House of Commons Hansard #172 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.


11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Order. As members know, many of our fellow Canadians have been affected by flooding in several parts of the country. Obviously, we stand in solidarity with the flood victims.

Locally, many residents of the National Capital Region are affected, directly or indirectly. As a result, and due to the measures taken by the local authorities, many of our staff will not be able to come to work today. The House administration will thus be operating with reduced staff. Every effort will be made to reduce the impacts on normal operations, but members may notice the effects of this unusual situation.

Obviously this will not affect the operations of the House and its committees, which will operate as normal.

I thank members for their understanding and, on behalf of the House, I would like to send a word of encouragement to those who are dealing with the flooding.

It being 11:05 a.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

moved that Bill C-338, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (punishment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address a serious issue that is destroying lives and causing thousands of deaths in Canada each year. The importing and exporting of dangerous drugs and substances is a serious threat to Canadians. While the Liberal government has taken some constructive steps to combat the threat posed by the trafficking of lethal drugs and substances, little has been done to deter or to punish criminals. I therefore have introduced Bill C-338, which would amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to increase sentences for offences related to the importing and exporting of controlled drugs and substances.

Bill C-338 indicates that if the subject matter of the offence is a substance included in schedule I and in an amount that is not more than one kilogram, or is in schedule II, the offender is guilty of an indictable offence and liable for imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of two years.

The proposed bill also specifies that if the subject matter of the offence is a substance included in schedule I and is in an amount that is more than one kilogram, the offender is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable for imprisonment for life and a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of three years.

At present, minimum sentences stand at one year for less than one kilogram and two years for more than one kilogram. This is unacceptable. Such light punishment does not deter drug traffickers from continuing to import and export and profit at the expense of society's most vulnerable. The reality is that criminals who import and export deadly drugs and substances are responsible for thousands of lost lives.

Canadian families expect safe and healthy communities in which to raise their children. Canadians are especially concerned about crime, which is why our previous Conservative government introduced and passed more than 30 measures aiming at the strengthening of our justice system and standing up for victims and keeping our streets safe. We also specifically targeted gangs and other criminal organizations by introducing tougher sentences for drug traffickers who exploit the addictions of others for personal profit.

Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. Elected representatives can and should provide guidance on sentences to reflect the view of all Canadians. The Conservatives make no apologies for strengthening penalties for drug traffickers or other crimes. All parliamentarians must ensure that sentencing reflects Canadians' desire to get tough on drug dealers and on other criminals.

Over the past five years, we have seen a deeply disturbing spike in overdoses involving the synthetic opioid painkiller fentanyl. It is so strong that exposure to a microgram is often fatal. Just to put that into perspective, a microgram is what one would get who took a standard 400-milligram pill of ibuprofen and cut it into 4,000 pieces. That tiny grain of drug may kill someone who comes in contact with it. Prescription-grade fentanyl is up to 100 times more toxic than morphine. It is often used as a last-resort painkiller to treat terminally ill cancer patients. It is especially dangerous if one has never been exposed to opiates before.

In Canada, drug dealers can order the illegal substances for drug production online from overseas suppliers, many of whom will guarantee reshipment in the event that the package is intercepted. The drug is then produced in basement labs and kitchens, but in such conditions that it is impossible to predict the strength of each dose. Earlier this year, in my riding of Markham—Unionville, a drug lab was discovered in the heart of an upper-middle-class residential neighbourhood, forcing residents to evacuate their homes.

For people who are looking to abuse the drug, fentanyl creates a blissful feeling similar to the effects of heroin, but an overdose shuts down the area of the brain that controls breathing. This generally results in brain damage or death.

Many people end up taking fentanyl accidentally. Drug producers are lacing other drugs with fentanyl, and the users have no idea that what they are buying will kill them. Unsuspecting drug addicts might buy what they think is OxyContin, but it is actually fentanyl, or a young student who may be experimenting at a party may end up overdosing on fentanyl. The user is not expecting difficulty in breathing and a slowed heartbeat.

It is not only hard-core drug addicts and junkies who are victims of this epidemic. It is regular people, such as Jack Bodie, a 17-year-old Vancouverite, who died in a park after taking fake OxyContin pills with his younger friend. It is 33-year-old Szymon Kalich from Edmonton, who was found dead in the hallway of a residential building and whose mother received the news when the police showed up on her doorstep two days later. It is a nine-month-old baby in Winnipeg, who was rushed to the hospital by paramedics after being exposed to residue of the opiate in his parents' home.

From coast to coast to coast, no community in any member's riding is immune to this epidemic. According to the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, 734 people died of opiate-related causes in Ontario in 2015, averaging two people every day. This number totals far more than the 481 people who died in motor vehicle accidents in 2014.

Over 80% of all opiate-related deaths in 2015 were accidental. Almost 60% of accidental deaths occurred among youth and younger adults between the ages of 15 to 44 years. Fentanyl use increased by 548% between 2006 and 2015, and fentanyl is now the opiate most commonly involved in opiate-related deaths.

British Columbia and Alberta have been hit the hardest. According to the Coroners Service of British Columbia, overdoses of illicit drugs claimed the lives of 922 people in B.C. in 2016, making it the deadliest overdose year on record and representing an increase of 80% from the previous year. In B.C., from January through February of 2017 there were 139 illicit drug overdose deaths in which fentanyl was detected. This is a 90% increase over the number of deaths, 73, occurring during the same period in 2016. From January to February of 2017, fentanyl was detected in 61% of illicit drug overdose deaths, 139 of 227.

Vancouver Coastal Health had the highest number, 48, of illicit drug overdose deaths in which fentanyl was detected in January and February 2017, followed by Fraser Health with 39 and Vancouver Island Health Authority with 29. The health service delivery areas with the highest number of fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdose deaths in January and February of 2017 were Vancouver with 43, Fraser South with 24, and the Okanagan with 15.

When looking at individual townships over the same time period, the highest numbers of deaths were seen in Vancouver, Surrey, and Victoria. In 2016, a review of toxicological findings of 325 fentanyl-detected illicit drug overdoses deaths was conducted. In 96% of these deaths, at least one substance other than fentanyl was detected. The other most frequently detected drugs leading to death were cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, and heroin. Parliamentary data in January 2017 suggested that the proportion of illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl detected, alone or in combination with other drugs, is approximately 61%.

According to Alberta Health, 343 people died from fentanyl overdoses in 2016 in Alberta. The province showed a 33% increase in the rate of overdose deaths linked to the drug from 2015, and a dizzying 110% rise from just two years ago. Calgary saw the lion's share of the death toll, with 149 deaths in 2016. Of those 343 deaths, 22 were linked to carfentanil, an opioid that is100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Alberta's fatality numbers have not reached the level of B.C.'s, but the toll has been devastating, claiming 717 lives since 2014, 261 of those in Calgary. According to the report from Alberta Health, 80% of those who died last year were male, nearly half between the ages of 25 and 39. In most fentanyl overdoses, multiple substances were also involved, primarily cocaine, methamphetamine, and alcohol.

I would like to give more standardized statistics for each province and each year, but this epidemic has exploded so quickly that many provinces do not yet have a system for organizing information. It has been called a Canada-wide disaster.

In Ottawa, the director of the city's drug treatment program has stated that the fentanyl being sold in the streets is too strong to even be treated by overdose antidote kits. In late April, The Ottawa Hospital reported 15 fentanyl overdoses over a period of 72 hours. However, there are other new synthetic opioid painkillers similar to fentanyl on our streets. W-18 is similar to fentanyl, but 100 times as toxic. It is 10,000 times stronger than morphine. In 2015, it was detected in three drug seizures. By October 2016, it was detected in 30 drug seizures.

I truly understand the need for robust prevention and treatment options for addicts, but you cannot rehabilitate dead people. The criminals who import and export deadly drugs and substances do not care about the effects they are having on people's lives. They do not care if they will be responsible for the deaths of many Canadians. They are not deterred by the current punishment for the crimes they are committing. What they know is that they can take $10 worth of fentanyl and make $5,000 selling it on the streets.

As it stands, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provides inadequate and unintimidating punishment for criminals who import and export lethal drugs and substances. Those who import and export these drugs and substances must be brought to justice and must face increased mandatory minimum sentences. Our constituents expect us to do more to keep their children and communities safe.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a resident of British Columbia, specifically on Vancouver Island, I need only look across the water to see how bad the fentanyl crisis is in Vancouver.

