Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a friendly remark before addressing the actual substance of Bill C-15, which is extremely important because it will implement the Conservative government's anti-drug strategy.
When I was first elected to this House, people said that when the Liberals were in power, they governed like the Conservatives, and when they were in opposition, they behaved like the NDP. Today, listening to my colleague talk about Bill C-15, I learned that Conservative policies haunt the Liberals, whether they form the government or the opposition.
That being said, this is an extremely important bill that is very disappointing. First of all, we have been hearing a lot of rhetoric from certain members suggesting that, if we seek some sort of alternative to minimum sentences and misguided crackdowns, it means we are going easy on organized crime in our communities. This kind of insinuation makes it extremely difficult to properly debate the issue.
The Bloc Québécois is against minimum sentences. We have maintained that position from the beginning of our existence, and I will explain why. We oppose such sentences, unlike certain parties who say they are against them but voted in favour of Bill C-268. I imagine my NDP colleague will want to explain that when he gets a chance to speak, which will be soon.
We are opposed to minimum sentences and I will explain why. We do not, however, need any lectures about the need for vigilance against organized crime. I myself was the first member to introduce an anti-gang bill in this House, at a time when bombs were going off in Montreal, there were gang wars going on, and yet the elected representatives and officials of the government of the day were saying that there was no need for any new legislation and that organized crime could be broken up using the provisions on conspiracy.
That said, the Bloc Québécois is also responsible for the successful abolition of the $1000 bill, which was obviously a favourite of major organized crime syndicates. The former Bloc member for Charlesbourg, Richard Marceau, was the one who, in the dying days of the Martin regime, convinced the government to pass legislation reversing the burden of proof in connection with the proceeds of crime. I myself put forward a motion in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that would be instrumental in cracking down on the most criminal groups, one of whom of course is the Hells Angels.
So we have an impressive record that is clear evidence of our commitment, our vigilance and our desire to always foil organized crime and to keep our legislation up to date, since it is well known that organized crime is a constantly evolving phenomenon.
The government's problem is its ideological stubbornness, which is so deeply rooted that it sees everything in black and white. The Liberals, unfortunately, are no different in this respect.
Of course, when it is a matter of major drug trafficking networks, no one in this House would object to tough penalties. I am in favour of them and so, I am sure, are all my colleagues. If an individual gets involved in major organized crime and is involved in drug imports or exports, this has harmful effects on the legitimate economy of our communities and on the members of the community who get involved with these substances. We agree that the penalties need to be as tough as possible.
We do, however, believe that in the administration of these penalties there is a certain phenomenon at play. A judge assesses the context, and then has total freedom to reach his decision after having heard and absorbed all of the evidence, heard the witnesses, and of course examined the text of the law. That phenomenon is called judicial discretion.
The problem with this government is that, for basically ideological reasons, it has embraced mandatory minimum sentences. When the Minister of Justice appeared before the committee, my colleague from Vancouver and I asked him, notwithstanding the fact that mandatory minimum sentences were part of the Conservative election platform, whether anyone from his department had assessed their impact. In other words, is there a correlation between including mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code and the deterrent effect sought and eventually observed? The answer is no. And yet, since becoming Minister of Justice, like his predecessor, he has been unable to provide studies that show conclusive evidence in support of mandatory minimum sentences.
Not only are mandatory minimum sentences an illusory ideology, but they also have an adverse effect on the administration of justice. In what way? Justice Paradis, a former judge from Vancouver who does not speak one word of French, told us that when he was on the bench and had to hear cases, minimum mandatory sentences made him uncomfortable. He also told us that when attorneys have to lay charges involving a mandatory minimum sentence that will tie the judge's hands, they prefer to choose other charges.
It was not the Bloc or the member for Hochelaga or our NDP colleagues who said that, but a retired judge who appeared before the committee.
I hope that we will eventually see the day when the Conservative government does away with its ideological dogma. Why not provide police officers with more tools? Every time our party has had the chance, it has supported putting more police officers in communities, broadening electronic surveillance and giving police forces more sophisticated investigative mandates. We agree that we need to fight organized crime and that we need a number of tools to do it. But we will not win by instituting mandatory minimum sentences.
The bill before us addresses trafficking. One kind of trafficking that is easy to condemn involves networks of people who import and export drugs. Often, seizures produce tens of kilos of cocaine and other controlled substances. The people involved are linked to organized crime, such as the Hells Angels and other similar groups seeking to profit from illegal activity and corrupt our society. But if four students get together to celebrate the end of classes and one of them has a joint that he or she passes on to another, according to the letter of the law, that constitutes a drug trafficking violation.
That can set in motion a mandatory minimum sentencing mechanism. For example, with respect to drug trafficking, thanks to God and the members who supported the amendment, the committee managed to get rid of the mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking in controlled substances if the person charged is in possession of fewer than five plants. A six-month minimum sentence still applies if the person is in possession of between 5 and 201 plants. Clearly, that is excessive. Those of us who are against mandatory minimum sentencing agree that just because three students have a little marijuana, that mechanism does not necessarily have to apply. That does not mean that we are inviting our fellow citizens to use marijuana. The Bloc Québécois is not suggesting that marijuana is part of Canada's food guide.
