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House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghan.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, the member is entirely incorrect. The fact is the government rolled back a negotiated, agreed upon collective agreement. We have laws in our country where we have free collective bargaining. The government has rolled back the time clock and labour rights that have affected the RCMP. We find that reprehensible.

The Conservatives also made a promise to put 2,500 more officers on the street. This is a promise on which they have yet to deliver.

After a while, year after year of hearing these kinds of promises, is it any wonder that people become very cynical in what they hear from the Conservative government and the fact that they do not trust the Conservatives any more?

The bill he referred to in his question has not yet come to the House. We are debating Bill C-14. We will be debating Bill C-15 next. If the member wants to know our position on a bill that has yet to come into the House, maybe he should stick around and he can hear that debate. We would be happy to participate in it.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like the hon. member to clarify a couple of points.

The government now needs two parliamentary secretaries for justice. However, one of them said in committee the other day that these bills would not be the be-all and the end-all, that they were not the cure, that other things were needed. Even the Conservatives see that.

First, I know the hon. member has an urban background, which would lead her to know that much more is needed in the fight against crime and gang violence. What are those items?

Second, it was this side of the House that proposed that Bill C-14 leave this place and go to committee, not the government side. Is that not true?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party actually proposed that this bill and Bill C-15 go through all stages in the House and committee with no debate whatsoever. We found that quite incredulous. They were even trying to one-up the government on this one.

I find it quite outrageous that there is some kind of competition going on as to who can march this legislation forward more quickly, without any debate. These changes in the law are very serious. They warrant debate, both in the House and in committee.

On the question of gangs alone, there are many different perspectives out there in terms of what causes gangs, how they are manifested and whether changes in the law will be any kind of deterrent. There are real experts out there who have studied this kind of thing.

Does the Conservative government want to hear from those people? I do not believe so. Do the Liberals want to hear from those people? They wanted to rush it through committee.

We have an interest in hearing what some of those perspectives are and have genuine due diligence in dealing with this legislation. We think it is very important. We have signified our support for it. We are willing to have it go to committee. In fact, we knew all along that the bill would end today and go to committee.

All the theatrics we saw earlier today from the Minister of Justice were just that, theatrics, trying to score political points. It was going to committee anyway.

I think everybody should take it down a notch and get back to our real job, which is debating the legislation, making intelligent debate and ensuring there is a proper process at committee as well.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the debate today.

I want to add to what my colleague from Vancouver East was just saying about all the brouhaha about getting the bill through the House today. There was absolutely no doubt that we would finish debate on Bill C-14 today and get it to committee by the end of the day. Therefore, the motion proposed by the Liberals this morning was meaningless because we were on that track already.

We New Democrats in this corner of the House had agreed to the number of speakers we were putting up and we have not expanded that list by one person for some time now. This was, as the member said, a lot of theatrics over nothing today, unfortunately. The reality is that even after all the brouhaha, that somehow there was an attempt to delay consideration of Bill C-14, the Conservatives themselves put up more speakers. It is unbelievable.

I seconded the concurrence motion this morning and I make no apology for that. That was an important piece of business. We need to hold the government accountable for its lack of respect for the decisions of the House, especially in a minority Parliament. When we had to revisit an important question of war resisters and their welcome in Canada, a motion that was passed by the last Parliament and the government refused to act on it, I make no apology for asking the House to revisit that important issue today.

With regard to the legislation before us, which is purported to be an attempt to deal with gang violence in Canada, I agree that it does take some steps that will go toward that. However, I do not want to oversell this legislation. It is important to people in my constituency and to people all over greater Vancouver where we have seen a terrible outbreak of gang violence, where 38 people have been shot and at least 17 people have died as a result of that violence in the last few months. That is unacceptable in our community.

We want to ensure that everyone in our community feels safe and feels that they can go about their daily business feeling secure. There have been times in recent weeks when that has not been the case, and that is not acceptable. We need to put our efforts, as members of Parliament and as MLAs in British Columbia, toward addressing and solving that situation.

Bill C-14 is a limited attempt to do that. I want to make it very clear that New Democrats support this legislation. I support this legislation and will be voting for it.