Indeed, and I direct my comments to the government side, if we had an infectious disease killing at the rate that overdoses are in British Columbia, the government would have mobilized far more resources and in a much quicker time frame than has been done.

I am glad to see that the Conservatives recently joined us to declare the opioid crisis a national health emergency, but when we attempted to move Bill C-37 through the House quickly to deal with the problem, Conservatives attempted to block it. I am just wondering what the member's reasoning was for that blocking.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, one death is far too many. The numbers in this epidemic have gone up over the past five years. Look at the numbers in B.C. of 992. We need to make sure that we put an end to this crisis. Most of the drugs are coming from overseas. We need to put an end to this, especially the drug dealers who are making a profit on the lives of Canadians.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for bringing this very important piece of legislation forward for discussion. A recent study of the Insite facility in Vancouver found that over 86% of the drugs that are used at that facility are laced with fentanyl, and over 90% of the heroin.

Right now the people of Edmonton, and the Albertans he mentioned, are being faced with the Edmonton city council, in its infinite wisdom, which is complete sarcasm, deciding to bring these sites into the downtown core of the city, knowing that these drugs are laced with other drugs. We see the usage rates between Alberta and B.C. being virtually the same. I am wondering if my colleague could comment on whether he thinks it is wise for the city of Edmonton to pursue this policy when we see the absolute and total damage that making drugs more accessible and readily available is causing to communities.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the cities of Edmonton, Calgary, and any city in any province, should be doing what the hon. member suggests. As I said earlier, a life saved is a life saved. From the Conservative side, we will always be on the side of the victims. We will always stand up for victims rather than for the criminals. On the Liberals' side, it is the other way around. They always stand for the criminals rather than the victims.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario


Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, as I read the member's private member's bill, there is a great focus on punishment. I am wondering if he has given any consideration to the issues of prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. Canada has proudly followed a four-pillar strategy in dealing with this health crisis, yet there seems to be very little in the bill that speaks to the other three pillars. I wonder if he would like to expand on that.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are many things that we can balance. It is all about the balancing act. We are saying, let us get the drug dealers. The Liberal Party has brought some things to this issue that would help, but this is about taking the drug dealers off the streets. For 40 years, the former police chief put those criminals behind bars. I hope we can keep up the same by asking for two years of imprisonment for less than one kilogram of the drugs, and three years for over one kilogram. It is not much to ask. In my view, some of these guys should be charged with murder rather than sending them to two years in jail. It is not much to ask.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Scarborough Southwest Ontario


Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this morning, Bill C-338, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which proposes to increase mandatory minimum penalties and imprisonment for the importation and exportation of certain drugs.

The objective of Bill C-338 is to target the importation and exportation of powerful opiates such as fentanyl in Canadian communities, an objective that everyone in the House would agree is laudable. The bill proposes to denounce the importation and exportation of these lethal drugs by increasing the mandatory minimum penalty from one to two years where the quantity of these drugs is less than one kilogram and certain aggravating factors are present. In other cases, the mandatory minimum penalty would be increased from two to three years. The bill also proposes to increase the mandatory minimum penalty from one to two years for the importation or exportation of any amount of a schedule II drug, namely cannabis.

As has been already articulated in the House this morning, we find ourselves in the midst of a national health crisis, and this has put the spotlight on the importance of comprehensive and evidence-based Canadian drug policies.

Canadian communities are feeling the devastating impact from the growing number of opioid-related deaths and overdoses. Canadians deserve nothing less than concerted government action that would have an immediate impact on addressing the influx of opioids in our communities. The policies put in place to respond to this crisis must be informed by performance measurement standards and evidence. These policies must have an immediate impact on reducing the number of these tragic deaths.

This is why I am happy to see that the Government of Canada has instituted a modernized Canadian drugs and substances strategy. The Canadian drugs and substances strategy is focused on prevention, treatment, and enforcement, but it also reinstates harm reduction as a core pillar of Canada's drug policy. The CDSS champions a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy.

In furtherance of this strategy, the Minister of Health introduced Bill C-37, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related amendments to other acts, to address the serious and pressing public health issues related to opioids. This legislative response is one important part of the government's comprehensive approach to drug policy in Canada.

Bill C-37 proposes, first, to simplify and streamline the application process for supervised consumption sites; second, to clamp down on illegal pill presses; and, third, to extend the authority of border officers to inspect suspicious small packages coming into Canada. In relation to the last point, extending the Canada Border Services Agency's inspection powers is important, because one standard-size envelope can contain 30 grams of fentanyl, potent enough to cause 15,000 overdoses. These numbers increase exponentially where the substance in question is carfentanil.

In addition, the government has invested over $65 million over five years to support the new CDSS and implement its five-point opioid action plan. This amount is in addition to the $10 million in emergency support that the federal government has provided to the Province of British Columbia to assist in its response to overwhelming numbers of overdose and opioid-related deaths in that province. The five-point opioid action plan is focused on increasing public awareness, supporting better prescribing practices, reducing access to opioids in appropriate cases, supporting better treatment options for patients, and improving Canada's data collection and evidence base to inform more effective drug policies in the future.

That is not all that the government of Canada is doing. Canada is also working closely in collaboration with our international partners, such as the United States and China, to address this crisis. Senior law enforcement and border officials are already working together on a regular basis to curb the flow of illegal opioids across international borders, and I will cite an example. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has reached an agreement with China's Ministry of Public Security to enhance operational collaboration, identify key areas of concern, and work towards a more coordinated approach to combat fentanyl trafficking originating from China. Such partnerships are a testament to the reality that this epidemic is a very serious international problem which will require international co-operation to fix. Addressing the roots of the opioid crisis demands a whole-of-society response.

This brings us to Bill C-338. Although its stated objective is both timely and I am certain well intentioned, the proposed increase to mandatory minimum penalties is neither likely to contribute to deterring offenders from importing and exporting powerful opiates, nor to have any impact on addressing opioid-related deaths across Canada.

I am not aware of any evidence suggesting that increased mandatory minimum penalties would be effective in reducing the importation or exportation of these lethal drugs, including opiates, into Canada.

Although deterrence is a frequently cited argument of supporters of mandatory minimum penalties, my understanding is that the vast majority of the research in this area shows that these mandatory minimum penalties are ineffective in deterring crime. In fact, the likelihood of being caught represents the far greater deterrent.

In addition to the fact that increasing mandatory minimum penalties would not likely have a meaningful impact on lowering the number of opioid-related deaths in Canada, Bill C-338's proposal to increase mandatory minimum penalties would have a number of adverse effects on the proper administration of the criminal justice system, all of which have been well documented here in Canada and abroad. I am aware of several studies that suggest that mandatory minimum penalties actually lead to far fewer guilty pleas, increased litigation, and an increase in the time required to complete cases.

Given the Supreme Court of Canada's recent decision in Regina v. Jordan, we must be mindful of policies that contribute to excessive delays, which plague our criminal justice system. In fact, last month, when federal, provincial, and territorial ministers responsible for justice met to discuss priority responses to further reduce delays in the criminal justice system, they unanimously identified mandatory minimum penalties as one area of legislative reform that could help in improving court delays. International research also reveals that the use of mandatory minimum penalties to combat the war on drugs in the United States has resulted in far higher costs associated with the dramatic increase in litigation and the use of imprisonment.

I am also concerned about the charter risks associated with increasing mandatory minimum penalties. I am aware of two recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions that clearly state that mandatory minimum penalties that apply to offences that can be committed in various ways under a broad array of circumstances and by a wide range of people are constitutionally vulnerable. Based on these rulings, I am concerned that the mandatory minimum penalties proposed in this bill are vulnerable, because they could apply to offenders who have committed a crime for which the proposed mandatory minimum penalty would be unjust.

Bill C-338's increased mandatory minimum penalties are not necessary to signal to Canadian judges that these offences should be treated seriously. Canadian judges, in appropriate cases, already exercise their discretion to impose significantly higher sentences in excess of the proposed mandatory minimum penalties. For example, in Regina v. Cunningham, the Court of Appeal for Ontario confirmed that the appropriate sentencing range for first-offender drug couriers who smuggle large quantities of cocaine should be in the range of six to eight years' imprisonment. In that decision, the court, mindful that many drug couriers are easy prey for commercial drug traffickers, noted that such concerns must give way to the need to protect society from the untold grief and misery occasioned by the illicit use of hard drugs. In fact, it increased a three-year sentence imposed to five years' imprisonment and stated clearly that it is the responsibility of the courts to warn would-be couriers, in no uncertain terms, that they will pay a heavy price for choosing to import large quantities of hard drugs for quick, personal gain.

