Mr. Speaker, I want to start with a bit of personal history. Many lives were saved in my family by my grandfather. In 1964, there was the release of the report of the U.S. surgeon general on smoking and health. It was a U.S. report, yes, but a very influential one throughout North America. That report really changed opinion on smoking in North America. Before that report, there was still a debate about the dangers of smoking, which was fueled by the propaganda of the tobacco companies against the research that was beginning to show the serious harms to health. That report demonstrated a causal link for the first time with incontrovertible evidence that there was a 70% increase in mortality rates for smokers over non-smokers and a 9 to 10 times higher risk of lung cancer.
My grandfather, whose name was John Garrison, put out his last cigarette. He had smoked since he was a kid. More importantly, he said any family member who went to his house would also stop smoking that day. He enforced that on everyone in our family. At the time, I was 13 and it made a very big impact on me. I have never been a smoker as a result of that very strong role modelling he did in the family. There were a few of my cousins who still sneaked around out back, I admit, but he saved many family members. There were many heavy smokers in my family at that time and his influence was very important. At that time, we saw the beginning of a change in social attitudes toward smoking.
A second report I also want to give credit to is the 2009 report of the Canadian Expert Panel on Tobacco Smoke and Breast Cancer Risk. This demonstrated the link between breast cancer and smoking, but it did something even more important. The report showed incontrovertibly the link between second-hand smoke and breast cancer. It was very important in changing people's attitudes about smoking, important in their accepting that second-hand smoke was dangerous, particularly for women, and that the risk of breast cancer increased between 10% and 30% for those exposed to second-hand smoke. We have seen the social mores change to where smoking has been banned in bars, pubs and restaurants, not just to protect smokers but, in fact, to protect those who have never smoked from that increased risk of cancer.
There is no doubt about the seriousness of this issue and the social concern in Canada regarding the issue of smoking. As my hon. friend from Northumberland—Quinte West said in his speech, the biggest impact we are seeing is on young people, and the biggest impact of contraband tobacco is definitely among young people. We on this side are supporting this bill going to committee because we believe that this is a serious problem and that we can change social attitudes about contraband tobacco. Again, my hon. friend made reference to that in his own speech. People need to understand the reasons why contraband tobacco has to be limited or wiped out in this country.
My hon. friend will not be surprised that New Democrats will be asking some serious questions when the bill goes to committee about the effectiveness of the measures proposed in this bill. Members speaking previously, in particular the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, have pointed to this bill as targeting organized crime. I have questions that I know we will be asking in committee. We need to ask the experts whether higher penalties and mandatory minimum sentences actually deter people involved in organized crime. Frankly, I do not know the answer to that with regard to contraband tobacco, but I do know that the evidence in almost all other areas of law enforcement is that organized crime carefully counts the risk when it gets involved in crime. However it is not counting the risk of longer penalties or minimum sentences; it is the risk of getting caught that is calculated.
Is a mandatory minimum sentence really going to deter organized crime? Most people involved in organized crime are not the people actually transporting the goods and not the ones who are going to end up with the sentence. They are the people organizing and profiting from it. I do not really know in the case of contraband tobacco, because I am not as familiar with that, as it is not as large a problem in my own community as it is in many others in Canada.
In every other area, as I have said, we have seen the impact of mandatory minimum sentences and longer sentences. It usually happens to the little guys, as I mentioned, the people who are carrying out the orders of the organized crime syndicate, the people who, for whatever reasons, are living in near-poverty, perhaps affected by mental health problems or addiction or having problems getting by and supporting a family, and taking the opportunity that is offered by organized crime to make a little extra money in participating in the smuggling of contraband tobacco. I believe they are the people who are going to get hit with longer sentences and mandatory minimums.
One very serious question that we will be posing in committee is whether this is the right tool to get at organized crime as the government has claimed and what consultations did the government do with experts in the area to find out whether this is the right hammer to use for this nail, if I can use that analogy, which gets overused many times in this House.
Another question we will be asking is whether the government has looked carefully at sentences that have already been given out for repeat offenders in the area of contraband tobacco. We could look at the bill and it might say that for this amount of tobacco and this many offences there would be a mandatory minimum of x amount of time. What I suspect we would find, as with many other bills the government has introduced, is that judges already hand out far longer sentences than the mandatory minimums. There is a kind of perverse effect in some areas where mandatory minimums may actually have driven down the amount of time some people are spending in jail. That is for some people. They will increase the time most people are spending in jail. However, have we actually looked at what judges are doing in this area before we brought legislation in to establish these mandatory minimums?