What exactly does Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants) do? It has three key provisions. The first one is to add to the sentencing provisions for murder so that any murder committed in connection with a criminal organization is a first degree murder, regardless of whether it is planned and deliberate.

The second key provision is to create offences of intentionally discharging a firearm while being reckless about endangering the life or safety of another person, of assaulting a peace officer with a weapon or causing bodily harm and of aggravated assault of a peace officer.

The third provision is to extend the duration of a recognizance up to two years for a person who, it is suspected, will commit a criminal organization offence, a terrorism offence or an intimidation offence under section 423.1 if they were previously convicted of such an offence, and to clarify that the recognizance may include conditions such as electronic monitoring, participation in treatment programs and a requirement to remain in a specific geographic area.

Those are the three provisions in the legislation but they are limited in the sense that this is not an extensive bill by any stretch of the imagination. It adds a new offence of what we commonly call a drive-by shooting, a specific offence under the Criminal Code. That is not to say that any crimes associated with that particular activity were not already illegal and already punishable by important penalties in our Criminal Code. This just nominally creates a specific crime. It does add the crime of first degree murder to any murder associated with gang activity, and that is a significant one.

The reality is that those are measures that the New Democratic Party proposed in our campaign platform in the 2008 federal election where we clearly said that two of the measures to combat gang violence that were required were that first degree murder charges should be ensured for gang related homicides, which is exactly what this legislation does. We also called to make drive-by shootings and firing at a building indictable offences. These measures are ones that New Democrats promoted during the last federal election and we are glad to have the opportunity to debate them and support these proposals from the government today in the House of Commons.

My colleagues from metro Vancouver who have already spoken in this debate, the members for Vancouver East, Burnaby—New Westminster, Vancouver Kingsway and the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, all agree that these are important measures to take at this time. We hope they will make a contribution to dealing with the problems that the greater Vancouver area has been seeing in recent weeks.

On the one hand, where we agree that these changes to the Criminal Code with regard to drive-by shootings and a first degree term for murder committed as part of a gang activity are important provisions, I doubt that these measures will strike terror in the hearts of gang members. I doubt that there have been any memos circulating among the gangs to say that they had better back off now because these new provisions are coming.

We know that these kinds of things do not act as a deterrent but that does not mean that we should not be doing them. We should be ensuring that these crimes are punishable for the serious crimes that they are. However, we should not kid ourselves that these will act as a deterrent to involvement in criminal gangs or in gang violence.

The other specific piece of this legislation that we think is important is the change to the recognizance provisions. We need to protect the people who work in our justice system. We need to protect our police officers. This extension of recognizance provisions from one to two years is an important step to take.

We are glad as well that this bill would improve judicial discretion. It is not often that we see the Conservatives taking a measure that allows judges to undertake discretion in the important work that they do. This legislation would do that by allowing things, such as treatment, to be added to the provisions of a recognizance. We think that is an important step to be taking.

We know that a judge who has followed the case, worked the case thoroughly and has paid attention to what has gone on in that proceeding is often in a very good position to understand what steps need to be taken. We applaud the improvement of judicial discretion in that case.

We want to be careful, however, because the imposition of treatment is often not the best way to accomplish the goals of treatment. Even though this is allowed in the legislation, we flag that it may be problematic. I am sure most judges who are considering that will be well aware of the problems associated with requiring treatment programs.

These are important improvements. They are limited. I do not think we should oversell their effect or their importance but they are important steps to take. As I say, we are pleased to be supporting them.

We need to be doing a whole bunch of other things. With regard to the situation in Vancouver, there is no doubt that we should have more police working in our communities. We believe that the promise of 2,500 extra police officers across the country should have been delivered on. We are looking forward to that day when those men and women are available to do that important work.

We also know that in metro Vancouver there is an important issue of the coordination of police efforts. We do not have a regional police force in Vancouver. We have a number of municipal forces. We have the RCMP serving some communities. The need for better communication and coordination among these different forces working on this important issue is an issue that has been flagged by many of those same people working on these matters. We want to ensure the government pays attention to providing those kinds of resources.

We are also very concerned that the government has chosen to roll back the negotiated wage increase for RCMP officers in the last budget. We do not believe that is an appropriate action given the important work that these men and women do in our communities. We also do not believe that it is appropriate to roll back a negotiated contract in that fashion. This is a backward step. It does not help our efforts to combat crime and it does not recognize the important services that those men and women of the RCMP provide in our communities and in communities like Burnaby.

