Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today and talk on the subject of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. I am proud to stand here with my colleagues from the New Democratic Party to oppose the bill.
I would like to spend a bit of time talking about the bill and also talking about some of the proposals and the perspectives that we in the New Democratic Party have been sharing in the House. I would like to engage in this discussion from the perspective of a young person and also as the critic on youth issues for my party.
It is exciting to have the chance talk on a bill in which many people reference youth, young people. However, once again, it is often in the negative context, talking about young people who get into trouble or young people who are facing the challenges of addiction. Rather than talking about the proactive and preventive steps we ought to be taking when we are talking about young people, we are in fact focusing on the punishment piece and focusing on truly continuing to burden many young people who already face challenging situations or who perhaps are at risk.
There are a number of aspects of the bill that we find extremely problematic. First of all is the discussion that has been quite vivid here in the House on the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. That is a big part of the bill that is in front of us today.
However, as we have heard from many people, mandatory minimum sentences have been proven not to work in cases of drug crimes. They certainly do not serve to deter organized crime and the intense activity in which so many people in the black market are involved.
In fact, mandatory minimums would encourage a focus on small dealers and low-level traffickers and would involve an increased amount of time and resources being put into police sweeps targeted at the small dealers rather than perhaps engaging more extensively at what is happening around us by some of the larger players out there.
Also, mandatory minimums are problematic for the fact that they have been noted to target visible minorities. I want to specifically refer to the way in which they target, certainly in the context of Canada, aboriginal people.
As someone who represents a riding which is made up of 70% aboriginal people, first nations and Métis, I recognize that this would have a tremendous negative impact on the region that I represent. Already we have some of the highest incarceration rates. I know this from the opportunities I have had to visit the communities that I represent and based on the stories that I have heard. People talk about their sons, their fathers, their husbands who have either been in jail or are in jail or have in some way fallen on the other side of the law.
I note that in many of our prisons there is a disproportionate number of aboriginal people, especially when we consider that aboriginal people make up a smaller percentage of the overall population. That is so important to recognize. We talk about the justice system being blind, but based on the tremendous research that has taken place, it is clear that it is far from blind. We should be looking with a very critical eye at policies and legislation that could continue to contribute to the inequality that results from the way justice is currently served in our country.
Another real concern that we have in the NDP with respect to this legislation is the move away from public health prevention and harm reduction, especially the removal of the elements of harm reduction in the anti-drug strategy that the Government of Canada has espoused in the past. This is especially problematic given the imbalance it creates in terms of looking only at punishment after the fact instead of dealing with the subtler issues that are at play, the issues that so many people with addictions across our country are dealing with. We should also be looking at preventive measures.
I was especially astounded to look at the percentage of funds that go toward the different aspects of a drug strategy. If Canadians were to hear about these percentages, they would be quick to point out the extent to which the funding is unbalanced and the extent to which any such strategy would be completely ineffective in dealing with issues of drug activity in our country.
Around 70% of the money goes toward enforcement, 14% goes toward treatment, 7% to research and 2.6% toward prevention. Harm reduction is also at 2.6%. It is absolutely mind boggling how these numbers could be seen as dealing with the challenges of drug activity and dealing with the challenges that people in our communities face, whether it is people with addictions or all of us in our communities.
One does not need to speak with experts to hear about these things. I had the opportunity to talk to people in many of the communities that I represent and hear about the groundbreaking work being done especially in terms of treatment, but also in terms of prevention.
I would like to highlight the work that is done by the Nelson House Medicine Lodge in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation where tremendous work is being done for people suffering from addictions. There are people from all across the north who are on waiting lists to access the high-level treatment and counselling that this lodge provides. It provides services with an aboriginal perspective. It works closely with mainly aboriginal clients and is sensitive to the realities they face.
Whiskeyjack Treatment Centre works extensively with many young people facing addictions. Whiskeyjack is between Cross Lake and Norway House in northern Manitoba. I know many young people who have gone through Whiskeyjack and worked at Whiskeyjack. People know of the good work it does. They are also very concerned about the constant stress on funding that it faces. There is a constant need for advocacy to make sure people outside of our region know how important these institutions are.
Another area of grave concern for the NDP is in terms of the economic impacts of this kind of legislation, the way in which it would overload police, the courts, legal aid services and treatment centres. Today we heard my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway raise the issue of police and the fact that the government's commitment to support police has not materialized to the extent that it was promised. This is of grave concern.
I am very appreciative of the fine work the RCMP does in the region that I represent. I have had the opportunity to visit with many officers who practise in communities from Shamattawa to Thompson to Opaskwayak Cree Nation. I recognize the challenges and life-threatening work they are often involved in. It is extremely unfair to apply a burden when they do not have the supports necessary.
I have spoken to many about the shortage of new recruits. I know there are young people whom I grew up with in northern Manitoba who are looking at careers in the RCMP and are happy there are many opportunities, but we all know of the extreme shortages the RCMP is facing, as are city police units across our country.
