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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.

Topics

JusticeOral Questions

3 p.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the facts are simple. Every three minutes a car is stolen in this country and it costs Canadians over $1.2 billion. That is why the government is taking real action to protect Canadians against this very serious crime.

This is in contrast to the Liberals and their soft on crime approach. They recently gutted the private member's bill on auto theft by getting rid of the mandatory jail terms. That is their approach. Our message to car thieves is clear: The free ride is over.

JusticeOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

That will bring to a conclusion the question period for today.

JusticeOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to table the audit performed by the University of Calgary audit services, which I referred to in my question during question period today, and which clearly demonstrates the kind of fraud that was ongoing in the last election campaign.

I seek unanimous consent so Canadians can know the truth.

JusticeOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Ottawa South have the unanimous consent of the House to table the document?

JusticeOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

JusticeOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I now recognize the hon. member for Joliette, who rises on a point of order.

Royal recommendation—Bill C-490Points of OrderOral Questions

April 15th, 2008 / 3 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, in reply to the claims the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform made in his point of order of April 8, 2008, I would like to review the arguments he cited to argue against the need for a royal recommendation to allow for a vote on Bill C-490 at third reading.

With regard to royal recommendation, s. 54 of the Constitution Act, 1867 states the following:

It shall not be lawful for the House of Commons to adopt or pass any Vote, Resolution, Address, or Bill for the Appropriation of any Part of the Public Revenue, or of any Tax or Impost, to any Purpose that has not been first recommended to that House by Message of the Governor General in the Session in which such Vote, Resolution, Address, or Bill is proposed.

Clearly any bill that would establish a new program requiring monies from the public treasury requires a royal recommendation. We all agree on that. It is based on the principle of responsible government.

As for the matter of procedural principle, the Chair must examine the notion of appropriation that is referred to in section 54 and that has always been debated in this House. The Robert dictionary defines appropriation as “taking possession of, ownership of”. Yet the aim of this bill is quite the opposite of a measure requiring a royal recommendation. Instead of assuming ownership of money from the public purse, the bill states that this money belongs to seniors and not to the government.

The spirit of the Constitution Act, 1867 must be understood in such a way that a distinction is made between the creation of a program that requires new public funds and a bill that forces the government to pay money back to people who never consented to giving it to them in the first place. That is precisely the case in the guaranteed income supplement file and Bill C-490.

Let us be clear. The people affected by this bill should have received the amounts requested. If they had applied for them the first year they were entitled to them, that money would in fact have been paid. The government deliberately kept seniors in the dark, hoping that most of them would not assert their rights and counting on the fact that this misappropriation of funds would not be reimbursed retroactively.

It is ridiculous that the government can put money owing into the public treasury but cannot take money out for spending that should have taken place, but did not.

In closing, it is appalling to watch the Conservatives play politics by raising this point of order. When the Conservatives were on the opposition side they joined with the Bloc Québécois in calling for full retroactivity of the money owed to seniors under the guaranteed income supplement program. This was even part of their election platform.

Since they have been in power, they have changed their tune when they had the chance to take action. Seniors in Quebec will remember the Conservatives' broken promises, as will all Quebeckers.

I am convinced that the argument that has just been made will ensure that Bill C-490 will not require a royal recommendation. We could then proceed to a vote on this bill at third reading stage, for the good of our seniors and social justice.

Royal recommendation—Bill C-490Points of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for Joliette for his remarks.

I will now turn the floor over to the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, who would also like to rise on a point of order.

Comments during Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. During the response to a question from the member for Ottawa South, the environment minister suggested that the member for Ottawa Centre was not aware of what was going on because perhaps he was wearing his tinfoil hat a little too tight.

I just want the Minister of the Environment to clarify which member he was referring to and to assure him that the only hats I have in my cupboard are ones for the Ottawa Senators.

Comments during Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeMinister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I have great esteem for the member for Ottawa Centre and while I would accuse him of many things, I have no evidence of him ever wearing a tinfoil hat. If in any way, shape or form I misspoke, I say to the great member for Ottawa Centre that I apologize.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, before the break for oral questions, I was discussing the whole matter of balance and how we have to address these issues. As I was saying, this is a deep concern for all Canadians. There is an ongoing dialogue among Canadians about what a balanced approach is and how we get there.

