Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity today to join in the debate on Bill C-15, an act that has the effect of imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences.
I listened with great interest to my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, explain the rationale behind the bill, if there is such a rationale, which is an attempt to somehow, through minimum mandatory sentences, increase public safety in our country, and the failure of this bill to have that effect.
Lest we be under any illusions, we should know one thing. The starting point is a current law when it comes to offences under our Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The seriousness of the penalties already exist. The maximum sentence for trafficking, exporting, importing and production for the purposes of trafficking in schedules I and II in the act is life imprisonment.
There is no doubt that our criminal law already takes extremely seriously this type of crime. The law recognizes that this kind of activity can be seriously detrimental to individuals and to our society. That is the maximum sentence.
The fact is the appropriate sentence for an individual case is a matter for the discretion of a judge. The judge will use his or her judgment in accordance with the law, legal precedent and the facts and circumstances of each case to define an appropriate sentence. What this law does is say that Parliament will say, regardless of the circumstances, the individual, the facts of a particular crime, there will be a mandatory minimum.
Here is what Justice John Gomery said about the previous bill to the same effect. I think parliamentarians know a lot about Justice Gomery and his inquiry into the scandal related to the activities of the previous government, the Gomery Inquiry. Mr. Justice Gomery said, “This legislation basically shows a mistrust of the judiciary to impose proper sentences when people come before them”.
However, it does more than that. It fails to follow the principle that our judges have been given an important task in determining not only the guilt and innocence of an accused, but also the appropriate sentence under the supervision of appeal courts.
The bill also fails to follow a principle of governance, that decisions should be evidence-based. If the Conservatives are going to say that the bill will protect the public, as we have heard speakers from the other side say, then let us see the evidence that supports this.
In fact, the justice department said in 2002 that mandatory minimum sentences did not appear to influence drug consumption, which is one of the things people are concerned about, or drug-related crime in any measurable way. If we are talking about being tough on crime, the bill, according to the justice department in 2002, is not going to influence drug-related crime in any measurable way.
Where is the evidence to support any notion that Bill C-15 would in fact reduce drug consumption or drug crime? If we do not have that, what are we doing seeking to push through a bill that is going to do something that is harmful, and I will get to that in the rest of my speech, costly and ineffective in reducing crime, or doing the thing we want to do, which is to influence a reduction in drug consumption?
That is the problem with this bill.