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House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.

Topics

National Aboriginal History MonthOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

National Aboriginal History MonthOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

National Aboriginal History MonthOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

June 4th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Sherbrooke also has a point of order.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, during oral question period, I asked the Minister of International Trade a question and made reference to a letter.

The letter was from the assistant director of the trade law section of the United States justice department. It was sent to three members of the tribunal that is considering the softwood lumber case between Canada and the United States. According to that letter, the United States is using House of Commons transcripts which indicate that the federal government considers loans and loan guarantees legal.

Under the circumstances, I seek the unanimous consent of the House to table the letter in this House.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Sherbrooke have the unanimous consent of the House to table this document?

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There is no consent.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the bill was last before the House, the hon. member for St. John's East had the floor. There are 14 minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for St. John's East.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, before question period I was on my feet speaking about Bill C-15, which brings about mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences, most of which already incur a life sentence.

Instead of having judicial discretion, which has been exercised for many decades in this country on the issue of drug offences with certain exceptions, as my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out earlier in his remarks, most of the drug offences have a range of sentencing which the judiciary is trained and experienced in applying to the facts and circumstances of a particular case.

My colleague pointed out an anomaly that existed prior to the introduction of the charter of rights and talked about this matter being debated when he was in law school. It was also the law when I was in law school that there was a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years for the importation of as much as a single marijuana cigarette. Someone coming across the border between the United States and Canada would be guilty, therefore, of importing marijuana into Canada and, upon conviction, the judge would have no choice but to impose a sentence of seven years imprisonment.

It was a matter of great consternation among law students in my day that there would be this manifest injustice in our law, that this was something that our law could contemplate, and yet individuals had been sentenced to seven years in jail for very minor offences, particularly when one thinks of the times when it was very common for people to go back and forth across the border.

My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh talked about the border between Windsor and Detroit where people go back and forth as a matter of course on an ongoing daily basis. Importation of that particular drug was a simple matter of people having a marijuana cigarette in their pockets, which would bring about a sentence of seven years imprisonment. People's lives were ruined by that law.

It was only the coming into law of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allowed a court to determine that this kind of penalty for that kind of offence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and was declared to be contrary to the then new Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We should not have to have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms to have sensible laws.

What we are seeing here, though, is the bringing about of new laws to provide mandatory minimum sentences when the current law is adequate. Why do I say it is adequate? It is adequate because the punishment fits the crime whereas mandatory minimum sentences do not bring about a system where the punishment fits the crime or the punishment is fair.

The American Bar Association Justice Kennedy commission in 2004 called on Congress to repeal mandatory minimum sentences saying that they tend to be tough on the wrong people. What that means is the people who are receiving the mandatory minimum sentences are not the people who need to be severely punished for their crimes.

The United States has a lot of mandatory minimum sentences for crimes, including drug offences. What the United States sentencing commission concluded, and this is the Kennedy commission we are talking about, was that mandatory minimum sentences failed to deter crime and reported that only 11% of federal drug defendants were high level drug dealers, 59% of crack defendants were street level drug dealers, and 5% of defendants were high level crack dealers. In other words, the people who were getting nailed by the mandatory minimum sentences and filling up the jails in the United States were the small-time operators, the street-level operators, not the people who were the major drug dealers, the ones who, our government says, this bill is aimed at.

We are going to see the same thing happen here in Canada and I know the member for Edmonton—St. Albert also, I think, accepted that this might not have the right kind of effect, that it might not actually get the people we want.

So, we do have a problem with it for that reason, too, that it would not be a fair system. It would not comply with the needs for reduction in crime. This was the conclusion of our justice department in 2002.

Members might say that was seven years ago, that we have better evidence now. In fact, no evidence was presented to the committee, or to this House, to indicate and show that mandatory minimum sentences would in fact deter or influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way.

This is what the Department of Justice said in 2002 and I will quote it once again for members who are listening and for those watching the proceedings on CPAC:

Mandatory minimum sentences do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. A variety of research methods concludes that treatment-based approaches are more cost effective than lengthy prison terms. MMS are blunt instruments that fail to distinguish between low and high-level, as well as hardcore versus transient drug dealers.

In other words, the supposed targets of these crimes, the kingpins, those who are involved heavily in organized crime, would be in the best position to negotiate lighter sentences and no-sentence deals with prosecutors, and in fact would not be affected by mandatory minimum sentences.

