There is plea bargaining; I understand that. If we want to talk about what happens in the real world, in the courts, we will see examples of where they will sacrifice prosecuting some low-level participant in criminal activity for an opportunity to get at the bigger kingpins, as it were.
There are all kinds of these things out there and people have to understand that. I am not a lawyer and I am not an expert in the courts, but I can say as a layperson that if we are dealing with an indictable offence that is subject to imprisonment for life and we say that we are going to also add a mandatory minimum of one year, that tells me that this life thing is not real. Why did the government members not explain that? They have to explain it.
There is a reason I want to speak to this bill. The member for Moncton--Riverview--Dieppe mentioned something about my age and that I have been around a long time. Well, it has been 15 years, but I have learned a lot.
Back on October 30, 1995 in the 35th Parliament, I stood in this place and gave a 40-minute speech. At the time, lead speakers actually had 40 minutes. I was the chair of the health subcommittee on Bill C-7 regarding the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This bill actually started under the former Mulroney government but was never dealt with. It finally came before the 35th Parliament and the subcommittee was set up because it was not just a problem of health; there were justice and criminal issues that had to be addressed. There was a whole bunch of issues within society about decriminalizing marijuana and the advent of designer drugs. All of a sudden, people were getting very clever on how to manufacture drugs which were not even known. They had different chemistries and names and they were not included on the list. As a consequence of second reading debate, we found that it was necessary to expand the list.
A subcommittee was established. The member for Hochelaga was on that committee as well. There were thousands of communications and representations and dozens of submissions and witnesses on broad aspects. One of the important reasons we were doing that is that Canada, which is a signatory to many international conventions, had been identified as having failed to live up to its international obligations and had become basically a shipment point for the export of drugs to other countries. This was a very serious issue. We were under a great deal of pressure. I will refer to that a little later.
When we were finished our work, it was clear that it was important that we not only have a national drug strategy but that we also have the tools and plans to make that drug strategy work. When a drug strategy works, it is not just a matter of someone having done something, whether it be possession or trafficking, being a given a penalty, going to jail and everything is fine; it involves people. There are people involved in drugs at all levels. There are users, traffickers, the people who are financing and everybody in between. People are hurt. Families are hurt.
As has been discussed by a number of members, there is the importance of having some balance, such as a harm reduction strategy. How do we deal with these things? There is the aspect of a four pillar approach: harm reduction, prevention, rehabilitation and treatment, and enforcement. It requires much more.
This bill is simply a proxy for the government to say it is getting tough on crime and there will be a mandatory minimum for terrible crimes. Incidentally, and the government does not tell us this, people are subject to life imprisonment already. It did not go far enough.
As a matter of fact, the other thing government members did not mention in their speeches was proposed section 8 in Bill C-15. Proposed section 8 states:
The court is not required to impose a minimum punishment unless it is satisfied that the offender, before entering a plea, was notified of the possible imposition of a minimum punishment for the offence in question and of the Attorney General’s intention to prove any factors in relation to the offence that would lead to the imposition of a minimum punishment.
In other words, notwithstanding what the bill prescribes, the crown attorney has to give notice before someone enters a plea. There is discretion, in fact, if Parliament passes this bill, notwithstanding what members from the Conservative Party said that it is going to be mandatory and people are going to jail, no, the bill hands it over to the courts, to the crown attorneys, plea bargaining and all of that other stuff.
I should mention that the speech I gave was on October 30, 1995. It was significant in my life, and I think in Canada's life, because that was the day of the last Quebec referendum. That is why there were many people engaged in other things. I was asked to give the lead speech on it.
At the time, we debated, we discussed, and the committee went for over two years to address all the issues and concerns that had been raised at second reading. It went to committee. We started getting feedback from our international partners in terms of dealing with drugs, and Canada was a laggard and needed to do something.
Interestingly, many of the points now raised in this debate are the same issues and points that were raised in 1995.
We could not legislate a number of these things. These were recommendations coming out of the committee. These were pleas on behalf of a committee, and a committee report. It said not only does the bill have to be dealt with, we have to deal with scheduling of drugs and with designer drugs. We have to deal with fortified drug houses, for example, organized crime. We have to deal with rehabilitation and treatment and we have to deal with prevention. We could not put that into a bill because that was beyond the scope of the bill, but we reported on those things.
Still today, the solution to all problems of the government is that if people commit an offence it is throwing them in jail. I suppose that is fine for some, but what is the reality in the courts where people are going through the system and they are being judged with regard to the offences that are being referred to?