We know it is a drug, it can create dependency, and this is not desirable in a person’s life. Of course, we hope, and we sincerely call for there to be awareness campaigns to prevent any kind of drug use. However, the prohibition route is really not the one we should be going down.
In fact, in that committee, when we considered Bill C-15, we also heard from law enforcement officials from the United States, and in particular Washington, who offered the example of New York. When we look at the American example, the results we see are striking. In terms of the administration of justice, the United States was the first to go down the mandatory minimum sentence road. But the states that have adopted mandatory minimum sentences are not the states that have won the war on drugs. There is no correlation between mandatory minimum sentences and winning the war on drugs. So as a society, we do better to put our efforts into awareness when we are dealing with something like trafficking in small quantities.
We should remember that on the last day of the Paul Martin government, this Parliament failed to adopt an alternative approach to penalties for marijuana offences. Once again, I would repeat that I have never smoked either cigarettes or marijuana, and that is not something I feel a need for in my life. But as a society, should we be putting offences relating to cannabis and marijuana and offences involving trafficking in large quantities, engaged in by groups like the Hells Angels, on the same plane in the offence scheme? That is where the bill makes no sense. We would have liked to see this distinction made.
For example, on the last day of the Paul Martin government, the Bloc Québécois had introduced this itself in this Chamber, and it was the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie who led the charge. And lead it he did. He is a very active member and he is much loved by his constituents. He is the green conscience of our party, and the connection between his green conscience and all the battles he leads can be seen.
So when we are looking at small quantities of marijuana, we would have hoped to see an offence scheme adopted that favoured fines over criminal penalties. In fact, in a few days, we will be tabling a report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights about driving while intoxicated. Without disclosing the recommendations, which are confidential, I can say that our committee will be proposing a somewhat less enforcement-oriented approach than is now contained in the Criminal Code.
It is too bad this government did not heed the alarm sounded by extremely knowledgeable witnesses such as Line Beauchesne, a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa. She reminded us that since the mid-19th century, the federal government has taken a prohibitionist approach. The government thought that the sanctions in the Criminal Code would deter people. That prohibitionist logic has not worked.
Obviously, that does not mean that I hope we legalize drugs and make them widely available. That means that we have to take different approaches to this problem. It is not as though we had a bill that increased the maximum penalties, for example. We have never had a problem with increasing maximum penalties. The government should have gone after major traffickers. Drug imports and exports are worth billions of dollars.
In 2001, the Auditor General determined that even with the whole existing repressive approach, the whole arsenal and all the money for the police—we are talking about millions of dollars—law enforcement authorities were able to seize less than 10% of the drugs on the Canadian market.
We are in favour of going after the major trafficking networks connected with the Hells Angels. That is why I want to mention a motion I have introduced in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I hope that before long, we will be living in a society where membership in the Hells Angels will be an offence in and of itself. I hope that there will be a list. The Bloc Québécois is waging this battle, and I want to acknowledge that we are supported by government members, the Liberals and the NDP.
We will not really address the drug problem with mandatory minimum penalties. The Hells Angels and other criminal groups—there are 38 in Canada—make a living from selling drugs. But if we succeeded in getting rid of these groups, would we not be solving part of the problem?
Another amendment was passed in committee requiring parliamentarians to conduct a review. We will therefore have to review the legislation. I do not know what the composition of the House will be at that point, and I do not know whether I will have the pleasure of taking part. Still, we passed an amendment stipulating that, two years after the section comes into force, there is to be a detailed examination of this legislation and the effects of its application together with a cost-benefit analysis of mandatory minimum sentences by the committee of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament, which Parliament designates for this purpose.
Obviously, this is increasingly common with bills. I recall our adopting such a provision for new reproductive technologies. I think parliamentarians adopted it when the set of regulations on tobacco was either passed or under consideration. It is one way for them to get feedback and verify a law's effectiveness. We could have objectives as lawmakers, but are these objectives met once the bill is passed? That, obviously, is a whole other matter.
We would have been more comfortable with the idea of aggravating circumstances rather than minimum sentences. The Criminal Code—as my colleagues no doubt know—provides in section 718 that a court may take into account a number of circumstances specific to a context and impose a harsher sentence.
We support, of course, the imposition of a harsher sentence when an offence is committed for the benefit or at the direction of a criminal organization. We agree that when an individual committing an offence uses or tries to use violence it should be considered an aggravating circumstance, as should the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence.
We obviously agree that when an offence is committed within a school, in school grounds or in a place frequented by young people it should be considered an aggravating circumstance.
We would, however, not have wanted these specific circumstances to culminate in a mandatory mechanism that leaves no room for legal discretion. I refer of course to mandatory minimum sentences. That seems a mistake to us.
Those are the comments I wanted to make on Bill C-15. We will not support it in the vote at third reading.