As I mentioned, the Conservative members have a strong slogan. They are involved in a war on crime, a war on drugs, and their fearmongering is reminiscent of the Republicans.

In response to the Conservatives' announcement to battle auto theft, Dan Lett, a reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press, said in an article:

[The Prime Minister's] pledge Monday was to introduce tougher laws to crack down on the trafficking of stolen vehicles and parts.

The problem is that the changes he outlined will do precious little to help the situation here, where auto theft is less about organized syndicates and more about a bunch of teenagers out for a dangerous joyride...

He continued:

This approach to fighting crime is probably the best example of not actually doing anything while creating the impression something is being done.

The so-called "war" on crime is often about being seen to be addressing the problem, while ignoring the root causes that lurk below the public's radar, and seemingly outside of the grasp of politicians.

He continued:

Longer sentences mean more people in remand, on trial and in jail, which means significant increases in the costs of administering the courts and of incarceration. That leaves less money for social programs that divert potential auto thieves to more wholesome activities.

As more young people experience prison—we already incarcerate youth at 10 times the rate of European countries—society can boast more graduates of what is essentially a post-secondary education in crime.

That was Dan Lett from the Winnipeg Free Press in response to the most recent announcement that the Conservatives made on their war on crime.

Those are important points to consider. They are certainly points that have been raised in the House in this debate on Bill C-26. In fact, Bill C-26 is part of a larger effort by the Conservative government in its war on crime. What is important in terms of how we move forward is that we need to look at how we address issues.

We also saw in the Winnipeg Free Press yesterday an article about a recent gang related shooting. It is a serious issue.

As I said earlier, this affects people from coast to coast to coast. We have an issue in this country that is related to drugs and gangs. We need to have a debate on finding an approach that will make a difference and make communities safer.

I would like to focus on a number of pieces that are directly related to my riding. The issues of drugs and crimes are very closely related. We look at the drug policy budget and the amount of money that is being spent on enforcement. In my riding there are dozens of first nations. They have separate jurisdiction which comes under federal jurisdiction. Their funding for their band constable program is an intrinsic part of dealing with this issue as it relates to policing.

There are four communities that are very closely situated. About a month ago, children and youth from the Island Lake communities, which include Wasagamack, Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point and Red Sucker Lake, decided to walk from the Island Lake area to Winnipeg. They were protesting the lack of attention by the government to the serious health and social issues, including drug issues and gang related issues.

In the fiscal year 2006-07 when the Conservative government took power, it cut all of those communities' band constable funding. Those four communities had band constable programs, which all first nations expect and require, as all Canadians do, to participate in policing efforts. That band constable funding went from an average of $70,000, which each of those communities was receiving, to zero in 2006-07. Those funds were reinstated in the last fiscal budget.

There is an impact when the government cuts literacy and housing programs. The member for Trinity—Spadina talked about the relation between housing and gangs and drugs. It is a critical issue. As Dan Lett so aptly said, it is the root cause and we cannot ignore the root cause in this dialogue.

When we talk specifically about drug policy, we are talking about issues related to prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement but we are also talking about the other issues. The government, which claims to be tough on crime, has not made any effort to ensure that as a society we address all the issues in order to ensure safer communities. We cannot address this issue piecemeal.

Building more jails in order to be tough on crime is part of a Republican strategy that creates more criminals. In fact, many of the amendments that we are talking about are going to have an impact not on the big drug suppliers or the people who are involved in organized crime but the people at the lower end of the chain. Research has found that mandatory minimum sentences are blunt instruments that fail to distinguish between hard core and transient drug users.

We want to participate in an effort to build safer societies and communities. That is the approach that the Liberals are condoning. That is the approach we have to move forward on. Without a doubt, the relationship between drugs and gangs is something that does not escape anybody.

In fact, one of the primary pieces of work with respect to the Mental Health Commission has been around the issue of addiction. The Mental Health Commission has seen that as a priority. It is moving forward to create pilot projects. I am sad to say that this is another piece in which northern Canada has not been identified as a part of the country that will be participating in this pilot project. I have a very large riding. It encompasses about two-thirds of the province of Manitoba. There are dozens and dozens of communities and they require these services as well.

