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

11:35 a.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to discuss a very important issue to my constituents of Newton—North Delta: our society's approach to illegal drugs. It affects my family, neighbours, businesses and constituents across Newton—North Delta. I say my family because, along with my wife, Roni, we are raising three children from school age to university. I run my own business in my own riding.

When I talk to parents and to the businesses, marijuana grow-ops are a problem that is affecting people across society.

Last year, when I was talking to Chief Superintendent McRae, he told me that last year the RCMP handled 7,000 drug related incidents in Surrey, an increase of 11% from the year before. Chief Cessford from Delta tells the same story.

Addictive, destructive drugs can ruin lives and often the lives of our children. Crystal meth, for instance, is extremely hazardous to the brain. Particularly when smoked, meth rapidly damages the brain, killing portions of it. It makes the brain of users in their early twenties look like the brains of sixty or seventy year olds who have suffered from minor strokes.

Not all drugs are as dangerous as crystal meth. As responsible legislators, we must keep things in perspective.

Bill C-26 is welcome in many ways, although it has limitations. Before considering the bill, we should be clear on what principles should govern our approach to illegal drugs and other criminal activities.

Canadians are a fair and generous people. We have never been as harsh as our American neighbours. We recognize that many social forces push people toward crime: poverty, poor education, unstable childhoods, social isolation and many more.

We believe that people are fundamentally good but we recognize that good behaviour is not automatic. People need to be encouraged.

Canadians also know that it is not enough to try to prevent people from becoming criminals. We must also deal with those who commit crime. People who break the law must be punished.

A government that serves the needs of Canadians must be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to make the most of life but people should not get away with committing crimes.

Canada's crime policy should not be just reactive. It should proactive. Our goal should also be to prevent crime. How do we prevent crime? Do we hire more police, prosecutors and judges? Do we set longer sentences or minimum sentences? I believe the best way to prevent crime is by ensuring criminals get caught and convicted.

Earlier, I was listening to my hon. colleague from Abbotsford talking about 2,500 new police officers that the government promised in its platform. However, when it comes to those figures, that corresponds to $32,000 a year for a police officer for only four years.

This is a long term, serious problem that we need to deal with. Funding needs to be stable for those 2,500 new police officers and it needs to be a reasonable amount so we can hire and get more police officers on the streets.

Beyond that, we need to provide positive activities for our youth so that they do not fall into drugs.

Yesterday, I was talking with people at the Muslim Youth Centre in my riding. Organizer and volunteer, Zeynel Azimullah, and his associates are providing tremendous volunteer efforts to play a constructive role in the lives of city youth. The aims and objectives of this organization are to protect our youth from doing things that are unlawful and illegal, to provide learning opportunities for character building, to mould our youth to be committed and dedicated citizens, to offer physical, spiritual, moral and social educational programs, and to promote peace and harmony.

When it comes to government, it can be a force of good in people's lives. For the last four years, the Muslim Youth Centre has been running based on donations. This is the type of work that is really appreciated in my riding. However, when the organization went to the Revenue Canada Agency to get a charity number it did not qualify as a charity organization. This is the type of organization that needs to be encouraged and needs the resources to be put in place.

Similarly, two years ago I was introduced to another gentleman in my riding by one of my constituents who is a multicultural coordinator with the city RCMP detachment. She introduced me to a young man named Rob Rai. He works with youth at risk and teaches them skills through sports and keeps them off the streets. Similar to the Muslim Youth Centre, Rob Rai's organization is also run by donations from businesses.

It is the people who are playing a role in the lives of our youth but I am sure the government can do much more on this. Every social worker or child care provider with whom we talk say that the first six years in a child's development is very important. However, when the government cancelled those child care agreements, it showed how serious the government was in providing the prevention needs.

When the government cancelled the Kelowna accord, it showed that it was not committed to improving the lives of our youth.

I appreciate the government bringing in this bill and I, along with my colleagues, will be supporting this bill in principle.

In Canada, the use and abuse of illicit drugs is a serious problem that is increasing. The number of Canadians who have used an injection drug during their lives increased from 1.7 million in 1994 to 4.1 million in 2004. According to the RCMP, the number of secret labs seized increased from 24 in 2000 to 53 in 2005. Because growers use volatile materials and frequently obtain their electricity illegally, marijuana grow operations pose a threat to public health and safety, especially to their neighbours and children.

Production of ecstasy is also on the rise in Canada. The United States has expressed concerns about ecstasy being smuggled into the U.S. from Canada.

The increase in drug use, trafficking and production threatens our safety. These activities have serious impacts on our communities, such as increasing rates of petty crime, prostitution, increased violence, and increased risk to law enforcement officers. Proceeds from the sale of drugs are used to finance other criminal activities.

What we want to stop above all is violence. We need to recognize the problems that are caused by small producers and the biggest dangers from the big operations. We need to define where the problem is and where we need to get tough.

We also need to be smarter on crime. The city of Surrey's innovative electrical fire safety initiative has been so successful at shutting down grow ops that the city is doubling the program. It investigates houses with unusual power consumption and cuts off power if there is dangerous wiring, typical of grow ops. The program has sent a strong message that grow ops will not be tolerated in Surrey, and it is working.

Tougher penalties are an important part of our strategy to fight crime. Bill C-26 proposes several measures on drug crime. It would create a one year mandatory jail term for dealing drugs while using a weapon, or for dealing drugs in support of organized crime. It would create a two year mandatory term for dealing cocaine, heroin or meth to young people, or for dealing near places young people frequent.

Bill C-26 proposes to increase the maximum sentence for date rape drugs. It would create a mandatory six month sentence for growing as little as one marijuana plant for the purposes of trafficking.

I welcome the measures in Bill C-26 to target large scale growers and traffickers, organized crime groups, and people who push drugs on our children and teenagers. These people are ruining the lives of our future generations. We hope that this bill will help. Our hopes should be focused more on our youth, and I personally feel that this bill is a step in the right direction.

The Conservatives' approach, however, has problems. They see that drug abuse is a criminal matter, but they do not see that it is also a health issue. They are not focusing on the more serious criminal problems, especially gangs and guns.

We could talk to the police chief or any police officer in my riding and they would tell us that we need to focus our resources on organized crime. For instance, right now we only have a 16% conviction rate for homicides. This is appallingly low. It used to be much higher, but it is harder for the police to get convictions now because more homicides are being committed by organized crime.

Those are serious problems, but they are not getting the attention from the Conservative government that they should be getting.

We do not even know where all the new prisoners will be jailed. The British Columbia provincial corrections department says that if Bill C-26 were to pass, it would probably have to find room for about 700 more marijuana growers per year. Nobody is sure where they can go because 80% of the provincial prisoners in B.C. are already double-bunked and the rest are either in protective custody or are too violent for a cellmate.

Even the National Post is critical of these issues, and when the National Post agrees with The Globe and Mail, we know something must be seriously wrong.

Just like with the economy, the Conservatives had a fantastic opportunity to change Canada's drug policies for the better over the past two years, but they have once again wasted the opportunity.

Now, I request that this government, if it were to implement Bill C-26, should also be focusing on preventive measures and education, particularly among our youth and aboriginal communities. That is very important.

I will be supporting this bill as I have on every crime bill that has come before this House. I have always stood up to be tough on crime, but at the same time, I have always been an advocate of preventive measures, education and social benefits, so that we can keep the social justice, so we can keep the balance when it comes to making laws and providing resources in our communities.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the U.S.-style war on drugs has failed in the U.S. and it is failing in Canada. I notice that in Canada we spent 73% of our drug policy budget on enforcement, whereas we spent only 14% on treatment, 7% on research, even less, 2.6% on prevention, and 2.6% on harm reduction.

We have seen many Canadian families whose teenagers are trapped in a cycle of addiction. It really should be seen as a health issue not one of morality. We know there are many parents who are desperately trying to seek drug treatment programs for their teenagers and their children, but they have not been able to find them in Canada.