It is also clear that we need increased support for prosecution services. Unbelievably, in the British Columbia budget, the provincial government cut back on its prosecution services. We know that successful prosecution will improve our criminal justice system and that if prosecutors have a smaller caseload they will do a better job and not make last minute decisions. They will be able to do the kind of research they need to do to be more successful and make appropriate decisions on all the processes around successfully prosecuting a criminal case. We hope the government will address the whole issue of support for prosecution at some point.

The need to strengthen the witness protection program is another area that has come up time and again in greater Vancouver. People who have witnessed gang crimes have told us about their fears of coming forward in a public way to help the police find and prosecute those criminals. They are fearful of what might be in store for them should they go public in that way. We need to ensure the flaws of our witness protection system are addressed. The New Democratic Party called for that again as part of our last election platform in the 2008 campaign.

We also believe that prevention is key to any successful criminal justice policy platform and package. We often hear this described as programs for youth at risk, which is important, but I do not want to leave the impression that we somehow believe it is youth who are responsible for the kind of crime we are seeing in metro Vancouver right now. Youth gangs are not causing these problems. Adults are causing these problems.

However, we do need to ensure our youth are given all the opportunities so that involvement in criminal activity is not seen as a viable option for them, that they have other outlets for their creativity and energy and that those are provided and well-financed by our communities. We need to pay more attention to that.

I am sorry that we never have the chance to discuss the importance of moving to restorative justice programs. As a formal part of our criminal justice system, we know that restorative justice that involves people accused of a crime, the victims of those crimes and people from the community is an effective way of building relationships and ensuring that punishment and restitution happen. However, we need to maintain relationships while that is going on in the community. We need to see more of that. We need to move in that direction because it is an effective way of ensuring that relationships are built and maintained which will go to building a community rather people holding grudges and not having the contact with each other, which they will eventually have again anyway.

For many years in my community, I have seen groups of citizens, who are interested in establishing these kinds of programs, struggling and fighting only to be thwarted in their attempts to see the programs funded and established as a key feature of our criminal justice system. There is no excuse for that. We know it works in other jurisdictions. In fact, we have seen it work here in our own communities.

I was part of it myself in a restorative justice program with an aboriginal offender who spray-painted the side of my house. I was very impressed with the way that unfolded. I was impressed with the leadership of the elders from the community who took part in that process, the social workers and court officials who were part of that process and of the young man and his family who were involved. If I were to bump into that young man on the street, I would be able to say hello to him instead of being fearful of him and he would be able to say hello to me even though he caused damage to my property in the past. That is an incredibly successful outcome and one that we should be celebrating and ensuring happens more often in our communities.

We also need to address the issue of guns in our communities. We know that handguns are too readily available and are too often used in these kinds of gang-related crimes. We also know that too many guns come across the border from the United States. I hope that we are negotiating with the Americans on the porous borders with regard to handguns. This is a significant issue of border control and safety for Canadians.

We often hear Americans' concerns about our border, but it is time that we as Canadians highlighted what our concerns are with the American-Canadian border, and the trafficking of guns across that border has to be high on our list. We know that far too many of the handguns used in crime in Canada come from south of the border, and we need to make sure that is addressed in our bilateral relationship with the United States.

We also need better legislation around proceeds of crime. We need to ensure that the proceeds of crime are directed back into our communities to assist in the development of our communities.

I am glad the member for Vancouver East talked about the whole issue of drug crime and drug policy in Canada, because I also believe that is fundamental to making any significant progress on these issues. We know that the profitability of drugs is the key issue behind gang activity. If drugs were not so profitable, there would not be so many people interested in pursuing it. There would not be the kinds of violent conflicts that erupt between these organizations because so much money is at stake and being made illegally in the drug trade.

It is time we learned some lessons from the past. It is not rocket science. We have an excellent example from the days of alcohol prohibition in the United States. There were exactly these kinds of criminal activities, lack of security in communities, gang wars, drive-by shootings, shootings between gangs on the streets, family dislocation, illegal stills in basements that caused problems for neighbours and fires in homes, all of the same kinds of issues that we see as a result of the drug trade currently in our society.