More recently, the British Columbia Court of Appeal, in Regina v. Smith, noted that given the development of a public health crisis surrounding opioids, a higher sentencing range was appropriate for certain trafficking offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I am confident that the courts will impose just sentences based on the facts before them. On the whole, I believe that the approach advanced by the government is the right one. Changes to increase mandatory minimum penalties may seem on their face attractive, but they simply will not work to address the public health emergency. For all the reasons I have noted, the government will not support Bill C-338.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to add my thoughts and voice on Bill C-338. I would like to thank the member for Markham—Unionville for this bill. I know that his intentions are good with respect to this bill and that he, like all members in this House, is concerned about the rash of overdose deaths that are spiking across the country, especially from fentanyl.

Unfortunately, the bill before us does nothing to address the phenomenon of drug use and sees fit only to increase the punishment, through mandatary minimums, for those who are engaged in the import and export of certain substances listed under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Bill C-338 would amend subsection 6(3) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to punish those who import schedule I or schedule II substances. Schedule I substances include opium, codeine, morphine, cocaine, fentanyl, and of course, the deadly carfentanil, while schedule II is known mainly for cannabis and its derivatives.

Specifically, under paragraph 6(3)(a), the bill would make an amendment so that there would be an increase from a minimum punishment of one year to two years' imprisonment for not more than a kilogram of a schedule I substance or for any amount of a schedule II substance. Under paragraph 6(3)(a.1), the bill would make an amendment so that the minimum punishment was increased from two years' to three years' imprisonment for importing and exporting a schedule I substance that is more than a kilogram.

Increasing mandatory punishments is a favourite legislative pastime of the Conservative party, and this was especially true under the previous Harper government.

The opioid crisis Canada is experiencing is a national emergency that had its origins in my home province of British Columbia. It is a complex phenomenon, a problem the Conservative legacy of supposed tough-on-crime legislation has been ineffective in stemming.

The Supreme Court of Canada has been particularly critical of some of the mandatory minimums, from the previous government, it has struck down. In April 2015, the Supreme Court dealt the Harper government's tough-on-crime agenda a serious blow by striking down a law requiring mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving prohibited guns. The six-three ruling, penned by the chief justice, took aim at the government's keeping-Canadians-safe justification for tough sentencing laws. In her ruling, she said,

The government has not established that mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment act as a deterrent against gun-related crimes.... Empirical evidence suggests that mandatory minimum sentences do not, in fact, deter crimes....

In April 2016, the court ruled six-three that a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison for a drug offence violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court ruled that the sentence cast too wide a net over a wide range of potential conduct and stated in its ruling:

If Parliament hopes to maintain mandatory minimum sentences for offences that cast a wide net, it should consider narrowing their reach so that they only catch offenders that merit that mandatory minimum sentences. In the alternative, Parliament could provide for judicial discretion to allow for a lesser sentence where the mandatory minimum would be grossly disproportionate and would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Bill C-338 stems from a belief that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the problem of drugs in our society. However, if we look at the facts, they show otherwise. Police-reported drug offences in 2014, after the Conservative tough-on-crime legislation from the year before, showed that meth possession went up 38%, heroin possession went up 34%, MDMA possession increased by 28%, meth trafficking went up by 17%, and heroin trafficking went up by 12%. It is clear that the Conservative agenda on mandatory minimums for drug crimes has not decreased drug use across the country, and it is evident that we need effective solutions now.

The Conservatives recently copied the NDP's call to declare the opioid overdose crisis a national health emergency, yet the Conservatives blocked our attempt to move Bill C-37 swiftly through the House in December, which would have saved lives faster.

If we look at some of the main points in Bill C-37, it would simplify the process of applying for an exemption that would allow for supervised consumption, which has been shown to help people take care of their issues. It would have prohibited the importation of designated devices, which are used in manufacturing drugs. It would have expanded “the offence of possession, production, sale, or importation of anything knowing that it would be used to produce or traffic in methamphetamine”. These were clear-cut solutions to a problem our province has been long suffering through and that is now making its way across Canada.

I would like to read some quotes from validators of our position.

Dr. Virani, who is a medical director at Metro City Medical Clinic, in Edmonton, said:

I have yet to meet a police officer who has said they can arrest their way out of this problem, and I have yet to meet a judge who's said that he can incarcerate his way out of the problem, and I certainly hope that health isn't thinking [they can] ignore-and-wait their way out of this problem, because it is clear it is getting worse and worse.

British Columbia's provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, said:

Simply prohibiting and increasing penalties without resources to support and educate haven't been terribly effective. [But] you need to do a number of things to limit the supply of drugs on the street.

I am disappointed and frustrated that the Liberals' promise of a review of mandatory minimums is not complete. It was last year that the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the Jordan case, which was in response to decades of inadequate resources for our justice system from successive federal and provincial governments. We now have a situation where serious criminal charges are either being stayed or withdrawn.

While I appreciate that the Minister of Justice has recently met with her provincial counterparts, I sincerely hope that the review of mandatory minimums is completed soon and in a comprehensive way so that we do not have a continued piecemeal approach to justice legislation created by private members' bills, like the one before us today.

Canada is currently experiencing an unprecedented opioid overdose crisis. Illicit drug overdoses claimed the lives of 914 people in B.C. alone in 2016, making it the deadliest overdose year on record and representing an increase of nearly 80% from the year before.

A significant spike in drug-related overdoses in 2016 prompted B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, to declare a public health emergency for the first time in the province's history.

Under the Harper government's anti-drug strategy, $190 million was budgeted for treatment alone in the first five years of the strategy, from 2007 to 2012, but only $77.9 million was actually spent. The total treatment budget for the next five years of the strategy was cut to $150 million. However, this represents $40 million more than the Liberal budget has allocated for its entire Canadian drugs and substances strategy. How much longer do we have to wait for the current government?

I will now move on to my conclusion. We need real measures that deal with the problem of drugs, rather than tying judges' hands in sentencing laws in order to appear tough. A sentencing judge should retain the discretion to sentence within the limits set by Parliament. Judges must be able to weigh all the evidence and decide on a fair sentence that fits the crime. Mandatory minimums take away judges' ability to do just that.

I sincerely fail to see how increasing jail time by a year for those who import or export schedule I or schedule II substances is in any way going to contribute to a meaningful reduction in drug use in our country. It is for that reason I will be voting against Bill C-338.

We need the federal government to take leadership on the opioid crisis now. Mayors and premiers have been asking for help dealing with drug overdoses. It is time that we all work together to bring forth effective policies to tackle this national crisis.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased stand to congratulate my colleague from Markham—Unionville on this very important private member's bill, Bill C-338.

As we know, the opioid crisis is impacting communities and families across Canada. My home of British Columbia has been on the coalface, where the addictive use of drugs is now playing Russian roulette. Users never know when they have something in a drug that will kill them.

It does take a multi-pronged approach to tackle this issue. It is a public health emergency, and we continue to ask the Liberal government to recognize it as such. However, it is also important to realize it is a criminal justice issue. This has not been spoken to very well in all the conversations I have heard about this issue.

I will talk a little about how the bill would provide a very important tool, but it is important to first talk about the scope of not just the problem, but the tragedy. We need to also talk about what has been done to date and, more important, what still needs to be done to deal with this issue.

As many are aware, the recent epidemic is characterized by an increasing number of deaths with elicit fentanyl, an opioid substance. Fentanyl was detected back in 2012, when it was in 5% of elicit drugs. By 2016, it was as high as 60%. Fentanyl, carfentanyl, and other drugs are cheap. They are easy to synthesize, and readily available, with a significant volume coming into the country from China. It is being cut into street drugs, with lethal effects.

Carfentanyl, which is a tranquillizer used for elephants, was confirmed on the streets last fall. It is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, 4,000 times more potent than heroin, and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. If anyone has ever had an accident or injury where he or she has received a dose of morphine in the hospital, carfentanyl is 10,000 times more potent. It is coming in by mail order from China. A Calgary man was arrested in September with one kilogram, which could have killed 50 million people.