The problem is that it would move totally away from a rational, reasonable approach to dealing with drugs and the lack of an adequate drug strategy for this country.

There was an approach that was recognized as being valuable, a more balanced approach, the so-called four pillar approach, dealing with prevention, treatment, harm reduction and, yes, enforcement. Enforcement is extremely important. Unfortunately, the reality that has transpired in terms of what effort is being directed toward these four pillars is not a balanced approach. We are spending 30 times more on enforcement than we are on prevention. Drug prevention programs in this country account for 2.6% of the expenditure in relation to our drug strategy; whereas enforcement accounts for 73%. That shows that the priorities are wrong.

We want to reduce drug consumption in this country. We want to deter crime. We want to protect our citizens. That is the whole purpose: to protect the public, young people especially, and all those in our communities who could be harmed by the use of these harmful and addictive substances. However, we need to have a balanced approach, not the approach that has been adopted, that of having mandatory minimum sentences, which has been determined would not work.

Witnesses coming before Parliament, the 2 or 3 people out of the 16 who supported mandatory minimum sentences were asked to provide evidence or point to any study that would show that mandatory minimum sentence for drugs would be effective in deterring the use of drugs or the trafficking of drugs.

Not one person was able to show it was aware of any study. Here is a question that was asked. Has any study been found? I only want one that demonstrates that minimum prison sentences are good, correct and that they help with rehabilitation. Could someone answer that question? I would greatly appreciate it. Apparently, there is not. Witnesses were asked, but these did not come forward.

The majority of the witnesses that came before the committee wanted to scrap Bill C-15. Academics, lawyers, professors specializing in criminology, drug policy and psychology, a former judge, front line community workers and the criminal law branch of the Canadian Bar Association made up of defence council and prosecutors across the country said quite definitively that they did not believe the bill was effective. They believed it would be costly and ineffective and that it would not deter crime.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society, a national organization working with prisoners in the criminal justice system for over 100 years, are extremely interested in rehabilitation and criminal law matters. They are opposed to this because of the effects it would have on our system. We also have the benefit of the experience of our neighbours to the south, because they have had 30 years experience with mandatory minimum sentences. Their experience goes back a long time and they have dealt with drug sentences of significance. They are now looking the other way and starting to change their approach.

The American experts also oppose the effectiveness of this method of dealing with drug use and the pervasive, unfortunate and seriously criminally wrong trafficking of drugs. We already have laws that are doing the job of ensuring that people who are charged and convicted of drug trafficking have a sentence that is appropriate to the crime they have committed, to the circumstances and to the danger to society involved.

We hear the other side talking about the victims of drug crimes. We are well aware of these. Not only that, we are well aware that the judge who is sentencing in a situation like that will have those facts and circumstances before him or her and will use those powers to increase the sentence in any particular case.

We have had debate here today, indicating the extreme high cost, the effect on our correction system and the fact that there is zero proof that the bill will be effective in reducing crime or deterring the use and consumption of drugs, yet the bill is still before the House. I ask hon. members who plan to support the bill to change their minds and recognize that an evidence-based approach to legislation and public policy should be the order of the day and not some simple ideological approach, which seems to be behind the bill.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy the hon. member. We used to serve together on the public safety committee, and I always find his input and experience as both a provincial legislator and a lawyer helpful. However, with all due respect, I must disagree with his position with respect to Bill C-15.

The NDP is fond of submitting and arguing that 13 out of 16 of the witnesses who appeared before the committee were against the minimum mandatory sentences. I would like him to acknowledge a couple of simple points.

First, almost all of the witnesses were there at the invite of the NDP caucus, specifically the member for Vancouver East. They all said the same thing. The other thing they said, and this is critical, is that they were against prohibition. If they are against prohibition, they will be against minimum mandatory sentences. That is self-evident. If people are against it being illegal, they will be against minimum jail sentences.

Does the member support that? Does the member also support abolishing prohibition and making substances, including cocaine and methamphetamine, legal as the majority of those 13 witnesses said? He is looking for evidence that this law will work. Will he not acknowledge that while a person is incarcerated, he or she is unable to import, export or traffic in drugs during that period of incarceration?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member and I are both fellow lawyers in our non-political lives and past, and I always listen carefully to his arguments. Unfortunately in this case, what we are talking about is whether the bill is going to be effective in reducing the consumption of drugs in our society and in deterring trafficking and the other crimes that it sets in order to protect the public. That is the important thing, not whether someone we lock up is able to get access to drugs.

