Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate Bill C-10, this government's feeble attempt to address the possession and production of marijuana in Canada.
At times Canadians must wonder if the government is even aware of the problems of marijuana grow ops in Canada. I have tried for some time now to make these Liberals aware of the extent of the problem in my constituency of Surrey North.
In Surrey alone, an estimated 3,500 to 4,500 grow ops generate, conservatively estimated, in excess of $2 billion per year. B.C. bud goes into the United States as currency for guns and cocaine. These grow ops are run by violent criminal gangs and many are located in residential neighbourhoods where there are plenty of children. I continue to receive letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents who are extremely angry that too little is being done.
The criminal intelligence directorate of the RCMP issued a report, “Marijuana Cultivation in Canada”, in November 2002. In 2001, Canadian police seized close to $1.4 million marijuana plants, a six-fold increase since 1993. In 2002, 54 million grams of bulk marijuana were seized, up from 28 million in 2001. This phenomenal increase in the illegal production of marijuana occurred under this government's watch while the current Prime Minister held the purse strings on funding that could have addressed the problem long before now.
The RCMP told the former solicitor general that grow ops had reached “epidemic proportions”--that is their wording--and that resources to take them down were an issue.
Innocent lives are at risk here. We have had drive-by shootings, assaults and murders. Neighbours frequently have their homes violently invaded in so-called grow rips, when the bad guys get the wrong address.
Why do we not see any resources directly targeting marijuana grow operations and why is there not a strategy in place? This is out of control.
The former solicitor general called the problem serious and admitted it should be challenged head on. He said, “We do have to do more”. He said that he had raised the matter with the former minister of finance, the current Prime Minister. At that time, he declared that in the next few weeks the government would bring forward proposals that, in his words, “will in a more comprehensive fashion challenge the grow operations, to increase penalties and take them down”.
Bill C-10 falls woefully short of that promise.
The current maximum sentence for growing marijuana is seven years. The bill we are debating proposes increasing the maximum sentence to 14 years, but only for more than 50 plants. The maximum sentence for growing four to 25 plants will actually be reduced to five years. That is shocking. We are reducing sentences while international organized crime is increasingly establishing grow ops in Canada due to our already lax laws and lenient sentences.
Besides, with penalties still at the discretion of the courts, what is the point of increasing maximum sentences when they rarely, if ever, come close to imposing the current maximums? With no set mandatory minimum sentences, we will continue to see judges giving far less than the maximum penalties for cultivation. If the government were truly serious about combatting grow ops, it would have instituted mandatory minimum jail sentences and more effective proceeds of crime legislation.
This legislation is great news for organized crime. The November 2002 RCMP criminal intelligence directorate report declared that high profits, a low risk of being caught and lenient sentences are spurring the epidemic of marijuana grow ops in Canada. It states:
Police resources are now being taxed to the point where difficult choices must be made when faced with competing priorities.
This explains why law enforcement agencies are unable to make a lasting impact on the marijuana cultivation industry in Canada. Huge profits from illegal marijuana growing are often used by organized crime, in the words of the report “to finance other illicit activities, such as the importation of Ecstasy, liquid hashish and cocaine”.
The number of illegal marijuana operations is rising so fast that some Canadian police agencies are being overwhelmed, the RCMP report said, stating that:
In some parts of the country, the phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions.
I have been asking questions in the House for some time now about the government's lack of effort to take down marijuana grow ops. In the spring of 2003, the former solicitor general visited Surrey to examine the problem, in part, by his own admission, because of questions I had asked in this place. To this point in time, neither my constituents nor I have seen any action from the government. I commented at the time that his visit was just a grow op photo op. It now appears as though that is all it was.
In August 2003, another RCMP criminal intelligence unit report said that organized crime is extending its marijuana grow op reach clear across Canada by merging with biker gangs.
On December 17, 2003, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police released a report entitled “Green Tide: Indoor Marijuana Cultivation and its Impact on Ontario”. This study sounds an alarm in Ontario about a problem the RCMP labelled epidemic on a national scale one year previously. It details the threats to public safety and the cost to society in stolen electricity and insurance premiums, among other things. It also links grow ops to organized crime and shows that the problem affects both rural and urban communities. This is all old news to British Columbians.
B.C. and the Surrey RCMP have been tackling the problem head-on and in recent months have taken down numerous grow ops, no thanks to Ottawa. Perhaps now that grow ops are a problem in vote-rich Ontario, these Liberals will take serious legislative action.
Why has the government allowed the problem to get worse? Report after report, year in and year out, has declared that there is an escalating marijuana grow op problem. Why did it not use the bill to do something significant rather than just tinker around with maximum sentences?
On the issue of decriminalization, the government is sending our youth an extremely confusing message. On one hand it has said not to use drugs and that it is getting tough on cultivation and trafficking, but then it has followed up by tacitly condoning the use of marijuana by decriminalizing its possession.
To further exacerbate things, the Liberals propose lower fines for kids than for adults: one gram of hashish, $300 for adults, $200 for youths aged 12 to 18; 15 grams or less of marijuana, $150 for adults and $100 for youths; 15 to 30 grams of marijuana, $300 for adults and $200 for youths. What lunacy: if they can afford to buy the drugs, then should we not assume they can afford to pay the fine? What kind of message is this?
To sum up, although the Liberals have committed to studying “drug driving”, without effective roadside assessment capabilities we will see more drug impaired drivers getting behind the wheel with no concrete way to detect them. The Ontario police are experimenting with a “potalyser”, which would detect marijuana in the bloodstream. The federal government should investigate these types of innovations.
Collection of fines and the nonpayment of tickets will fall under provincial jurisdiction. Many provinces have already indicated that they do not have the resources to follow up in these areas.
Fine levels do not increase for subsequent offences, so therefore there would be no deterrent for repeat offenders.
There has been no provision put in place by the government to review changes to the law resulting from the future increase in THC toxicity or potency of marijuana.
The proposed meagre enforcement resources add up to about two dozen extra RCMP officers nationwide. Local or municipal law enforcement would not receive any new resources.
There is no establishment of an office to coordinate the efforts to deal with illicit drugs in our society.
There is no change in the penalties for trafficking, and only a truly pathetic effort at addressing grow ops.
Personally I am opposed to any attempt to decriminalize the possession of even small amounts of marijuana, for a very simple reason. I have experienced the ultimate consequence of drug abuse by young people. The individuals involved in the assault on my son, which culminated in his murder some eleven and a half years ago, raised marijuana abuse as an issue for defence.
In conclusion, let me say that many of my constituents, several provinces, the Canadian Police Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and many Liberal backbenchers have expressed various concerns over this legislation. For all of these reasons, I will oppose Bill C-10.