In B.C. alone, four people have died every day in 2017. It is not any better from 2016. We are on track to go from 900 and some to 1,300 deaths. In one week alone in Vancouver recently, there were 15 deaths. Again, we are averaging four deaths per day. This is just British Columbia, but it is happening across the country.

The people who are dying have many profiles. They might have struggled with addiction for many years or it might just be a young teenager at a party who, for the first time, makes a very bad decision. A recent Facebook post traumatically affected many. A brave mother from Calgary, Sherri Kent, posted a picture of her in a hospital bed with her son Michael just before he died. He was in the intensive care unit, connected to many tubes. There was absolute anguish on her face as she was saying goodbye to him. He had made such a terrible mistake. She did that to raise awareness throughout Canada.

There has been some action to date. Certainly, British Columbia is taking a good lead. Our colleague from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam introduced the good Samaritan Act, which was recently proclaimed. That was a good step. There is better availability of naloxone, which is used to treat an overdose, although we now hear these drugs have become so potent that people do not respond to it the way they used to.

Bill C-37, which the government put into place, had some good measures in it. However, I continue to have concerns that it moved away from community consultation on safe injection sites. That is an important gap and it is still missing, especially as we now know many of the people who are dying would never use a safe injection site. Although this measure has value in some communities, to take away the ability for community input or to require community input was a bad step.

The banning of the pill presses or importation of designated devices was a good step, as well as some additions to the schedules of substances when there was a reasonable grounds to represent risk.

Most important was the additional power for Canada Border Services to inspect and search packages. We heard that with 30 grams, service agents did not have to inspect. That is absolutely critical because this is coming into the country in an envelope. That is a good measure.

What has been missing in our struggle against this crisis? The federal government. Although the provincial government in British Columbia has asked, the federal government continues to decline in declaring this a state of emergency. The Public Health Agency of Canada should be playing a role in this. There is no good education and awareness campaign. We need the federal government to take on a comprehensive education and awareness campaign.

The next area that has had inadequate services and support is detox and recovery. That is primarily provincial. I know many examples of people who are desperate to get off drugs and turn their lives around. They have found that they do not have any opportunities in the support they need to detox.

We have not talked about the criminals, and my colleague is doing that. These people are knowingly importing and selling drugs on the street, which do kill people. This bill would specifically target gangs and other criminal organizations by introducing tougher sentences for drug traffickers who would exploit the addictions of others for personal profit. Those who import and export these drugs should be brought to justice and should encounter increased mandatory minimums.

I listened to my Liberal colleague. All of a sudden the Liberals have this huge obsession that mandatory minimums are not good. However, mandatory minimums have been around almost as long as the Criminal Code. Probably half of the mandatory minimums were put in place by Liberal governments. For the Liberals to argue that mandatory minimums are always bad and that there are all these issues with mandatory minimums is absolutely ridiculous. They have put many of them in place.

The argument is that mandatory minimums are bad and they do not help. Getting criminals off the street, even if it is for two years, is two years where they are not out there putting fentanyl in drugs that are killing children.

The other thing the Liberals need to be held accountable for is that this is a mandatory minimum of somewhere between two years and life. This is not fettering the discretion of judges. It is saying that parliamentarians believe judges cannot go below two years, that there are no circumstances, ever, where less than two years is an appropriate sentence for someone who is potentially killing our children.

It should be attempted murder. It could go as high as the maximum, jail for life, but, as parliamentarians, we are saying that for those who put fentanyl into drugs and sell them on the streets or bring them in with that purpose should go to jail for two years, at the absolute minimum. For the Liberals and the NDP to say that is not okay is absolutely appalling to me. They need to say that to the mothers and fathers, the families that have lost their children, that they do not think it will help and that they do not want to have a baseline of two years for these people to go to jail.

This is a reasonable bill. Canadians and Parliament have been saying forever that there is baseline for what is acceptable. For people importing drugs, lacing drugs, and selling those drugs on the streets, doing it knowing people can be killed, two years in jail as a mandatory minimum is simply not even enough. The fact that the Liberals and the NDP will not support the bill is absolutely shameful.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand to speak to this bill. The bill really touches the tip of the iceberg with respect to these drugs.

I heard my colleague talk about how other parties were opposed to mandatory minimum sentences. From past experience, I know we have had mandatory minimums on a lot of crimes. Impaired driving is the most frequently charged Criminal Code offence, and has had mandatory minimums for a long time. This offence is equal to impaired driving.

This bill would address those people who bring drugs into the country for no purpose other than to provide them to younger people, typically, who perhaps do not realize what they are ingesting. Many times the drugs are a real danger to the first responders who attend: the police, the firefighters, and the ambulance and hospital staff.

Increasing the offences for people importing and exporting these controlled drugs and substances should just be the beginning. Everybody in here should be supportive of that. We face a rising tide of crime in relation to the public health crisis we are facing with opioids. Codeine, fentanyl, OxyContin, hydrocodone, and morphine have become household names as Canadians learn of the extent of this crisis and families suffer losses of their loved ones.

I truly wish that those people who are opposed to having mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who break this law, bring the drugs into the country and distribute them across the country could see how families are torn apart by these drugs.

Diverted pharmaceuticals, fentanyl purchased from China, and stolen horse tranquillizers are finding their way onto Canadian streets with fatal consequences. Most worrying of all is the speed with which illegal opioid sales have grown and the number of overdoses. To put things into perspective, the chief coroner for British Columbia told us at the health committee that the percentage of illicit drug deaths involving fentanyl increased from 5% in 2012 to 60% in 2016. If that is not enough to wake up everybody in the House to the fact that we need to do something to get mandatory minimums in place, I do not know what will wake them up.

It is not just a crisis that affects those who find themselves living without a home, but one that affects Canadians of all ages. Fifty-five thousand Canadian high school students indicated that they had abused opioid pain relievers in the past year. That is a tremendous number.

In Ontario, one in eight deaths of individuals aged 25 to 34 years was found to be opioid-related in 2010. That number will not go down; it will simply go up. Families are being destroyed, communities are being invaded, and all Canadians are experiencing reduced access to health and social services because of the resources required to fight this epidemic. This is a public emergency that hits close to home.

Organized crime has now found a foothold in places and at levels never seen before. When the other side wants to legalize marijuana and when we see what this has done, we can only project what the future will be for organized crime. Even for those people who live in areas free of dealers and opioid users, the effects of this drug in drug crime are still felt in people's access to services.

First responders have had to divert significant resources to address this crisis. Ambulance services, firefighters, police, and hospital emergency rooms are all having resources diverted to address this crisis. This means other crimes committed against local residents are not being investigated. It means ambulances resources are increasingly overworked as they respond to a spike in drug overdoses. It means firefighters now have to additionally consider the chance that what appears to be a simple residential fire may in fact be an illicit and contaminated drug lab, a danger to both their immediate safety and their long-term health.

This says nothing about the increased burden on social services that are already stretched due to the Liberal government's lack of support to local communities.

Mental health workers are already facing an uphill battle against criminal gangs continually pushing all kinds of harmful drugs into the community. If we are to help those most in need, then we also need to fight this crisis at its source and punish those who would wish to continue it. This would bring justice not only to those caught in addiction, but to the sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters already lost to these lethal street drugs.

I recognize that the opioid crisis is multi-faceted, but Bill C-338 is one key step in cutting off the source. I support the bill because criminal enterprises are not facing harsh enough sentences for diverting legitimate pharmaceuticals to illicit street drugs. Those pushing opioids into our streets and communities need to know that their actions will incur serious penalties.

The House is currently debating Bill C-307, which, through tamper-proof safeguards, would deny illegal manufacturers the easy ability to use legal prescriptions to create illicit substances. Cracking down on this prescription loophole would deter many Canadians from selling their prescriptions for easy profits. If we can increase the possibility of serious jail time for dealing illegal opioids, we can send a message to all criminal enterprises that Canada is a place they should not risk operating in.

I would be the first to admit that this one change would not solve the entire problem. A whole host of changes are required to stop opioids from ending up on our streets. Canada's physicians need to overhaul prescribing practices for opioids. Too many prescriptions are being exploited for criminal profit and manufacturing. We must ensure the quick implementation of measures to allow Canada Border Services Agency employees to check packages smaller than 30 grams, and we must ensure they are properly enforced, as called for by Conservative members. Enforcing this measure would ensure an end to the previously unlimited supply of fentanyl mailed in small packages from China.

