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.


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Accordingly, the division will take place tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.

The House resumed from February 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The first speaker is the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant. She has 13 minutes to finish her speech.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have 13 minutes. Last time, I was interrupted in the middle of my speech, so I will continue where I left off.

Before the debate on Bill C-26 was interrupted, I was saying how heavily this bill relies on harsher minimum penalties and I was talking about the supposed deterrent effect of these penalties. I will repeat that this has more to do with the Conservatives' repressive ideology than with the rehabilitation approach preferred by the Bloc Québécois.

Now, to resume debate, I will speak about the one positive element in Bill C-26. This bill enables a judge, with the consent of the prosecutor, to order the offender to participate in a drug treatment program. If the offender successfully completes treatment, the court is not required to impose the minimum punishment. This can be found in subclause 5(2) of the bill.

This approach seems promising, and is a change from the Conservative government's approach of wanting to deal with crime using harsher minimum penalties.

If drug offences must be harshly punished, we must also consider alternatives to minimum penalties, since this approach does not allow for rehabilitation. This is why we must carefully examine Bill C-26, so we can be sure that the principle of rehabilitation is still there and that it is effective.

For example, I found out from some Statistics Canada data that adult offenders who have served their time under supervision in the community are far less likely to return to the correctional system within 12 months of the end of their sentence than offenders who have served their time in a correctional institution. That fact must be taken into account.

But my analysis does not end there. We have to consider the fact that illegal drug convictions typically affect young people. About 2.5% of those between the ages of 15 and 24 are addicted to illegal drugs, compared with less than 0.5% of people over 35.

As a result, Bill C-26 could end up punishing relatively more young people. As legislators, we have to ensure that our young people can benefit from effective rehabilitation options. Why? Because prison has always been and will always be crime school. Prison is the kind of place where young people cannot help but become deeply resentful of society. That is why this clause in Bill C-26, which opens the way to rehabilitation, is so important.

That is why we have to study this bill and its new mechanisms thoroughly to ensure that the principle of rehabilitation remains intact and effective without undermining the fight against drugs.

In conclusion, I believe that Bill C-26 is not without merit. However, there are legitimate concerns about what it seeks to achieve. For example, when I read the text of the bill, I was very concerned about some of the aggravating factors, such as when the accused has used a building belonging to a third party to commit the offence. Why would the same offence be that much more serious when committed in a rented house than in a house belonging to the accused? Why would it be more serious in an apartment than in a condo, even if the two are located in the same building?

Despite the fact that we are against this bill in principle for the reasons I mentioned earlier, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-26 at second reading so that it can be studied in committee. In my opinion, as I have said several times in this House, if we really want to fight crime, the first thing we have to do is fight poverty, social inequality and exclusion.

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10:30 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member said at the beginning of her comments that maybe there was some hope in this bill because it has a diversion program, or what is called a drug treatment court.

I wonder if she has examined what drug treatment courts do. I am quite familiar with them because we have one in Vancouver. One of the problems with the court is that it allows for late intervention. People need to be provided with intervention, treatment and assistance before they get to the point of being incarcerated.

It also creates a backlog in that it allows people to jump the line. We all know that treatment beds are very limited, maybe not in Quebec but they are elsewhere in Canada, so people can be coerced into treatment by a drug court and that happens at the point of conviction where so-called choice is offered.

Most of the studies and analyses that have been done on drug courts have shown them to have very low success rates. The intervention needs to come much earlier, right on the street, right in the local community, rather than waiting until someone is involved in the justice system and at the point of being convicted.

I wonder if the Bloc is looking at this question because it is part of the bill. The Conservatives have put this in the bill to give the illusion that they are being a bit more progressive, but in actual fact, the evidence about drug treatment courts shows that they are ineffective. I wonder if the member would comment on that.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my distinguished colleague for her question and especially her comments. This bill does reflect a certain openness, because if offenders complete their treatment, this could be considered a mitigating factor and reduce their sentence.

My colleague is concerned that this bill increases penalties, that the war on drugs is punitive and repressive and that, in terms of treatment, these people do not have the physical, financial or other support they need to overcome their addictions.

Clearly, this is a question of approach. The Bloc Québécois and Quebec very much favour rehabilitation over repression. As you know, Quebec has the lowest crime rate of all the provinces.

Our track record shows that we try to attack the source of the problem. When problems arise, we try to put in place mechanisms to help and support our young people and inmates so that they can get the rehabilitation they need. We prefer this approach to repression.

Our track record in Quebec shows that this method works. When a method works and has proven beyond any doubt to be successful, with statistics to back it up, when a model is this effective, I do not understand why others do not use it.

I invite the Conservative Party to look at Quebec's approach. The Conservatives could see where they should be investing money, instead of building prisons, increasing minimum sentences and bringing in all sorts of repressive measures.

This bill does open the door to rehabilitation, and I congratulate the Conservatives on that. However, the Conservative ideology is truly a repressive ideology that is not a recipe for success, in my opinion. In countries such as the United States that have used crime repression methods such as building more prisons and increasing minimum sentences, the crime rate has not gone down.

Logically, we need to invest much more in mechanisms to help young people in particular, because this bill targets them. They are affected most by drugs. That is where we need to invest our energies. That is our responsibility as parliamentarians.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity today to speak at second reading to Bill C-26, which deals with minimum mandatory sentencing for drug crimes.