I understand that in our corrections system, it is not exactly a given that people do not have access to drugs, so it is really a red herring. One could say the same thing about locking up anybody. If we lock anybody up for life, it will be harder for that person to commit crimes in our communities.

That is not an attack on crime. This is an attack on criminals. We have criminals and we want to protect society by ensuring we have fewer of them. To have fewer of them, we need a policy that works, where people who go to jail and get rehabilitated see some hope for the future.

The protection of the public is about more than locking people up for long periods of time. We need a policy that makes sense, that is based on evidence. In this case, there is no evidence. The hon. member knows that anybody on a committee can suggest witnesses. If there were evidence to support the bill, the Conservatives would have had them there.

The member is a very clever, educated and knowledgeable person. I am sure if that were an issue before the committee, the Conservatives would have found at least one study, somebody, to prove that mandatory minimum sentences worked and that they would deter trafficking and reduce the consumption of drugs. They did not have one. They had the opportunity. They have had the opportunity here today and have not done it.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know that in my colleague's time in the House, he has also had an interest in Correctional Service Canada. He will know that just recently the federal correctional investigator, Howard Sapers, issued a report that contained warnings about the situation in Canada's prison system. He was talking about the dangers of overcrowding and the need for additional capacity, especially if these Conservative so-called tough on crime measures actually come into effect.

Could the member speak briefly about how this bill, which will increase mandatory minimum sentences and technically increase the length of stay that people have in jail, might affect situation in our prison system in light of Mr. Saper's recent report?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is an important consideration. We do have a serious crisis in our prison system.

In many cases, we now have cells that were designed for one person holding two people. It has been suggested that if this bill were to pass, the estimated increase in the number of people incarcerated would go up by 10% to 25%, so we will see not one person in a cell designed for one, but three.

Most of this will happen at the provincial level, another cost being passed on by the Government of Canada without any consultation. The legislation has a cost and nobody from the government side has put a price tag on this. The Conservatives are supposed to be fiscally prudent and responsible spenders of the public money. They pride themselves on this, yet they bring in legislation that would have not only an increased cost but excruciating conditions in our correctional institutions, leading not to greater rehabilitation but to greater resentment and suffering of prisoners. That is the end result of it.

Is there anybody from the other side who has a price tag to put on this, or who will say what the government is prepared to do to deal with the increased costs? Is the government going to build more prisons? Is it going to fill them up with people who are going to have mandatory minimums? What is it going to do to deal with the consequences of the legislation it has before the House?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I asked the hon. member two questions and he chose not to answer either of them, so I will try again.

Will the member not agree that while a person is incarcerated, that individual cannot import, export or traffic drugs? Does he agree with the witnesses who appeared before committee, who he is so fond of quoting, that prohibition is a bad idea and that serious drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, ought to be legalized? Does he agree with that?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, we have a situation where the government wants to incarcerate people for longer periods of time. This has nothing to do with prohibition, although I know the experience with prohibition was it was not successful when it came to alcohol, and it is not very successful when it comes to drugs.

That debate is a worthy to engage in, but we are talking about mandatory minimum sentences. How did the gangsters who were engaged in the alcohol trade get caught? Did they caught by Eliot Ness going around shooting up the shebeens, or did they get caught by finally taking action to get the money that Al Capone was not paying in taxes and putting him in jail for that?

Is he not aware that the people who are the real gangsters seem to manage to carry on their crimes whether they are in jail or not?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for St. John's East this question.

Given that the Department of Justice has issued two reports in recent years showing the lack of utility of mandatory minimum sentences and the fact that we live right next door to the largest experiment in the history of the world in terms of a similar failed incarceration-drug program, would the member care to speculate on the real reasons the Conservatives have introduced this bill, since they obviously have ignored the facts when it comes to its ability to reduce abuses of drugs?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I think the answer is pretty clear. I do not think we need to speculate. It is clear and the evidence is clear. Even the Department of Justice, up until the current government came to power, was clearly on the record as saying that there was no evidence to support mandatory minimum sentences for drug use and that it would not work. There was no measurable effect on either drug consumption or drug-related crimes.