There are hardly any long term drug treatment programs. There are very few community-based treatment programs. Those that are available are private and very expensive. There are some treatment programs in the U.S. where parents end up having to send their kids but of course the travel costs, et cetera, are not covered.

We know that drug treatment programs work very well as they deal with young persons in a holistic manner. We know that many of them who are taking drugs use them to mask the pain that they have experienced when they were young, whether it was physical or mental abuse.

I do not understand how this bill would actually work because it would end up throwing more people in jail and as a result we would end up with more hardened criminals and certainly we would end up spending more money dealing with them on the enforcement side. We know that to put a young person in jail, for example, would cost at least $100,000 a year, whereas a drug treatment program would be a lot cheaper.

My question for the hon. member is, how could one even begin to support this kind of very wrong-headed, ineffective, non-science-based approach war on drugs that has proven to be a complete failure in the past?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Trinity—Spadina for the statistics she gave with which I could not agree more. If the hon. member was listening to my speech, in fact the numbers she gave, the 73% on enforcement, and 7% on prevention, I also mentioned that there are certain aspects of the bill that have to be tough on crime because if we are not tough on crime we cannot deal with the problems we have in our society.

At the same time, I mentioned that the Conservative government is not looking at this as a health risk. I do agree with the member that we need to put more resources into preventive and treatment measures.

The member asked, how can I support it? It makes total sense to support this bill and send it to committee so that members of the committee can discuss the pros and cons of the bill and come up with a constructive, healthy bill that will put resources into prevention but at the same time be tough on crime.

The committee will have this responsibility and then we can bring in experts at committee to deal with this situation and put their input into the bill so when the bill comes back to the House it will be a more effective bill.

On the other hand, we all know how committees are functioning under this Conservative leadership. Basically the government does not even want to hear the input from members of the opposition. It is forgetting that 66% of the people elected the opposition. That is why it makes sense to send the bill to committee and allow the committee to work on this, so the bill will be more effective in every way.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders



Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned that the Conservatives had a great opportunity to make good changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. We think we are making good changes.

Liberal Party members had the authority and opportunity for 13 years in this House to make changes, but they did not make any critical changes in this area. As a member of the Liberal Party, how does the member feel about the performance of the Liberal Party for the 13 years that it did nothing on this file?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders



Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to serve on the access to information, privacy and ethics committee with the member for Burlington.

He asked about the 13 years. Maybe the hon. member was not aware of those 13 years. Maybe he is not aware that Brian Mulroney left this country with a $41 billion deficit. When the previous Liberal government came to power, it balanced eight consecutive budgets. It brought in the Kelowna accord to improve the lives of aboriginals.

We brought in landmark child care agreements that the Conservatives cancelled. The member can talk to child care providers who will tell him what the Liberal government had done and what the current government has messed up.

Regarding the economy, The Economist said that the Liberal government of this country was one of the best, and that in fact Canada was the second best country to invest in. We were the top country to live in, but under the current government we are heading into deficit right now. These are the achievements that we made and these are the mess-ups of the current government right now.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders



Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member to table some of those things, but I will not. We will try to get back on the topic of how justice in this country has gone downhill.

I am not sure if the hon. member has heard some of his colleagues talk about the banning of hand guns, but I want to make a comment and then ask the hon. member a question. I am getting sick and tired, as constituents in my riding are, of politicians who have no solutions to the problem, but come out and say that we should ban hand guns, which for all intents and purposes are banned anyway.

I wonder if the member knows that crack cocaine, crystal meth, and all of those things are also banned. How does that work?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders



Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to crime with guns, I would refer to the headline, “More youths in gangs. National trend. Drug trade behind gunplay, author says”.

In fact, less than 48 hours after Toronto Mayor David Miller launched a national push to have hand guns banned by the federal government, his city recorded three more shootings. It is self-explanatory.

The other issue the member raised was for me to table those things I was talking about. It is on the public record.

I hope the member can put his team forward to do the research. It shows in the economy in one budget after the other. The Canada pension plan was ruined by the Mulroney Conservatives. It was a Liberal government that put the Canada pension plan on a strong footing. I forgot to mention that.

When it comes to banning these drugs, as I have already said in my speech, I want to make sure our youth are protected from these drugs. We have to have tough laws, but at the same time we have to have preventive measures and the resources to support those youth.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Peace River.

It is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-26, which is an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The Minister of Justice recently tabled Bill C-26 which proposes a number of mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that appropriately high sentences are imposed on those who commit serious drug offences.

The bill is not about applying mandatory minimum penalties for all drug crimes. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act contains a complex offence and penalty structure. Penalties depend on the nature of the prohibited activity and on the type of substance involved.

The most problematic and dangerous substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine are listed in schedule I. Offences involving these substances attract the severest penalties, up to life in prison.

Cannabis is a schedule II drug and attracts lesser penalties. It is only if at least three kilograms are involved that trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking are punishable by up to life imprisonment. Production of cannabis is punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment.

The least severe penalties, up to 12 months' imprisonment on summary conviction, are reserved for offences involving substances listed in schedules IV and V.

It should be noted, however, that most of the prohibited activities in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are legal if committed by someone possessing the proper licence, permit or exemption.

For example, the marijuana medical access regulations that came into force on July 30, 2001 provide a comprehensive scheme for sick individuals to apply for licences to possess or grow marijuana for medical use with the support of their doctor, or in some cases with the support of a specialist. There is also a process to apply for a designated person production licence if the individual is unable to grow the marijuana himself or herself.

As such, there are individuals in Canada who are exempted from the production offence contained in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act who are growing marijuana within their residences or in their yards.

The amount of plants that the individual is permitted to produce is derived from a formula tied to the amount of dried marijuana product which the individual holder of the permit requires on a daily basis. The amount of plants that the permit holder is authorized to produce can be quite significant. For example, it can be in excess of 50 plants.

Some members of the House may be of the view that serious drug offences do not require a response such as the one contained in the bill. However, serious drug crime is a growing problem in Canadian cities and towns and a serious legislative approach is required.

According to Statistics Canada's Juristat “Crime Statistics in Canada, 2004”, the rate of marijuana cultivation offences has more than doubled over the past decade from approximately 3,400 offences in 1994 to 8,000 in 2004.

According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia in 2003, 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases, or 4,514 cases, were located in British Columbia. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%. Although the number of individual operations in British Columbia levelled off between 2000 and 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced increased from 19,729 kilograms in 1997 to a seven year high of 79,817 kilograms in 2003, which was due to the size and sophistication of individual operations.

Recent investigations by B.C. Hydro indicate the existence of up to 17,000 possible marijuana grow operations. The increase in the illicit production of marijuana has occurred not just in British Columbia but all across this country. There is no available national data on synthetic drug production.

Other RCMP data indicates a steady rise in these production operations. The RCMP seized 25 synthetic drug production operations in 2002, 51 in 2003, 60 in 2004, and 50 in 2005. Of the 60 operations seized in 2004, 17 were producing ecstasy and 40 were set up to produce methamphetamine. Of the 50 labs seized in 2005, 60% were producing meth and 30% were producing ecstasy. Ecstasy seizures and precursors increased between 2001 and 2006 from 1.5 million tablets to in excess of 70 million.

Unlike other better known drugs of abuse such as heroin, cocaine or marijuana, methamphetamine presents some unique challenges. Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. It is not dependent on the cultivation of a crop. Its production requires no specialized skill or training. Its precursor chemicals are relatively easy to obtain and inexpensive to purchase. These factors make production attractive to both the criminal trafficker and to the addicted user.

Methamphetamine also presents a threat to law enforcement authorities. They must simultaneously combat small toxic labs and super labs, which are primarily controlled by drug trafficking organizations. The small labs produce relatively small amounts of methamphetamine and are generally not affiliated with major drug trafficking organizations.

