Madam Speaker, when I was preparing notes for today, I began thinking about my experience when I was at university, in law school in Windsor, the best law school in the country by the way.
In that period of time, prior to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms being brought into play in Canada, there was a sentencing provision under the Criminal Code that if someone imported any drug, there was a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years.
In this period of time, the mid-1960s, late 1960s and early 1970s, being across from Detroit, Michigan, a great deal of personal use of marijuana was going on. Quite regularly, people would be moving back and forth across the border. It is the most active border in the world, actually, certainly in North America. Families and friends were moving back and forth. They were shopping on both sides of the border. There was entertainment and recreation on both sides of the border.
People were regularly being caught and accused of possession of marijuana and of importing it into Canada. Then they were automatically exposed to a sentence of seven years. There were a number of those sentences imposed. Fortunately, in most cases our prosecutors had the good will and the good sense to drop those charges. If the prosecutors moved at all, they would move on charges of simple possession. However, what happened was that a good number of people's lives were ruined, people who were sentenced to prison for seven years for what was a simple possession of marijuana.
That ended shortly after the charter came into effect. Our courts simply said that the consequences and the penalties were so disproportional that it amounted to an offence under section 12 of the charter in terms of it being cruel and unusual punishment. So that section was struck down.
Now, some 35 years later, we see the government taking us back to that type of era. Maybe that makes them feel good as Conservatives, but it certainly does not make for good public policy.
What we are going to see, although none of the penalties in Bill C-15 are as severe as seven years in terms of mandatory minimums, is a substantial abuse perpetrated on people who are drug abusers and those who are trafficking in marijuana at the lower end.
From the evidence we have heard repeatedly from our police forces, including the evidence we heard in the committee hearings for this bill, we know that the vast majority of people who are going to be caught by this legislation, who are going to be imprisoned for mandatory minimum periods of time, anywhere from six months to three years, are by and large users of drugs, whether marijuana or stronger drugs, who have gotten caught up in the whole cycle, the whole under-life of the drug trade, and who are in fact trafficking in order to feed their habit.
I think it is appropriate that we think about and understand how organized crime has taken over, almost exclusively, all of the drug trade in this country, and to a significant degree right across the globe. We have to see it as a pyramid, a very large-based pyramid with a very small, fine point at the top. The kingpins and the ones who really make the money off the drug trade are the very small numbers at the top, and then there is this huge base below.
Although we hear from the government that the intent of Bill C-15 is to target the traffickers and that little group at the top, the reality is it will not do that. We know that beyond any shadow of a doubt because exactly the same type of approach was taken starting 20 to 30 years ago in the United States. We have gone through a whole generation using this approach. The intent was the same, that is, to go after the kingpins, the real leaders, the ones who really make the money off the drugs. What happened and what continues to happen, other than in those states that have begun to repeal those laws, is that it was the base that was caught. It was the base that was imprisoned for extended periods of time. It was the base that overloaded the prisons, which took money from other social programs and dumped it into the prisons because it was the only way to keep up with the need.
As we heard, there are some small parts of the approach in Bill C-15, such as the date rape drug change, and moving those drugs into a controlled substance list in order to be better able to try to control it, that in fact would gather support from ourselves and I believe from the Bloc Québécois.
This bill really is about ideology from the Conservative government. It is about an ideological belief that if the government throws all this weight behind a punitive approach to controlling the drug trade, it will be successful. It is glossed over to some degree by saying, no, the government's intent is to go this way, but the reality is the government knows it is not going to work. The Conservatives have absolutely no evidence to show that this will work and they have overwhelming evidence to show that it will not work.
When we hear the demagogic comments from the member from Fort McMurray about victims and when we hear other Conservatives in this debate stand and talk about victims, it is shameful they are taking that approach. It is shameful the way they have conducted this campaign in the last number of elections because they lead the Canadian public, who are victims of organized crime, to believe that this is a solution. That is dishonest. It is totally out of keeping with what we know about how to deal with the drug problem. They continue to perpetuate that and that is shameful.
We know if we are going to deal with the drug problem, much as we dealt with alcohol abuse in terms of impaired driving, and much as we dealt with the campaign to try to reduce the consumption of tobacco, there are alternative methods, there are alternative programs that in fact are effective.
If we approach this as we in the NDP have argued, that the government look at prevention, that it look at enforcement, and only then go to the punitive, it would be effective. I can point to any number of countries around the globe that use that methodology to reduce drug consumption. In fact, even in those countries, there is an argument to be made that they could be doing more and be more effective in reducing it.
We can look at what has been done in this country to combat the consumption of tobacco and how effective that has been. The consumption of tobacco in this country has dropped from close to 50% at its peak, down to around 16% or 17% now. There is no reason to believe that we could not do the same thing with the consumption of illicit drugs and, in particular, with the consumption of marijuana and cannabis.