I have to begin by saying that it is not really a surprise that we are debating this bill, although in my comments I hope to show that the bill itself is seriously flawed and very ineffective. However, it is not a surprise that the Conservative government has brought forward this bill because it is very much a part of its core agenda where it is trying to give people the illusion that it is dealing with a serious problem in our society, in this case drug use, by coming in with a very repressive and heavy enforcement regime.

My riding of Vancouver East has often been in the media and it is a community that has been at the epicentre of a drug crisis not only in Canada but in North America. I have become very involved in this issue over the course of being a member of Parliament for 11 years. I have become very involved in looking at drug policy, what works, what does not, and what kinds of reforms are taking place not only in Canada but around the globe.

In my community of East Vancouver, we are very proud of the fact that we are home to North America's first safer injection facility called Insite. In fact, just yesterday in the House, I questioned the Minister of Health to find out if finally the government would acknowledge the dozens of studies that have been done which show that Insite is a very effective program that has reduced drug use and improved safety, and finally make a decision to allow Insite to remain open.

Unfortunately, the Minister of Health, as on previous occasions, did not respond to that question and did not make it clear whether or not Insite will continue.

However, I want to say that in Vancouver, there have been many amazing advances in terms of our understanding of the drug issue, how it impacts people and what kinds of public policies need to be developed. In fact, two former mayors of the city of Vancouver, Philip Owen and Larry Campbell, were very involved in setting the stage through their leadership for a changed policy around drugs. Groups like VANDU, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, have been instrumental in transforming the debate.

So often this debate is about dividing people, of saying there are good people and there are bad people. People who are drug users are automatically labelled as traffickers or dealers. We have seen a history in Canada, as we have in the United States, of this issue being used in a way to create fear. I call it the politics of fear and this is something very much that the Conservatives have picked up on, but in East Vancouver, and in Vancouver generally, we have rejected that kind of model.

We believe that the issue of substance use, drug use, has primarily to do with public health. It has to do with ensuring that people make good choices, that people are supported in prevention, treatment and harm reduction when they need it. The more we criminalize drug users, the more we create further harms, as I hope to show in the debate today.

I do want to say that for the NDP, one of our overall concerns is that there is absolutely no proof that mandatory minimum sentences are effective and an appropriate measure to reduce drug use and crimes related to drugs. In fact, most evidence shows the opposite.

This bill does not address the core issue of why people use drugs. In fact, what it does do is increase an already imbalanced and overfunded enforcement approach to drug use in Canada without reducing crime rates or drug use. What this bill further does, in the whole program that we have seen from the Conservative government, is to abandon successful measures, such as harm reduction and grassroots education programs.

What we are most concerned about is that this bill is moving Canada toward an expensive, failed, U.S.-style war on drugs that we know spends tens of billions of dollars a year on enforcement and incarceration while crime rates soar and drug use soars as well.

Greater incarceration rates place a greater burden on the courts, police and prisons, and in fact the bill leaves it open to enforcement. This is one of the real problems of this bill, as it in effect goes after low level dealers, even for marijuana infractions. The fact is that selling one joint or growing one plant can constitute trafficking under this bill.

Just looking at the situation in Canada, we know that Canada spends about 73% of its drug policy budget on enforcement. Only 14% goes to treatment, 7% to research, 2.6% to prevention, and 2.6% to harm reduction. So when we look at that picture and see where the money has gone and where the emphasis has gone, it presents a very troubling situation. Yet, we also know that drug use has continued to rise in Canada.

In 1994, 28% of Canadians reported to have used illicit drugs. By 2004, this number was 45% and we know as well that a Department of Justice report from 2002 concluded that mandatory minimum sentences are the least effective in relation to drug offences. It said:

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

In addition, we have many other people speaking out about this bill and I would like to read into the record some of the key organizations which expressed grave concern about the bill. Certainly, one notable group, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, has done extensive research, analysis and review on drug policy. In some of its background material, it picked up on one very important point and that is that the Conservatives are peddling this bill as a bill that will deal with drug dealers, that is who they are really going after.

Yet, in the HIV/AIDS Legal Network backgrounder, it makes the point that:

This distinction between drug dealers and drug users is artificial, particularly when harsh minimum sentences are mandated for dealing in any quantity of drugs.

The real profiteers in the drug market—those who traffic in large quantities of illegal drugs—distance themselves from more visible drug-trafficking activities and are rarely captured by law enforcement efforts. Instead, it is people who are addicted and involved in small-scale, street-level drug distribution to support their addictions who commonly end up being charged with drug trafficking--

That is exactly what is going to happen with this bill. If we go into the downtown east side in my community, it is the low level folks on the street who are dealers, it is part of the system of how they support their habits. Those are the people who are already most at risk from a health point of view and who are very vulnerable. They are the ones who will be targeted by this bill in terms of the minimum mandatory sentences.

There is further evidence. Judge Jerry Paradis is a member of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. This is quite an incredible organization of former police chiefs, police officers, drug enforcement officers in the United States and Canada including former judges, who are speaking out against the war on drugs. Former Judge Jerry Paradis said: “The evidence unequivocally showed that minimum mandatory sentences have no effect on crime and they carry with them a grab bag of unintended consequences. The true kingpins are the ones who, as the legal network says, are the ones who are able to distance themselves and not be caught by this kind of legislation”.