The obvious reason is the one we hear all the time from the Minister of Justice. Every time he talks about being tough on crime, he is actually talking about being tough on criminals. He never talks about that without, in the same sentence, saying that the Conservatives are tough on crime and the other parties are not. That is the real reason they are doing it. It is all about politics and optics, not about reality.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to participate in the third reading debate of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I come to this debate surprised, once again. I am surprised by this place and the kinds of things that happen here, and I am surprised by the basis on which sometimes the government acts and sometimes this place acts.

What surprises me most is the inability and the refusal of the government and the Minister of Justice to provide any shred of evidence that this piece of legislation will have any of the effects they claim it will. There was an absolute inability by the Minister of Justice to provide one study that backs up that mandatory minimum sentences have any positive effect whatsoever on the illegal drug trade, that they have any effect whatsoever on the security of our communities, that they make any difference to the illegal drug trade in Canada.

We have gone over this time and time again. Members from this side of the House, this corner of the House, the member for Vancouver East, have asked time and time again for any study, any evidence that would show the efficacy of mandatory minimum sentences, especially with regard to drug crimes, and nothing has been forthcoming.

This has not gone unnoticed. The media have reported on it. There have been editorials in newspapers across Canada that the government has not been able to provide this evidence and has not done its due diligence. It has not done the work, and it has done this piece of legislation solely for crass political reasons.

I find it very difficult to support legislation that has no basis in fact. There may be people out there who believe this is a good idea, but my job as a member of Parliament is to examine the facts and to make sure we spend the time in this institution to debate issues, that when we put forward legislation and make changes to our criminal law, that they will to the best of our knowledge accomplish the goals that are acclaimed for them. We have none of that with this bill. We do not have that ability, because there is absolutely no evidence.

When the justice committee was studying Bill C-15, the member for Vancouver East was our New Democrat representative. The first witness to appear before the committee in its study of Bill C-15 was the Minister of Justice. The member's very first question for the minister was on this issue of whether there was evidence to support the claim that mandatory minimum sentences were an effective tool.

I will quote from the record of that committee where she asked the minister the following:

One question I have for you is this. What evidence do you or the department or your government have that mandatory minimums will work for drug crimes, and will you table that evidence? I think we need to see what studies you rely on.

They discussed a couple of other issues, and the minister did not address that first request. She asked again:

I respect your opinion on that, but my question is what evidence do you have that mandatory minimums for these drug crimes will actually work, that they're actually deterrents? What evidence is there?

There was no answer from the minister in his response to that question, so the member for Vancouver East asked again:

Do you have evidence?

The minister said:

We have the evidence that Canadians have told us that.

That was his response.

The member for Vancouver East asked again, “Any studies?” And the minister did not respond to that again.

She went on. She did not give up. She was determined to find out if there was at least one study that the government was relying on. A minute later, she said:

I take it you have no evidence, though, about mandatory minimums.

The minister responded again in the same way he had before. The member for Vancouver East said again:

But you have no evidence to offer.

And the minister still did not provide anything.

This was a regular theme through that committee and through that meeting. It was also an issue for witnesses who appeared. We know that the majority of witnesses who appeared before the committee did not support this legislation. The three witnesses who did support the legislation also could not provide any evidence or any studies that mandatory minimum sentences were effective in dealing with drug crime.

We went through that whole process, and no one from the government, the minister, or the witnesses who supported the legislation could provide any evidence that it would be able to accomplish any of its purported goals.

This is very, very serious. This is a blatant dereliction of duty. I cannot imagine. I said at the beginning of my remarks that this place sometimes shocks me. I am absolutely shocked that we would proceed with serious legislation like this without one piece of evidence, one study, to back up the need for this change in our criminal law.

We already have serious penalties for trafficking, exporting, importing and production for the purposes of trafficking. The maximum penalty for that is life imprisonment. There can be no penalty in Canadian law more serious than life imprisonment. That already exists for these crimes.

Many of the witnesses who appeared pointed to other studies and to other experiences that showed that mandatory minimum sentences were completely ineffectual.

The justice department's own study, in 2002, indicated that:

Mandatory minimum sentences do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way.

It was not the NDP who said that, it was not some drug-crazed hippy, the Department of Justice said that.

The minister claimed he could not produce any evidence. He could have produced evidence against his position, but he chose not to do that too. He chose not to listen to the evidence from his own department.

In 2005, the justice department also reported the following:

There is some indication that minimum sentences are not an effective sentencing tool...

Yet again, the Department of Justice said that mandatory minimum sentencing is not an effective tool. I wish the government had paid attention to the research and the work of its own department in this regard.

