That the House: (a) recognize the contradiction of continuing to give Canadian criminal records for simple possession of marijuana after the government has stated that it should not be a crime; (b) recognize that this situation is unacceptable to Canadians, municipalities and law enforcement agencies; (c) recognize that a growing number of voices, including that of a former Liberal prime minister, are calling for decriminalization to address this gap; and (d) call upon the government to immediately decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana for personal use.
Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today on this important opposition day motion, dealing with the interim measure, the preparatory step to the legalization promised by the current government in its election campaign, namely, addressing the decriminalization of the possession of small quantities of marijuana.
I will be sharing my time with the member for Salaberry—Suroît. Madam Speaker.
We are faced with an injustice. We are faced with a situation that is difficult to explain to the parents of young adults when I am called by a mother in tears who says her child has just been convicted of the possession of small quantities of marijuana. That young adult will not be able to get a job because he or she adult will have a record and will be at the bottom of the pile when it comes to job applicants. He or she will no doubt be unable to travel to the United States and will face heavy consequences, including perhaps finding a place to rent when it is disclosed on his or her application.
Meanwhile, the government is saying that within a short period of time it will bring in measures, amendments presumably to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, that would put together a regime to regulate and permit adults to consume marijuana.
We already have medical marijuana available, thanks to the courts of the land, and legislation and regulations in response to that. However, we are talking about young people in particular, and all Canadians, who wish to consume a substance that will be legal.
Therefore, what is the problem? The problem is it may take two years for the government to implement the regime it promised in the October election. When the Minister of Health spoke in New York at the United Nations she said, “... it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem.” Of course she is right.
However, the Liberals will continue to arrest their way out of the problem, likely until 2018. If she promised there would be legislation introduced in the spring of 2017, given the requirements of debate and committee work in both the House and the other place, it would not be implemented with the signature of the Governor General until perhaps 2018. In that circumstance, should it take two years, something perhaps approaching 100,000 Canadians would find themselves with a record for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
Statistics Canada reports that something approaching 60,000 Canadians a year will be convicted for that offence, because it currently is an offence. The government would say that the law is the law . Of course, it is right on that. However, what it does not tell us is that it has the ability under the law to address this injustice. That ability can be found in any number of ways.
I am not here to suggest the best way, but I will speak to one way.
If the government wishes to address this as a preparatory step on the road to regulation and permitting the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, it has the ability, under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, for the Attorney General, the Minister of Justice, to issue a directive to the director of public prosecutions to the effect that it is no longer in the public interest for small quantities of marijuana to be the subject of prosecutions.
We are fortunate because that is quite readily done. Marijuana is not regulated under the Criminal Code, which would engage all the attorneys general and crown counsels across the land, at every provincial level. It is dealt with under the Department of Justice, through the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. Therefore, it would federal employees, crown counsel, who would be given that directive. In that way we could ensure that what I fear is a patchwork across the country would be dealt with as well.
When I say a patchwork, the situation at present is chaotic at best. I live in Victoria. The police have better things to do than prosecute people for simple possession of marijuana in most circumstances.
However, in the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, prosecution occurs much more readily. In the city of Kelowna, it occurs much more readily. We have a completely different regime in Canada, depending on where one is, to address the possession of marijuana. As a Canadian, I find that offensive. We live in one country. Why is the law is so radically different in the real world depending on where one happens to be? That seems wrong.
That injustice can be dealt with quite readily should the government wish to do so. I have suggested one technique by which it could be achieved, but there no doubt are other techniques open to the government. The government can no longer simply hide behind the veil of it being against the law, the law is the law until it is changed. It has an interim way in which to change that law. Preparatory steps along the way would deal with the injustices.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have criminal records for the possession of marijuana, often going back 20 years. That is wrong. The government could, as a consequential amendment, deal with that, and I hope it does. In the meantime, the lives of people are being affected by an injustice that could be addressed by the government should it wish to do so.
It is important to recognize that we are not advocating that marijuana be made available to young people any more than the government is. We want and respect the government's efforts to achieve a robust regulatory regime that keeps marijuana out of the hands of young people, children, and so forth. However, we also want a regime where the injustices that are occurring now are addressed before we have to wait perhaps a year and a half or two years to address it. That is the reason for my motion today.
I think Canadians expect clarity from their government. The New Democrats believe it is irresponsible to allow valuable resources of police and courts to be wasted while a new criminal record is created for something that will be perfectly legal.
I asked the Minister of Justice to talk about this issue when she appeared before the justice committee.
It was reported by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada that the government planned to spend $3 million to $4 million each year prosecuting simple possession of marijuana. That money could be spent doing things that Canadians want to have addressed in an urgent way. Two or three per cent of its whole budget, which includes terrorism, prosecution of drugs, and the Criminal Code, is being used for this purpose according to the director of public prosecutions. That is his evidence.
Let me read to the House something that Justice Selkirk of the Ontario Court of Justice said in the case Regina v. Racine. He refused to accept a guilty plea for possession of marijuana. I would like to read what the hon. justice said in court that day:
I recall distinctly the Prime Minister in the House of Commons saying it's going to be legalized. I'm not going to be the last judge in this country to convict somebody of simple possession of marijuana....You can't have the Prime Minister announcing it's going to be legalized and then stand up and prosecute it. It just can't happen. It's a ludicrous situation, ludicrous.
I asked the minister, given those costs, would the government consider doing anything different, and the answer was vague to nonexistent.
From a financial point of view, from the heavy hardship we are imposing particularly on our younger population, and the member for Salaberry—Suroît will speak to that in greater detail, there is every reason to address this gap. The excuses given by the government for not doing so simply do not hold water. Changes could be made in the interim.
I want to end by saying something I said at the outset. The New Democratic Party agrees, like former Prime Minister Chrétien, that the time has come for decriminalization. There is every ability to fix this problem. It is a question of political will and sound public policy. To hide behind the status quo and do nothing, which is the government's particular option, until it finally has a law enacted is not right and it creates a continuing injustice in our country, which is felt in different parts of the country in different ways. It is time to fix that problem now.