Retired Quebec Judge John Gomery, someone who we are very familiar with in this House, has also spoken out against this bill and said that “Judges view this kind of legislation as a slap in the face”. He said that judges find that it is an implied criticism when Parliament imposes these mandatory sentences. This is from someone who is very well respected saying that this bill is the wrong approach.

We have a very important organization called Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Its members were on Parliament Hill a couple of months ago doing their first policy and the leaflet that they put out and spoke to us about says “not in our name” because they know again that the propaganda that is being put out by the Conservatives is that this is about helping young people with drug issues. This organization understands that it is really about criminalizing young people.

The organization says in its leaflet:

While criminalizing drugs and drug users continues to be justified as necessary to protect our youth, it is our responsibility to eradicate this harmful approach...

It further states:

The current criminal justice approach to drug use is failing our generation, and our society, and leading to increased harm from drug use.

Young people are speaking out in their own voices with their own experience about what they believe needs to be done.

There is further evidence that this approach put forward by the Conservatives is a failure. The Health Officers' Council of British Columbia, which consists of all the public health officers across B.C., wrote a very important paper in 2005, “A Public Health Approach to Drug Control in Canada”. The council states:

Criminal enforcement strategies do not seem to have achieved long-term reductions in either the supply or demand for illegal drugs.

In this paper the council argues:

The harms attendant upon a criminal-prohibition framework for drugs are significant and the benefits modest, at best. A change in policy to a public health approach, where production and distribution can be wrestled from criminal interests and a range of effective harm reduction strategies can be implemented and evaluated, is overdue.

Further afield, a new report just came out from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in the United Kingdom. This is a group made up of business people, elected representatives and professionals. It concludes that the current regime, the so-called war on drugs and the emphasis on enforcement are an absolutely failed approach. It has called on the British government to change its policies in regard to drug policy reform.

There are many people speaking out.

What I fear most about this bill is that it is taking us down a very dangerous road. It is a road that has already been experienced in the United States where, for example, 2.1 million people are now in U.S. prisons. Eighty per cent of the increase in the federal prison population in the U.S. from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions. By 2004, drug offenders made up 54% of sentenced federal prisoners, up from 25% in 1980. That is what is happening in the United States. That is the direction in which the Conservative government is taking us.

In the United States, ironically, many jurisdictions are now moving away from minimum mandatory sentencing. They can see what an utter failure it has been economically, politically and in terms of dealing with the crisis of drug use in our communities. For example, the U.S. Sentencing Commission concluded that minimum mandatory sentences have failed to deter crime. It reported that only 11% of federal drug defendants are high level drug dealers. In 2000 California repealed its minimum mandatory sentences for minor drug offences. In 2004 Michigan also repealed its mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offences. Delaware and Massachusetts are considering doing the same thing.

I find it incredible that the government is about to go down this route when in actual fact what it is modelling it on in the United States has already been shown to be a colossal failure in terms of the rate of incarceration. Drug use is still going up. The crime rate is still going up. Therefore, this model of prohibition and enforcement is clearly a failed model.

What we know about this bill, however, is that it is really designed to appeal to the core conservative base. It is really an oversimplification of drug use in Canada. It uses scare tactics to bully people into thinking that marijuana and other substances are the root of violent and organized crime in Canada and that somehow enforcement is going to address that.

In reality, this bill would do absolutely nothing to address either of those problems. We believe very much that the Conservatives are taking Canada in the wrong direction. It is a direction that is very expensive. It has no effect on drug use. It will only increase the prison population, creating a new set of issues about overpopulation, health, safety and crime within the prison system.

In British Columbia we have had very difficult situations emerge, such as overcrowding and safety problems for corrections officers. We have seen that just very recently.

In fact one of the consequences of this bill, because we are dealing with minimum mandatory sentences, is that we may see an increase in incarceration. The burden of that will be borne at the provincial level.I wonder if the minister has had any discussion with his provincial counterparts that what he is doing with the bill is basically loading the cost on to the provincial systems that are already overcrowded and overburdened. This is a totally failed strategy.

We in the NDP believe that Canada must have a balanced approach to drug use. We have supported the four pillar approach which includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and yes, there is a role for enforcement, but not the kind of imbalance that we have seen in past history with previous governments and which is now being exacerbated by the current government.

There are many successful models that have worked in Europe. The big city mayors in Canada have adopted this four pillar approach. It began in Vancouver. It has shown to be successful.

Why would we not be investing in that? Why would we not be investing in grassroots harm reduction strategies like Insite, like needle exchanges? Why would we not be investing in real education for young people which actually gives people real information about their bodies, about making good choices?

I always find it very ironic that we have police officers going into schools doing drug education. Would we send the police into schools to do sex education? I do not think so. They only do drug education because these substances are illegal. What we need to do is focus on a health based approach, because that is the real information that needs to get to young people.

Mandatory minimum sentences, as we see from the evidence and reports both in the United States and Canada, are least likely to work on drug crimes. It begs the question, why is this bill coming forward? If we know it does not work, if we know it is the wrong approach, if we know it is actually going to create a worse situation in the prison system, if we know that it is not going to in any substantive way or even a minimum way deal with drug use and in fact incarceration and crime will probably continue to rise, then why is this bill coming forward?