On the other side of the equation, people who are concerned about this legislation can produce many studies showing that these are ineffective and inappropriate tools.

The John Howard Society appeared before the standing committee that was studying the bill. It provided summaries of 17 studies from the United States and the United Kingdom on mandatory minimum sentences, lengthy sentencing terms, and recidivism, which all found that longer prison terms do not reduce recidivism. They do not stop crimes from being committed. Surely that has to be the goal of this legislation. The John Howard Society cited 18 other studies, which it did not provide summaries of, that came to the same conclusion.

Detailed analysis from the United States Sentencing Commission, which was presented at committee, found that mandatory minimum sentences go after low-level criminals and they are ineffective in deterring crime. Mandatory minimum sentences are even ineffective in who they target in the criminal community. They go after what is called “the low hanging fruit”, the minor players. The big players who are causing the serious problems, the ones who cause serious disruption in our society, the ones who make the huge profits, are not touched by this kind of legislation.

That evidence came from the United States Sentencing Commission, when it looked at its own failed attempts to use these laws in the United States.

The reality is that the United States did fail. Back in 1973, New York pioneered these kinds of mandatory minimum sentences. They were called “the Rockefeller laws”, and they were a colossal failure. New York, California, Michigan, Delaware, Massachusetts, all the states that went into mandatory minimum sentences are now repealing them. They found that they did not make their communities safer, they did not stop involvement in crime, and they sucked up huge amounts of taxpayers' dollars for the prison system, usually at the expense of the education system.

We know mandatory minimum sentences have been a failure just by examining the evidence from the U.S., which went heavily into this process. Why the Conservative government would use a process similar to the failed process in the United States is beyond me when the evidence is so clear.

We heard at the standing committee from former counsel to the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Eric Sterling, who said clearly and emphatically that his decision to promote mandatory minimum sentences earlier in his career was probably “the greatest mistake of my entire career of over 30 years in the practice of law”.

This is a very distinguished lawyer, who worked in the Congress of the United States, who is a counsel to a congressional committee, the Committee on the Judiciary, who is basically recanting his position in favour of mandatory minimum sentences. Surely this is the kind of experience we should be learning from, not completely dismissing and ignoring as the government has chosen to do.

We know that mandatory minimum sentences have failed to reduce drug use and failed to increase safety and security in communities. They have raised the prices of drugs, increased the profitability of the drug trade, and they have lowered the purity of the drugs. They have increased organized crime in the communities in the states where they have been implemented.

We also know from evidence presented at the committee from a woman named Deborah Small from Break the Chains, that in the state of New York where these laws were implemented, they targeted the poor and racialized minorities. She testified at the committee that “while drug use is pervasive among every social or economic group, 95% of the people incarcerated for drugs in New York were poor African Americans and Latinos”.

They target the most vulnerable people in our society. The big traders still get away with the crimes they commit.

When before the committee, Mr. Sterling also pointed out the huge expenditures that these laws require for enforcement and incarceration. He said:

In 1986, when we enacted the mandatory minimums, the Federal Bureau of Prisons' expenditure was $862 million. It went up to $994 million the next year. Two years later, it was $1.2 billion... In 1991, it was $2.1 billion.

The President's request for fiscal 2010 is over $6 billion.

There is an astronomical increase in prison costs related to these laws. Why would we go down that road when we know the cost and the ineffectiveness of them and when there is no evidence?

I think it is very important to consider all these issues when we are looking at this legislation. One of the bizarre aspects of this bill is that there is mention of drug treatment courts buried in it. Somehow this is supposed to be the saving grace of this legislation.

I think drug treatment courts are an important step to take. I am not sure that everything has been written yet about their efficacy in dealing with drug crimes. The jury is still out on them, as well. The reality is that there are only six drug courts in Canada, so they are very limited in scope.

The reality, too, is that with drug treatment courts we need the treatment spaces to make it effective. With any drug strategy, we need treatment spaces to make any effective progress. We know that there are not enough treatment spaces, and that is probably because we spend 73% of our resources on enforcement and only 14% on treatment in the area of drugs. We have to reverse that before we are going to make any progress at all.

Appearing before the committee, Chief Vernon White of the Ottawa police said, “I'm not a treatment specialist, I'm not a psychologist, to be fair, but I can tell you as a cop and as a parent and as a community member that there are some people out there who need this”, meaning treatment, “and we don't have near the capacity for those who want it, let alone those we need to persuade to take it”.