There is a very interesting study that was done quite some time ago in Canada where the public was given the facts of a crime and asked to assign a sentence for it. In something over three-quarters of the cases, the public assigned lighter penalties than the judges had actually assigned in the cases.
Therefore, one of my questions is, after seven years of the government appointing judges, why does it not trust the judges it is appointing? What is wrong with the judges it is appointing? Does it not trust them to make decisions, in these cases where they have to establish mandatory minimums and take away that discretion from judges? We will be asking what the real situation is for sentencing at the present time in cases dealing with contraband tobacco and who is getting sentenced. Is it the kingpins of organized crime who are getting sentenced? I doubt it. We need to ask those questions, such as is this the right hammer for this particular nail? We have some doubts on this side as to whether that is true.
However, recognizing the importance of this issue, again we are supporting this to get it to committee, to try to find out from expert witnesses the best ways of tackling this problem, of keeping contraband tobacco out of the hands of our kids and of reducing the social impacts of this tobacco. I guess I can say that I cannot wait, although there are many of us who would like to speak to this bill and I am not sure that we needed time allocation to get through a bill like this. However, it is not the first time it has been used in the House
When we look at what is happening with the Canada Border Services Agency, we see enormous cuts. The government likes to tell us there have been increases in first nations policing and in border services funding. However, if we go back to year zero and calculate the increases from the very beginning, there are always increases. What we have seen in the last two budgets is reality. We have seen severe cutbacks in the funding for CBSA and for public safety in general. Budget 2012 announced a cut of $687.9 million to the public safety expenditures. The RCMP saw cuts of $195.2 million. Let us think back to how organized crime calculates: it calculates the chances of getting caught. Let us cut the RCMP. Let us reduce its ability to do enforcement work and see the impact that would have on contraband tobacco.
The CBSA saw cuts of $143 million. Those are spread across the country; when we do that it may not sound like much. According to the union, it may result in 325 positions across the country, and in British Columbia that would be something like 50 positions. Those are front-line positions. The rest of the cuts are in the back office. That sounds good. It makes us think of an accountant or someone doing photocopying. What are the back office functions in the CBSA? The union has estimated that this would cost 100 jobs in the intelligence functions of the CBSA because that is a back office function. Therefore, there would be 100 fewer people analyzing the data, looking at the patterns and trying to figure out where contraband tobacco is coming from and working on problems like that.
That was the 2012 budget. These cuts continued in 2013 and additional cuts were applied on top of those.
Most important probably in 2013 was the failure to renew the police officer recruiting fund. The issue of first nations policing was raised earlier. Cancelling that fund caused the loss of 30 front-line first nations police officers in Ontario.
In addition, the 2013 plan and priorities for public safety announced an increase of $20 million in countering crime and a $2.4-million decrease in national security. Even in its own report, the department said “That the Government Operations Centre infrastructure may be unable to support a coordinated response to large-scale or multiple significant events affecting the national interest [and] that current policies and strategies may be insufficient to address the evolution of organized crime”. The government made cuts to the funding of the fight against organized crime, the very people the government said are responsible for contraband tobacco.
One of the things we are going to be asking in committee is why not apply the needed resources for enforcement. I am going to make the same argument that is made everywhere else, and that is, if organized crime is calculating its risks, then let us make it calculate that risk at the front end by putting resources into enforcement where they are really needed.
The last speaker, and this time I will not name him, said, and I am not sure the term he actually used but I think he said that most of the contraband tobacco is coming from first nations. I met with the tobacco companies and I asked them that question. They admitted to me that they estimate that over 50% of the contraband tobacco coming into this country is coming through the Port of Vancouver from China. Often we focus too much on what is only one single source of contraband tobacco and we ignore the large one.
Why is it coming from China through the Port of Vancouver? There are two reasons for that. The first reason is that there is a huge illegal tobacco manufacturing industry in China. It is underground and it avoids Chinese taxes and regulations. Producers are already producing illegally. The second reason is that the cuts that we have made to the Canada Border Services Agency mean that not one single container coming through Vancouver port is actually opened and inspected unless there is a specific tip or piece of information about something illegal being in it.
Containers coming through Vancouver are not inspected anymore. Many of them are loaded on trains and arrive at a large rail yard in Ontario where there is one inspector for containers. While I have not been told directly, I am sure the same policies are in effect. One person cannot open and inspect all the containers. I suspect the policy in place in Vancouver is probably also in place at the rail yard Ontario: that containers are not opened unless somebody has said that X is going to be found in one. Who would say in that container we are going to find this? That would be done by those intelligence officers with the Canada Border Services Agency who are being laid off.
