I would like to call the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to order. Our agenda should be before all members here.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, October 16, 2007, , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act on methamphetamine, is still under review, under debate. It's a private member's bill, of course.
Mr. Chris Warkentin, I believe you will be making an opening statement.
I know, committee members, there was a desire for more information, specifically from the police. Representing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we have Michel Aubin, acting director general, drugs and organized crime, and Mr. Culver. Welcome to the committee. And from the Department of Justice we have Greg Yost, counsel, criminal law policy section. Welcome.
Mr. Warkentin, the floor is yours.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I wish a happy new year to everyone around the table. I'm happy to be back, and I hope today to be able to clarify some of the questions and some of the issues that folks had with my private member's bill. I'm here today first to walk through and resolve some of those questions and then to give you additional information as well.
I'm not sure the clerk has been able to get a translation yet, so I won't table it at this moment, but I want to give each member the opportunity to know that this morning we put out press releases from our office notifying Canadians that the FCM, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, has given its unequivocal support for this private member's bill. This was an unsolicited support, and we're very pleased to do that.
There may be people contacting you, because we informed the media that today was the day we would be bringing this again to committee. This press release may be available later on in the meeting, if they're able to make the translations available.
Today I'm here to clarify some of the issues people had around the table when I was here in the last part of last year. There were questions on some of the aspects of the private member's bill.
I'd be the first person in this room to admit, as a new member of Parliament, that there are opportunities wherein we don't get everything right. I've been working quite a bit with my colleagues from the government side, and two amendments will be or have been brought forward to this committee that I think address many of the concerns committee members had.
It is my hope to address questions that came from the NDP today. There were questions that Libby Davies brought to me regarding the way crystal meth is dealt with in this country. With this bill she had hoped to see that there would be funding attached.
Of course, as all of you are aware, a private member's bill does not have an opportunity to include funding for any type of treatment or any type of measure to combat crystal meth. But I want to assure you that I believe this private member's bill is set in place and walks lockstep with the national drug strategy. Of that national drug strategy and the money that was allocated for it, two-thirds of the funding is dedicated to prevention and treatment options. That, I believe, along with this private member's bill, this legislation, will address her concerns about those issues.
I also wanted to address the concerns she had with respect to a report she quoted from; it's from the City of Vancouver. I guess the impression may have been left for committee members that there seemed from this report not to be a necessity to advocate for stricter regulations.
I want to just read recommendation 27 from that report, which she quoted from. It says in recommendation 27:
That the City of Vancouver advocate for stricter regulation of precursor chemicals that are necessary for the manufacturing of large quantities of methamphetamine and for increased capacity by the federal and provincial governments to enforce these regulations
I think it's important for all of us to hear and understand that not only are the FCM and other organizations and communities across this country calling for this type of regulation, but the City of Vancouver is walking lockstep with this initiative as well.
I'm not sure people in this room have had the opportunity to see the particular document that was put forward by the federal-provincial-territorial ministers responsible for justice. It's their methamphetamine report. The methamphetamine report basically endorses this private member's bill. I'll read a little bit from my notes about what is being called for.
This report called for amendments to the CDSA to establish new offences for the possession of class A precursors for the purpose of producing methamphetamine: prohibiting the production and trafficking of class A precursors; prohibiting the possession of equipment, chemicals, and other materials for the purpose of the production of methamphetamine; and prohibiting the sale of equipment, chemicals, and other material for the purpose of producing methamphetamine.
This bill fulfills these recommendations, and I really urge the committee, if they haven't had the opportunity, to take a look at this report, because it clearly demonstrates the necessity for this type of legislation that's been moved forward with this private member's bill.
This committee has also had the opportunity to hear witnesses from the Office of Controlled Substances at Health Canada. Ms. Bouchard was here and she testified on December 13, 2007:
If we were to find a person in possession of those substances, and that person were not authorized to possess them, meaning they did not have a licence allowing their possession of those substances, it would not be an offence at the level of the act or statute but a violation of a regulation requiring that the person be in possession of a licence.