Even the police are acutely aware of the lack of treatment spaces. We need to make sure we have a treatment space for someone addicted to drugs that they can get into the moment they make the decision to seek treatment. If we miss that moment, we have missed the boat. We know it will be weeks and months before that possibility comes around again.

Until we can make that connection between the determination to seek treatment and the availability of a space, we will continue to fail these people and our communities, and we will fail to make any progress on these issues. That is a huge continuing failing of our approach on this issue.

This bill limits judicial discretion, and I, for one, want to stand up for the ability of our judges to have discretion when they come to sentencing, when they come to do their important work. They are the ones we charge to sit and listen carefully to all the testimony and assess the circumstances presented. I want to make sure that judges have the ability to use their discretion. That is what we ask them to do. It is a tough job. Sometimes they make mistakes—we all do—but I have great faith in our judges to make those decisions. I am very skeptical of constant attempts to limit the discretion of judges when it comes to sentencing. That is what this mandatory minimum sentencing bill will do with regard to these drug crimes.

I believe prohibition is a failure. We know the historical record shows that alcohol prohibition was a huge failure. If people would care to trace the parallels between alcohol prohibition programs, that whole legal framework, and drug prohibition, they will see the very direct parallels.

During alcohol prohibition in the United States there were huge problems with gang violence. There was all that mythology about gang violence associated with the alcohol trade during prohibition. It is exactly what we are seeing in Canada now, thanks to drug prohibition and the huge profitability of the illegal drug trade. Until we deal with the issue of the profitability of black market drugs, we will never be able to address the problems of crime, the social problems that arise from drug use.

When we look at the record of alcohol prohibition, we see the safety issues associated with black market alcohol production, such as exploding stills, which caused huge problems and burned people's homes down. We see those same kinds of problems with marijuana grow ops or crystal meth labs in our communities today. Exactly the same kind of effect that we know was caused by alcohol prohibition is happening now because of drug prohibition.

We saw huge family dislocation in the period of alcohol prohibition and we are certainly seeing that now with respect to criminal activity and addiction issues associated with the drug trade. We saw a lot of untreated addictions back in the period of alcohol prohibition and we are seeing it today. When a substance is illegal, there is a huge stigma about acknowledging one's addiction and seeking treatment for it, because of the criminal activity that is usually related to it. We need to address that issue as well.

During the period of alcohol prohibition, we also saw huge problems associated with the kinds of illegal products that were produced and the poisonous nature of some of them. Certainly we have seen that today with impure drugs and the problems they cause for drug users in our communities.

If we look at the historical record and try to learn from the experience of alcohol prohibition, we would see the failure of drug prohibition. We would even have a model for how to approach rectifying that situation.

We need to address the issue of profitability. One member likes to ask the question, “Is it not good to put a drug dealer off the street and into jail for a number of years, and does it not make our community safer just by doing that?” No, it does not, because the moment we put one of those people in jail, there is somebody ready to take his or her place. The reason someone is ready to take that person's place is because it is so profitable to be involved in the illegal drug trade.

Until we address that issue, it does not matter how long we put somebody away for, we have missed the boat on addressing the issue and the real problem. We need to take that very seriously.

I do not think there is anyone in the House who does not want to address the very serious problems related to drugs and the use of drugs in our society. I am certainly one of them, but I want to do it on the basis of what is effective, what will make the important changes, and what will ensure people get the help they need. The road that the Conservatives have chosen is one that has been proven to be wrong, that they cannot support with any evidence as to its efficacy, and we need to hold them accountable.

I have heard quietly from some of my Liberal colleagues that they do not like this bill but they are going to vote for it anyway because they think it is popular in the community. I want to challenge them to do the right thing. They know this is not going to make their communities safer. This is not going to address the problems that people are concerned about in their communities. Why pretend otherwise?

We are not sent here to pretend to produce solutions. We are here to do a job, to examine what comes before us and make decisions based on the best evidence we can get.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, though I do not always agree with the member's sentiments, he certainly does make a lucid presentation in the House and I do believe he is a sincere advocate for helping people with substance abuse problems.

On that note, I want to question him about the investments that I have secured in the Ottawa area for Police Chief Vern White's s.t.e.p. initiative, which includes both treatment for those addicts who are already hooked on drugs, and beds to segregate them from the sources of those addictions, and also education for people who are at risk, to prevent them from becoming involved in a life of drugs in the first place.