I am of the opinion that drug prohibition is not doing us any favours when it comes to addressing the needs and safety of our communities. We should learn from the example of the past. The parallel is exact and direct between the time of alcohol prohibition and our current drug prohibition regimes, both here and in the United States. It is time that we listened to those advocates, some even in law enforcement, who are saying it is time we reviewed our commitment to drug prohibition and sought other directions.

Some progress has been made in that respect with the adoption of the four pillars approach. It has been very important to the city of Vancouver, to metro Vancouver and my community of Burnaby. The four pillars of harm reduction, enforcement, prevention and treatment have been part of dealing with questions of drug use, addiction and criminal activity surrounding the drug trade in our communities.

We know that protecting people's lives and health with harm reduction is a crucial component of dealing with issues that stem from the use of drugs and the drug trade.

We have already talked about the importance of having police on the streets and having coordination between police officers, police detachments and different police forces. We know the importance of that enforcement activity. We know the importance of having good laws so that we can prosecute those who engage in related crimes.

We also know, as another pillar of the program, the importance of prevention. We know that people need to understand the impact of drug use on themselves, their communities and their families. We need to dedicate resources in order to prevent people from becoming involved in the use of drugs and the problems it will cause for them, their families and their communities.

We also need to ensure that there is more treatment available for those who decide they want to deal with their addictions. I think it is a tragedy that now when people decide they want treatment, often it is not available and they cannot get it when they make that decision. We know that is the absolutely crucial moment. When people decide they are ready for treatment, they must get into treatment at that moment. If they put it off, they backslide and are into the same cycle again.

We also know that when people finish treatment, there have to be services, supports and appropriate housing for them or all the benefit of their treatment is lost.

Those are some of the directions in which we should be going. The NDP will be supporting Bill C-14, but we think there is a lot more that needs to be done to address community safety and the issue of gangs in our society.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to narrow in on one issue that has come before the justice committee and was also part of the essence of the delegation we had from the Attorney General for British Columbia, and that goes to disclosure.

Increasingly, prosecutors and police forces are trying to keep up with the burden of complying with Stinchcombe, which is the law with respect to disclosure—that is, all of the items in the prosecution file must be provided to the defence. It is the law of the country. However, it has created an enormous burden. Many times there are tapes to review. It is a manpower or human resource issue that the government has not addressed. It has been the law of the country for some time now, and police forces and prosecutorial services are overburdened with the number of hours that are required to comply with that decision.

Would the member agree that it is time the government, instead of having a news conference every night, got down to directing the Department of Justice to comply with the need for stringent and streamlined disclosure requirements, and secondly, to directing the Minister of Finance to provide adequate resources for both the police services across this country and the prosecutorial services that need help to comply with the law?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree that disclosure is an important feature of our criminal justice system. I think those who are charged in our system have the right and need the right to know the evidence against them, and that evidence should be disclosed to them so that they can mount an appropriate defence.

However, the member is absolutely right. We have to make sure that when we have an important principle like that in our system we support it with appropriate resources, that we support it with a full commitment of the government, and that we make it possible for the people we ask to do that work to do the best possible job in meeting that principle.

As I noted in my remarks earlier, one of the places where we are falling down is in regard to support for prosecutors and the important work we ask them to take on. There is no excuse for not providing that support. I think that is an area where the federal government could be doing significantly more to support our criminal justice process, to support the people who take on this important work on our behalf, which would ultimately make the system better and more successful and would give people increased confidence that this system did support them, did protect them and their rights and did do the job that we all want it to do.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I, too, have seen restorative justice work first-hand, and I wonder if the member could speak a bit more about it. It was part of his comments, but I just want to emphasize that I agree on how important that is.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that even when I was talking about it a few minutes ago in my speech and remembering my own experience of a restorative justice process, I got a chill down my spine about how important that was to me to be part of that kind of process.