We have to come to the conclusion that very regrettably, the bill is about a political optic. This is all that the Conservatives have left. It is about creating a climate of fear.

I do not doubt that people are very concerned about drug use in local communities. People are very concerned about the dealing that takes place, the impact on schools and so on, but this bill will not address that.

We have had more success in my community when the police sat down with the drug users, with community representatives and actually worked out a strategy on how to deal with individual situations in our community. That did more good. They were called the Tuesday meetings at the Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings. The police, the drug users themselves, community representatives, the city of Vancouver would sit down and work out these issues in terms of what was happening on the street and what the impact was in the community. That produced more dialogue and results than anything else.

We think that this is a terrible bill. The bill will not solve the problems with illicit drugs. It will only create further harm.

I really hope that the opposition parties will defeat this bill. We are going to be voting against the bill at second reading. We do not approve of this bill in principle.

If the Conservatives want to fix something, maybe they should look at the medical marijuana program which is in absolute chaos right now. There are huge problems with that program. If they want to actually make some sensible decisions and help people, then they should actually do some good and take a look at what is happening with the medical marijuana program and how people are being severely and negatively impacted by the way the program is run.

I call on the other parties to examine this legislation and defeat it, as it is absolutely the wrong direction for Canada to take.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario


Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am actually very surprised at the hon. member and the approach she has taken. Usually I get this from the Liberal Party, quite frankly. We have had more success in trying to convince the New Democratic Party to support the government's tough on crime agenda.

Among other things, the hon. member asked whether we had talked to provincial politicians about this. I was in Manitoba yesterday, in the last 24 hours, and had a discussion of our crime fighting agenda with the premier of Manitoba, who is a member of the New Democratic Party. Mr. Chomiak, who is the attorney general of Manitoba, has told me on many occasions how supportive he is of our crime fighting agenda. Why? Because they had some major problems in Winnipeg and in the province and they actually want help on these things.

The member said we should be concentrating on the medical marijuana problem or improving the needle exchange program, that somehow these are the things that will fix the drug problem. I can tell her, I have been in Vancouver on a number of occasions and I have had people continuously tell me that we have to send out the right message to the people who are trying to destroy other people's lives. That is who we are talking about when we talk about people who want to sell drugs around schools.

The hon. member may disagree about mandatory minimum penalties for those people, but I do not have a problem with it. The government does not have a problem with it. I am surprised that she has a problem with it.

In addition, we have mandatory jail terms for people who want to import or export narcotics. Who is in favour of these people? Who wants to get on side with them, or send a message saying do not get tough with those poor people importing narcotics into Canada; be nice to them; understand them; they are misunderstood.

We understand these people very well and we are sending out a very clear message to them. If they want to get into that business, if they want to exploit children or they decide to get into a new business cultivating marijuana plants in their living rooms and dining rooms, we are sending out a message to them as well. Do not go into that business, but if they go into that business, they can expect jail. Most Canadians will back us up on this.

I hope when the hon. member talks to some of her provincial counterparts she will join us in that mission.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, if the Minister of Justice thinks that the bill will solve the issues that he has just identified, he is fooling himself, or else he is deliberately putting forward a program that we know will fail. I actually do not think the Conservatives really care what the consequences are. The fact is that this bill, with minimum mandatory sentences, will not solve any of those issues that he just identified. I agree we have to send the right message, but it sure as heck is not this bill.

In terms of Manitoba, obviously there are elements of the Conservatives' legislation that have come forward which the province of Manitoba and likely other provinces have supported too. That is not at issue here.

At issue here today is this particular bill that is advancing the proposition that somehow minimum mandatory sentencing will address the incredibly serious problems that we have in our local communities. I just want to blow the whistle on that, because this bill is absolutely the wrong direction to take.

Look at what is happening in the United States. Have they lowered the rate of drug use? Have they lowered the crime rate? Have they lowered the impact on local communities? Communities are torn apart as a result of incarceration. It has not changed there. It has only gotten worse. That is what the government is now embarking on.

It is an absolutely disastrous course to take. It will not work. That is why this bill should be defeated.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great attention to the hon. member's speech on Bill C-26, which will evoke a lot of discussion. I respect where the member comes from both geographically and philosophically, but I cannot agree with everything she said.

I am open to ongoing debate with respect to issues of harm reduction treatment and prevention, and I agree that not enough has been done by the government in this regard.

I have children in the school system in New Brunswick. RCMP officers are in the schools teaching kids about the D.A.R.E. program, and I endorse that. I endorse the good members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in my community. I realize all politics is local, as Tip O'Neill said, but I believe the RCMP has done a wonderful job in the community of greater Moncton in teaching the D.A.R.E. program. This leads me to my question and my disagreement with her in that regard, but perhaps I can tie it together with a question that leads us to a common front.

The Conservatives talk about a law enforcement agenda. They put out bills that need to be enforced, but they do not back them with the actual trooping of our police forces across this country. They make speeches about hiring 2,500 more police officers across the country. In fact, they have made the same speech for two years in a row. They talk about upping the numbers in the RCMP, which is systemically unable right now to grow its numbers because of age, seniority issues and so on. There is an age issue in the force in Codiac as well as an issue with respect to disability, burnout and overwork, all those sort of things.

