for themselves when they have cared for their long term financial success.

The program is only of value if it reflects the realities of the marketplace. Bill C-520 does just that. It raises the borrowing limit for registered retirement savings plan holders to a level that is close to its real value when it was introduced in 1992, when we compare it to the rate of inflation identified by the CPI. It recognizes that the average price of a home has risen more than three times as fast as the rate of inflation since the program was introduced.

By encouraging home buying activity we would be driving an important economic engine that produces many economic spin-offs. These spin-offs include increased tax revenues that will flow to government. I have not done the economic modelling necessary to verify any figures but my belief is that this measure in terms of its tax deferral implications should be revenue positive.

It is worthwhile to take a brief look at the history of the home buyers' plan. The home buyers' plan exists today because of the determination of two finance ministers, one Conservative and one Liberal, Don Mazankowski and the member for LaSalle—Émard, to let homebuyers have access to their own retirement savings when borrowing for their home.

Then finance minister Don Mazankowski, in his February 1992 speech, announced a plan to allow homeowners to use their retirement savings for down payments for first home purchases. Mr. Mazankowski told Parliament that the plan would stimulate the housing market without reducing tax revenues or risk retirement savings.

The Mazankowski plan was introduced as a temporary measure. As one of my first statements in the House, I rose on January 31, 1994, to ask the new government to extend the home buyers' plan. While I do not claim any credit for the extension of the plan, the new Liberal government made the plan permanent in the 1994 budget a short time later.

The finance minister of the day, the member for LaSalle—Émard, indicated that he made the program permanent so as to continue supporting the housing market and further encourage home ownership. In his 1998 budget, the former finance minister amended the home buyers' plan to enable persons with disabilities to have greater access to the plan by allowing existing homeowners to use the home buyers' plan to purchase a more accessible home or a home for a disabled, dependant relative.

It is worth noting that the regulatory impact statement printed in the Canada Gazette on January 6, 1999, when these changes were made, did not identify any cost to the federal treasury in extending the plan to persons with disabilities. I take this as another indication that Finance Minister Mazankowski was correct in 1992 when he said in the House that the home buyers' plan did not create any revenue loss for the federal treasury.

The House of Commons finance committee in February recommended to the Minister of Finance that the 2008 budget:

—increase the amount that can be withdrawn from a registered retirement savings plan to purchase or build a qualifying home for the holder of the plan or for a related person with a disability.

This recommendation had all party support.

The Bloc Québécois, in its own chapter in the finance committee's report, specifically supported an increase in the amount that a home buyer could borrow from a retirement savings account:

To make home ownership more accessible, the Bloc Québécois supports the recommendation to increase the amounts available under the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP).

I would now like to address a number of questions that arise when we talk about increasing the borrowing limit from an individuals' earnings to $25,000, or $50,000 if both spouses have an RRSP.

First, has the home buyers' plan been successful? Over the last five years, almost 600,000 Canadians have made withdrawals from their RRSPs under the home buyers' plan, totalling over $16 billion. Since the introduction of the home buyers' plan in 1992, about 1.6 million Canadians have borrowed from their savings accounts for their first-time home purchases. On the average, first-time home buyers borrow $10,000 from their retirement savings accounts, for a total of $16 billion. That is $16 billion borrowed without any cost to the government and without any cost to home buyers, because home buyers borrow from their own savings. It is a program that first-time home buyers absolutely support. Clearly Canadians prefer to borrow from themselves rather than borrow from the banks and pay interest to the bankers.

Second, is there a negative impact on the government's tax revenues? There is no impact. The former minister of finance, Don Mazankowski, who introduced the home buyers' plan, advised Parliament in February 1992 that the $20,000 would have no impact on government's tax revenues:

The Plan will stimulate the housing market without reducing tax revenues or risking retirement savings.

If the $20,000 limit had no impact on government tax revenues in 1992, then $25,000 would have even less impact on government tax revenues in 2008.

Third, does the home buyers' plan assist retirement security for Canadians? Yes. Before the home buyers' plan, Canadians had to make a choice, either save for retirement or save for a house. The home buyers' plan allows Canadians to do both. The home buyers' plan is a means to strengthen home ownership at no cost to the Canadian taxpayer. Borrowed savings are invested in a principal residence, which is a pillar of security for retirement.

Since the home buyers' plan was introduced in 1992, the rate of home ownership has increased from 62.3% in 1991 to 66.1% in 2001. The home buyers' plan is unique among support programs for home ownership in that it encourages savings and maximizes down payments. By emphasizing the down payment, the home buyers' plan helps the home buyer to minimize the level of indebtedness over time.

Fourth, what has happened to home prices since 1992? Residential home prices rose 85% nationally between 1992 and 2006. Since 1992, home prices in metro Vancouver have increased 152%. The 152% increase in home prices in metro Vancouver has eroded the value of the home buyers' plan. Nowhere in the country is the need for an increase in the borrowing limit in the home buyers' plan to $25,000 greater than in metro Vancouver.

In closing, let me reiterate that there are no negative consequences to increasing the amount that first-time homebuyers can borrow from the savings they have accumulated in their RRSPs from $20,000 to $25,000. Rather, this increase would result in a greater number of young Canadians being able to participate in the dream every young person has, to own their own home, which would be very positive both for young people and for Canada.