Where we have all these group causes and support systems within communities and within a society that are intrinsic in building a healthy community, we have seen the government make very little effort. In fact, it eliminated the national child care strategies, which affected not only all of the provinces, but also first nations. Through the Assembly of First Nations, first nations signed the national child care strategy with the government.

We also have the issue of housing. The government often says that it has identified more money than any government for first nations housing, but not one penny of that money was identified for on reserve housing. A primary concern the youth who participated in a walk from the Island Lake Tribal Council area is around social issues, overcrowded housing which would be completely unacceptable in any other part of our country, being one of the issues.

As I said, we could not find a group of youth who are more committed to trying to raise the issue of the crisis in which they live. There is the issue of health services. The government talks about its commitment to human rights, yet it brought forward a bill on human rights, which sought to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act for first nations, exempting the Indian Act. The aboriginal affairs committee worked very hard and long on this issue. Approximately 95% of the witnesses who presented at committee made recommendations to ensure the collective rights of indigenous peoples to participate in Canadian society and human rights for first nations.

I raise this matter again because it is dumbfounding to me that children residing on reserve do not get health services for complex medical needs. Health care should be a universal right in Canada. The youth from the Island Lake Tribal Council walked because they were concerned about drugs and gangs in their own communities. They are seeking assurance from the government that they can move forward.

We on this side of the House are recommending a holistic way of moving forward, addressing these issues, their root causes and identifying how we can hear from Canadians and amend the bill so it ensures we are moving toward a safe society.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her insights on this matter, particularly with respect to the announcement yesterday, a typical Conservative announcement which appears to do something about something when in fact it does nothing about what the subject matter might be.

First, does the member have in her possession or is she knowledgeable about any study anywhere, any place, any time that shows imposing harsher sentences on people who steal cars and things of that nature have any impact whatsoever on the actual incidents of auto theft? It would seem to me that if we are to start a Criminal Code initiative, we should at least start with some basic fundamental evidence on that point.

My second question is with respect to the misallocation of funding. I agree with the member entirely. When we do this kind of funding, essentially we are putting more people in jail, or hope to anyway. In this case funds are taken out of the community and put it into jails. Under our previous government, my community had initiatives, particularly in Scarborough Village area, where it put money into the community and crime rates went down.

Could the member comment upon this misallocation of funding? What we put into the penalty system is effectively taken out of the community. Is this consistent with her own experience?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member raises an excellent point. There is no evidence that demonstrates longer incarceration sentences would have a positive impact on an individual. In fact, it has been proven in many studies that a multi-pronged approach needs to be in place and that rehabilitation is an intrinsic part of dealing with offenders.

I will also add that the bill, as it stands, would take away a judge's discretionary powers with respect to the offenders, the offences and mitigating circumstances. The member raises a very important point and I thank him for that.

I also thank him for raising the issue on investment in crime prevention. It was a very serious part of how the Liberals would approach the issues of crime. Under the current government, crime prevention dollars have been rolled back in my communities. In fact, the Island Lake Tribal Council, which I talked about, is an area which did receive crime prevention dollars and it had a very positive impact. For people who do not know, those first nations do not receive funding for recreational services.

Again, first nations do not receive infrastructure funding through the dollars transferred to the provinces. They do not receive funding for recreational facilities or programs, like other Canadians. They are lacking not only that funding source, but now they have lost their crime prevention dollars. As I said, the testament of youth walking 800 kilometres in the cold spring weather through winter roads is an absolute shame. Here is a community in which young people are saying to the government that they need all of these pieces to move forward.

We on this side of the House are not saying that we should not be looking at this. We need to look at it. We do have serious gang and drug related activities in our country. It is causing serious pain and damage to many communities. This is not only happening in the urban centres, it is happening in rural Canada, including towns and first nations. I believe Canadians want to participate in this dialogue, and it is really important that we send it to committee.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, listening to the debate, I cannot fail to mention the fact that so many of our aboriginal people are in penitentiaries across our country, in numbers that are greater than they should be as far as percentages when we look at the small population of the aboriginal community in Canada.

At the aboriginal affairs committee, which I have been on since I became a member, one of the witnesses who came before us was an ombudsman for people who were in prison. He presented numbers that showed a very alarming rate of offenders in the prison system came from aboriginal communities. Not only that, many times they do not qualify for rehabilitative programs because of the way they are labelled in the prison system.