Will the member give us her and her party's views on the Minister of Public Safety's complete ignorance in putting aside promises with respect to the deployment of community police officers?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, community policing is a very important aspect of this issue. As the member has pointed out, the Conservatives have broken their promises in bringing in new officers across the country. They should be directed to community based programs. This is another thing they have put out and then have abandoned.

I want to pick up on the member's comments about education.

If the member spoke to the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, he would learn that police carrying out drug education programs has been shown to be the least effective way of communicating with young people. The idea of scaring people, telling them that if they use marijuana, they are going to become a crack cocaine addict does not work. Young people know that will not necessarily happen.

We have to face the reality that young people experiment with drugs. The most important thing is to get real information to them about what they are doing is harmful, what choices there are and what they can do to protect themselves to remain healthy.

I do not believe that information can be delivered by police officers. It needs to be delivered by people who have a clear understanding of the issue. The idea that we scare people based on enforcement has been shown not to work. In many communities the D.A.R.E. program has been discredited.

I am concerned as well about the direction of the Conservatives' so-called education program, which they unrolled a couple of months ago. It is more propaganda that really does nothing to engage young people about this serious issue. The government would be much better off to work with Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and devise a real education program that involves young people, a program that deals with these issues in a realistic way.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, people in my community of Hamilton Mountain are also worried about things like grow ops, drug use and the crime that is often associated with them.

I listened to the comments of the Minister of Justice with great care. He is absolutely right. The NDP has supported some of the government's so-called crime bills, but only when they made good public policy sense. All his rhetoric today cannot turn Bill C-26 into legislation that reflects good public policy, especially for a government that constantly talks about wanting evidence based research.

The member for Vancouver East has done an admirable job of laying out precisely why our party will not support Bill C-26 and the minimum sentences that it would impose.

My constituents are much more concerned about effective programs for prevention and for deterrence. An excellent example of one such facility in the riding of Vancouver East is the Insite facility. The member for Vancouver East has been a tireless champion for sustainable funding and for a sustainable future for that facility.

I want her to know that it is not just people in her community who care about this, but health care professionals, people who are committed to treatment and prevention right across the country, also care. Could she give us an update on the future of that site?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is very strong support in downtown eastside Vancouver, and indeed, across the country, for Insite, the safe injection facility. It comes from the local police, local businesses, the city council and even the B.C. government. We are very concerned the government is refusing to make it clear whether Insite will continue.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are dealing with legislation that focuses on the drug crime that is plaguing our communities across Canada. Bill C-26 would impose tough new mandatory minimum sentences on the most serious of drug crimes. At the same time, it would provide hope to those who want to escape their drug addictions. This is a balanced approach to addressing drug crime in our country.

I can say with absolute certainty that Canada's drug problem is one of the most important issues to the residents of my community of Abbotsford.

I have called my community of Abbotsford home for some 26 years. My wife Annette and I have raised four daughters in that community. It is a community that fashions itself as a city in the country.

Statistics Canada has declared Abbotsford to be the most generous community in the country when it comes to charitable giving. It is a city of volunteers and it is a community of families with strong traditional values and a strong work ethic. We have a very low unemployment rate. It is somewhere around the 3.7% mark. We are also an incredibly diverse community, one of the most diverse in the country. We have a very strong farm economy. In fact, Abbotsford generates the largest farm gate revenues for the province of B.C and with that, comes prosperity. We also have a significant urban presence and with that, comes some of the problems that face big cities, problems of crime.

Neighbourhoods in Abbotsford are experiencing drive-by shootings on a regular basis. Marijuana grow ops and crystal meth labs proliferate in Abbotsford. In fact, drug related violence and even drug related murders are not uncommon for the average Abbotsford resident. It is happens in their neighbourhoods and it concerns me.

I will point out how critical this problem is. I will read from one of our local newspapers, the Abbotsford News . from a few months ago, and this is typical. It states:

A wheelchair bound man was arrested after the drug squad raided a home in north Abbotsford and discovered a large grow and loaded firearms Tuesday evening.

Abbotsford drug squad officers seized 850 plants...and three firearms after executing a warrant...A loaded rifle was found near the front door of the home and two loaded hand guns were discovered in a bedroom.

“Guns and drugs are a continued threat to officers and the public”, said Const. Casey Vinet....

Another marijuana grow operation was shut down the day previous after a hydro bypass was discovered and led officers to a home...Police found 630 plants growing underneath the living area of the residence housing a family with school aged children...

That is the problem facing communities across our country. Despite the efforts of our dedicated Abbotsford Police Department, citizen complaints to city council about escalating drug activity in their neighbourhoods are increasing.

As I speak, the lives of thousands of Canadians and families are being ruined by illegal drugs. They have become victims of criminal enterprises, the victims of drug dealers who make obscene profits off the misery of others. Time and time again drug traffickers rob young people of their future and sell them a lifetime of heartache. Too often such a future leads to an early death.

The goods news is, after years of inaction by the previous Liberal government, our Conservative government is finally taking action. We are taking concrete steps to rein in organized crime and drug dealers, who have ruined so many lives without facing any real consequences.

It is almost as if previous governments were hoping that the problem of drug crime would simply go away. In the meantime, drug criminals have continued to use our revolving door justice system to evade real and certain justice. That is why we have taken decisive action.