The situation in Vancouver with contraband tobacco is going to get worse. Probably what is most shocking about contraband tobacco in Vancouver is that it is high-quality fake. I have actually seen some of it. We cannot tell these packages from legitimate cigarette packages, including the fake excise stamps on them. They are almost impossible to distinguish. When we are trying to discourage the public from buying contraband tobacco, this is a problem.
How does one get hold of these cigarettes? I do not smoke, as I have said. I do not buy cigarettes. But I do know some people very close to me who unfortunately do smoke. In Vancouver, one can go to any number of corner stores and ask for the special or the cut-rate cigarettes and they are brought out from underneath the counter. They look just like regular cigarettes but people pay a lot less.
The other thing about those Chinese contraband cigarettes is that we do not know what is in them. As a result of being produced illegally and without inspection in China, I would hate to think what kind of things get put into those cigarettes as filler. There are probably very large health risks involved.
When we are talking about this issue we are going to have to pay attention to what tobacco companies will say is becoming an increasingly large part of the problem, and that is contraband cigarettes coming in from China. I do not see anything in this legislation that would do anything about that very large problem in terms of contraband tobacco.
A contributor to this, of course, was the Liberal Party in the 1990s. We used to have federal ports police in Vancouver. They were funded. They did inspections on containers and had people working intelligence on the illegal goods coming in.
I am going to have to include our friends down at the far end here who have been very sanctimonious on this but who have actually contributed the initial problem in the Vancouver port with all kinds of counterfeit and illegal goods by eliminating the ports police. They said to the municipalities of Vancouver and Burnaby, “It's up to you, boys. We're just leaving it to you. No funding. No assistance. You now police the port”. And so, what do they do? They maintain their highest priority, which is protecting their citizens, and they do very little in the area of the ports in Vancouver and Burnaby because it is not really their responsibility as civic police to do that.
Are there better ways to tackle this question of contraband tobacco? I believe there are.
The hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West with the public safety committee to visit Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and Calgary. We saw some very impressive things going on in those police forces. On a very regular basis, in the case of Prince Albert a weekly basis, the police were brought together around the table with social service, mental health, addictions and child protection agencies, and a representative of the Grand Council of First Nations. They tackled individual high-risk, high-demand on the police system cases on a family basis and delivered services to those families. Prince Albert has a very impressive record for the first year of this new system, which is called the HUB system. They have reduced violent crime by 38% in a year in a community that has high rates of poverty, addiction and alcoholism. They have made very significant progress in building a better community, the most important thing, but also in reducing the demand and costs for policing and allowing them to reallocate police resources to things that we would think of as normal policy duties rather than social order kinds of responsibilities.
When we are thinking about contraband tobacco and needing police resources, which I believe we do, to do the enforcement work in this area, where are we going to find them if we do not free up resources in policing?
Our committee is working on a report that we will be done in the fall. I know that members of all parties were very impressed with this model of policing. Rather than more mandatory minimums and longer sentences for these kinds of things, maybe we need to look at that new model of policing. This would free up resources so that we could do the enforcement that would be really effective in getting at the real causes of problems with contraband tobacco and the largest problem, which I would assert is China and the lack of inspections in our port in Vancouver.
I know I am probably getting close to the end of my time. Let me wrap by saying, once again, we on this side do acknowledge contraband tobacco is a problem. We would have liked to have seen the government consult more, work with first nations communities, work with others who have been involved in this field to find what things would be really effective instead of going back to the old playbook and bringing out increased sentences and mandatory minimums as the only solutions.
In committee, we will be asking government members those questions. If they can show us the evidence that these are going to be effective, they might able to get our support. The problem is they are not effective anywhere else. They are not effective in any other area of law enforcement.
In any event, let us have that debate. Let us see what the experts say about contraband tobacco. Let us see what they suggest would be good solutions to this when we get to committee. Then I hope the government will be open to some other approaches to this kind of problem and not what we have seen too often in this House, which is, “Take or leave it. Here's the legislation. We've introduced it. You've only got, let's say, four hours to debate it. We're not going to amend it and we're going to pass it”. To me that is not the way this House of Commons should work.
I have to say to my colleagues from Medicine Hat and Northumberland—Quinte West and the public safety committee, we have tried to have a more consultative model. We have tried to work together to find common solutions. I would like to see that happen, not just in our committee, but also on the floor of this House of Commons.
My hope for Bill S-16 is that we will be able to work together on what is really effective and accomplishes what we need to do to keep contraband tobacco off of our streets, out of the hands of our kids, and from making negative contributions to our health in this country. I look forward to having that debate with the Conservatives and working with them to find the real solutions to the problem of contraband tobacco.