I have to say, the morning I woke up to walk the dog and saw that somebody had spray-painted the side of my house was not a very pleasant experience. While walking the dog, I came across a young man with spray paint cans being arrested by the police. I knew he was likely the perpetrator and talked to the police at that time. Later, a social worker from the aboriginal friendship centre in Vancouver contacted us and asked if we would support this young man going through a restorative justice program rather than into the court system. We knew that if he went into the court system at this point in his life, given his past record of contact with the legal system, he would end up in jail. The point was made that this might not be the best place for him in terms of his future and in terms of our community's future. My partner and I, and our neighbours, agreed that this would be an appropriate activity for us, because we realized that jail might not be the appropriate place for this person.

I have to say that working with the elders, the social workers, the court representatives, the young man and his family was very moving and very personal. It was a situation where I think we all benefited and won.

I bumped into the social worker a number of months later. She was extremely pleased with the results of that process for the young man in particular, who had in fact turned his life around because he felt that society had finally paid attention to him as a person and assisted and worked with him in a way that allowed him to find resources and support to turn his life around.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas for his always very thoughtful comments.

I noticed the hon. member talked about the four-pillar approach. I am sure he is aware that one of the problems we have had is that the Conservative government changed the four-pillar approach and basically made it a one-pillar approach, that being enforcement.

The Conservative government sometimes talks about treatment, but it has certainly dropped harm reduction, which has been a very important element of that. We have seen that in things like Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver.

Could the hon. member comment on whether he thinks things have actually become better as a result of how the government changed Canada's drug strategy by dropping these elements?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it will come as no surprise to the hon. member for Vancouver East that I am a strong supporter of Insite, as she is.

We know that the safe injection site in Vancouver has saved lives. It has improved the health of the community by ensuring that injection drug users have a clean and supervised place to deal with their addiction. It has given them direct and regular contact with health professionals who can direct them to the kind of health care they need, the options for treatment, and can advocate on their behalf when they are able to take advantage of those kinds of directions.

The lack of support from the current federal government for this important initiative has been most frustrating across the community in Vancouver. I am always impressed at what I believe is widespread support for Insite.

It was not an easy direction for our community to take and it was controversial. Those people who have taken the time to look at its work and at the experiences of those people who are users of the Insite facility will know it has been a success in saving lives and improving the health of individuals and the community.

This is clearly a direction that should be adopted in other communities across the country, because our experience in metro Vancouver has shown that it works.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments and very insightful perspective on the important issues we are dealing with today.

I certainly appreciated the hon. member's reference to some of the very worthy initiatives happening in the context of first nations justice processes. I come from northern Canada, where there is great interest in such processes, not just by first nations but also by much of the wider community.

We recognize that these are very important, but also that there is very little financial support in terms of programming. Many of these organizations that work very hard to devise a program of justice that works best for so many young people in our region are struggling.

I would like to hear more about the hon. member's thoughts on the need for support in this area.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, often in Canadian society we have assumed that our European ways and traditions were the way to go.

In many ways, we are justly proud of our criminal justice system and the way it has been established and deals with issues of crime and justice in our communities. I think that is a tradition we can be proud of.

However, I am glad we are finally looking to first nations for their lessons, learning and traditions in this area. They have shown us as well that there is much of great value.

Being part of the restorative justice program in the aboriginal community in Vancouver was a very foundational experience for me. It showed me the value of listening to the aboriginal members of my community and learning about their appreciation and understanding of criminal activity, community, and how one maintains and builds relationships when relationships have been broken.

That is a major turning point for our society. I am glad we have had the opportunity now to learn in that way and I am glad it is happening in other communities across the country.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate.

There being no further members rising, pursuant to order made earlier today, Bill C-14 is deemed read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion deemed adopted, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

moved that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak to Bill C-15 today.

Members will recall that, in November 2007, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-26, which proposed a number of mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that appropriately high sentences are imposed on those who commit serious drug offences. This bill reintroduces those same provisions.

As we all know, the Prime Minister unveiled Canada's new national anti-drug strategy in October 2007. The national anti-drug strategy provides funding to prevent the consumption of illegal drugs, particularly among young people, to treat addictions and to fight drug-related crime.

This strategy has a two-pronged approach: the first focuses on a tougher response to drug-related crime and the second on victims.

The national anti-drug strategy includes three action plans: preventing the consumption of illegal drugs, treating addictions, and tackling the production and distribution of illegal drugs.

The action plan to fight the production and distribution of illegal drugs contains a number of elements, including sufficiently severe penalties for serious drug-related offences.