Last October, Prime Minister Harper unveiled—

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11:10 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I think the hon. member was about to catch his mistake. It would be best to use riding names or titles.

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11:10 a.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and his anti-drug strategy provides almost $64 million over two years to prevent illegal drug use, treat people who have drug addictions and fight drug crime. The strategy proposes a two-track approach, one which is tough on drug crime and one which focuses on the victims of drug crime, including the drug addicts themselves.

Our action plan to fight the production and distribution of prohibited drugs focuses on providing strong penalties that will act not only as a deterrent to others, but will put out of commission the really serious drug traffickers in our communities. That is the context within which our Bill C-26 has been introduced. Moreover, the bill follows up on one of the five key priorities that we identified for Canadians during the last election, namely to get serious about tackling crime. As with so many others of our promises, we are getting the job done. We are actually fulfilling our promises.

Let me tell the House what Bill C-26 would achieve.

The bill proposes a series of mandatory minimum prison sentences that ensure that criminals who commit serious drug offences face appropriately long sentences. I want to emphasize that the bill is not about applying mandatory minimum penalties to all drug crime. It is not a wide net that catches all drug users. It is not a bill that goes after the recreational users of drugs. Rather it introduces targeted mandatory minimum penalties for the most serious of drug crimes and ensures that those who carry out those crimes will be harshly penalized. It bill clearly sends a message that Canadians do not accept drug trafficking as a legitimate business or violence associated with drug trafficking and production.

As members know, the production and trafficking of illegal drugs present serious health and public safety hazards. They create environmental hazards, pose significant cleanup problems for city councils and endanger the lives and health of our neighbourhoods. I know that from experience, having served on Abbotsford's city council for some nine years.

Drug trafficking is a lucrative business and attracts the most insidious of organizations, the organized crime groups and drug gangs. Huge profits are available with little risk to drug dealers, and these profits are in turn used to finance other criminal activities.

It has become very clear that the penalties and prison sentences for drug trafficking and drug production are considered by many Canadians to be too lenient and not commensurate with the level of harm that such drug crimes impose on our communities.

Our Bill C-26 is specifically tailored to target the most pernicious of these crimes, primarily the trafficking, production, importation and exportation of larger amounts of prohibited drugs. The prohibited drugs that would be covered under our bill are drugs such as cocaine, heroin, crystal meth and marijuana. I want to make it crystal clear, again, that mandatory minimum penalties will not apply to simple possession offences or to offences involving less serious drugs such as Valium. They also do not apply to the trafficking of small amounts of prohibited drugs for personal use.

As I mentioned earlier, our approach is fine-tuned to target the most serious offenders and would operate as follows. Members will have to bear with me because I want to explain exactly how these penalties would be implemented. It may take a couple of minutes, but it is important for Canadians to understand what the bill really involves.

For the trafficking of the hardest drugs, we propose a one year minimum prison sentence where certain aggravating factors exist. I am talking about drugs such as heroin, cocaine or crystal meth. The aggravating factors that would attract mandatory minimum penalties of one year would be where the offence involves organized crime, or where the crime would involve violence or weapons or perhaps a threat of violence or weapons, or where the crime would be committed by a repeat drug trafficker. These are the really bad guys.

If youth are present or the offence occurs in a prison, the minimum jail sentence would be increased to two years.

If someone imports or exports prohibited drugs, the minimum penalty would be raised to two years if the crime involves more than one kilogram of a drug such as heroin, cocaine or crystal meth.

If someone produces or otherwise manufactures cocaine, crystal meth or heroin, a minimum of two years in prison would apply.

Then there may be additional aggravating factors, which would attract a three year prison term. For example, these factors would include a situation where a drug producer uses somebody else's real estate, such as a house, to produce that drug, or where the drugs are produced in a location where children are present. If someone is growing or producing drugs in a home and there are children living in that home, there would be a minimum penalty of three years in prison.

Three years would also apply where the drug production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area or where the drug dealer sets a trap to injure or kill others if they enter the premises. This is quite common with marijuana grow ops. The drug dealers will actually booby-trap the house to make sure that intruders cannot get in. Those booby traps are intended to maim, injure and kill and often impact our police officers.

For lesser drugs such as marijuana, the proposed mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking, importing or exporting would be one year if certain aggravating factors such as violence, recidivism or organized crime are present. If a drug dealer is trafficking in the presence of children or in an area frequented by children, such as a schoolyard, the minimum prison sentence of one year would be increased to two years.

We are also going after marijuana grow ops. If a grow operator produces up to 200 marijuana plants, he or she would get a minimum of six months in prison. If a grow operator produces up to 500 plants, he or she would get one year in prison. If he or she grows more than 500 plants, he or she would spend at least two years in prison. There would be no more slaps on the wrist. There would be no more revolving door justice system.

Getting tough on marijuana grow operators will be especially welcome in Abbotsford. Marijuana grow ops and crystal meth labs have been a blight on our city, jeopardizing the safety of our neighbourhoods and families.

At this point, I want to give special credit to Abbotsford's city council. Faced with a former federal Liberal government that refused to get tough on grow ops and other drug crime, and faced with a police force reluctant to bust grow ops due to weak federal anti-drug laws, my city council responded by finding creative new ways to use municipal bylaws and regulations to shut down those grow ops.

