Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to participate in the debate on the Senate's message to this House of Commons on Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act.
Bill C-10 is a comprehensive crime bill that addresses a number of issues: supporting the victims of terrorism; strengthening sentences for child sexual offences, serious drug offences and violent and serious offences vis-à-vis the use of conditional sentences; enhancing post-sentencing measures to enhance offender accountability and management; strengthening the youth criminal justice system's ability to deal with serious repeat and violent offenders; and enhancing the ability of the immigration system to protect vulnerable foreign workers against abuse and exploitation, including through the use of human trafficking.
While I will focus my remarks on the provisions of Bill C-10 that deal with serious drug offences, I want to clearly state to all members of this House my unequivocal support for Bill C-10 in its entirety and also for the amendments as proposed by our colleagues in the upper chamber, the Senate.
This part of the bill has been before us or before the Senate on several distinct occasions. I would remind all members of the House that the portion of Bill C-10, which proposes various mandatory minimum sentences, falls within the ambit of Canada's national anti-drug strategy. That strategy proposes a two-track approach: one that would be tough on drug crime and the other that would focus on the victims of drug crime.
The national anti-drug strategy includes three action plans: first, preventing illicit drug use; second, treating those with illicit drug dependencies; and finally, combatting the production and distribution of illicit drugs.
The action plan to combat the production and distribution of illicit drugs contains a number of elements, including ensuring that strong and adequate penalties are in place for serious drug crimes. It is within this context that the bill must be viewed if one is to view it fairly.
Moreover, the bill follows through on one of the key elements of the priority of the government to tackle crime, which this government has repeatedly identified as one of its key commitments.
There is wide and vast support for the bill from a great number of ordinary Canadians, Canadians who are concerned about drug abuse, Canadians who are concerned that marijuana grow operations and methamphetamine production and trafficking are out of control, and Canadians who are very concerned that these activities pose a serious threat to their own safety and the safety of the communities in which they live.
The legislation also has the wide support of police officer organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Police Boards.
We have responsibilities as legislators to ensure that our criminal law stays on top of serious developments in our society. Over the last decade, domestic operations related to the production and distribution of marijuana and synthetic drugs have dramatically increased, resulting in very serious problems in several regions of Canada.
I live in and represent Edmonton and Edmonton is certainly one of the regions in Canada that has seen an epidemic growth in organized crime and the violence that is associated with it. In fact, anecdotally, last year there were 44 homicides in Canada and, sadly, Edmonton led Canada in that statistic.
In some cases, these problems have overwhelmed the capacity of law enforcement agencies to deal with these phenomena. These legal operations pose serious health and public safety hazards to those in or around the grow operations. They produce environmental hazards, post-cleanup problems and endanger the lives and health of the communities at large.
Moreover, organized crime groups and criminal gangs are resorting to increased violence to establish their dominance over the drug trade in various metropolitan regions of the country. Sadly, but unavoidably, innocent persons are being hurt.
Now that is not to say that all drug offenders are necessarily dangerous or that all forms of drug trades are violent. Bill C-10 recognizes this and that is why what is being proposed in the bill is a focused and targeted approach, a surgical approach so to speak.
As has been stated before, the new penalties would not apply to possession offences nor will they apply to offences involving certain types of drugs. The bill focuses on the more serious drug offences involving the most serious drugs. Overall, the proposals represent a tailored approach to mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences.
I would remind all members of the House how this part of the proposed Bill C-10 would operate. For schedule I drugs, such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, the bill proposes a one year minimum for the majority of the serious drug offences in the presence of certain aggravating factors. Some of those aggravating factors are as follows: the offence is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with organized crime; the offence involved violence or the threat of violence, or weapons or the threat of the use of weapons; or, the offence is committed by someone who was convicted in the previous 10 years of a designated drug offence.
I think we would all agree that in the presence of those aggravating factors a minimum mandatory sentence ought to apply. Moreover, if youth are present or the offence occurs in a prison, the minimum is increased to two years.
In the case of importing, exporting and possession for the purposes of exporting, the minimum penalty will be one year if certain aggravating factors, such as the offence was committed for the purposes of trafficking, and for two years if the offence involves more than one kilogram of a schedule I drug.
A minimum of two years is provided for the production offence involving a schedule I drug. The minimum sentence for the production of a schedule I drug increases to three years where aggravating factors relating to health and safety are present. These factors are the following: the person used real property that belonged to a third party to commit the offence; the production constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children who were in the location where the offence was committed or in the immediate area; the production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area; the person placed or set a trap.
