Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-26, which deals with minimum mandatory sentences for drug crimes.
I would like to acknowledge the work of the member for Vancouver East who has been tireless on this issue on behalf of her constituents.
Bill C-26 is flawed and ineffective. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes do not work. The approach outlined in Bill C-26 is unbalanced. The bill oversimplifies the issue and irresponsibly seeks only to placate Conservative voters.
There are better solutions to tackling the drug problem than mandatory minimum sentences, solutions that actually work.
Bill C-26 would move Canada toward a more expensive, failed U.S.-style war on drugs that spends tens of billions of dollars a year on enforcement and incarceration while drug use soars.
At the end of last year, an editorial on Bill C-26 in the Ottawa Citizen read:
More than half the people incarcerated in American federal prisons are there on drug charges, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, and about one-fifth of those in state prisons. This doesn't count people whose crimes were indirectly related to drugs, but it includes people jailed for life for possessing one marijuana joint. Nevertheless, the war on drugs rages on.
Canada's Conservative government is choosing to copy this strategy, which has been failing non-stop since prohibition. The reason Canada has drug addicts on its streets is supposedly because dealers are not going to prison for long enough, which is why the justice minister has a bill to make the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act harsher.
Judges have had the discretion to sentence drug criminals according to the evidence presented in their cases but now the justice minister wants to change that by imposing mandatory minimum sentences.
For instance, anyone dealing in marijuana would go to jail for at least a year if he or she did so in support of organized crime, that is, in a money-making enterprise involving three or more people. That covers just about all marijuana dealers who are, by definition, organized if they have one supplier and one customer. Most of the charges are like this.
Some drug users might be exempted from the minimums if they are diverted into special drug courts that focus on treating addicts. What about addicts who deal to support their habit and who cannot break the addiction despite treatment. Why? What they needs is more prison time, right? Actually, that is wrong. This is bad law in pursuit of bad politics based on non-existent science. Parliament should not go along with it.
As the editorial points out, the bill would do absolutely nothing to reduce drug consumption in our society. All we need to do is look to our neighbours to the south and its experience over the last 35 years. It is uninterrupted. Over that period of time, the United States has actively engaged in its so-called war on drugs but what do we have today? The production of drugs in the United States and around the globe has increased. The consumption of illegal drugs in the United States has also increased. Prison populations have more than doubled and, in some cases, tripled, in terms of the number of people incarcerated on drug charges. The cost of that war on drugs is up in the range of 10 to 20 times higher than previously, depending on which state in the United States we examine.
In the last few years, the United States finally recognized that its war on drugs was not working. Last year in Detroit, Michigan, the state legislature, which controls criminal law in the area of illegal drugs, began reducing the charges in cases where if people are convicted on drug charges they would have a mandatory minimum.
The state legislature did it for two reasons. I could be somewhat cynical and say that it was only because of how much it was costing and the rate of incarceration that was occurring in that state, but it also did it because it finally recognized that it was not working. We can go through at least half a dozen to a dozen states just in the last few years that have begun to drop mandatory minimums with regard to drug offences. There is no evidence that any form of a mandatory sentencing policy for drug offences works.
Former U.S. supreme court justice, William Rehnquist, noted:
These mandatory minimum sentences are perhaps a good example of the law of unintended consequences. There is a respectable body of opinion which believes that these mandatory minimums impose unduly harsh punishment for first-time offenders-- particularly for “mules” who played only a minor role in a drug distribution scheme...
Mandatory minimums ...are frequently the result of [legislative] amendments to demonstrate emphatically that legislators want to “get tough on crime.” Just as frequently they do not involve any careful consideration of the effect they might have...they frustrate the careful calibration of sentences, from one end of the spectrum to the other....
In spite of those experiences in the United States and in spite of the Conservative government knowing about those experiences, it intends to copy that failed experiment.
Bill C-26 proposes an unbalanced approach to preventing drug offences.
In my riding, there is a different approach. London's community addictions response strategy cites that the cities around the world, which are making progress on this issue, are doing so by planning within the context of the four pillars model: prevention, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement.
Currently, the federal government spends 73% of its drug policy budget on enforcement and only 14% on treatment, 7% on research, 2.6% on prevention and 2.6% on harm reduction.
London's community addictions response strategy states:
Substance abuse is affecting London’s health and well-being
How serious is the problem? Most people in Canada use substances, such as alcohol or drugs. For example, in the past year, about 1 out of every 7 Londoners exceeded low-risk drinking guidelines, 1 in 8 used cannabis, and 1 in 33 used an illicit drug, such as cocaine, ecstasy or methamphetamine. And these figures probably underestimate actual substance use. Not everyone who drinks alcohol or tries an illegal drug develops a substance abuse problem, but some do, including individuals from all groups within society.
Substance abuse is not a “downtown” problem, nor is it limited to the poor and homeless. It is, however, becoming an increasingly critical issue among London’s poor and homeless populations. Health and social service agencies in London report relatively high rates of substance abuse among their clients. For example:
Ontario Works estimates that substance abuse is a barrier to employment for between 820 and 984 of its clients (10 to 12% of the caseload).
The city‘s shelter operators estimate that 40 to 60% of residents - or 350 to 525 people - have substance use or abuse issues.
About 40% of visits to the London Intercommunity Health Centre are substance related.
My Sister's Place provides services to 50 to 70 women, many of whom deal with addictions and/or mental health problems.
Between January and June 2000, London Counter Point Needle Exchange Program served 730 clients and distributed over 230,000 needles.
Addiction Services of Thames Valley serves between 1500 and 1700 clients each year.
Clinic 528 which operates a methadone maintenance program sees 900 clients per month.
London's homeless population is growing. In addition to local residents who [struggle with] life on the streets, we are a regional centre for mental health, justice and social services. Issues associated with release from provincial mental health facilities to "no fixed address"; criminal discharges to local emergency shelters; and the lack of appropriate social service and emergency shelter services in many southwestern Ontario communities result in an inward migration of the homeless to London.
Complicating this situation is the deteriorating health of the homeless. A growing number are presenting with multiple health challenges as a result of poverty, mental health and addiction, particularly [addiction] to alcohol and prescription painkillers. Local social service agencies are struggling to cope with this changing population. Faith based agencies are being forced to reconsider...core values about abstinence, in order to meet their mission of serving the most vulnerable in society.
Not surprisingly, drug trafficking to these vulnerable populations is a key contributor to the declining health of these individuals. In turn, those with addictions are forced to enter into illegal activities to support their habits.
Treatment programs are desperately inadequate. The waiting time in Ontario for a treatment bed is four months. My constituents deserve better.
The NDP thinks the bill sidesteps the real problems and ignores the real solutions. Bill C-26 would not solve the problems associated with illicit drugs. It is more about creating the illusion of action rather than a genuine effort to take positive steps.
If the government really cared about the vulnerable in our society, children in schools and those who are susceptible to the temptations of drugs and alcohol, it would bring back an affordable national housing program so the homeless and low income families would no longer face a lack of decent housing. A home goes a long way to providing the stability that makes drugs less attractive.
If the government cared about children, there would be a real, safe, affordable, regulated child care program, instead of the sham perpetrated against young families.
If the government cared about the welfare of our communities, it would ensure that those who lost a job or needed training were able to benefit from the employment insurance to which they have contributed, instead of stealing $55 billion from that fund.
The Conservatives can cry crocodile tears for those in need but then give $14.5 billion to profitable corporations and big polluters.
If the government truly cared, it would fund programs like the London community addictions response strategy. That is genuine action and it is time this country had something genuine from its government.