For example, sophisticated heat sensors are used to determine whether a house is producing more heat than would normally be expected. The city identifies a house that is perhaps a marijuana grow op. Of course there are other telltale signs such as foil on the windows and an odour emanating from the house, and often there is suspicious activity going on. Then the city posts a 48 hour notice of fire and safety inspection. It cuts off the water and the electricity, so of course the plants cannot grow any more. After 48 hours, city staff or the police return and typically find the premises abandoned.

On top of that, the city files a notice against the property advising prospective purchasers that the house has been a marijuana grow op. That of course reduces the value of the property in many cases, as people do not want to purchase a home that has been used for illegal drug activity.

I commend the Abbotsford city council for taking these steps, but I have to ask the members of this House, is it not our job as federal parliamentarians to protect our communities? Why was it left to the Abbotsford city council to deal with this problem? Why, over 13 years, did the former Liberal government not get it done?

Our Conservative government is getting it done and there is much more. Bill C-26 also introduces tougher penalties for trafficking in what are commonly known as date rape drugs. These drugs are used to drug unsuspecting women to allow predators to sexually assault them. Protecting women against violence has been one of our top priorities.

I also fully expect the usual response from the Liberal and NDP members of the House. We have already heard some responses from the NDP this morning. Some will tell us that deterrence and denunciation do not work. Others will tell us that the focus should be on rehabilitation and social reform, not tougher sentences. I am absolutely certain that they are going to tell us that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. They will also try to convince Canadians that our hands are tied and that Bill C-26 might violate the legal rights of the drug pushers.

However, there is one group those members almost never mention. Can we guess what it is? It is the victims of drug crime, the victims across the country who are crying out for redress. They are crying out to be heard. They have not been listened to. I have been in the House for over two years now and I have observed how seldom the opposition members of the House actually take heed of the cries of victims across our country.

Last Sunday I spoke in Burnaby, B.C. at a rally recognizing National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. The rally was sponsored by organizations I really respect: Mothers Against Drunk Driving and F.A.C.T., Families Against Crime & Trauma.

It is quite clear from the sentiments expressed at that rally and at other similar rallies that many Canadians feel outraged. They are outraged that for decades it has been the defence lawyers and the prisoners' rights advocates who have had the ear of government and that victims of crime have been all but abandoned. I am here to say that today victims of crime do have a strong advocate in our Conservative government.

Some members of the opposition will also tell us that Canada does not have a crime problem. They will point to statistics which seem to indicate that crime is down, not up. There is a wealth of material in the House from the opposition members. I went back to the words of the member for Scarborough—Guildwood. When speaking on another bill, he said the following:

In fact, by any and every standard of measurement, crime is declining in every category. That is the truth.

He went on to say:

We have crime rates declining in all categories in virtually all communities.

Those are the words of the Liberals.

What are the facts? I believe it was Mark Twain who referred to “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. I would suggest that some members of the opposition could learn from Mark Twain.

There is always a grain of truth in what the opposition says about crime, but it is just not the whole truth. The real truth is that while the overall crime rate has gone down marginally, due to fewer petty crimes being committed, Statistics Canada reports that rates for almost all categories of violent crime have gone up, not down.

I encourage my Liberal friends across the floor to actually review the latest statistics from Statistics Canada. It is as simple as going to that website. I am going to quote from those statistics.

For example, crimes such as attempted murder, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, robbery, kidnapping and forcible confinement are all up. Drug offences involving cocaine are up by a whopping 13%, while other serious drug offences, including those involving crystal meth, were up by 8%. Of even greater concern is the fact that Statistics Canada reports that youth crime has increased by 3%, the first increase since 2003, and in fact the rate of young people accused of murder was the highest since 1961.

Clearly the violent drug crime problem that plagues our nation calls for solutions, not excuses. That is what Bill C-26 does: it takes serious action against the scourge of drug crime in our streets.

We are getting the job done. It is time for the Liberals and NDP to stop dithering on the issue of drug crime and join our Conservative government in passing this bill. Canadians are demanding change. It is time to deliver that change.

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11:25 a.m.


Anthony Rota Liberal Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the hon. member, who did a very good job at describing the technical matters. He got a little out of hand when he started to get partisan, but the technical areas were very well explained.

When we look at what is going on out there with the trafficking, the production, the import and the export of drugs, we find that without argument people want to see all of that end, and they want to see tougher sentencing and tougher actions taken. I do not think we will get any argument on that.

When we see laws like Bill C-26, we see another tool, a tool that will help law enforcement officers do their job and get more encouragement.

I also have to comment on what is happening in Abbotsford. As the member mentioned, the city council is using many different ways of trapping and catching drug producers, whether they have grow ops or manufacturing areas. I commend the council for that.

However, that brings me back to the police associations and their frustration. One of the things the Conservative government said it would do was bring on more police officers. There would be more funding for police officers to hire more people so that they can take these laws and actually do something with them, not just stand there and say that they have these laws but do not have the men and women out in the street who can actually enforce the laws.

Where is the funding that was meant to hire more women and men as police officers?

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11:30 a.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I sense that my hon. colleague is inclined to support our legislation. I commend him for that. We do support Bill C-26 because it addresses the scourge of drug crime.