On Monday I will be holding a benefit in my constituency that will raise funds for that program, in addition to the $1 million that our government has already provided. The funds from this benefit will also go to the Harvest House initiative, which is a non-governmental body that takes in people with substance abuse problems for six months or a year. It accepts no government money but has an enormously high success rate in turning the lives of young people around. That is very much part of this government's approach to fighting the scourge of drug addiction.

I wonder if the member would agree with us and find common ground with me on the great potential and the present-day success of the Harvest House initiative and the s.t.e.p. program investment, led by Ottawa police chief Vern White.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I have to say, it is great that members of the community, organizations in the community, and the member of Parliament for Nepean—Carleton are prepared to be involved in these kinds of programs. We need to do that.

However, it strikes me like the old argument: Would it not be great if someday we did not have to hold bake sales for education but that the armed forces would have to hold a bake sale to have funds for carrying out war?

It would be really nice if governments could fund treatment appropriately so that these individual organizations did not have to do this kind of fundraising to support their programs, that we had programs on such a scale that people could get into them when they needed to, rather than having to wait.

When Chief White from Ottawa appeared before the committee, he talked about how programs were failing, how we were failing people with addictions because we did not have treatment places for them to go to as soon as they needed them.

We know that is true in Vancouver as well, where we are failing people who have made a determination that they need to deal with their addiction issues but they cannot get into a treatment program. When they wait, they backslide and the determination sometimes fails. We have to get those people into those programs immediately.

We also have to make sure that, when they come out of programs, they have transitional housing. Housing is a crucial issue around the issues of addiction. We need to make sure that people have decent housing to go to, housing that is probably not associated with their former routines and former neighbourhood and perhaps their former friends, so that they can make a clear break and establish themselves in a new pattern of life.

There are a number of issues related to all of this.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his contribution to this debate. I listened intently as he provided a critique of prohibition and drew some analogies to prohibition earlier in the last century regarding alcohol. I suppose there are some parallels with respect to the safety of stills versus the safety of grow ops.

My specific question to him is this: If he is against prohibition, is he only against prohibition with respect to cannabis, or does his opposition to prohibition extend to harder drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine?

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I have made it very clear in the House that I oppose drug prohibition. I have cited examples of countries that have gone down that road.

The other day in debate at report stage I talked about a study that was recently done about the situation in Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2001. That was nine years ago, and it has been a success in every category. In every area of empirical measurement, it has been a success. Drug use is actually down in Portugal since decriminalization. Crime is down. All these issues have been addressed, and they included serious drugs such as heroin and cocaine in their decriminalization.

I think it is a model that the Conservatives should study. At least there is evidence. At least there is a plan. At least there are laws in place. At least there is a system of regulation in place that has been proven to be effective.

Portugal is the only country of the European Union that has decriminalized all drugs and done so successfully. I think that is an example that we should all take very, very seriously in this place, because it would improve the quality of life in our communities. It would give us dollars to spend in the appropriate places, instead of on enforcement and incarceration. It would improve the lives of people who are addicted to drugs and it would improve the lives of our communities.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would really like to thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas for an outstanding contribution to this debate on Bill C-15.

His remarks are intelligent. They are rational. They are thoughtful. It is not all wound up in playing this game of fear with people. It is about honesty, and I just want to say that if more people debated like the member for Burnaby—Douglas, this would be a heck of a lot better place. So I would really like to thank the member for a terrific overview that he gave on this bill and what its problems are.

One thing that did strike me is that, on the one hand, we have a solution that is coming down from the top. We have a Conservative government that is laying on this heavy-handed regime of mandatory minimums, yet on the other side we have something like Insite, a safer injection facility in east Vancouver, on East Hastings Street, that was actually a grassroots approach. It came from the community. This is a community that began to take on the issue and find ways to solve the serious problems we were facing in east Vancouver with drugs. Yet this is the same government that is trying to shut it down.

It just seems so at odds that, on the one hand, we have things that are actually working and that are saving people's lives, literally, and the Conservatives are trying to do everything they can to shut them down. They are appealing the court decision, trying to shut down Insite, and on the other hand, trying to layer on this very radical approach of mandatory minimums, as the member says, with no evidence that it will ever work.

I wonder if he would comment on those two approaches. I know what I believe is the right one, but what are his thoughts about that?