A number of factors have served as catalysts for the spread of small labs, including the presence of recipes easily accessible over the Internet. Indeed, widespread use of the Internet has facilitated the dissemination of technology used to manufacture methamphetamine in small labs. This form of information sharing allows wide dissemination of these techniques to anyone with computer access.

Aside from marijuana, methamphetamine is the only widely abused illegal drug that is capable of being easily produced by the abuser. Given the relative ease with which the manufacturers or cooks are able to acquire recipes and ingredients, and the unsophisticated nature of the production process, it is easy to see why this highly addictive drug is spreading.

Methamphetamine use has a number of impacts on users, on our communities and on society generally. The quality of life among users of methamphetamine is generally greatly diminished. Addicts may experience dissolution of relationships, social isolation, altered personality, difficulty with academics, loss of employment, involvement in crime, exacerbation of pre-existing mental illness, drug related psychosis, brain damage, health risk behaviours, including risky sexual encounters and declining physical fitness.

Furthermore, individuals may be unmotivated to seek help as methamphetamine can create seemingly high levels of energy and productivity. Communities can become vulnerable to petty crime, social disorder, associated risks to health, increases in violence and increases in large scale labs and drug trafficking.

Methamphetamine production operations also pose serious public safety and health hazards to those in and around production operations. These operations can result in serious physical injury from explosions, fires, chemical burns and toxic fumes. They produce environmental hazards, pose cleanup problems and endanger the lives and health of community residents.

The collateral damage of methamphetamine includes impacts on families, school staff, students, law enforcers and fire department paramedics, health care practitioners, businesses and property owners. These individuals experience second-hand symptoms of methamphetamine use. First responders may experience exposures to production byproducts, fire explosion or hazards and may be subject to violence from addicts or frustrations and stress from inadequate resources or judicial restraints from preventing them from taking action.

Parents may also experience emotional and financial stress, strain from missing work, fear and embarrassment, guilt and shame, as a child goes through treatment. A family may also encounter gang related crime, contamination, violence—

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. The member did not seem to winding up or he did not bother to pretend he was, so the 10 minutes has expired.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Burlington.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Dufferin—Caledon's review was enlightening to me and I am sure others who heard him speak on the production of drugs, how that happens and how easily it can be done. He indicated that access to a computer could give one the knowhow and that the ingredients were easily found.

This week is National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, during which we celebrate everything we try to do to help victims of crime. In getting tough on drug dealers, could he give us his opinion on what the bill would do to help victims of crime?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an issue that has affected our society in an incredible number of ways. There are the issues of gangs, problems in schools, businesses, the breakups of families and it goes on and on.

The member for Newton—North Delta and the member for Trinity—Spadina, along with other speakers, raised others issues such as health, education and all these issues are most relevant.

Something has to be done about the way these drugs affect our society. We will put people in jail. The public needs to be protected. The victims of crime, the families that have been affected by the crime committed as a result of these drugs need to be assisted. This legislation will help them.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with considerable pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-26. From my constituency, I hear great concern with regard to the impact of the drug trade and the drug fueled crime that results from that trade.

With crystal meth, the date rape drug, the marijuana grow ops and clandestine labs proliferating in our communities from coast to coast, Canadians are demanding that the Government of Canada take some action.

In the last election we promised to crack down on drug crime. We promised that we would “introduce mandatory minimum sentences for designated drug trafficking offences to ensure that serious crime results in serious punishment”, and that we would, “end conditional sentences or house arrest for serious crimes, including major drug offences”. We also promised that we would support results oriented community based initiatives for addiction treatments, training and rehabilitation of those who were in trouble with the law.

With Bill C-26 and our national anti-drug strategy, the government is fulfilling these promises.

With the proposed legislation, I am particularly pleased that we will take strong action to combat marijuana grow ops. Why do we need these mandatory minimum penalties for grow ops? We need them because sentences for these offenders amount to little more than a simple slap on the wrist.

Professor Darryl Plecas did a study of all the drug files opened by the police of British Columbia from 1998 to 2003. His findings underscore the need and the urgency for these criminal law reforms.

Professor Plecas found that between 1997 and 2003 indoor grow operations increased in average size from 149 plants to 236 plants. It should be noted that hydro bypasses, which allow for theft of hydro, were seen in approximately one in five grow operations. Also the number of fires associated with grow operations increased from 32 in 1997 to 80 in 2003.

These numbers are important because it draws a picture. Among the suspects, 57% had at least one other drug conviction, 41% had a prior conviction of some form of violence, 22% had a previous conviction for production and 27% had a previous conviction for possession for the purpose of trafficking. On average, suspects had seven convictions occurring over a thirteen year period.

What kind of sentences are the courts imposing? Members may find it hard to believe that Professor Plecas found that only 27% of offenders with nine or more non-drug convictions were imprisoned. For offenders with nine or more drug convictions, only 54% were sentenced to jail time. Moreover, cases in which prison sentencing was the most serious disposition dropped from 19% in 1997 to 10% in 2003, while conditional sentences, as the most serious penalty, increased from 13% to 46%. When a prison sentence was imposed, the average length was only 4.9 months.

Clearly, existing sentences are not deterring individuals with multiple convictions from participating in grow ops over and over again.

I believe all members will agree that these sentences are insufficient to deter persons from being involved in marijuana grow ops. Certainly, I do not think they are appropriate. These sentences do not adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes.

The issue of grow ops, and specifically crystal meth superlabs, is something in which I have taken a personal interest. My private member's bill, Bill C-428, which is currently being dealt with in the other place, deals with raising the penalties for those who produce and traffic in this dangerous drug.

I have heard from people from coast to coast who are concerned about the illegal drug use. They are concerned especially about the deterrents that are in place for those who produce and distribute these dangerous drugs, which have such a horrific impact in each one of our communities. It is time that Parliament send the needed message as to what we think is the appropriate range of penalties within which a judge can craft a sentence, taking into account the particular circumstances of the offender.

Bill C-26 would set that new range. At present, there is no floor and the ceiling is only seven years. Under Bill C-26 there would be a new maximum of 14 years, indicating clearly to the courts how seriously parliamentarians take this type of crime. More important, there would be mandatory periods of imprisonment that would reflect the number of plants. Those mandatory minimums would be increased where: the production constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children who were in the location where the offence was committed or in the immediate area; the production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area; a trap was placed or set; or the offender used real property that belonged to a third party to commit the offence.

Under Bill C-26, the penalties would be: six months for the production of up to 200 marijuana plants where the production was for the purpose of trafficking and nine months where the offence involved safety and health aggravating factors; one year for the production of 201 to 500 plants and 18 months where the offence involved health and safety aggravating factors; and two years for more than 500 plants and three years where the offence involved health and safety aggravating factors.

Clearly these proposed mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment are a measured response and fulfill the promise “ensure that serious crime results in serious punishment”. Moreover, the proposals fulfill the promise to support addiction treatment, training and rehabilitation of those in trouble with the law.

I remind members that where the accused has a previous conviction for a serious drug offence but there are no other aggravating circumstances with respect to the offence before the court, the legislation will allow the court to suspend the imposition of sentence if the offender participates in a drug treatment court program. If the person successfully completes the drug treatment program, the court can impose a lesser sentence.

Drug treatment courts are fairly new to Canada, but they are very promising. I understand that at a press conference on Bill C-26, Joe, the first graduate of Ottawa's drug treatment court, spoke eloquently and emotionally about how the court had helped him to be clean for 16 months. Joe has turned his life around and now he can contribute to society, whereas before he used to commit crimes to get money to feed his drug addiction.

I urge all members of the House to support Bill C-26.

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12:25 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Peace River for highlighting the penalty side of Bill C-26. I also congratulate him for his personal work on justice issues that deal with drugs and for his private member's bill, which is now in the other place for review.

