Mr. Speaker, I do not usually quote from newspaper editorials but at the end of last year I came across an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen, which accurately reflects, although it was the best editorial, the number of editorials on this issue in major newspapers across the country. The heading reads, “Drug-induced stupidity”, and it is in reference to Bill C-26. The editorial states:
More than half the people incarcerated in American federal prisons are there on drug charges, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and about one-fifth of those in state prisons. This doesn't count people whose crimes were indirectly related to drugs, but it includes people jailed for life for possessing one marijuana joint. Nevertheless, the war on drugs rages on.
Canada's Conservative government is choosing to copy this strategy, which has been failing non-stop since Prohibition. The reason Canada has drug addicts on its streets is supposedly that dealers aren't going to prison for long enough, so Tory Justice Minister...has a bill to make the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act harsher. Judges have had the discretion to sentence drug criminals according to the evidence presented in their cases, but now [the Justice Minister] wants to change that by imposing mandatory minimum sentences.
For instance, anyone dealing in marijuana would go to jail for at least a year if he or she did so in support of “organized crime” (that is, in a moneymaking enterprise involving three or more people). That covers just about all marijuana dealers, who are by definition organized if they have one supplier and one customer. Most of the changes are like this.
Some drug users might be exempted from the minimums if they're diverted into special drug courts that focus on treating addicts. But an addict who deals to support his habit, who can't break the addiction despite treatment? Why, what he needs is more prison time, right?
Actually, wrong. This is bad law in pursuit of bad politics based on non-existent science. Parliament shouldn't go along.
We in the NDP will not go along with this. We made that quite clear, as opposed to the other opposition parties that have stood in the House and made speeches opposing mandatory minimums in this area but then will vote in principle in support of sending the bill to committee. That is, in particular, the Liberal Party and its eternal shame.
This bill would do absolutely nothing to reduce drug consumption in our society. All we need to do is look to our neighbours to the south, or to the north if one is from Windsor, and their experience of the last 35 years. It is uninterrupted. Over that period of time, the United States has actively engaged in its so-called war on drugs but what do we have today? The production of drugs in the United States and around the globe is up. The consumption of illegal drugs in the United States is up. Prison populations have more than doubled and, in some cases, tripled, in terms of the number of people incarcerated on drug charges. The cost of that war on drugs is up in the range of 10 to 20 times higher depending on the state in the United States.
In the last few years, the United States has finally recognized that its war on drugs was not working. Last year, in Detroit, Michigan, the neighbouring state across the river to my riding in Ontario, the state legislature, which controls the criminal law in the area of illegal drugs, began reducing the charges where if people are convicted on drug charges they would have a mandatory minimum.
The state legislature did it for two reasons. I could be somewhat cynical and say that it was only because of how much it was costing and the rate of incarceration that was occurring in that state, but it also did it because it finally recognized that it was not working. We can go through at least half a dozen to a dozen states just in the last few years that have begun to drop mandatory minimums with regard to drug offences.
In spite of those experiences in the United States and in spite of the Conservative government knowing about those experiences, it intends to copy that failed experiment.
Since the Conservative government has been in power, both of the justice ministers and the public safety ministers have appeared before the justice committee and the public safety committee. I and other members of the committees have repeatedly asked them about the basis on which they were making these decisions. Their answers have always been ideological. I want to say, and maybe its to their credit, that I have no hesitation in saying that they believe in that ideology. They believe that by mimicking the U.S. experience in fighting drug crime that they will change society and that it will work.
Unfortunately, when we hear them say those things, their tendency is to pursue it. However, there is absolutely no scientific basis or any study they can point to showing that mandatory minimums in the drug area work in reducing the consumption of drugs or reducing crime as a result of that consumption.
I and my party do not for a minute downplay the consequences of the crime rates that are going on around drug consumption. We know the level of crime rate in those specific areas and the consequential crimes that are committed in our society as a result of people breaking and entering, doing armed robberies or doing other violent acts because they no longer are in control or because they need financial resources to buy drugs.
We are very conscious in our communities. I live next door to the city of Detroit, a city that has one of the highest crime rates in a country that has one of the highest crime rates in the world. We hear on a daily basis about the crime that goes on there. My community is somewhat lucky that more of it has not spilled over but it does spill over to some degree.
Victims live in my community. It is to the eternal shame of the Conservative Party that it continues to mislead the Canadian public by saying that introducing these kind of amendments to the Criminal Code and to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act will somehow reduce the level of victimization in this country. It will not happen. The government cannot point to one jurisdiction in the world where this has worked.
When the Conservatives stand in the House and repeatedly mislead Canadians, which I am not suggesting they do intentionally, they really believe this will work. When they refuse to face the facts, to look at the reports and to look at all of the research that has been done in this area, they are misleading the Canadian public because it will not work.
When my colleague from B.C. gave a speech a while ago, he gave the classic definition of insanity as being someone who repeats over and over again the same course of conduct and expects a different result. The United States has followed that policy with regard to its approach on its war on drugs and now the Conservative government is attempting to do the same thing. It will repeat the same errors over and over again and it will not get any different results. The consumption rate of drugs and the production of drugs will continue to climb and we will continue to be a market for them.