With respect to his question about policing, we promised that we were going to provide an additional 2,500 police officers across Canada. Guess what? In budget 2008, which was just passed with the help of the Liberals, we actually have provided the funding for that. Police forces across Canada can expect that there is going to be a significantly enhanced police presence available to implement the drug legislation we are discussing today, to actually enforce the laws we have in Canada to make sure that the real bad guys, the drug kingpins, the drug lords, the high level drug dealers, are taken off the street and incarcerated so they cannot continue to peddle misery.

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11:30 a.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of the member for Abbotsford. He said that drug offences in certain categories have gone up by 13% and that he believes, and the public believes, that sentencing is too lenient.

I would ask him to actually provide evidence of that and evidence of whether this bill will affect that in any way. We have tried to find research in terms of what are the average penalties across the country. It is very difficult to find out. The member is making these assertions, so I would like him to bring forward the evidence to show where penalties have been too lenient.

I certainly will agree that there are particular cases where there have been big disputes in the public and articles in the newspapers which may show that people believe that for a particular offence the sentence of incarceration was not adequate. That certainly happens, but overall he is making the assertion that penalties have been too lenient and that somehow this bill will fix that.

One of the problems with minimum mandatory sentences is that it is more likely that people who are charged would fight those charges because they know that a minimum mandatory will apply, so it will actually tie up more court time and more lawyers, whom he does not seem to like.

I wonder if he can actually show this House and Canadian people the evidence behind what he is saying, not just his opinion, not an anecdote, but hard evidence on the penalty side, and also if he can actually show that this bill will impact the fact that drug offences have gone up by 13%. Where is the evidence that the bill will change this?

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11:30 a.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to encourage the member to get out on the streets and talk to the people and the victims of crime. They will say that the sentences are way too lenient. In fact, some of the key drug criminals in our communities are getting a slap on the wrist if they are even penalized in the courts.

The member should talk to people like Sandra Martins-Toner and Nina Rivet of FACT. The member will know these people because they work in her community. They will tell her that the penalties are way too lenient and that it is time for the federal government to step forward, do the courageous thing and start imposing a regime of escalating mandatory minimum penalties, which are targeted, by the way. We are not talking about all of the drug users in Canada being subjected to mandatory minimum penalties. We are focusing on the worst of the worst, getting the bad guys off the street.

Quite frankly, when we talk about mandatory minimum penalties, they are tailored because of their prophylactic effect. We are trying to take these guys off the street for longer periods of time and we want to disturb their criminal enterprises. We want to interfere with them to ensure they cannot function properly.

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11:30 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want the member for Abbotsford to know that this an issue not just in Abbotsford but also in my riding of Burlington.

I sent out a questionnaire to my constituents asking them for their response to our getting tough on crime and drug dealers. It was the biggest response I have received from any mailing to my constituents. By far, the response was that we need to be doing something, that we are on the right track and that we are making things happen.

As a member of Parliament, I visited the local police chief for the region of Halton and he clearly indicated to me that getting tough on crime, particularly drug crimes, is the way to go.

This is National Victims of Crime Awareness Week and he did a great job in terms of highlighting how important that is. Could he tell the House who he considers to be the victims in the drug crime business and how this would affect them?

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11:35 a.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is easy for me to answer. There are two groups of victims in my mind. We have those who are the innocent victims of drug violence, the ones who are hurt, injured, maimed or even killed, such as Ed Schellenberg from my community.

Members may recall that in October of last year, six men were gunned down in an execution-style gangland slaying. Four of them were known to police as being involved in the drug industry and two were not. They were innocent victims. One was from my riding of Abbotsford, Ed Schellenberg. Those are the victims of the violence of drug crime.

The other group of victims are Canadians who, for one reason or another, through difficult circumstances, have found themselves in a life of drug addiction and, to feed their habit, they sell drugs. I believe it is the will of the House that we would focus on them and provide them with a way of getting off their addictions and freed from that slavery. Our bill would do that because it is a balanced approach.

We are not only imposing mandatory minimum penalties. We are also providing an option for judges to sentence offenders in a way that would allow them to undergo a court approved drug treatment program and, if that program is completed satisfactorily, the mandatory sentence would not apply. If they do not complete it satisfactorily, a mandatory minimum sentence would be applied. Those are the victims we are addressing in our crime bill.

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11:35 a.m.


Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, at the risk of disagreeing with a colleague, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood said that crime was decreasing. We know from breaking news that there is a bit of a surge in crime today in that the RCMP is executing a warrant at Conservative Party headquarters. I would like my friend's comment on that aspect of crime increasing.

As a former city councillor, he knows or should know that it is universal for city councils that there is a lot of pressure on police budgets. The Conservatives have been in the job for two years and four months. If getting the job done is waiting two years and four months for more police officers, which has been called for throughout the cities of this country, then what is not getting the job done?

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11:35 a.m.


Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, when I was a member of the Abbotsford city council, we did our very best to provide our police with the resources they needed to address drug crime. In fact, Abbotsford has its own police force. It is not part of the RCMP system.

The residents of my community were more than willing for us to provide the resources through taxation to our police to ensure our neighbourhoods were safe. In fact, we had numerous community organization that would appear before our council regularly to ensure we had the police presence in the neighbourhood that was required.