With respect to legal aid and the courts, we have all heard of the extreme backlog that so many people face. Certainly in terms of the legal aid services offered in Thompson, my home community, there are many people who face some of the most extreme levels of poverty and have problematic situations and they go to legal aid.
When we are proposing legislation that could serve to burden that, I find it extremely disconcerting. It does a disservice to people who are out in our communities trying their best to provide a service, whether it is policing, legal aid or treatment, and we would continue to overburden them given the work they are currently doing.
We have also heard about how this kind of legislation would serve to overload our prisons. That does not need to be discussed, given that we know the extent to which the system is stressed.
It is mind-boggling how we could come to discuss this legislation that not only moves away from some of the preventive and comprehensive approaches we ought to be taking but actually serves to burden the system that is currently dealing with issues around drug activity in our country.
It is incumbent on the Government of Canada to take a leadership role when we are talking about something as important as issues of addiction and drug activity, and to truly look at it in a way that is actually going to make a difference rather than making it worse.
I would like to talk a bit about what we New Democrats have been talking about, not just in terms of looking closely at and critiquing this bill, but in terms of looking at the ways in which we need to be proactive in our communities, our regions and our country.
We talk quite a bit about the importance of education and prevention. I am the youth critic, but I am also the critic for post-secondary education. Time and time again it is clear the extent to which we are letting down our post-secondary education system. In fact, we are letting down our young people.
We have heard about the rise in tuition fees and the rising student debt. Thirteen billion dollars is the number at which student debt now exists in our country. I am sure many members in this House have children, or perhaps even grandchildren, who are facing these situations. What is more important is to see how that is compounded with the current economic situation.
We are dealing with the highest rate of unemployment among young people in 11 years. Arguably it is one of the highest rates in our recent history. I have had the chance to talk to many of my peers, friends and people who live and study across Canada who are very concerned about the opportunities that await them after they finish their trades programs or university programs. They are very concerned about the future that lies ahead.
Not only do they not have opportunities to look forward to or are concerned about the opportunities that do not exist, but they also have an exorbitant amount of student debt to deal with. My question is, how will that happen?
Unfortunately, the government has been extremely negligent in looking at those issues of access. Many people have noted their appreciation of the commitment in terms of infrastructure. However, we must recognize that improving access, certainly with respect to transfers to the provinces in terms of post-secondary education and looking at the issue of Canada student loans is also extremely important when it comes to supporting young people in our country.
I would like to talk a bit about education from the first nations aspect. I noted that a high proportion of people in the area that I represent, and certainly many young men, often fall on the other side of the law and high numbers end up in our jails. Let us look at how many of them start off their lives when they grow up on reserves in northern Manitoba or reserves all across Canada.
The education situation, the situation of the schools in many of these first nations is appalling. It is third world. It is shameful. I am proud to work with a party, with our aboriginal affairs critic, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, and the member for Timmins—James Bay, who have been very loud and clear on the importance of looking at education for first nations. If we are not supporting young people at the formative stages of their life, whether it is child care or elementary school, there is a greater chance that they will continue to lack support throughout their lives.
Today I had a discussion with Band Councillor Okimaw of God's River first nation who told me about the need for a school in his community. He received a letter about renovations and it included a dollar amount that in no way responded to its needs. For years, the first nation has asked for a new school to address the lack of space for students.
I have mentioned Gods Lake Narrows, Nelson House, St. Theresa Point. All these communities lack schools. We should look at those aspects of our legislation and our policies, when we talk about prevention and education, and truly deal with some of the challenges young people face in regions like mine.
The government has been extremely absent with respect to recreation on first nations land. We saw commitments in the budget for recreation in general. However, I would argue, and I am sure many others would argue, that the needs of first nations are far more acute.
I represent the community of Shamattawa. Within two years of the arena being built, it was shut down. Nobody can go in because it is contaminated with black mould. Young people cannot use it. We have many months of -30° or -40° and young people cannot go out and be active. They have a small school gym and nothing else to accommodate their need to be active, to be healthy and to spend their time doing something positive in their communities.
Communities like Pukatawagan have been asking for special attention for its young people and for health concerns. Communities like Chemawawin First Nation Easterville had to close its drop-in centre because it faced a lack of funding.
Communities, where there might be space to hold some activities, have no money to pay for someone who could administer the activities and work with young people and give them ideas on how to contribute to the well-being of their community.
One does not have to be a rocket scientist to know the kind of measures that need to be taken to put an end to a lot of the negative activities, the gang activities, the kinds of things in which many young people get involved. All we have to do is listen.
Young people across our country are crying out for measures that they would like to see, whether it is prevention, education and training, employment or, more specifically, treatment. Young people have some of the most progressive and innovative views in these areas.
Why do we not take the time to listen to what young people in regions like mine and across Canada have to say? Many of them would hold the bill in a critical light and ask that we be proactive as an institution that represents them in terms of the challenges they face.