The member did an excellent job of highlighting the changes the bill would make to increase penalties for those involved in serious drug crime and in the production and sale of drugs to others.

Could he tell the House what the bill will mean to his community of Peace River and his young family with respect to making it a safer place to live?

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12:25 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I have had the opportunity to work with my colleagues on both sides of this House, including the member for Burlington, I appreciate the support each one has given me.

In terms of this bill and the bills that we have brought forward, there is no question that in my riding of Peace River and the ridings from coast to coast people are asking that parliamentarians step in and do the work of protecting our young families and the people in our communities who are the most vulnerable.

Because of my work on the crystal meth front, I get calls on a regular basis from people in Vancouver and in the Maritimes who are concerned about the way we deal with it. We need to ensure that we go after, first and foremost, the people who are producing and distributing these drugs, specifically to the most vulnerable.

In the past, attempts have sometimes been made to go after the most vulnerable and criminalize their behaviour. We do want to continue to ensure that people are not being encouraged to possess drugs, but we also need to get to the root cause, which is the networking, manufacturing and distribution of these drugs.

Canadians have asked us to go that route and, clearly, that is where this government is responding and getting tough on the real serious crime of producing and distributing the most serious drugs. This bill would take us that much further.

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12:30 p.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to offer the member my congratulations on supporting such a great bill for Canadians. I can tell members that people in my riding of Cambridge and North Dumfries cannot wait any longer for the tightening of these types of crimes.

I do have a simple question requiring a very simple answer.

On my own street in my riding we had a grow-op pretty much across the street from my home that was operating without anybody knowing it was there, obviously. The operation was turned in by a real estate agent. When the people were arrested and the whole thing went to court, it turned out that one individual owned about five of these homes but had somehow figured out how to rent them to the bad guys. As a result, none of the properties were seized and only one person ever ended up in court and, to my understanding, was fined $20,000.

If people can produce marijuana in a home for a year where $1 million in crop is produced, I think a $20,000 fine is the wrong message for Canadians. I am just wondering if the member agrees with that. Would this bill help solve that problem and send a better message to Canadians about the safety of their communities?

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12:30 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the efforts of the member for Cambridge to reform the criminal justice system and to have stronger penalties for those people who would go after the most vulnerable in our society.

One of the things I have been concerned about, which he mentioned, is the ownership of the properties in which these criminal acts often are committed.

He is talking about a $20,000 fine as a result of having been involved in a grow-op. As a contractor, I have seen the damage caused from some of these grow-ops and $20,000 is a drop in the bucket when we consider the landlords who hope to rent out their homes and get a decent return. However, at the end of the day they are left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to their property because it was used as a grow-op.

The government and this Parliament need to send a signal that we are getting serious about protecting not only those people who are being sold drugs, but also the people who are victimized through grow-ops as well, the people who, in good faith, rent out their homes.

We want to encourage a good rental market but, by not getting tough on the people who rent and destroy these homes and then go on to another home, we do not encourage a rental market, which contributes to the issue of low income housing.

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12:30 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be taking part in this debate on Bill C-26. The Bloc Québécois wants to see the bill sent back to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights but the committee chair must be able to fulfill his responsibilities properly. The Bloc Québécois wants to see the bill sent back to the committee once it returns to normal. Even then, that does not mean that we will automatically support this bill after studying it more closely. We want to hear witnesses and do a comprehensive and thorough job because we obviously have questions.

Let us put all this in context for our fellow citizens. Bill C-26 introduces a minimum one-year prison sentence for trafficking of drugs, particularly marijuana, when undertaken as part of organized crime and involving the use of a weapon or violence. Certainly we agree that drug-related activities, especially those that profit organized crime, deserve a penalty. The Bloc Québécois has not changed its mind about minimum mandatory sentences.

I have said it many times, just as a number of my colleagues have: there are no conclusive studies showing that a minimum mandatory sentence in a bill necessarily works as a deterrent. Quite the opposite, a minimum mandatory sentence can lead to plea bargaining, a game of negotiation between the defence counsel and the Crown where they agree to other charges that are not subject to minimum mandatory sentences.

A second offence is contained in this bill. A minimum sentence of two years will be imposed for trafficking drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines to young people and, of course, for trafficking drugs near a school or near any other public place usually frequented by young people, like a youth centre.

We are in favour in principle of the legislator taking a closer look at people wanting to traffic drugs in places frequented by young people. In fact, that was a recommendation of the special committee created in 2002 in which I took part. I will come back to that later. Nonetheless, we are not convinced that this offence requires a mandatory minimum sentence.

Third, this bill contains a minimum sentence of two years for the cultivation of more than 500 marijuana plants.

Fourth, the maximum sentence for the production of cannabis will go from 7 to 14 years imprisonment. The Bloc Québécois does not have a problem with the maximum sentences, as this respects the judicial discretion that judges hearing witnesses should be afforded. They are aware of the circumstances and are well placed to determine the best sentence for each individual case. The Bloc Québécois has always defended the idea that sentences should be handed down on a case-by-case basis. A judge must receive and look at each case by bearing every factor in mind.

Finally, punishment will be more severe for trafficking in GHB, which is commonly known as the date rape drug. We do not have any particular problem with that provision.

There is another aspect of the bill that is a little more on the positive side. Clause 5 states that if the offender successfully completes a drug treatment program—and every one of our provinces and communities offers one—the court is not required to impose the minimum sentence, as the treatment will be seen as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

I understand that a government member has already introduced a similar bill.

We are in favour of clause 5 of the bill, but we have a number of concerns about the rest of the bill.

I would also like to mention that the bill establishes a list of aggravating circumstances that would rule out the possibility of a minimum sentence. These factors are considered serious enough to encourage judges to lean towards harsher sentences, rather than more lenient ones.

This bill addresses offences committed for the benefit or at the direction of a criminal organization. These provisions already exist, since they were passed when we dealt with the whole issue of organized crime. The House will recall that there are three offences under sections 467, 468 and 469, I believe. Committing an offence for the benefit of a criminal organization, whether drug related or under other circumstances, is still considered an aggravating circumstance.

Also, when violence is used in the commission of an offence, naturally, that is considered an aggravating circumstance. The same is true for offences committed in a school or on school grounds, offences committed in a prison and offences committed using the services of a person under the age of 18 years. Those are all examples of aggravating circumstances that would rule out the possibility of a minimum sentence.

The drug issue is very worrisome, of course. We in the Bloc Québécois are aware that drugs can destroy families, have a profoundly negative impact on communities, contribute to the formation of criminal networks and lead to violence. Thus, we are not complacent about the issue of drugs.

We can be somewhat critical of the bill. In 2002, I participated in a study on drug use. At the time, there was a member by the name of Randy White. I can mention his name because he is no longer a member in this House. I am sure you will remember him because he held office for three terms. He was a staunch Conservative. We could use more colourful language to describe him but I will refrain. He was a fairly opinionated Conservative. He had introduced a motion that the House establish a committee to study the non-medical use of drugs.

We worked for about two years on this committee, together with the former member for Burlington, Ms. Torsney, who was the chair. Other members who are still in this House were also on the committee and we invested about two years travelling around Canada and Quebec to hear testimony.

I was very surprised at the time—it was the early 2000s—when we were informed that the Canadian government was allocating $500 million to the drug issue. Of this $500 million, $380 million—which is not small change—went to the RCMP and Correctional Services Canada, organizations responsible for enforcing the law.

These organizations are not very likely to engage in prevention or early intervention. They do not work with the youth in our communities and inform them of the terrible consequences of drug use in order to deter them.

It is very worrisome that, as recently as the early 2000s, we picked a prohibitionist approach and one that was very clearly and predominantly associated with elements of repression.