The government must also ensure that once we have removed these opioids from the streets and placed the criminals behind bars, these same drugs do not end up infecting our prison populations as well. Canadian prisons are currently facing great problems in keeping these dangerous narcotics out. Correctional Service Canada has reported that now even fentanyl has found its way behind bars, as well as the overdoses connected with it. The government needs to ensure that Correctional Service officers have the proper equipment to deal with this rise in overdoses and do more to keep these drugs out of our prisons.

In conclusion, I would say that we need to tackle the source of this problem, which is the lack of treatment options for those with mental health issues, who, as a result, are left most susceptible to dealers and other criminals. If the ongoing mental health crisis is allowed to continue in our streets, on our reserves, and in our schools and universities, the drug crisis and the criminal enterprises that go with it will only continue to grow.

A national strategy for dealing with this is an absolute priority. Whether it is fentanyl, crystal meth, or the next street drug that is easy to produce and cheap to buy at the heart of this drug epidemic, it is the people who are emotionally hurting. This is why the human face of this epidemic is so heartbreaking to acknowledge. These are vulnerable people who have chosen drugs because they do not have the support and the necessary tools to take on life.

Those who would wish to exploit them for illicit gain must know that they will face the full force of the law and serious jail time. This is why I am asking all members of this House to understand the further pain that opioids are causing to Canadian families and to support this very important piece of legislation, Bill C-338.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business


Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the opioid crisis in Canada is something that the government has recognized. The Minister of Health has done a phenomenal job working with the many stakeholders, particularly the Province of British Columbia, not only recognizing the problem but taking actions that will ultimately assist in resolving the problem the best way we can.

The member and others are aware of Bill C-37, a bill introduced by the Minister of Health, which addresses the opioid crisis. However, that is not all this government has done. The government has also provided an additional $65 million over five years for national measures to respond to the opioid crisis and implemented an opioid action plan. In addition, the government has provided $10 million in urgent support for British Columbia, to assist with its response to the overwhelming effects of the emergency in that province. We recognize that this issue goes well beyond the province of British Columbia. The government is seized with the issue and will continue to move forward.

With respect to the issues the member has brought forward in this legislation, the parliamentary secretary said it best, that measures are already in place in Canada. Quite often, the courts will exceed the three years.

Controlled Drugs and Substances ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. parliamentary secretary will have eight minutes remaining in his time when the House next resumes debate on the question.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB


That the House has lost confidence in the Minister of National Defence's ability to carry out his responsibilities on behalf of the government since, on multiple occasions, the Minister misrepresented his military service and provided misleading information to the House.

Mr. Speaker, usually I rise and say that it is an honour to get up and speak, but today is unfortunate in that we have to debate this motion to discuss the comments made by the Minister of National Defence and some of his other misleading comments. There is also a question of privilege that I have already raised in the House on another matter.

Today, opposition members will make the case that the Minister of National Defence has had only a casual relationship with the truth, that he has continually misled the House and Canadians, and that his behaviour is demoralizing our troops and has caused our veterans to be incredibly angry. We also know that our allies are going to have trouble taking him seriously. There is a credibility issue here. We know that the minister's reputation is now damaged beyond repair, and it is a sad state that we have had to come to this point, where a motion is required in the House to ask the minister to resign.

I expect that the Minister of National Defence will get up today and offer an apology. I expect that he will factually state what his service record is. None of us disputes his actual service record. He has served honourably in three tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Bosnia. He was a lieutenant-colonel in the reserve force, and he has always been commended for his service and for the efforts he has put in on behalf of Canada.

The minister will go on to talk about other issues. He is going to try to change the channel so that we are not talking about his comments and his embellishment of history. He is going to start talking about the defence policy review and all the great things the government is going to do, but it is really unfortunate that we cannot talk about those things, because nobody trusts the defence minister at this time.

We will be the voice for those veterans and military members who were first disappointed and then outraged, and are now in dismay and despair over the minister's conduct. It is actually demoralizing our front-line soldiers. Not only are we going to talk about the role of the minister in Operation Medusa, but we will also come to the question of privilege that I have in the House over his misleading comments and the facts revolving around our troops who are in the fight against ISIS at Camp Arifjan and having those danger pay benefits taken away and not returned in their entirety.

We will also talk about the so-called capability gap in our fighter jets and how that does not match up to what members as well as past commanders of the Royal Canadian Air Force have said. We will also touch on the minister's comments in the past that pulling our CF-18s out of the fight against ISIS was something that he never received any commentary on, even though the facts, through an access to information request, prove otherwise.

We know that under the leadership of the Minister of National Defence we have seen budget cuts in two successive budgets by the Liberals, which have reduced the spending and future investments in our military by $12 billion. Now with the minister's credibility completely undermined, by himself, I might add, there is no way that our military trusts him to actually deliver anything in the future for them.

Finally, it comes back to whether or not he has the strength at the cabinet table to get things done, to stand up for our troops, and to deliver the equipment and the budgets that they need to go forward.

One of the best comments that capsulize why our Minister of National Defence would embellish his service record in Operation Medusa comes from retired Lieutenant-General William Carr, who is the father of today's modern air force in Canada, someone we could actually call an architect. He said in a letter to the editor:

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's search for recognition is a national embarrassment.

To the sailors, soldiers and airmen in the Department of National Defence, his image is, at best, one of an insecure veteran in a field he professes to know. For the good of the Canadian Forces, his departure would be a relief.

That sums up the calls, emails, letters, and social media posts that have inundated my office.

It is critical that we look at the code of conduct the minister is subjected to, both formerly as a serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces and now as the Minister of National Defence. The definition of “integrity” from the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Code of Values and Ethics states:

To have integrity is to have unconditional and steadfast commitment to a principled approach to meeting your obligations while being responsible and accountable for your actions. Accordingly, being a person of integrity calls for honesty, the avoidance of deception and adherence to high ethical standards. Integrity insists that your actions be consistent with established codes of conduct and institutional values. It specifically requires transparency in actions, speaking and acting with honesty and candour, the pursuit of truth regardless of personal consequences, and a dedication to fairness and justice. Integrity must especially be manifested in leaders and commanders because of the powerful effect of their personal example on peers and subordinates.

That is there for all to see online. There are tables that actually lay this all out. Table 2 clearly states that it is applicable to all DND employees and all members of the Canadian Armed Forces. People are expected to act above the law, to be transparent and ethical, and to have integrity.

If someone did what the minister did, under the code that both the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have, that person would show a lack of integrity. Those in service can be court-martialled. Those are the guidelines that are applicable in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.

As the Minister of National Defence, as the leader of the entire armed forces as well as all employees, the minister has to be held to the highest standard and has to meet that high bar each and every day. Anything below it is a failure.

The Prime Minister's “Open and Accountable Government” document, which lays out the code of conduct and ethical behaviour of ministers and parliamentary secretaries, says:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced.

This reflects on the Prime Minister. He has laid out in this code of conduct that he expects open and accountable government, and yet the Minister of National Defence has failed to live up to that code.

Everyone is wondering, and I hope that today the minister will explain why he felt he needed to embellish his story on Operation Medusa. This was not just a misspeaking. Video evidence shows that he first said this in 2015, when he was campaigning as the Liberal candidate to become the member of Parliament for Vancouver South. He said it quite openly. We do not know how many times it has been repeated behind closed doors or in meetings where he claimed to be “the architect” of Operation Medusa.

On April 18, in a speech in Delhi, the minister clearly stated it. Again, it was not just him speaking. He actually inserted it himself into his speaking notes. People can get the speech online. It has been checked against delivery, meaning that it has gone through the proper processes of being reviewed by the department and by the minister's own staff. The National Post reported on April 30, “It was [the minister] who personally inserted 'the line about Medusa' into the speech, his spokeswoman Jordan Owens said Sunday.” This was not a misspeaking. This was not an accident. This was intentional, and that is very disturbing.

It has been called all sorts of things in the media. We know that people are outraged. We understand that, because everyone expects the minister to be held to the highest ethical standards. Everybody expects that he will act with honesty and avoid deception. His story, his embellishment, his over-exaggeration of his role in Operation Medusa as the architect has also been described as stolen valour.