Then we look at what in fact is done. We spend this huge amount of money on enforcement and the punitive end, in terms of corrections in particular, and so little on the preventive end. In that regard, I want to draw to the House's attention what happened in the United States. In 1986, when the Americans began at a national level using mandatory minimums on drugs, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was expending $862 million for corrections, just at the federal level. Each state also has its own prison system. Just two years later, the amount jumped to $1.2 billion. Five years later, in 1991, it was $2.1 billion. In 2010, for the coming year, the request is for $6 billion to be spent on corrections. Over that 20 year period, if my math is correct, it has increased by a multiple of about eight.
We are going to see the same pattern here, although I have to say that the provinces are going to bear the brunt of it. As I said earlier, most of the mandatory minimums getting at that base are going to be in the six-month to 18-month range. All of those sentences, based on our relationship with the provinces, are spent in provincial prisons.
I want to emphasize what happened in the United States as the Americans moved mandatory minimums in at the state and federal levels. We heard evidence at the committee on this bill that in New York State, for every increased dollar that was spent on prisons and corrections in that state, a dollar was taken out of education in that state. There was a direct dollar-for-dollar correlation. Again, we have every expectation that is what is going to happen in Canada.
Because we will have to build additional prisons and increase the number of staff in the existing prisons, we are going to be looking at a shortage of tax dollar revenue for other social programs. Whether it be education or health, the dollars simply are not going to be there. That is particularly true given the current fiscal crisis and the economy overall.
There is another point I want to make about this. It was interesting to listen to the member for Mississauga South in terms of his analysis that this bill was somehow not going to do anything. Quite frankly, I hope he is right. I hope we do not see a significant influx of new inmates in our provincial and federal prisons. I have to say that I do not share that optimism. I believe we are going to attempt to enforce the terms of this bill right across the country in all the provinces and territories.
When we do that, we are going to see, in my estimation, increases at the provincial level of at least 10%, and it could be as much as 25%, in the incarceration rate in our provincial prisons. It will be less than that at the federal level. I can say this because we just had evidence as recently as a week ago in front of the justice committee of the impact that other legislation is going to have on the increase in population.
In spite of assurances from the Minister of Public Safety, the reality is that every one of our federal prisons is over-occupied already. We just had confirmation of that yesterday from Mr. Sapers, who is the federal Correctional Investigator. He said that any increase of any substance in the prison population at the federal level is dangerous. We do not have enough programming now.
We heard in front of the justice committee a week or so ago on another bill that we already have, in every single prison in this country at the federal level, cells that were designed for one person regularly over-occupied by a second person. We are at the stage where there are three inmates in cells that are only designed for one and that will continue to increase, not only because of this bill, although this is probably going to be the most significant one, but others the government has introduced.
In spite of what we heard from the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca that more prisons are being built, that is absolutely false. There was not a dime for new prisons at the federal level in this year's budget or last year's budget. There was an increase in spending simply to deal with inflation, but there was not a dime for new cells. As we continue to overload the prisons, we are going to see cells with three inmates when there should only be one.
We are at a stage where we are so far behind in international protocols that we have signed onto in terms of the occupation in our prisons that we are probably going to be faced shortly with a charter challenge. That is going to mean perhaps a number of prisoners being released earlier. It is certainly going to affect the sentencing and what our judges are going to do if that case ultimately goes ahead and is successful.
This bill will just lop on a whole bunch more new inmates. We come back to the argument that if we do that, at least we get them off the streets for a while. I have heard that repeatedly from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice at the committee. What we also heard repeatedly at the committee from police agencies across the country is if we take the person off the street, because organized crime has so much control over the drug trade, that person is simply replaced by someone else immediately. That is a phenomenon which is not unique to Canada; it is true right across the globe. If organized crime is involved in the activity, the person who went to jail is replaced by someone else immediately. It does not reduce the trade in drugs in this country one iota, not at all.
We have a policy that is going to increase the number of inmates. We have a policy that is going to cost a huge amount of money. It is not just the corrections systems. What is going to happen to legal aid? What is going to happen to the judiciary in terms of the number of judges we are going to need?
When faced with a mandatory minimum, people do not plead guilty. They may try to make a deal to get it dropped, but they do not plead guilty. Already as much as 50% of the cases in our courts are drug related. That is going to increase dramatically in terms of time consumption because people are going to stop pleading guilty, or if they do plead guilty, it is because the mandatory minimum was dropped. Therefore it makes the bill ineffective.
If the courts are going to continue to push for the mandatory minimum, which I believe they are going to do, the time consumption is going to go up dramatically for these cases. We are going to need more judges, more prosecutors, more police to be in court for longer periods of time. There has been no budgeting for that either.
There is a boycott right now in Ontario of the legal aid system because of the low rates that are being paid and it is the most extensive plan in the country. We are faced with that as another problem.
My colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley talked about unintended consequences. I would like to believe that the Conservatives do not know about these unintended consequences, but we told them. Our political party has told them. All sorts of experts have told them. The Conservatives are so ideologically driven that they are going to go ahead with the bill, and to the shame of the Liberals, they are going to support them. I cannot understand what the Liberals are doing, other than for straight partisan politics and not wanting to be seen as weak on crime. It is bad strategy on their part. It is bad for the country.
In summary, this is a bad bill. It is bad public policy. It is not going to do what it is supposed to do. It is absolutely useless and we should all be voting against it.