It is even more troubling—and we need to think about this—that for at least 80 years, Canada has had provisions in the Criminal Code that prohibit the use, import, export, possession and trafficking of drugs. Anything to do with these five things has been prohibited in the Criminal Code for decades. Obviously, this was moved into the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act a few years ago, but the Criminal Code has been used for a very long time to deter people from taking drugs.

I say this with complete detachment: I have never taken drugs in my life. Anyone who knows me will know this, and even those people who find me hopelessly relaxed. Nevertheless, I have to wonder something. For 80 years, we have had a prohibitionist strategy, and in survey after survey, after examining the realities and the current situation, we find that one quarter of Canadians take drugs. I should clarify that, of course: 80% of those people use marijuana.

Should we invest as much in social resources to deter young people as we invest in the Criminal Code? We should allocate $500 million to explain to young people that marijuana, although it is perhaps less harmful than other drugs, is not part of Canada's food guide. A person does not need to use marijuana to be happy in life or to be successful. This is not to pass judgment on those who do use marijuana, but it is certainly not something that should be encouraged.

Conversely, does society really want this system, in which a young person gets a criminal record for using marijuana? When we examined this in committee, we realized that there were very serious consequences to having a criminal record, affecting many things, from bail hearings to job searches. In fact, when a person declares to a potential employer that he has a criminal record, it is still quite a stigma.

Is this the right strategy when we know that, despite the prohibitionist approach that has been in place since the creation of the Criminal Code in Canada, one quarter of Canadians report using marijuana or other drugs more or less regularly? We need a more nuanced approach. Is the Criminal Code the best way to achieve these goals?

Let me go over the list of stigmas associated with having a criminal record. First, it can influence a police officer's behaviour during an arrest because it creates a negative prejudice. Of course, it justifies denying bail and can influence the crown prosecutor's decision to proceed with an indictable offence—which means fingerprinting and so on—or by summary conviction. It also undermines the credibility of testimony given in court. Having a criminal record makes it difficult, if not impossible, to cross borders—certainly the American border. It compromises access to citizenship and, as I said, can have a detrimental effect when job-seekers get to the interview stage.

This does not mean that we should not pass the bill. I am not suggesting that the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act should not include provisions for drug traffickers, particularly for those who get young people involved, who profit from it and, by the same token, make money for organized crime. However, does cannabis really deserve such a hard-line approach?

When the committee studied this issue, I was surprised to learn that Canada produces about 800 tonnes of marijuana per year. That is a lot; Canada is known as a marijuana producer. This phenomenon has been on the rise in British Columbia, where growers use hydroponic greenhouses.

Do you know approximately how much the RCMP and law enforcement agencies seize each year? According to the latest statistics presented to the committee in 2002—more recent statistics would be better—of the 800 tonnes produced in Canada, 1.2 tonnes were seized. Some $500 million was spent. One thousand RCMP officers in Canada are policing the borders and taking part in drug investigations. Despite all of these resources, this law enforcement infrastructure and all of the money that we invest in that infrastructure, 1.2 tonnes out of 800 tonnes was the total seized.

It is therefore not obvious that repression is the way to go. It is not obvious that it is good to insist on giving law enforcement organizations more resources. As a society, would it not make more sense for us to turn to the school system, youth centres, adults who play a significant role in the lives of children or youth? We need to explain the negative effects of marijuana and try to understand why people use these substances.

By the way, when we studied marijuana and the non-medical use of drugs in committee—Senator Pierre Claude Nolin also headed a task force that spent several years looking at this—no one concluded that marijuana was a gateway drug. People are not going to get hooked on heroin or other drugs because they use marijuana regularly. I am not promoting marijuana use. What I am saying is that when we heard the witnesses and did our work, no one was able to provide scientific evidence to back the claim we sometimes hear that marijuana is a gateway drug that inevitably leads to hard drug use. That is what we need to say about marijuana.

The Bloc Québécois will work seriously. Once again, I want to remind this House that my committee chair has unfortunately dug in his heels and is refusing to do his duty and hold a vote on a motion by our colleague from Beauséjour that would allow us to hold a hearing concerning the Cadman affair. Regretfully, I must say that my chair is refusing to comply with the rules.

Mr. Speaker, you and the table officers could attest that when a motion is introduced in a committee and we do not accept the chair's ruling, all the members of that committee have the prerogative to challenge that ruling. Ordinarily, a vote without debate should automatically follow. But my chair is refusing to comply with the rules, and that is creating an unusually tense situation in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Everyone has worked collegially. We have done quite a lot of work. Hon. members can imagine the uncomfortable situation we are in. I urge my chair to come to his senses and regain his sense of fairness.

I believe I have a minute left, so I will conclude by saying that the Bloc Québécois will examine this bill seriously in committee. We have some concerns about the scope of the bill, but we will be happy to hear witnesses and to invite the committee chair to report to the House on Bill C-26 in due course.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak this afternoon in the debate on the government's Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

This is an important piece of legislation, because the issue of drug use in our society is one that affects many Canadians and is important to many of our communities.

I know it is important in my community, where people are affected personally both by the issues related to drug addiction and by issues of crime related to drugs in our community, not only the trafficking and production but also the property crime that results from this. Police have told us that in the Vancouver area probably 80% of the petty property crime is related to the needs of drug users who resort to crime to deal with their addiction. It is a very serious problem that affects many people in our community.

Unfortunately, I have to say that I believe this legislation from the government is absolutely the wrong direction to take. It is the wrong approach to take when it comes to dealing with the serious question of drugs in our society. In fact, it borrows so heavily from the American style war on drugs that it has to be seriously questioned.

This approach has been shown to be a failure, a dramatic failure in the United States and a dramatic failure all around the world. The war on drugs has not resulted in greater success. More people are in jail because of drug infractions. Drug use has gone up. Drugs are more potent. Big crime associated with drugs has increased around the world. The problems of drug-producing countries have also increased.

The war on drugs has yet to prove successful after years of taking up huge resources. The huge expenditures by government on the war on drugs in the United States have not gone unnoticed. As for the failure of this money to produce any tangible result that has actually led to a lowering of drug crime, a lowering of addiction and those sorts of determinants that might be an indicator of some success, this money seems to have been wasted on a plan that has not proven successful.

After so much analysis of those kinds of programs, I am not sure that at this stage Canada should be going further down the road on the war on drugs in this American style, Bush style campaign that has proven to be so unsuccessful around the world.

A cornerstone of this legislation is the provision of mandatory minimums and increased minimums for drug related crimes. That is a particularly flawed piece of the war on drugs. We know, particularly when it comes to drug crimes, in fact, that mandatory minimum sentences are very ineffectual. They have never lived up to the hype that surrounds them.

In fact, many jurisdictions in the United States that went down the road of implementing mandatory minimum sentences have backtracked significantly from them and have undone that kind of legislation. They found that it only ended up putting more people in jail, with increased prison populations and increased dislocation in families and communities. It targeted racial minorities. It targeted the low end of the drug chain, whereby the neighbourhood traffickers got the sentences but the big guys were missed completely.

Mandatory minimum sentences have proven to be highly ineffectual. In fact, the United States Sentencing Commission concluded that mandatory minimum sentences failed to deter crime. It reported that only 11% of federal drug defendants in the United States are high level drug dealers and that 59% of crack defendants are street level dealers compared to the 5% who are high level crack dealers. This seems to be targeting absolutely the wrong people when they are going after the root of trafficking problems in the United States.

In 2000 California repealed mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offences. In 2004 Michigan also repealed mandatory minimum sentences for most drug offences, including what it had been proud to call the “harshest drug law in the nation”: life without parole for dealing more than 650 grams of cocaine.

Even elected leaders in a state in the United States who had proclaimed to have gone farther down that road than anyone else, had proclaimed their commitment to a harsh mandatory minimum sentence, had to backtrack significantly from that and undo that law because it had proven to be so ineffective and actually the reverse, so harmful to the overall campaign to deal with drug issues in that state.