That is part of the context in which this bill should be seen. It takes action on one of the government’s major priorities, which is to attack crime, and especially organized crime.

The purpose of this bill is not to provide minimum obligatory penalties for all drug-related offences. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is quite complex when it comes to various offences and punishments. The punishment depends on both the kind of crime committed and the substance involved. The most dangerous substances that cause the greatest problems, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine, are included in schedule I of the act, and crimes related to them attract the most severe penalties, up to life imprisonment.

Cannabis and related substances are included in schedule II. Crimes involving them attract less severe penalties. In the case of trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, sentences of up to life imprisonment are only imposed in regard to quantities of at least three kilograms. Production of cannabis is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The least severe penalties of a maximum of 12 months in prison upon summary conviction are reserved for crimes involving substances listed in schedules IV and V. It should be noted, however, that most of the activities forbidden by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are legal if the person involved has the necessary licence, permit or exemption.

For example, the marijuana medical access regulations, which took effect on July 30, 2001, provide a complete procedure for people who suffer from certain health problems to apply for a permit to possess or cultivate marijuana for medicinal reasons with the approval of their physician or, in some cases, of a specialist. The number of plants that an authorized person is entitled to cultivate is based on a formula related to the amount of dried marijuana the person needs every day.

Some hon. members might think it is unnecessary to provide for minimum penalties like those in the bill in order to punish serious drug-related offences. However, these crimes are a growing problem in Canadian cities and stricter legislation is absolutely necessary.

We should remember as well that the security of Canadians is one of our government’s highest priorities. Their security is threatened by organized crime groups involved in the production and trafficking of drugs. These activities lead to increased crime, violence and danger to law enforcement officers.

Drug trafficking and production are also the largest sources of illicit money for organized crime groups.

Profits from the sale of drugs, estimated to be in the billions of dollars per year in Canada, are used to finance a host of other criminal activities.

According to the Statistics Canada Juristat bulletin entitled “Crime Statistics in Canada, 2004”, offences related to the cultivation of marijuana more than doubled during the last decade, going from approximately 3,400 in 1994 to 8,000 in 2004. According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia, approximately 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases were located in B.C. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%. Even though the number of marijuana grow operations in British Columbia stabilized between 2000 and 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced went from 19,720 kilograms in 1997 to 79,817 kilograms in 2003—a seven-year record—because of the size and proficiency of the operations.

Investigations by British Columbia Hydro revealed that at a certain point there may have been up to 17,000 marijuana grow operations. The increase in illegal marijuana production activities did not occur only in British Columbia, but everywhere in Canada. Even though we have no national data on the production of synthetic drugs, RCMP data indicate a constant increase in production operations. The RCMP carried out seizures in 25 synthetic drug production operations in 2002, in 51 operations in 2003, 60 in 2004, and 53 in 2005. Of these 60 seizures in 2004, 17 involved ecstasy production and 40, methamphetamine production. Of the 53 seizures in 2005, 60% involved methamphetamine production operations and 30% involved ecstasy production operations. The seizures of ecstasy and its components went from 1.5 million tablets in 2001 to more than 70 million tablets in 2006.

Illegal drug use can hurt us all. We are seeing that when it comes to methamphetamine producers and users. Unlike better-known drugs—heroin, cocaine, and marijuana—methamphetamine presents unique challenges. Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. Its production does not involve crop cultivation. In fact, one needs no special knowledge or training to produce it, and the chemical ingredients are relatively cheap and easy to obtain. As a result, the production of this drug is attractive to both pushers and addicts.

Methamphetamine also poses a threat to enforcement authorities, which have to fight both small, secret labs and huge labs 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 easy access to recipes on the Internet. Indeed, widespread Internet usage 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 used illegal drug that users can make themselves. Given the relative ease with which manufacturers or cooks can 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 production operations also pose serious public safety and health hazards to those in and around them. 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 caused by methamphetamine includes impacts on families, school staff, students, law enforcers, fire fighters, paramedics, health care practitioners, businesses and property owners. These individuals suffer indirectly from meth use.

First responders may be exposed to production byproducts—the danger of fire or explosion—and may be the target of violence and aggression from addicts.