I received correspondence from retired Major Catherine Campbell, who served 27 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. She also served 18 years as an employee at DND. She sent a letter to the Minister of National Defence. She wrote: “I have to say that I have great respect for what you did in Afghanistan. I don't know why that wasn't honour enough for you. Apparently, it wasn't because on at least two occasions you misinformed us. You claim to have been the architect of Operation Medusa when, as a major working in intelligence, you had nothing to do with the battle plan. That honour belongs to other soldiers, your superior officers. Now, everyone knows that. Worst of all, everyone in the Canadian Armed Forces knows it and they have lost all respect for you. You know enough of the military to know that you cannot continue to lead the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, having lost the respect and trust in this way.

Her letter continued: “I listened to your answers in question period and it was painful. Your response, perhaps drafted by the PMO, was that you made a mistake. A mistake? No, you did not make a mistake. You deliberately and intentionally misled everyone on at least two occasions. You don't get to say, 'I made a mistake and now I'm sorry.' No, I'm afraid there's only one thing for you to do under these circumstances, and that is to resign and make a heartfelt apology to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces for having misled them and having been untruthful about the worst thing that a service member or an officer can be untruthful about in the Canadian Armed Forces.

She wrote: “I imagine you've read the manual Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada. I recommend that the minister read it again and perhaps then he will understand what he has to do.”

That comes from one of our veterans. Long-serving members who have been there alongside the minister, serving this great country and doing what needs to be done are so disappointed.

Today's soldiers, today's troops, are also being impacted by the actions of the Minister of National Defence. One parent contacted me and asked that I not use his name because he wants to protect his family member who is currently serving. He said: “This morning, I spoke to my son about the matter stolen valour by the Minister of Defence. I have to tell you first-hand that, without any doubt, this is a matter that has directly affected the morale and confidence of Canada's front-line infantry soldiers. There is no greater betrayal to the trust and confidence of soldiers than stolen valour. The minister, by fabricating his role to his country for his own personal gain and profile, has undermined and betrayed the trust of the men and women he is supposed to represent. I wanted you to know this. As the father of a young soldier that would give his life to this country, that this deception has shaken the Canadian Forces, from the minister's office right down to the infantry soldier. If the minister has any remnant of a military officer left in his conscience, he will do the right and honourable thing and remove himself from office.”

That capsulizes what people are feeling about the minister's comments on Operation Medusa.

We also have to go to the question of privilege that I raised in this House over the minister's misleading comments on tax relief and danger pay benefits provided to our soldiers at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, and how it also applies to others. If members will recall, I have been raising this in the House for some time. It started with bringing it to the minister's attention privately. Then we brought it up at committee. Then we asked questions here in the House. He continued to say that he was going to take care of it and did not.

There actually had to be a motion brought in from the Conservative side, which received unanimous support, to reinstate the danger pay benefits to all our troops who are fighting ISIS. The answer to my Question No. 600 on the Order Paper, under the minister's own signature, clearly states that it was the Liberals in September 2016 who took away the danger pay of already deployed troops, who went there under the understanding that they were going to receive upwards of $9,000 in benefits, which have been removed. The minister continued to say it was the Conservatives who took away these benefits.

The Conservatives were not in government in September 2016. The Liberals were. The minister's answer, dated January 30, proved that the benefits were there, effective October 5, 2014, when the Conservatives were still in power, to September 1, 2016, when the Liberals took them away. The minister actually put out a press release saying that they restored them, but they did not. They only restored half of them.

We received letters from various soldiers who are serving over there. They sent a letter and there was a blast out to everyone here in the House. It said that our troops in Kuwait right now are feeling despair at this point because they do not feel valued or recognized for the risks they are facing and the hardship placed on their families here at home while they are deployed.

There is another issue I would like to raise. This information was received through an access to information request. It has to do with when the Minister of National Defence ordered our CF-18s to return home from the fight against ISIS, that we stop bombing ISIS terrorists, and that we bring them home.

The minister was over in Iraq meeting with the Iraqi defence minister and other government officials on December 20. On December 21, he met with the Kurdistan regional government. He said in an interview in The Globe and Mail on December 21, 2015, “I haven't had one discussion about the CF-18s”, not one, and yet, our access to information request clearly stated, in a wire that was sent home on December 22, in writing a summary for December 20 about Canada's Minister of National Defence, “the Iraqi minister of defence was clearly focused on Canada's decision to withdraw its CF-18 fighter jets from the coalition air strikes, asking the [Minister of National Defence] to reconsider this decision on numerous occasions”. On December 21, he said it was never once brought to his attention.

We know he was going to Erbil to meet with the Kurdistan regional government, but we know on October 21, 2015 that the chief of staff to the Kurdistan regional government said, “It was bad news for us.” Then on November 22, the foreign affairs minister of the Kurdistan regional government said, “We'd like to keep the air strikes.” This is all public information on the discussions that they had with our Minister of National Defence. He keeps saying that our allies were ecstatic about our pulling out our CF-18s. Again, it is misrepresenting the facts, misleading Canadians, and undermining his own credibility.

Finally, I want to come back to this issue of a capability gap of our fighter jets. We know that it is a fabricated issue that the minister invented to try to make commentary on why we need to sole-source Super Hornets. Lieutenant-General Michael Hood, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, said in committee that there is “sufficient capacity to support a transition to a replacement fighter capability based on the ongoing projects and planned life extension to 2025 for the CF-18." He also stated on November 28, “We were comfortable as an armed forces in meeting those”—NORAD and NATO commitments—“with our extant fleet. That policy has changed with a requirement to be able to meet both of those concurrently, as opposed to managing them together,”—which we've always done as a nation—“thus the requirement to increase the number of fighters available.”

Finally, we had 13 former commanders of the Royal Canadian Air Force who have written that purchasing the Super Hornets is ill-advised, costly, and unnecessary because there is no capability gap.

As members can see, the Minister of National Defence has a long track record of misleading this House and misleading Canadians, to the point that now Canadians do not believe him. We know that our troops no longer trust him and are demoralized. Our veterans are outraged that he is no longer taken seriously by our allies.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed in the member across the way and the Conservative Party's approach to dealing with this. Let me share a couple of things and maybe the member will respond.

There was an invitation from the Ukrainian community in Manitoba for the minister to come out, and I happened to be in the audience. I heard a very proud Minister of National Defence talk about how wonderful a job our men and women are doing abroad, with a special focus on Ukraine. I believe that if one were to canvass that room, one would have found there was unanimous agreement that what is happening abroad is in fact very admirable. It was the Minister of National Defence who talked about the glory of how our men and women abroad are serving our country and doing such a fantastic job.

The member across the way likes to uses terms such as “a misrepresentation” or “misleading information”. He needs to look in the mirror. When it came to the hardship pay or danger pay element, the Harper government said that it brought it in for our men and women abroad. I will ask the member across the way to be honest and confirm that it was this Minister of National Defence who ensured retroactive payments, that it was this minister who made it happen for our men and women—

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, if the member for Winnipeg North wants to stand here and say that the Liberals did everything they could have done to help out our troops in Kuwait, I can say that the troops do not buy it. They do not believe it. They only got half of what they deserved, three out of six months, with no extension going forward for those who will be continuing on over there for the next two years in Operation Impact.

We know that when the Conservatives faced a similar situation, ministers like Peter MacKay and Jason Kenney acceded and said that they were not going to do that, that the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are in service in the fight against ISIS would get their danger pay. They always received it. We brought forward a motion that the Liberals endorsed. They had to because it would have been too embarrassing otherwise. They only provided three out of the six months. That is another reason why our troops are so demoralized, because they do not trust the current minister to fight and advocate for them to ensure that they get the benefits they deserve.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Mr. Speaker, as this is the first time I am on my feet in this debate, I want to start by saying on behalf of the New Democratic Party that no one in our party questions the bravery of the service of the minister in Afghanistan. This is not a question of what he did in Afghanistan. It is a question of what he has done as minister, and I hope this debate stays focused on that today.

The issue of transparency, following his apology, means we need to know exactly what it was he did do in Afghanistan. In a particular sense, he made the decision on behalf of his government not to hold an inquiry into the transfer of detainees. The Conservatives focused on a lot of issues around the minister's role, but said nothing about the issue of whether there should be an inquiry into the transfer of detainees. The work the minister was doing was on the Conservative watch in Afghanistan. Do the Conservatives agree with us in the New Democratic Party that there needs to be a full public inquiry into the possible transfer of detainees to face torture in Afghanistan?