We hear all too often of rental properties that are turned into grow operations with significant damage having been done to the real property of the landlords. It is that type of aggravating factor with respect to damage to real property belonging to a third person that this portion of Bill C-10 captures and, I would suggest to members of the House, appropriately so.
For schedule II drugs, such as marijuana, cannabis resin and others, the proposed mandatory minimum penalty for trafficking and possession for the purposes of trafficking is one year where certain aggravating factors such as violence, recidivism or organized crime are present. The minimum penalty is increased to two years if other aggravating factors, such as trafficking to youth, are involved.
In the case of importing, exporting or possession for the purpose of exporting, the minimum penalty is one year imprisonment when certain aggravating factors are present such as the offence was committed for the purpose of trafficking.
A lot has been said in the media and by the opposition about the offence of marijuana production. Some of it has been factual but a lot of it has been misconstrued hyperbole. Therefore, it is important for members to know what is actually in the bill. The bill proposes mandatory penalties based on the number of plants involved: for the production of 6 to 200 plants and if the plants are cultivated for the purposes of trafficking, the minimum mandatory sentence is six months; for the production of between 201 and 500 plants, the minimum mandatory is one year; for the production of more than 500 plants, the mandatory minimum is two years; and for the production of cannabis resin for the purpose of trafficking, the mandatory minimum is one year.
The minimum sentences for the production of schedule II drugs increases by 50% where any of the aggravating factors relating to health and safety, which I just enumerated, such as using the real property of a third person to facilitate the grow op, are present.
I would like to remind members of the House that this part of Bill C-10 is not just about minimum penalties. The maximum penalty for producing marijuana would be doubled from 7 to 14 years' imprisonment. The amphetamine class of drugs, as well as the date rape drugs, GHB and Rohypnol, would be transferred from schedule III to schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, thereby allowing the courts to impose higher maximum penalties for offences involving those drugs. We know from media reports that the so-called date rape drugs are becoming a scourge and epidemic among young people, often with catastrophic and fatal consequences.
It is important that I remind members of the House that the proposed legislation would allow a trial judge the discretion of imposing a penalty other than the mandatory minimum on an offender who is referred to a drug treatment court where the offender successfully completes the court-ordered program. Moreover, we know that drug treatment courts are not in all centres in Canada and if there is no drug treatment court, the court sentencing the offender can still refer the offender for treatment for his or her drug addiction. Also, if the offender successfully completes the program, the court would not be required to impose the mandatory minimum penalty for the drug offence.
I have had the pleasure to visit the Edmonton drug treatment court on three or four occasions. It does absolutely remarkable work. It attempts to help individuals break the cycle of getting involved in criminal activity to feed their drug addiction. It is a carrot and stick program, in that the person will not be sentenced to prison and could be discharged for the offence if he or she successfully completes a rehabilitation program and complies with all the terms and conditions of release, including abstaining from all drugs and alcohol, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or whatever program the person is directed to attend.
The drug treatment court has been very successful in helping people break the cycle of committing crimes to feed their addiction and starting all over again. I cannot emphasize enough to members of the House the importance of that piece of the puzzle. The courts would have the ability not to impose a mandatory minimum sentence when the individual successfully completes a program as directed by the drug treatment court.
The proposed reforms in Bill C-10 have been carefully studied in both chambers and committees of both houses. I sit on the justice committee. I sat on the justice committee in the last Parliament. This bill is comprised of nine separate but related pieces of legislation, all of which have been studied significantly not only in this Parliament but in the last Parliament as well. This is the type of legislation Canadians have been demanding. Canadians are demanding safety and security in their homes and communities.
Bill C-10 has been carefully studied in both chambers. Witnesses who have appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs have welcomed these proposals. They have welcomed them because they send drug traffickers and organized crime a clear message that if they commit serious crimes and cause harm to our society, they will be spending time in jail.
There are provisions that deal with serious drug crimes, as well as provisions that deal with amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, ending House arrest for property and other serious crimes and changes to our pardon system. All of these separate but combined pieces of legislation have been demanded not only by police and chiefs of police but also by our constituents, such as the citizens I represent in northwest Edmonton who, sadly, have witnessed a record number of murders, 44 in 2011, and all of the other crimes that are tied into organized crime in the city.
This type of legislation is desperately needed. It was promised and it is being delivered. I encourage all members to vote in favour of Bill C-10, as amended.