With the bills that are being introduced by the Conservative government, will we be seeing more of our people in the system instead of them getting out of the system and becoming contributors to society?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Nunavut's question is about a critical issue. I represent a riding that has 36 first nations and numerous Métis people as well. This pattern runs across all aboriginal peoples in Canada. We do have a disproportionate number of aboriginal people within the prison system.

Whenever issues around this type of legislation come up, it becomes a primary concern within our communities. The whole effort must be on crime prevention and supporting people. It needs to be about addressing route causes. I am not saying that criminals should not be incarcerated, that people should escape incarceration for certain crimes. However, there needs to be a balanced approach. We need to address and be very clear and honest about the fact that there are disproportionate rates of aboriginal people in prison. We need to support communities and not pull their crime prevention or band constable funding.

We should invest in addressing the root causes. The cost, as Mr. Lett said in his article, of a post-secondary education in crime is far more expensive than a post-secondary education that would benefit to the country. It is about investing in the country. I do not understand this sort of fearmongering, the mentality of war on crime, pulling funding that addresses root causes. It has never been proven by data or research to have any benefit and it is an enormous cost to the country. Those are the pieces we need to look at as we move forward on the bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

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.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have two questions for the member, who I know is well versed in these areas, so they will be in-depth questions.

First, the hon. member made the obvious point that some of these measures are the same ones that the United States followed and there was no appreciable reduction in drug use. Pretty well everyone involved in the justice system knows that. Therefore, my question is this: where was the breakdown in communication? Obviously the Department of Justice researches these items and would have had this information to give to the government to show that this is not what works.

Everyone wants to reduce drug use. Does the member believe that the Department of Justice would have informed the minister of this and that the government could have come up with a more effective strategy? Where does he think the breakdown was there? That is the first question.

Second, as for the philosophy of this, if a person was in the jail system long enough to get appropriate treatment to deal with the root causes of the problem, the person would not just be kept there, have the sentence extended and come back exactly the same. We would assume that by staying in jail longer a person would get more treatment and that there would be effective and sufficient treatment in the criminal justice system.

The member probably knows better than I: does he feel that the treatments available while a person is incarcerated in today's federal justice system are sufficient?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the questions of my colleague from Yukon.

I did find that in my notes. I found the study. Maybe somehow the government missed it. It is called “Mandatory Minimum Penalties: Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures”. It was done in 2002 by the justice department. It said, “MMS”, mandatory minimum sentences, “do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way”. That was the basic conclusion the study reached.

To answer the question more specifically about the miscommunication, I do not think there was any miscommunication. I know a number of people in the justice department. I am sure they showed this to the justice ministers. However, again, there are blinkers being worn by the government. The Conservatives are so driven by their ideology on this issue. They sincerely believe that if we punish people more, and more severely, we can change their habits.

They are absolutely refusing--I was going to say “reluctant” but that is too soft--to open their eyes to look at anything else. If the justice officials said to them that they had done all this research, here is the result, it shows no measurable difference, and there is no use at all in us doing this, they would just ignore that. I am quite sure that this is what happened.

With regard to the other issue about the availability of treatment when a person is incarcerated, if a person is incarcerated at the provincial level, there is hardly any available treatment. What is available is so backlogged that the vast majority of people who serve two years less a day will never get through the backlog. Those people will be out of custody before treatment is available.

The situation at the federal level is not much different. The vast majority of treatment programs, especially around drugs, are fairly scarce at the federal level. They are severely backlogged in terms of availability. Again, in the vast majority of cases, people may access those treatment programs, but if they actually serve four years, they may get into it by their third year, and then they are there for such a short period of time that it really does not work.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, that was an excellent speech by my colleague from Windsor--Tecumseh. I want to ask him a question pertaining to a situation in my constituency of Winnipeg North, in particular the neighbourhood of Point Douglas, which is one of the hardest hit neighbourhoods in Canada in economic and social terms.

In response to the police and in response to our mayor who, like the Conservatives, quickly jumped to get tough solutions, which we do not dismiss but want to see applied judiciously, Sel and Christine Burrows said the following:

You want to get tough with these kids...Well, I hate to tell you, but the majority of these kids have seen a bloody sight more tough than you or most of your kids will ever see. Many of our Lost Boys were unwanted boys...they were delivered into a life of misery and poverty...mental illness and addiction issues, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, racism, FASD. These are all parts of growing up a Lost Boy.