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, Parliament has already looked at this issue. However, I will say that we do support the idea from our friends in the NDP that we need to look at the role the Minister of National Defence had in the collecting of intelligence, because he was not just collecting intelligence for the Canadian Armed Forces; he was also sharing that with allies, and how that intelligence was used in the potential mistreatment of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan. First and foremost, there is that question.

Second, we know that the minister has provided different versions of his role in Afghanistan as it applies to Operation Medusa. There is the role that he actually played, which we all congratulate him for and thank him for his service. We are not questioning the facts. There is the idea that he is the architect. Then there is the question of the version that he gave to the Ethics Commissioner when he was looking at this from the standpoint of a conflict of interest as the minister, in his role. He actually diminished his role by saying that he was just a reservist there providing cultural outreach, training military police, and collecting some intelligence. It goes from his being the architect to his just doing some cultural outreach and collecting intelligence. There is a whole breadth of differences there that we need to really look at.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne Québec


Sherry Romanado LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that the member opposite brought up Mr. MacKay, because quite frankly, when it comes to national defence, the Conservatives are known for their fishing trips, and this motion is absolutely no exception.

The reality is that this minister has served his country valiantly and he made a mistake. We are talking about a grammar mistake, the difference between the words “and” and “the”. It is unfortunate that the member opposite is politicizing a grammar mistake, because we have a lot more interesting and important issues that we could be debating today, including the fact that right now we have 1,600 brave men and women working on Operation Lentus through the Trois-Rivières-Gatineau corridor.

Does the member opposite really feel that a grammar mistake warrants this conversation?

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, I just want to join the member in thanking all the brave men and women who are currently working against flooding in Quebec and along the Ottawa River. It is very dangerous right now, and we appreciate their valiant work in standing up for Canadians who are dealing with property damage and whose lives are at risk.

This was not a grammar mistake, as we already pointed out. The term was used on numerous occasions. It was written into a speech by the minister himself. We clearly outlined that there is a habitual pattern of misleading Canadians by the Minister of National Defence. That is the reason we are having this unfortunate debate today. A minister of the crown, and in particular the Minister of National Defence, is to be held to the highest ethical standards. What we have today, unfortunately, is just not good enough.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for bringing this issue forward. It should have been discussed last week, but some punitive action by the Liberals across the way removed our opposition day motion last Thursday, delaying it until today. I am sure that was not a procedural tactic at all to try to put some time and space between the minister and his unfortunate comments.

My question is for my colleague who is moving the motion today. The Prime Minister stood in this House and said that he has absolutely full confidence in the minister. If the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, veterans, and most Canadians no longer have confidence in the minister, that would imply they no longer have confidence in the Prime Minister and his judgment in this matter as well.

In the 11 years that I have been a member of Parliament in this House, I do not recall a motion like this ever coming forward. I would like my hon. colleague who moved this motion to talk about the tie between the irresponsible choices that the Prime Minister is making and the choices that the minister has made as well.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, the member is right that we actually tabled this motion last week. We were supposed to have our opposition day on Thursday, and the Liberals changed our day to today. Instead of dealing with it when we should have, we are dealing with it today.

Second, this is a reflection on the Prime Minister, on his choices for cabinet, and on whether or not he is going to stand up for what is ethical, what is just, and what is right. We are not seeing him do that at this point in time.

When we look at history, when everyone is saying this was just one incident, we see that there are a range of incidents in which the Minister of National Defence has misled Canadians. When we in government, we had a minister who resigned over a glass of orange juice, because it called into question her ethics and her lack of judgment in making a choice on a glass of orange juice.

We are not making a mountain out of a molehill here. This is about the character of and the fundamental basis of who people are and how they serve the government. That is what is at issue here. This is not about the service record of the minister, which I am sure he is going to talk about now in detail, including all the great stuff he has done as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces; this is about the minister's behaviour over the last year and a half, and how our military no longer trusts him and how Canadians no longer believe him.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Vancouver South B.C.


Harjit S. Sajjan LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to pass on my condolences to the families who have had losses in recent flooding in Quebec and in British Columbia. I thank all the Canadian Armed Forces members who are serving today in Operation Lentus.

There are a lot of critical issues facing the Canadian Armed Forces, and I am grateful for the opportunity to raise some of these in the House. My job as minister of national defence is to serve the women and men in uniform who so proudly serve our country. I am privileged to have this responsibility and I will continue to work as hard as I possibly can, every single day.

There are many of us in the House who have at one time felt the call of duty to serve in uniform, and we are proud of their service. The members for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, Kelowna—Lake Country, Durham, Winnipeg North, and Kanata—Carleton all served our country in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The members for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount and Winnipeg Centre both served in the Royal Canadian Navy, and the latter spent a significant time in the Canadian army as well.

The members for Terrebonne, Beauport—Limoilou, Orléans, Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, and Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge all served our great country in the Canadian army.

Many were cadets, including the member for Mississauga—Lakeshore, highlighting how the cadet program is one of the finest youth leadership programs in the country.

The member for Brampton Centre also served in uniform, with the Indian Air Force.

I thank them all for their service. They are a credit to the uniform, and their experience is invaluable to this place.

We must always remember that when someone decides to serve their country in uniform, the whole family serves alongside them. I know there are several members with relatives who have served or are currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. For example, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs has two sons serving as junior officers. We honour those who stand behind our troops and support them at home.

I am proud of the actions our government has taken since coming to office. Our women and men in uniform serve all Canadians, not just the government of the day. That is why our government has taken important steps to make the Canadian Armed Forces more open and accessible to all members of Parliament on behalf of the constituents they serve. We re-opened Canadian Armed Forces bases, detachments, airfields, and ships to all parliamentarians, senators, and officials from different levels of government in an effort to highlight the work our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and airwomen do on our behalf every single day. We want all parliamentarians to participate in our program so they can take their experiences and stories to their ridings and inspire a new generation to heed the call for service.

We are also taking politics out of the selection process for honorary colonels. We are appointing Canadians with deep community roots to represent our regiments, wings, and ships from coast to coast to coast.

Canada is taking a more significant leadership role in NATO than it has in decades. As one of four framework nations, we are leading a battle group stationed in Latvia as part of the alliance's enhanced forward presence initiative. This will provide meaningful deterrence against any repeat of Russia's provocative behaviour.

We have of course also renewed Operation Unifier, demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine in our training mission there. We refocused our contribution to the fight against Daesh, and Canadians are now making an even greater impact as part of the global coalition, and we are seeing results. Canadian Forces are part of a broader whole-of-government approach to the conflict in Iraq and Syria and are also making a difference in that region. I was fortunate to be able to work with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Development on the renewed Operation Impact.

Our government has taken decisions and taken action to replace our aging fleet of fighters, something the previous government had 10 years to do, but did not. It is because of that decade of decline and inaction that we no longer have a fighter fleet that can meet our NORAD and NATO commitments simultaneously.

It is certainly true that the Royal Canadian Air Force has done an admirable job in risk managing this capability gap and, yes, it has the planes it needs to continue to risk manage effectively. The previous government felt this was an acceptable situation, but we are a G7 nation, and our government has made it clear that it is not good enough to risk manage our commitments; we are going to meet them.

That is why we have taken action to address this capability gap by exploring the purchase of an interim fleet of fighters, and of course we will conduct an open and transparent competition to replace the entire fleet. I want to thank the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the President of the Treasury Board, and our colleagues on the defence procurement committee for all their work on the fighter jets.

We have finally awarded a contract to replace our fixed-wing search and rescue planes, another important project that went in circles over the past decade. Our search and rescue technicians work day and night in dangerous conditions keeping Canadians safe. They deserve the best equipment and support possible, and I am proud of finishing this process that started under the Martin government.

I am proud of the work our chief of the defence staff and the Canadian Forces are doing to stamp out inappropriate sexual behaviour under Operation Honour. Every person who serves her or his country despite the many dangers and sacrifices of military service deserves a professional environment in which he or she is treated with respect and dignity. There is a great deal more to do, and it is essential that the Canadian Armed Forces maintain the momentum developed to date in eliminating harmful and inappropriate behaviour. Our government fully supports this work.

I have been the Minister of National Defence for about 18 months now, and it has been just as rewarding as it has been challenging. While the actions we have taken so far are indeed important, there is a lot more work to do. In the 2015 election campaign, we promised to conduct a comprehensive review of defence policy and engage Canadians and parliamentarians in the process, and we have done just that and more.