Other states, like Delaware and Massachusetts, have similar legislative reviews already in process to reduce mandatory minimum sentences.

The American Bar Association's Kennedy commission called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences. It stated, “mandatory minimum sentences tend to be tough on the wrong people”.

We cannot any longer pretend that this approach to dealing with drug use, drug crime, drug addiction is an effective approach to dealing with that problem. It is so clearly proven that all it does is increase the population of prisons and increase dislocation. It does not solve the problem of drug related issues at all.

In Canada we have depended heavily upon enforcement measures to deal with the problems related to drugs. Seventy-three per cent of the money that is spent on drug issues in Canada is spent on enforcement. That is a significant percentage of all the money that we spend on drug policy in Canada. We spend 14% on treatment, 7% on research, 2.6% on prevention and 2.6% on harm reduction. Those other key elements that most people concede are absolutely crucial to a sensible drug policy, a sensible attack on dealing with the issues in a positive way, are dramatically underfunded in Canada, when 73% goes to law enforcement proceedings related to drug policy.

The legislation that we have before us would do nothing to significantly overturn that imbalance. In fact it would continue the undue emphasis on enforcement by taking us farther down the road of mandatory minimum sentences in Canada. This has been effectively proven to be the wrong way to go. It clearly has been shown to be an ineffective way of dealing with the core issues of why people use drugs and how we can change those patterns that have such detrimental effects on society, families and communities.

This bill also puts a greater emphasis on drug treatment courts. There is significant concern about drug treatment courts in many quarters, because many people believe that it is impossible to coerce somebody into drug treatment. The coercive effect of a drug treatment court is fairly plain when we look at what they are really about. What they try to do is defer somebody into a treatment program monitored by the courts, by medical professionals, by social workers, to keep the person out of the criminal justice system, to keep him or her out of jail. The person has had to plead guilty to a drug crime but has opted for this treatment program and the person is monitored throughout that process of referral into a treatment program.

The reality is that the most successful drug treatment programs are ones initiated by the person who has the addiction issue when the person is ready to take that drug treatment, when the person wants to go into that program, not for other reasons such as to avoid going to jail.

The reality, too, is that there is a real lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of drug treatment courts. They have not been effectively evaluated. The reality is that we do not know that they produce a significant difference in, for instance, someone who goes to jail for the same kind of drug crime. There does not seem to be a significant correlation between a lowering of the kinds of criminal activity that people who go through a drug treatment court would be involved in and the kind of activity that people who go through the justice system and who might end up in jail participate in either during the time they are waiting to go on trial, or the time they are in treatment, or subsequently, when they have completed their treatment program and/or are released from jail. There just does not seem to be a significant improvement in the results for people who go through a drug treatment court.

The book is still yet to be written on the effectiveness of drug treatment courts. It sounds like a good idea. It sounds like a great idea to keep people out of jail and get them into treatment, but there are significant problems with first coercing people into a treatment program as a way of escaping that. We have seen in the United States that people often are offered a drug treatment court as a way of avoiding jail even if they really do not need to be in that kind of treatment program.

Here in Canada spaces in treatment programs are still very limited. The need for those still far outweighs the number of positions that are available. Without a significantly increased commitment to treatment programs, it makes it difficult for this kind of program to succeed. There are still very serious problems about that.

It is far beyond time. We need to look at significant research into the effectiveness of drug treatment courts. I am going to talk later about Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver. It is ironic in that it has been the subject of 24 studies about its effectiveness, almost all of which have been positive and yet the government will still not commit to its continuation beyond June of this year.

Here the Conservatives are introducing a bill to further support drug treatment courts when the available research on them is very inconclusive and very scanty to put it mildly. I do not understand how the government can choose to support this option and dismiss another one that has been studied and studied and shown to be effective. There is a very significant issue around this other aspect of the bill before us in its support for drug treatment courts.

There is something to be said for a four pillar approach to dealing with drug policy in Canada. Harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement all need to be pieces of how we approach dealing with drug issues in our society.

Harm reduction measures such as safe injection sites and needle exchanges have been shown to be very effective both as public health measures and as places for ensuring that people who are ready to deal with issues of addiction get the kind of assistance they need when they are ready to do that.

Places like Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver have broad public support. Certainly people in Burnaby—Douglas are broadly supportive of Insite and the approach it takes to reducing harm in our community. We know that lives have been saved. We know that diseases have been prevented from spreading further because of Insite and the people who make that facility work so very well. It has been a significant new institution both as a public health institution and as a component of a positive drug policy in our community.

Prevention programs are crucial. I do not think anyone is going to dispute the need for continuing education programs that ensure people, and young people in particular, are aware of the problems associated with the use of drugs. None of us wants to see that kind of program stopped, but we also want to make sure that there is increased funding so that the job can be done more effectively.

We know how crucial treatment programs are, but we also know how few places there are in reality. When someone makes the decision to go into treatment for drug addictions, we know how crucial it is that the space be available when that decision is made, because putting off that kind of decision lowers the effectiveness, lowers the success rate very dramatically. We need to make sure that there is an increased commitment to treatment.

Enforcement is a piece of all of this. Unfortunately, I believe that the over-emphasis on enforcement has not served us well. The resources that go into enforcement policy, into law enforcement have not served our society well. Canadian society has shown different attitudes around recreational drug use that often throw these kinds of measures into some disrepute. For the police who are required to enforce them, it has affected how people view police forces in many of our communities as well. There are serious issues around the emphasis on enforcement. All of those are key to how we proceed on drug policy in this country.

I noted a few minutes ago that Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver, has been studied. I think there are now 24 studies, including most recently, just last week, the government's hand-picked panel that looked at Insite and came to the same conclusion as so many others, that it has had a very positive effect in terms of saving lives. It has reduced the spread of disease. It ensures that people deal with their addictions in a context where they can get help and where the risk to their lives is significantly reduced.

Moving drug injection out of the back alley and into a safe clean facility has a number of positive effects for the community. All of us who have witnessed people injecting drugs on the street have felt very uncomfortable and unsure of what to do in that kind of circumstance. Knowing there is a place where people can go and deal with their addiction in a safe controlled environment is a very significant improvement.

What I really want to talk about in many ways today is the failure of how we approach the use of drugs in our society. There is a lot to be learned from the past and the United States' experience with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s. Alcohol was prohibited in very similar ways to the way drugs are prohibited in our society today.

Alcohol prohibition was a massive failure in the United States. It led to the same kinds of problems we are experiencing in our society today with drug prohibition. We saw in the 1920s and 1930s an increase in family dislocation because of rampant alcoholism. We saw an increase in the inability of people to get assistance for the kinds of alcohol dependency issues they had because alcohol was a prohibited substance and therefore was illegal. Therefore, barriers were put up to people getting the kind of help that would improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

We saw the problems associated with backyard and basement stills. They caused problems in neighbourhoods, fires, explosions and all those kinds of things. We see that in parallel today with grow ops that exist in homes across Canada and the kinds of problems they cause for tenants in buildings and for neighbourhoods where those grow ops are located.

In the case of alcohol prohibition we saw a very significant period of growth of organized crime in the United States. Some people see the roots of organized crime in North America in the period of alcohol prohibition. Gangs became very powerful and organized. They had significant resources to use because of their involvement with rum running and the illegal sale and distribution of alcohol. This is a very similar situation to what we are seeing today with the involvement of organized crime in drug production and distribution here in Canada.

There were very significant problems with alcohol prohibition. Society in the United States decided in its wisdom that this was a failed program. It made more sense to regulate the use of alcohol, ensure there was access to it, and put resources into all of those other programs that were so significant. Serious problems did arise from the use of alcohol in society, but the outright ban of alcohol was a complete and utter failure.

Canada never went down that road. We decided with regard to alcohol that regulation and legal use of that product was the way to go.