Every study that we have done shows that we need to get at the whole issue of treatment and getting people off drugs. Putting them into prisons is not the solution. It just simply does not work.
I want to spend a few more minutes on what always bothers me about the government when it passes these kinds of laws.
An analysis was done on the impact this bill would have on the incarceration rate. It would have the effect of increasing the population in our provincial jails, for which the government pays nothing, by significant percentages. We know that at least 700 to 900 additional people will go into our jails, which, quite frankly, is optimistic to think it will be that low, if this bill goes through as it is presently written.
I will put that into context. At the present time, roughly 10,000 to 11,000 people are incarcerated in our federal prisons. Depending on the level of security in which they are held, to the tune of about $110,000 at the top end to roughly $90,000 at the minimum security level, that number in federal prisons will probably increase by 1,000 in the first couple of years if this bill passes.
If this bill passes, we will have at least as many more at the provincial level because, in spite of the rhetoric that we hear from the justice minister, the bill will not go after organized crime. It will be used to go after the small pushers and the sentences as a result will be in the six month to two year range. At least half of the people incarcerated, if the bill goes through, will be incarcerated at the provincial level.
The average cost of incarceration across the country, which does vary fairly significantly from province to province, runs at about $75,000 to $78,000 a year, money that the provincial governments need to find. We know that especially the smaller provinces will not have the ability to cover those costs unless they take it from other parts of their budgets, which means that other programs will suffer and, in particular, some of the programs in the corrections area that are more effective at reducing illegal drug consumption.
We have heard nothing from the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety or the Minister of Finance to indicate that there will be additional funding for the correctional services at the provincial level to cover these costs, which will not be inconsequential. We are talking in the range of $75 million to $100 million-plus that will need to be found to cover these costs if the incarceration rate is as high as we expect it to be. The federal government has given no indication that it will help in that regard. It will simply dump that cost onto the provinces.
We can go on with the other costs that will be related to that increased incarceration. The length of trials will go up, as has been indicated by judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers. If one is faced with a mandatory minimum sentence, chances are there will be no plea bargain but there will be a longer trial, which is the usual consequence. We only need to go across the border to the United States to see repeatedly where the length and number of trials and the reduced number of guilty pleas for these charges were altered because of the mandatory minimums.
That puts an additional financial burden on the court system. It means that our police are spending more time testifying in trials. It means that our prosecutors are spending time in court on these charges for longer periods of time because the trials go on longer. It is the same for our judiciary.
As for all of these costs, the vast majority of these cases, I should point out, are not tried by our federal judges. They are tried by our provincial judges. All of these costs are being serviced and dumped, literally, on the provincial governments, with no indication of any compensation from the federal government to assist them with this. I have seen no assessment of how much it is going to be, but again, it is going to be at least in the tens of millions of additional dollars in those areas.
We will see provincial governments having to draw from other programs in any number of areas in order to cover these costs. They do not have a choice. That is one of the interesting things. They have no voice in this. Police officers have to lay those charges. Crown attorneys have to ask for mandatory minimums because they are mandatory. Judges have to send people to jail for those mandatory minimums because they are mandatory. There is no discretion at all in the system. Those costs just go on.
Let me move for a minute from the effect of this to alternatives. There are in fact alternatives. We see the government actively engaged currently in trying to shut down the safe needle program in the city of Vancouver downtown in spite of a report that came out as recently as yesterday. One has to appreciate that this report came from a body that was appointed by the current government. It did a complete analysis of the 24 reports that have been done on that centre. It concluded, as every single one of those reports did, that the site should remain open, that it should receive federal funding on an ongoing basis, and that the site reduces crime rates and literally saves the lives of drug users.
We can go through all the other positives of this program. Obviously it keeps drug users out of the court system to a much greater degree, allowing the police to do other work. In spite of this, I am sure that we are going to continue to hear the government attack that centre and look for some other way to pull the plug on it. It almost did so last September, but as a result of a huge outcry from the community it backed off and extended the funding until this June.
The fear in the community in Vancouver is very palpable that the government is going to figure out some way politically to justify doing this. Again, it will not be based on any facts, any science or any of the studies that have been done. That attitude, that ideological passion, and some may say fanaticism, that we get from the government in this area is reflected in this bill. There are no facts on which to base it. In fact, there were studies from the justice department in 2003-04 on the use of mandatory minimums specifically in the drug area.
Maybe I should diverge for a second here. My party in fact has supported the use of mandatory minimums in Parliament in areas where we think they can work. I do not know how many times I have given this speech in the House. It is a limited area. It has to be focused. We in the NDP have done so quite extensively where firearms are involved. We believe that can be justified by studies and scientific fact, but there is not one study that does not say that the use of mandatory minimums with regard to drugs is useless. There is not one.
In fact, a major study was done, I believe in 2003, by the Department of Justice. It canvassed all of the studies and prior reports that had been done and it showed this. We have to appreciate that most small drug pushers are users as well. That is who this bill is really going to end up targeting. The government says that is not the case, and that is not who it means, but that will be the result.
My time is up, but I would plead with the government and with the opposition party. This is the time, at second reading, to vote the bill down. In principle, the opposition party should not be supporting it.