Communities in general may be exposed to violence, property damage, identity theft, decreased public safety, contamination of public areas from the disposal of cooking byproducts, and an unreliable or decreased workforce that impedes the safety of co-workers.

As you can see, Mr. Speaker, the use and production of illicit drugs can have serious adverse consequences for users, producers, families, law enforcement agencies, first responders and the community.

It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to make the laws in Canada, and we must ensure that those laws provide for appropriate measures to address serious problems. And make no mistake, drug use in Canada is a very serious problem. Some aspects of the situation have grown worse in recent years, and it is our duty to act in the face of this growing threat.

In response to the dangers posed by increased production and the worsening drug problem, the government introduced this bill, which proposes mandatory minimum penalties for those who produce and sell this drug.

The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act do more than just impose minimum penalties. The bill contains a provision that would enable certain offenders who ordinarily would be subject to mandatory minimum penalties to take part in a program given by what is called a drug treatment court.

A drug treatment court is a substance abuse intervention model that operates within the criminal justice system. Drug treatment courts provide judicially supervised treatment in lieu of incarcerating individuals who have a substance use problem that is related to their criminal activities, for example, drug related offences such as drug possession, use or non-commercial trafficking and/or property offences committed to support their drug use, such as theft or shoplifting.

Individuals may need to meet other requirements specific to individual courts or court systems to be deemed eligible for admission. Eligible accused persons must choose between the drug treatment court program and traditional criminal justice process, which can result in various dispositions ranging from fines to incarceration.

Typically, formal admission into a drug treatment court program requires the individual to plead guilty to his or her charges. If an individual fails to comply or participate in all aspects of the drug treatment court program, consequences range from an official reprimand or revocation of bail to termination of the program and the handing down of custodial or community supervision sentences.

Although a drug treatment court program is applicable only when eligible offenders choose it and give their consent, drug treatment courts constitute a form of coercive treatment. A well designed and properly implemented drug treatment court model has a number of key facets. The first is early identification of those who meet the program eligibility criteria and early treatment. Second, it includes access to several types of programs that treat the offender's problems with substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs, and mental health issues.

Third, there is extensive ongoing judicial contact with each participant. Fourth, there must be intensive supervision and drug testing to monitor and ensure abstinence from all intoxicants, coupled with positive reinforcement for compliance and sanctions for non-compliance. Fifth, a partnership is needed between drug treatment courts and community based organizations in order to improve program effectiveness. Sixth, there must be continuing education for those involved in the field, in order to improve the program's effectiveness. Seventh, a non-adversarial approach must be used in the court system to ensure both public safety and the rights of program participants. Eighth and last, comprehensive evaluation will monitor program objectives and measure effectiveness.

Compared to traditional criminal justice approaches, the intent of a drug treatment court is to permit motivated clients to avoid incarceration and other sanctions and to allow them access to treatment services more quickly due to dedicated resources. It is also to encourage clients to remain in treatment until completed, through intensive and frequent monitoring and supervision by the court.

Participating in a drug treatment court program is intensive and demanding. It includes court attendance up to twice a week, random urine testing, and attendance and treatment from daily to weekly as clients progress through the program. Although some participants start treatment in a facility, they all attend outpatient programs.

At some sites there is a primary treatment provider, whereas at other sites various community agencies deliver treatments. The drug treatment court team follows the client's progress closely. There are preliminary meetings set up to detect problems and find possible solutions to difficulties, to client relapse and to non-compliance. Coming before the court enables the client to inform it of his progress, and for it to reinforce compliance and progress made, and to sanction non-compliance or set new conditions or interventions with a view to helping the client break out of the crime-dependence cycle.

The drug treatment court programs show great promise and their results will be monitored. This important bill has been drafted in such a way as to not have any impact on treatment programs.

Canadians are calling for the criminal law system to set proper penalties for the commission of drug-related crimes. This bill responds to that desire and will provide for severe but fair minimum sentences.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the speech by the hon. member. I also appreciate the fact that he has a great deal of experience as a member of the Bar and that he works very hard on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I have no doubt that he believes in the Conservatives' program. However, I would like to ask him a few questions.