We should have learned something from the experience of alcohol prohibition. We are seeing exactly the same problems in our society related to drug prohibition. Many people who have studied this issue have noted that very clearly.

One organization in particular that is doing excellent work on this is LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I would invite anyone who is watching to look at LEAP's website. People will find many resources from law enforcement officers who themselves have decided they can no longer support prohibition of drugs in our society. They can no longer support what it does to society, what it does to law enforcement officers, what it does to public policy. They see it clearly as bad public policy that needs to be overturned.

I believe the bill takes us down the wrong road. It furthers the failed war on drugs. It puts forward mandatory minimum sentences as a solution when all over the United States similar legislation has been shown to be a complete failure and most jurisdictions have moved to undo such legislation where enforced or coerced treatment, such as drug treatment courts, is still unproven as a policy.

There are significant problems with this legislation and I hope we can have a serious debate about it in this place.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the end of his speech, the member talked about the prohibition of alcohol saying that it did not work and that he prefers regulation. He talked about a leap. I think it would be a big leap off a short pier for us to be doing this.

I want to be clear. Is it his opinion or is it the NDP policy that all drugs should be legalized and regulated and that there should be no laws making the use of illicit drugs illegal? I was not clear whether it was just his opinion or a policy of the NDP.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was speaking personally when I said that we should be learning from the experience of alcohol prohibition, and I feel that very strongly. When I hold community meetings, I often have discussions around drug policy and the rate of crime in the community related to the use of drugs and drug addiction.

I believe there is strong support in my community for reviewing, in a very determined and complete way, the kind of drug policy, drug enforcement and drug law regime that we have before us. People in my community appreciate that there are very serious problems with the kind of approach that is in place. I think they believe there are lessons to be learned from alcohol prohibition, which is something we in this place and in our communities need to take very seriously.

The NDP has said on several occasions that we believe in the decriminalization of marijuana, for instance, because we recognize the injustice that is done in relation to the use of marijuana, especially the possession of small quantities. Far too many people are ending up with criminal records for the use and possession of this substance, the effects of which are considered by many in our society not to be significantly harmful. This would be a good example of a place where a significant change could be made to our laws.

The NDP has been very clear that mandatory minimum sentences are not the way to go in dealing with drug crime. As well, we have been clear in our support for a comprehensive, four pillar type approach to dealing with drug policy in Canada that includes harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement. All of those issues are part of NDP policy.

The part of my speech dealing with the whole issue of drug prohibition and the need to look at it very seriously were my contributions to this debate and ones that I will continue to make because I believe there is much that is instructive in both the history of alcohol prohibition and in the need for a comprehensive review of drug policy.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas for outlining some clear problems with this deeply flawed legislation.

Last November, the Ottawa Citizen had a lengthy editorial dealing with this bill stating that this was a bad law in pursuit of bad politics based on non-existent science, and Parliament should not go along.

The member for Vancouver East has put together some numbers. She said that Canada spends 73% of its drug policy budget on drug enforcement and only 14% on treatment, 7% on research, 2.6% on prevention and 2.6% on harm reduction. We have examples like Insite, for which the government is failing to announce any extension beyond the current time limit of June.

I wonder if the member could comment on some of the important elements around treatment and harm reduction that are simply missing in the drug policy we currently have in Canada.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely shocking that the government has not gone forward to extend the life of Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver.

It is a facility that has broad, strong public support across the community in Vancouver. Vancouverites are proud that people came together from all levels of government, the community and the drug user community, to come up with a new approach to public policy that would actually save lives, prevent the spread of disease and get drug use off the streets and out of the back allies into a safe location where professional health care workers could offer advice and get people into treatment programs when they are ready to take that important step.

I think there is widespread recognition across the community that Insite has been an important step forward in how our society deals with drug abuse.

In report after report, the Conservatives continue to say the same thing. However, these effects are known, they are provable and it is happening at Insite. Even the government's own hand-picked panel, which, apparently, has just reported, said exactly the same thing, that this was worthy of the government's support and that the goals it set out to achieve were being achieved.

We need to move forward with that. This kind of facility needs to be introduced into other communities where there is interest to do it. There are other communities across the country that want to follow that example and go down that same road because they know it is a positive way of affecting the lives of people who are drug addicted. It is a positive way of affecting the community to ensure something is being done to help people get the assistance they need and to save lives.

We need to see an expansion of this kind of project, not constantly having to worry about the short leash on which the government seems to have that project. The sooner we can extend this project and ensure it has a permanent place as one of the strategies toward dealing with drug addiction and drug use in Canada the better.

It is not the only policy but it is certainly one piece of the puzzle that is absolutely crucial. A measly 2.6% of drug policy money going toward harm reduction is absolutely inappropriate. We need to restrike the balance of how we spend money on drug issues. We need to ensure that treatment, harm reduction and prevention receive a significantly larger piece of the pie. We know those are the areas that have proven to make real change in the country, in the lives of Canadians, in the lives of people who are addicted to drugs, in the lives of drug users, in the lives of families who care about them and in the life of the community around them. Those are the things that have done it effectively.

The research and the experience is all there. The negative experience of our neighbours to the south is there. All that information is before us and we should be finally putting that into a public policy framework in Canada. We need good public policy. The Ottawa Citizen has said that the kind of route that the government is on is just bad public policy. I think that has been proven time and again. We need to turn that around. We need to get down the right path and show support for things that actually do work in this regard.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member about the importance of the four pillars approach: treatment, prevention, harm reduction and enforcement.

In many of the big city caucus meetings, attended by mayors from across the country, they have talked about how the four pillars approach would be comprehensive and how it would be effective. In Toronto, for example, there have been many studies and consultations. Whether it is between the families, the chiefs of police, the people who are working with young people who have drug addiction problems or the many doctors and scientists, their four pillars approach has proven to be effective.

The bill in front of us only deals, by and large, with enforcement but we know that enforcement alone would not assist in the situation at all. In fact, it would just put more people in jail and they would come out as hardened criminals.

Perhaps the hon. member has some opinions on how treatment, prevention and harm reduction would work coast to coast to coast.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have talked a lot in the debate about the four pillars approach and how, not only in metro Vancouver and the city of Vancouver proper but in those communities, like Burnaby, that surround it, it is a broadly accepted approach to dealing with it. It is a new approach and one that merits consideration by many other communities. Some are already going down that road.

We have seen the effectiveness of many of those policies. I remember, probably 20 years ago, when the first needle exchange started in Vancouver. Ingrid Robinson, the sister of my former boss, Svend Robinson, was one of the first workers in the needle exchange program and became very well acquainted with drug users on the downtown east side of Vancouver, on Hastings Street and Main Street. She saw directly the effectiveness of that kind of program, how it saved so many lives, how it prevented the spread of disease and how important it was. The program was very controversial at the beginning but it is now broadly accepted in many communities across Canada and around the world.

The harm reduction approach has had a significant and positive effect on the lives of many people. It has saved many lives and the communities. It is something that we need to ensure has a permanent place in our repertoire of measures to deal with the effects of drug use in our society.

If we continue to have an overemphasis on the criminalization of drug use, then we will keep beating against the wall where we are trying to meld two very different approaches. When people are engaged in something that is contrary to the Criminal Code, there is very little reticence to deal with the effects of that and to seek the help they need because their fear is that they will be sanctioned criminally for that.

We know that drug use and drug addiction is a health issue and that it should be treated that way. It is very important that we put less emphasis on the criminal approach to this and get back to dealing with the issue of drugs and drug addiction as the health issue that it truly is.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak about this issue of drugs.

Just yesterday we heard a mother pleading for her two teenaged daughters who have been having a really hard time trying to find drug treatment programs. The mother ended up spending tens of thousands of dollars to send her daughters to a drug treatment program in the U.S. that is comprehensive and long term.