Sel and Christine Burrows suggest that putting these kids in jail is not going to be any kind of solution. They are just going to be repeating a life of crime and drug abuse. They ask us to “think outside the box” and that means thinking outside the jail cell. I am wondering if my colleague could give us some comments on this issue.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, we need to put this in the context of what has happened. I heard one of the Conservatives talking. It was like was one of those speeches that we heard being given in our legislatures, and in the United States in particular, in the run-up to prohibition. The words being used were exactly the same: prohibit the use of alcohol and all of society's evils will be cured. There is the same attitude with regard to drugs.

As for incarcerating our youth, we are seeing in the Conservatives' attempt in the youth justice bill, which is waiting before the justice committee right now to be reviewed, this attitude that more penalties and harsher penalties will cure all of society's evils, contrary to all the evidence.

We know with regard to drug consumption in particular that the vast majority of users of illicit drugs have other emotional, psychiatric and psychological problems. We can look to all sorts of experiences in Europe, where the treatment model is to get the youth at an earlier stage, and which in fact does work to a significant degree.

I am not going to suggest for a second that it is perfect. It is not. We are human beings and the people who provide that treatment are human beings and it does not work in every case, but it is clear especially for youth that if a treatment modality is used, versus an incarceration modality, the treatment modality has a success rate that is four and five times that of the incarceration modality rate.

We have the knowledge. We have the ability, from a social science standpoint, to treat. We just do not have the resources. We are much more prepared to spend millions of dollars on the war on drugs, tens of millions and hundreds of millions, as opposed to spending similar or perhaps greater amounts on a meaningful modality that would work.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for the member's handle on some of these justice issues. With respect, I tend to disagree that we cannot do something because the member thinks it does not work and therefore we should not really do anything.

The fact is that this government has put forward millions of dollars to attempt to find the indicators of crime early on in the schools and so on to try to assist in the prevention of crime. However, people repetitively choose to make the same mistakes.

I am holding statistics from my area of the country, where violent crime is up by 28%, with defensive weapons up by 20%. The list goes on, with a 100% increase in some of the drug crimes. If the crimes are added up, including all the different traffic violations, the crime rate is actually down by 3%, but the fact is that on some of these violent crimes with respect to drugs and weapons, the crime rate in my area has gone through the roof.

I think we need to get tough on these criminals once and for all, not the ones who need help, and I understand that, but there are a lot of folks out there who are making a lifestyle choice.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where the member gets his figures from. I am glad he raised it because I heard other members make the point.

There is only one figure that we really look at to be absolutely certain of what is happening with the violent crime rate in the country and that is the murder rate. For the last 20 years the murder rate in this country has gone down.

These are the figures of how we spend money on drug policy: 73% on enforcement, 14% on treatment, 7% on research, 2.6% on prevention, and 2.6% on harm reduction.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to share my time with the member for Surrey North.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. The increase in drug use and drug trafficking has become a very worrisome problem in many of our communities.

We have seen the increase in petty crime. We have seen the ravages among many young people created by the use of drugs. It concerns members of all parties. Where we may disagree is on the best approach in responding to that very real problem.

There is a confusion, it seems to me, between the notion of mandatory minimum sentences, and some people have equated it to minimum effectiveness. If someone is against mandatory minimum sentences, the Conservatives say the person is being soft on crime.

I would like to talk about mandatory minimum and quote some of the experts who believe that it is the least effective tool that we could use to deal with this particular problem. Not only experts believe it is the wrong way to go, but most Canadians also believe that drug addiction is an illness and it should be treated in that way.

In the time that I have, I would also like to speak to the kind of response the Conservative government is giving to the harm reduction approach.

The mandatory minimum is a bad idea in principle. In 2001 a justice department report concluded that mandatory minimum sentences are least effective in relation to drug offences. It said:

MMS [mandatory minimum sentences] do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. A variety of research methods concludes that treatment-based approaches are more cost effective than lengthy prison terms. MMS [mandatory minimum sentences] are blunt instruments that fail to distinguish between low and high level as well as hardcore versus transient drug dealers.

That was a report by the justice department, not by the New Democratic Party.

These would be some of the consequences of adopting this kind of ill thought out, ideologically driven policy.