Back in 1995, the courts were overcrowded. There was no money for rehabilitation and treatment. There were no resources to have effective prevention programs. There was no comprehensive strategy to address the whole family of problems in the world of drugs. There was a plea by Parliament back in 1995, and the same kinds of problems continue today.
The fastest growing industry in the United States now is the prison industry: building jails. It is a system where if one commits an offence, one goes to jail. They say, “We will squeeze them in there. We will keep building jails. We will start privatizing them.” It is a growth industry. It is the biggest growth industry in the United States.
In a small way we are following that same kind of pattern, that when we have crimes we put people in jail and that takes care of it. However, eventually those people come out of jail, they go back into society. Many of them are repeat offenders.
Our system of justice incorporates the whole principle of rehabilitation, but it does not often work. If there are no resources, how can we expect people to come out of jail with a sense that they did something wrong, it was not a good thing, it hurt a lot of people, their life is going to get fixed up and they are going to have the support to make sure they continue on the straight road.
That is not part of the Conservative philosophy. The Conservatives' philosophy is, “They are criminals. We are putting them in jail and we will throw away the key. We are getting tough on crime.”
I think the country is probably worse off if all we do is continue to throw people in jail without trying to deal with the importance of rehabilitation, treatment and crime prevention. Where are those things?
As the federal government, we can pass laws that can amend the Criminal Code and drug laws. Who enforces those? Who is responsible? The responsibility for dealing with crime on the street is substantively within provincial jurisdictions. They, most of them, are the ones that are responsible for the courts. They are responsible for the programs. They are responsible for most of the jails. We have federal judges, but there are also provincial judges.
If we continue to pass laws that pass on more onerous responsibilities and all they are doing is filling up jails, who is going to pay for it? How are they going to be able to afford to discharge those responsibilities that are thrown at them by the federal level of government?
There has to be a shared responsibility. If the system is going to work, we need a strategy that covers all the possible approaches to dealing with serious crime whether or not there is a possibility of rehabilitation or appropriate treatment to deal with people who have been in the drug system. We have to deal with prevention.
I became a member of Parliament in 1993, and the first committee I was on was the health committee. I remember health officials coming before the health committee to talk about the state of our health system in Canada. They told us at the time that 75% of the money spent in the health system was on fixing health problems, addressing illness, and that only 25% was spent on prevention.
I will never forget it. There were 200 green rookies who had just been elected. Officials came before a committee of Parliament, and they concluded that how we spend our health dollars in Canada, with 25% on prevention and 75% on dealing with problems after we had them, was not sustainable. That has stayed with me all my years as a member of Parliament: the value of prevention versus punishment.
Our health system has tried to move in that direction, and it is very difficult, but I think that a dollar spent on prevention provides much more benefit in terms of better health for Canadians than a dollar spent on fixing problems and cures. We have to deal with it before it happens. That is part of why I wanted to speak on this.
I want the government members to know that I do not have a problem with mandatory minimums conceptually. If the courts are not able to do their jobs for one reason or another, there should at least be some period of incarceration. We need to defend the principles. The Liberals brought in mandatory minimums before the Conservatives. We had mandatory minimums in Canada, though not in all areas. It was not a philosophical thing, but it was not across the board.
However, the government seems to think that all it has to do is bring in 10 or 12 justice bills, prescribe mandatory minimums right across the board and that will tell everybody it is getting tough on crime. All it is really doing is filling up the jails and making angry people who will come right back to society. It is going to get worse, and it has in many cases, although some of the statistics I have seen seem to fly in the face of that in certain areas and for certain types of crime.
If we look at what happens in a period of recession and economic duress, the property crime in Canada goes up. It will track unemployment. It did in the last recession, and it will do so in this one too. That is going to put more stress on the system. We have to learn from history about how this works.
I want to conclude by saying that if the members are going to speak in this place, I do not want them to read the bill or give me all the provisions; I want them to tell me why we are doing this and to tell me the truth, that these provisions have life sentences associated with them.
However, proposed section 8 with regard to mandatory minimums sets conditions and provisions whereby the crown attorney and the people in the courts can basically decide that there will not be a mandatory minimum. Not one of those members said it, because it takes away from their argument that we are getting tough on crime. We are simply delegating that decision to the courts. The bill is not setting mandatory minimums; we are delegating that opportunity to the courts. There is much more that goes on in the courts. The members have not addressed it, and they have not done their jobs.