She is speaking out about and lobbying for a drug prevention program and also a treatment program within Canada. Everywhere she goes she hears about thousands of middle class Canadian families who have been told that there is just not enough funding to support drug treatment programs, yet somehow the Conservative government seems to have a lot of money to put people in jail.

I want to talk about what Bill C-26 is all about. This bill ignores the root causes of drug use and the problems relating to drug use in Canada. It would give mandatory minimum sentences, but science and studies have shown many times that these kinds of mandatory minimums just do not work on drug crimes.

Many statistics in the U.S. have shown that it has failed in the many years of its war on drugs. More people are in jail and many are trapped in a cycle of violence in their neighbourhoods. The majority of this violence is caused by drug use and drug dealing.

In 2004 the American Bar Association's Justice Kennedy commission called on the U.S. Congress to repeal mandatory minimum sentences, particularly with respect to drug crimes. Interestingly, the report said, “Mandatory minimum sentences tend to be tough on the wrong people”.

We want to jail the kingpins, but the kingpins and the drug lords are most likely to get off. The people who are going to be jailed and who are most likely to get harmed by mandatory minimum sentences are the folks who are the small fry, which is what they are called on the street.

We also notice that the U.S. Sentencing Commission concluded that mandatory minimums fail to deter crime and reported that only 11% of federal drug defendants are high level drug dealers, the kingpins I was talking about. It also reported that 59% of crack defendants are street level dealers compared to 5% of defendants who are high level crack dealers. Yes, we need to crack down on all crack dealers, but why are we not going after the high level ones? These are the people we really need to go after.

Just nabbing the small folks on the street will be a recipe for exploding prisons, courtroom backlogs, and millions of dollars of taxpayers' money. Research has shown that it costs at least $100,000-plus per person for a year in jail, whereas if we used that money for a prevention program, an effective counselling program and effective drug treatment programs, we would actually see results.

That is not where the Conservative government is going. The Conservative government is ignoring what works and is of course going forward with the failed, George Bush, Republican style war on drugs that has been waged for many years. We have not seen many results.

In fact, we have seen a lot of handguns illegally imported into Canada from the United States. These illegal handguns are making the drug situation in big cities such as Toronto even more dangerous, as these folks who are on the streets protecting their turf are buying these illegal guns and causing havoc in our communities. We believe this legislation will actually make it a win for organized crime, because we are going to take the small players off the street, push up the price of drugs and leave the door open for organized crime, making the situation worse.

However, I want to spend more time talking about the four pillars approach, about what actually will work. I have noticed that even this House of Commons in 2002 had the Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs.

The House special committee, the Office of the Auditor General and the Senate committee have brought forward four areas, including, first, strengthened leadership, coordination and accountability, with dedicated resources.

Second is enhanced data collection to set measurable objectives, evaluate programs, and report on progress. We do want to know what we are doing and how we are spending taxpayers' money in trying to be effective. Without evaluation programs, we do not know whether these programs are effective or not.

Third, we need a balance of supply and demand activities across government.

The fourth one, which is the most important, is that we absolutely need to increase our emphasis on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.

We know this balanced approach is not happening right now. How do we know? We can just follow the money trail. I have noticed that for every $100 Canada spends on the war on drugs, $73 goes to enforcement, i.e. catching the people doing the drugs. Only 14%, which is $14 out of every $100, is spent on treatment programs. Research gets a tiny amount. Researching whether any of these approaches will be effective gets only $7 out of $100. That is hardly anything.

To see what is even more outrageous in terms of our approach, let us look at the figures for prevention, which is the most important. We know it is the most important because it deals with the root problems of drug addiction. For prevention, we spend $2.60 out of every $100. Of the money that we spend on the war on drugs, 2.6% is spent on prevention. That is really quite shameful. For harm reduction is the same thing, at 2.6%, so for every $100 we spend, only $2.60 goes to harm reduction.

It is no wonder that this war on drugs is not working.

Let me point out, however, that in other parts of our country people are taking leadership. In Toronto alone, there are the drug strategy recommendations. Many of the recommendations actually deal with the federal government. It calls on the federal government to establish a national framework for action and take leadership. Of course it is not doing that. The Conservative government is actually going the other way right now.

The Toronto drug strategy report calls for a holistic family approach. It says that we absolutely have to support funding for “family-based support services” to help families that are dealing with substance use, because often it is not just one person doing it.

That one person doing the drugs and who is addicted actually has an impact on all the family members. The report says that we need to provide a support and counselling strategy for family members as to how they will deal with that one family member who is addicted. By and large, the approach is one of health. When one is addicted, one needs to have the tools to be able to get out of the addiction.

The report also calls for support for parents who want treatment programs and the provision of “on site childcare at treatment facilities”. That is a very common sense approach, because one cannot take one's young child to many of the treatment facilities. As a result, because they do not have child care support, some of the folks who are addicted end up not going to these treatment programs.

For young people, says the report, we absolutely must have “comprehensive prevention programming” for young people on how they can avoid getting addicted to drugs. It states, in fact, that this should be a comprehensive mandatory drug prevention program for young people. Often they are missed. We are beginning to do this with regard to tobacco. I have seen it. It has been effective. By the way, tobacco is also a drug. We have seen that the prevention program is effective. We are noticing, for example, that fewer young teenagers are smoking. We know that if we put our minds to it, we can do it. We have seen programs that work.

The recommendations also say that it is important to train people on the front lines, whether they are teachers or front line workers, so that they can detect a person who is addicted to drugs and so there would be “early intervention, counselling and other supports in place” to assist these young people.

Of course, we need to deal with the root problems. Many young people in particular do drugs because they need to have drugs to mask the pain they are experiencing. Some of the pain could be physical abuse, sexual abuse or mental abuse that they experienced as children. Unless we provide the kind of counselling support they need, it is very difficult for them to get out of the cycle of addiction: being addicted, going to treatment, and then getting trapped again.

There are also other recommendations, which state that we have to work with the people who are abusing substances in order to come up with some kind of comprehensive approach. This is not what is happening in many places.

There are also service barriers. We have seen drug addicts who want to get out of street life and a life of violence. They want to escape that cycle, but because they cannot find affordable housing they cannot get their lives back in order. That is the result. They are trapped with people around them who are doing drugs.

We have seen programs where there is supportive housing. We might ask what supportive housing has to do with drug use and the war on drugs. Actually, having decent, stabilized, affordable housing, with some kind of supportive network around the person, is very effective. We have seen it work in downtown Toronto. Former drug addicts will say that they have turned their lives around, not because they went to jail, which may in fact make the situation worse, but because they found stable housing. They were able to feel that they could begin to contribute and participate in society in a meaningful manner.

That is a way to deal with our young people or with people who are addicted and have been on the street for many years. That is the way to crack through this, because drug users occasionally have mental health problems, and until there are programs to deal with that, they will continue to use drugs.

We have also noticed that many of the drug users are more involved in the cycle of violence and we need to enhance neighbourhoods, whether it is working with the community to provide alternatives or with the police to target high level drug traffickers, importers and producers of illegal substances. We need to work with the police in a holistic way. Having minimum sentencing is not going to do it.

The city of Toronto has said that there are parents, unfortunately, who occasionally use their children as runners for drugs, which is quite unfortunate. One way to deal with it is to work with the police and find ways to protect these children, possibly to pull them out and have their parents punished properly.

All in all, the NDP is proud to say that it does not want a very simplistic approach to control drugs and substances and that we have to have the four pillar approach. Sending people to jail for extensive periods of time for marijuana use, for example, will just not be effective. The U.S. has failed in its war on drugs. It has, for example, spent tens of billions of dollars a year on enforcement and jailing folks while crime rates and drug use have soared.

I hope the other parties will not send this bill for second reading. If that happens, there will be a tremendous amount of amendments at committee, so that the bill does not return to the House of Commons in its present form because we certainly cannot see any reason to support it.