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.