The Prime Minister would like us to believe that this approach is just being tough on organized crime and big time traffickers. The reality is that it will not deter organized crime. In fact, we presently have legislation with respect to organized crime with mandatory minimum sentences. We can see the great effect that has had in reducing the number of Hells Angels for example.

Frank Addario, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association of Ontario, noted that justice department research shows that mandatory minimum sentences do not deter offenders more than tailored proportionate sentences, and often result in lower conviction rates because judges are reluctant to convict someone for a minor transgression if they know the penalty is harsh.

Politicians have no business making preordained decisions on the future of people being brought before the courts. This belongs to the judges. A judge who has heard the case from start to finish should be the only person to decide what penalties are appropriate.

This reminds me somewhat of the Conservatives' attempts to meddle in nuclear safety. I do not know how much safer Canadians feel today after the Conservative government meddled with our nuclear energy regulator in Canada but I certainly do not feel safer. The issue of drug crimes should be in the purview of judges in Canada.

It is just too draconian to pass a law that ignores mitigating circumstances. For example, someone dealing in marijuana would go to jail for at least a year if he or she did so in support of organized crime. Organized crime, I am told, is defined as a money-making enterprise involving three or more people. That covers almost all marijuana dealers who are by definition organized if they have one supplier and one customer. Most of the changes in this law are like that.

We would all be concerned as parents to see children taking serious drugs, whether it be cocaine or crystal meth. My colleagues and I feel that the government's resources should go toward prevention. Rather than going toward making these kinds of draconian laws, the resources should go toward supporting the harm reduction approach, the four pillar approach that involves real enforcement. That is certainly needed. At the moment, without the other pieces of the four pillar approach, prevention, treatment, and housing, and I will come to that, the enforcement becomes a revolving door. The police are telling us that they are attempting to respond to a social problem.

I have some statistics on the amount of money that the government is spending on its drug policy. Of its drug policy, 73% is spent on enforcement, 14% on treatment. In Victoria, people who are trying to help drug addicts who want treatment just cannot provide it. It is just not available. There is no money for treatment. There are no treatment beds. There are no detox beds. This appears in report after report on the issue in Victoria. Across Canada 14% of the money goes toward treatment and 2.6% toward prevention. That is simply inadequate to address the very serious issues on our streets. While the federal government attempts to bring in these ideologically driven solutions, cities and municipalities are left to pick up the pieces and to deal with the lack of leadership by senior levels of government.

We see the ravages on our streets. We see the impacts among our young people. We very strongly need enforcement. More than anything I see all the social providers in my city scrambling for funding, whether it be to set up programs around mentorship to help young people avoid crime, or programs to support those people who want to find a way out, or to provide detox or treatment services. The money is not there to provide those services.

That is where the negligence is by senior levels of government.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a clarification for the House and the member. I do not want to imply that the member was not here during the debate on the Chalk River nuclear problem, but all members in this House who participated in that debate came to the conclusion and voted unanimously on the actions the government had to take in that regard. I do not think it is fair that the member stands up in public and makes assertions that are contrary to that truth.

I want the member to know that we certainly do look at statistics even if they do not say what we want them to say. I am looking specifically at murder rates, which the NDP is inclined to do because, of course, they tell the story that the NDP members want to hear.

The fact is that drug crime in my riding in some cases, heroin, for example, is up over 100%. The folks in the downtown Galt area of Cambridge have called me into their homes to talk about the number of crack addicts that are roaming the street. It is absolutely epidemic.

I have former patients who are police officers who tell me they spend most of their nights dealing with drug issues, and the next night they are dealing with the same ones because it is a revolving door in the justice system which was so carefully built and supported by the previous Liberal government.

I would like to ask the member what she expects us to do with the current rate of drug related crimes that impact insurance costs, as some of these folks break into local businesses to finance, in some cases, their chosen lifestyle. I understand there certainly are folks that by no choice of their own have this problem, but I am not talking about those people. I am talking about the folks who make a choice, break into a business, and the business insurance rates go up, or worse, as is the case in my riding, some businesses cannot even get insurance. The downtown cores of these communities start to rot as buildings become empty.

I do not believe for one second the NDP has even a semblance of a grasp on this problem. I suppose that is okay because I do not think they will ever come to power and that in itself is a good thing.

Perhaps the member wants to comment on that reality.