In his 20-minute speech, the member made no mention of the other cause of drug-related crime and that worries me somewhat. He did talk about the components of Bill C-15. However, I would like to know, as would Canadians, if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice believes that the government could or should do other things to deal with these threats, apart from Bill C-15. Will the government take other action to deal with this important issue?

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4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He has been a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for two or three years. I am new to the government.

From the outset, our government has continued to look for solutions to fighting crime that will satisfy Canadians.

There are different ways of approaching the problem. As parliamentarians, we can amend the Criminal Code and its schedules. We can also create drug treatment courts, also a form of rehabilitation, which is part of the fight against crime. Our government is taking a two-pronged approach: first, we want to penalize criminals so they realize, once and for all, that committing drug-related, violent and other such crimes is a serious matter and they will be punished. Second, we want to help the victims, even those who take drugs, who have been drawn in by the thugs of organized crime.

Therefore, we will continue with this two-pronged approach. We are constantly working on it because, at the end of the day, we have the same objective and that is to help Canadians.

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4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech, and I would like to know whether he has shared his disagreement with the Barreau du Québec, which opposes minimum penalties.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that question. In fact, I am still a member of the Barreau, which is a corporation that represents its members and must allow them to think for themselves. So I cannot answer her question, as I have freedom of thought.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question similar to the one asked by the member for Laval. In 2002 the Department of Justice issued a report stating that mandatory minimum sentences were least effective when it came to drug offences. I want to quote from that report. It said:

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

I wonder if the member could comment on that report from the Department of Justice, which calls into question the approach that the government is taking.

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my NDP colleague for those questions. I have a question for him.

There is currently a gang war going on in his province. There have been 38 deaths, 18 caused by firearms. The war is over the drug trade and has been going on for 25 or 30 years.

People from British Columbia, from the chamber of commerce, came to beg us to make strict laws. They are the ones who came, not the police. It was not the member from British Columbia who came, it was representatives of the Vancouver chamber of commerce. They made the trip and came to see us. For an hour, they told us they had had enough, that things were not working anymore and that we had to help them. That is what we are going to do. We are going to help them, and we are going to help the people in Vancouver and all the big cities.

I ask my colleague to support us as this bill goes through the various stages. His constituents' lives depend on it. We are entitled to one thing, and that is to have our lives respected and protected.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the member did not answer the question. I always have trouble in my own mind in deciding whether or not the Conservatives are simply ignorant on this question of drug crimes in their approach or whether or not they actually do understand what is going on and are blindly following their ideological mantra on this question.

My colleague pointed out that the Department of Justice put forward its report in 2002 and the member refused to answer the question. However, even in the United States, which the Conservatives are now proposing to follow, many of the states are repealing the mandatory minimum sentences because they have been such an utter failure. Not only has it cost billions of dollars and incarcerated millions of people in prison to no effect, but drug use has gone up. Even in the United States, which the government is proposing to follow, there is a great move afoot to move away from mandatory minimum sentencing on drug crimes.

I would like to ask the member again. Is it because they are ignorant, or do they just refuse to understand the reality of what is going on in terms of these drug laws?

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, through you, for her question. I want to point out that she said something that is very important, actually, and that is that drug consumption has increased in the United States.

We are the Americans’ largest neighbour and we know that they like to blame us for having a porous border that allows lots of drugs to flow in from the United States for our young people to consume. Street gangs, the mafia—whatever people call it in any of our big cities—control the trade and make billions of dollars. They are expanding their activities and attacking our families and children with all they have.

We are here today because the people of Vancouver came to see us and asked us to act, and that is what we are going to do.

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to provide a little history lesson for the previous speaker.

I am old enough that I had never heard of marijuana when I started practising law in 1966. I heard of it when I became a crown prosecutor. At the time, the marijuana grown here was not very strong at all. It did not have any THC, the active ingredient.

I saw the marijuana phenomenon begin around 1966 and continually increase in the 1970s. All the marijuana consumed in Canada came from elsewhere.

And what was the minimum sentence for importing marijuana? Seven years in prison. I saw people sent up for seven years. The time came when that just did not make any sense and they stopped doing it. But I saw people sent up.

Do the members not think that seven years was enough to be dissuasive? And if seven years was not enough, does this not prove that prison is not dissuasive. People do not even know what they are risking.