Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House of Commons to speak to Bill C-93, an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.
As I mentioned earlier, I do not think this bill goes far enough. It is too little, too late. Let me explain. It is too little because this bill was not introduced until after cannabis was legalized. The government dragged its feet on record suspensions. It waited too long. The legalization of cannabis came into effect, but people still have criminal records for simple possession of cannabis. We are not talking about trafficking marijuana here, just simple possession. These people have a criminal record for simple possession, when it is currently legal to use marijuana.
By the way, just because something is legal does not mean it is a good idea. I want to say that even though it is legal to use marijuana, it is not really a good idea to do so. I also want to say that the legislation legalizing cannabis should really have included a major public health campaign to make people aware of the effects and risks of using marijuana. Marijuana is like any other substance. It is legal to drink alcohol, for example, but it can be addictive. I know what I am talking about. I know people who are addicted to alcohol. Marijuana can also be addictive. That is obviously the case with tobacco as well, which is also a legal substance. Cigarettes are a terrible product that can be addictive. These are legal products. The government can legalize these products, but it also needs to inform the public of the risks associated with using them.
We are talking about people who have a criminal record for simple possession. This has nothing to do with trafficking. It is really about people being caught for simple possession. These people therefore have a criminal record for something that is now legal and has been legal for a few months. Drug use should never be criminalized. Instead, it should be regarded as a public health matter. I am thinking of the opioid crisis raging across Canada, for example. We should be taking a public health approach.
This bill is too late because legalization came into effect several months ago, yet we are only just debating this legislation today. This legislation allows for criminal records to be suspended. This means that criminal records are set aside, but they are not expunged.
As a result, people who are granted a record suspension will still have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. They will always have to wonder what might happen when they try to rent an apartment, find a job or apply to volunteer. They will be asked if they have a criminal record, and they will have to answer that their record was suspended. Their criminal record will not be completely expunged. The same will be true when they want to travel. What will happen when they want to travel? If the government really wanted to do things right, it would have passed the excellent bill introduced by my colleague from Victoria.
His bill was introduced a long time ago. In October 2018, my colleague from Victoria introduced a good bill. We were ready. We had done our homework. Instead of using that fine bill, the Liberals showed that had no regard whatsoever for Canadians who have a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis, something that is no longer a crime, and who face barriers to things like employment and housing.
It is far too late to wake up now. There are less than three weeks left before the end of this Parliament. Now the government is waking up and introducing this bill. We are at third reading stage. We are moving quickly, but unfortunately we are cutting corners. We are not being thorough, and it is truly worrisome.
There is a not-for-profit organization in my riding or in the central Quebec region that does very important work. As others have mentioned, the problem with the Liberal philosophy is the lack of emphasis on resources.
I would like to talk about an extremely important resource. The organization is called Action Toxicomanie. This community-based organization was founded in 1991. It provides services in the central Quebec and Drummond region.
The organization serves a significant number of young people through its addiction prevention programs, which are also offered in schools. Action Toxicomanie is a community-based not-for-profit organization that promotes healthy living and addiction prevention and is geared to young people from 10 to 30. As I was saying, the organization takes a holistic approach that focuses on promoting physical and mental health as well as social skills development. Interventions can be individual or group-based and seek to develop individual knowledge and abilities.
Action Toxicomanie's website details the organization's mission, which is to prevent addiction, provide accurate information about substances and related addictions, support the development of social skills, inform and support parents and adults, intervene with teens and adults with emerging substance abuse issues, and support teens with clear substance abuse issues and refer them to specialized services.
I would like to congratulate the entire Action Toxicomanie team on the excellent work they are doing with our young people. As I have always said, resources like this are extremely important. When the government legalized cannabis, it put the cart before the horse. In their rush to legalize cannabis, the Liberals forgot to safeguard public health in this country, implement a comprehensive public education and prevention campaign, provide provinces and municipalities with the right resources to prepare for this major social change, and make sure organizations working to educate youth and prevent addiction were ready to deal with the change and properly equipped to go into schools and communities to inform people. That is why I find it virtually impossible to support the bill.
I just want to digress for a moment if I may. We are talking about physical and mental health. I just talked about a very good organization, Action Toxicomanie.
I would like to talk about the book N'oublie jamais by Gregory Charles, which my mother gave me. She may have been giving me a message to never forget to think about her, never forget to call her or never forget to go see her. Mothers send subtle messages like that. This book talks about Alzheimer's.
Gregory Charles comes from Saint-Germain-de-Grantham, in my riding. He grew up there. He recently visited École Jean-Raimbault in Drummondville to talk to the children about his passion, his faith in music and his strong values. He did this for the children. He came to visit the children who are studying music and spent over an hour playing music with them. I simply wanted to acknowledge the time he spent with these children.
His book highlights the importance of hard work and strong values and talks about how crucial it is to take care of those around us. I think that is what my mother was trying to tell me when she gave me this book. I thank her for that.
I thank Gregory Charles for what he did for the community of Drummond, and I congratulate the team at École Jean-Raimbault, especially Denis Lambert, who spearheaded this initiative.
I would like to give some other examples.
When it comes to the legalization of marijuana, the government is only taking half measures. Before I talk about them, I want to give an example of another issue on which the government is only taking half measures, and that is the housing crisis.
Drummond is experiencing a housing crisis. The vacancy rate is 1.7%. The vacancy rate for three-bedroom homes is 0.4%. What is more, prices are going way up. Over 15,000 renter households in Drummondville are being forced to spend more than half of their annual income on housing. When households have to spend half of their annual income on housing, they do not have much money left over to meet their other needs.
David Bélanger, the chair of Drummond's municipal housing board, said:
When people have to spend nearly one-third of their income on housing, there are obviously other needs that are not being met. We are developing projects to create more affordable housing. The housing crisis has two dimensions, namely accessibility and affordability.