I know the official opposition does not like to deal in facts when it comes to defence, but there is a fact it cannot ignore: Canada's defence spending, as a proportion of GDP, was considerably lower when the Conservatives were removed from office than when they came in. However, it is not just about the spending numbers. It is about our outputs; it is about the Canadian Armed Forces' contribution to Canada's role in the world; most of all, it is about fully supporting our women and men in uniform and their families. That is why the defence policy review has been so important.

It has been 20 years since a real policy review was done, and it was long overdue. I believe it is important for Canadians and members of this House to understand exactly where we are starting from before we talk about where we need to be and how we plan to get there.

It is true that successive governments contributed to the current state of affairs in the Canadian Forces. I know parliamentarians of all stripes, despite the rhetoric and finger-pointing that occur here, understand that underinvestment has caused real problems, yet the state of affairs is in some ways worse than realized by most observers.

I know members understand that we cannot build the Canadian Armed Forces this nation needs through a series of short-term decisions. I know members understand that a military is not strengthened by cobbling together pieces from one budget to the next, by succumbing continually to the pressures of the urgent at the expense of the strategic, and by hoping that 20 years down the line, all of the disjointed ups and downs will somehow result in the military we need. That is why, when launching a defence policy review, we set out to take the long-term view to deliver a credible, realistic, and funded strategy for our military.

Let me state outright and up front that the Canadian Armed Forces delivers what governments ask of it every single time. It has performed superbly, regardless of the resource constraints it faces. All Canadians can be proud of the fact that our women and men in uniform answer the call of duty whenever and wherever it is found. In recent years alone, it has deployed to Iraq to contribute to the global efforts in the fight against Daesh; it deployed to Nepal just 48 hours after a tragic earthquake struck that tiny nation; and it deployed with NATO to bolster alliance resolve and deterrence against Russian actions in Ukraine.

At home, they helped the residents of Winnipeg and Fort McMurray overcome massive floods and devastating forest fires, and today they are deploying in several regions of Quebec to assist provincial and local authorities with the devastating floods in that province. The Canadian Armed Forces is an inspiring institution that makes me proud every single day. Responsive, professional, and dedicated, it is counted among the best militaries in the world. However, militaries cannot perform well forever without proper support.

Governments have a responsibility to uphold their end of the bargain, to care for their military, resource them properly, and fund them in a responsible way that meets their needs. In the past, governments have not delivered predictable, sustainable, long-term funding for the Canadian Armed Forces. It has not been a straight line.

Let me take a moment to retrace some of the twists and turns. In 2004-05, the Paul Martin government implemented annual budget increases of around $1.5 billion in successive years. After that, the budget grew incrementally, predominantly to cover the cost of the combat mission in Afghanistan, until it ended in 2011. Two deficit-reduction programs followed: the strategic review, and the deficit reduction action plan. By the time that these were were fully implemented in 2015, each reduced the annual defence budget by $1 billion, for a total of $2 billion per year. The defence escalator, which was implemented to protect the DND budget from defence inflation, was increased from 1.5% to 2% in 2011, and beginning this fiscal year, it increased from 2% to 3%. However, even that will not be sufficient to meet our future requirements.

Years of ups and downs have contributed to unpredictability for those responsible for supporting, maintaining, and sustaining the forces, and the planning for its future. The reductions have left the organization hollow in a number of areas. Fighter jets and ships are prime examples of the unfortunate link between inadequate investment and capability gaps. Canadians were told a few years ago that the government would buy 65 new jets to replace our aging fleet of CF-18s, but for the missions that we asked the Royal Canadian Air Force to undertake and our alliance commitments, 65 jets would simply not be enough; it would only be a fleet for risk managing our requirements, not meeting them. Furthermore, the $9 billion in funding that was earmarked for jet replacement by the previous government is nowhere near enough to cover the 65 jets proposed.

For the navy's new surface combatant, the previous government ended up saying that it would buy up to 15 ships. As has been well reported, the budget identified was dramatically insufficient and unrealistic. The Royal Canadian Navy deserves a clear, realistic, and fully funded commitment. Canada's naval capabilities are at a 40-year low right now. The number of operational ships in Canada's fleet has dropped by five in the past two years alone. Ships have been retired without replacement, because any plans for investment simply came too late. Without a single destroyer in its fleet, Canada will rely on the U.S. and NATO for area air defence until the introduction of our new surface combatants. Without a single supply ship, Canada is relying on the capabilities of allies and partners for its replenishment needs as well.

These examples alone would be troubling enough, but there is much more to grapple with. Closing recruitment offices made it harder to attract new recruits, and cutting the number of procurement officers made it difficult to buy, maintain, and sustain all the tools and equipment we could afford for our military. We are in the troubling position where status quo spending on defence will not even maintain the status quo of the capability.

Current funding has us digging ourselves into a hole, a hole that is getting deeper every single year. As a percentage of our GDP, we are spending less on defence today than we were in 2005. There is a list of major capital projects that are entirely unfunded. These are not nice-to-have projects; these are projects that must be completed to allow our military to keep doing what it is doing, investments that need to be made in the forces' key equipment and capabilities, and no funding has been allocated for them.

Our air force will need funding for mid-life upgrades to its Cormorant search and rescue helicopters. We are talking about a critical need to invest in a fleet of aircraft that our air force uses in operations every day to help Canadians in distress.

They also need sufficient funds to extend the life of the Griffons. These are highly reliable helicopters that have served our air force faithfully on missions at home and abroad. These helicopters are used to transport troops and materials. They have done so on humanitarian missions, on operations in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq. The Griffons can fit right into a C-17 Globemaster, so they are easily transportable and give the forces flexibility and agility in responding to crises around the world. However, if we do not fund their life extension project, we need to phase them out, because helicopters with obsolete instrumentation cannot fly in North American air space. No money was allocated to keep them running.

With the army, we discovered that no funding has been allocated to allow soldiers to keep doing some of their most important work. Without support from our allies, Canadian soldiers deployed overseas would be exposed to threats emanating from aircraft, missiles, and long-range artillery. Investments in ground-based air and munitions defence systems are required to guarantee the safety of our deployed troops, yet no money has been earmarked to provide this protection to our soldiers in the past.

There are several other examples of projects that the army needs the government to fund in order to ensure it can continue to assist Canadians during natural disasters to meet international commitments. Its fleet of heavy support equipment, such as forklifts, loaders, and excavators, needs to be replaced so that our soldiers can build camps as well as roads and shelters. The list of activities that our soldiers undertake with this equipment is long, and yet, here too, no investments were planned.

Furthermore, the army's fleet of logistic support vehicles, such as trailers and medium-sized trucks used to transport supplies and essential equipment, has been significantly degraded over time and must be replaced. These capabilities are essential to sustain our soldiers at home and abroad. Again, no investment was planned.

The resourcing problems that we have found the most troubling are the ones that have directly affected our servicemen and women. In over 25 years as a reservist, I saw first-hand the way that our governments have failed to properly equip a reserve force. Not only is there not enough equipment, but the training to use what equipment they have is lacking as well. Our reserve units are tremendously resourceful and they perform extremely well, despite having been underfunded for so long. However, that does not excuse the failure to properly resource our reservists. They deserve gratitude from the governments that deployed them away from their families and in harm's way.

Instead, when they take off the uniform, they get pension cheques delivered way too late. They have to run an obstacle course when they retire from the military, and they get shortchanged in more ways than any government would want to admit.

These are some of the problems to be solved. Before it can build anything new, Canada's new defence policy must first get us out of the hole that we are starting in.

That is why we have sought input from parliamentarians from all parties, and why we sought input during a series of expert round tables, including the industry round table. That is why we consulted Canadians across the country, through our online portal and town hall discussions. We also had round table discussions to hear from the indigenous communities, members of academia, and other expertise, on gender-related issues. We want a thorough understanding of how every facet of our defence policy would impact our own people and Canada generally.

We will act on the evidence gathered throughout the defence policy review. The process has made clear that there is the need to focus on emerging domains like space and cyber, and the need to remain a trusted and capable ally.

Canada's new defence policy will be just that. It will be a plan to get out of the hole that we are starting in. It will be a plan to build an even stronger military. It will be a plan to allocate realistic funding to those bread-and-butter projects that will keep our military running effectively and efficiently for years to come. Most of all, it will be a plan to care for the women and men who put on the uniform and serve Canada.