There was some discussion in this committee if these regulations did what this private member's bill is calling for, and what she clarifies here in her statement was:
However, the penalties associated with those offences are not very high. They're related to section 46 of the CDSA act and are for a maximum of up to two years. So they are very low penalties, but they are violations of a regulation.
There were questions. I'm hoping that today we're going to be able to resolve many of the questions people had with regard to the private member's bill in terms of its effectiveness, in terms of its ability to truly combat the harmful effects of crystal meth in our communities.
All of us have seen the news reports, we've heard the stories of people who have been drastically affected by crystal meth, and I think everyone around this table does not want to see this harm continued.
I don't know if any of you had the opportunity, but I believe on January 9 of this past year CTV brought forward a story that outlined the story of a lady from Saskatchewan who felt she had to sue her crystal meth dealer. She was successful in that, but when she was questioned as to why she felt she needed to do that, she said the federal and provincial governments had let them down on this issue. “With the criminal justice system there wasn't much of an investigation, so me and my family were frustrated. We found a different way to hold them responsible, through the civil justice system.”
I think it's important for us to step up to the plate, to do what the provincial ministers are asking us to do, what the City of Vancouver has asked us to do and what the FCM would hope we would do.
I thank you for this opportunity. I'm hoping that as we move through today we will have this opportunity to have additional clarity on this issue, and we can work together and combat this horrible drug in our communities.
Sir, it's a pleasure being before you again today.
Since our last appearance in December, the RCMP has had a chance to review the proposed bill with its amendments and is able to provide a recommendation as requested last time.
Since that time, the RCMP has released its 2006 drug situation report , which shows that within a two-year period Canada has reversed its methamphetamine supply pattern status from an importer and consumer country to that of a producer and exporter country. Those who traffic in illicit drugs, including methamphetamine, destroy lives, homes, and communities, and the RCMP remains fully committed to enforcing the laws against illicit drugs to the fullest extent.
As stated in our previous testimony, the RCMP's concern with the current methamphetamine situation in Canada is twofold. First, the current legislation requires investigations to be maintained until the very final stages of a chemical synthesis operation. Consequently, law enforcement often has to wait until a lab is set up and functioning, with suspects active in the final stages of the drug production. Organized crime groups know this all too well, and that's why the accumulation of chemicals and materials often occurs well before production.
Second, clandestine labs pose significant safety threats to the public and first responders from fire, explosions, and groundwater contamination due to hazardous byproducts resulting from production. Labs also pose significant environmental dangers as chemicals are dumped down drains, toilets, or in the bush.
The RCMP feels that the proposed legislative amendments do move the yardstick forward in this case. By introducing the offence of possession, it provides law enforcement with the ability to effectively disrupt these operations prior to the actual production by having the ability to arrest those involved and seize the materials. This has the potential to not only increase our efficiency in the fight against organized crime but also to ensure safer communities by reducing health risks and limiting long-term environmental hazards associated with clandestine drug labs.
I look forward to answering your questions.
That would be true for any operation. For conspiracy to rob a bank, you don't bust them and charge them with bank robbery or attempted robbery until they get into it.
I suppose I'm really just trying to get you to accept what you may not, that the current law already covers almost all of this, except you've packaged it to focus on pre-empting a crystal meth production, a crystal meth lab, before it actually produces the first bit of crystal meth.
You also include the pickup truck here. If the pickup truck is part of the operation, it's included in your bill. A pickup truck is a pickup truck. At what point in time do you intend to apply the intention component? At what point in time is it necessary to attach the intention to use the pickup truck in the crystal meth operation, and what if it has two owners?
I get confused, legally, as to when your bill is intended to apply. Whose intention, and at what time?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for providing us with the report of the federal, provincial and territorial ministers. Of course, it would have been useful to read it in advance, but we will read it this evening.
You stated that the ministers of justice recommended this legislative initiative. I can understand your supporting the amendment tabled by Mr. Moore, that is the government amendment. I also understand that this amendment encapsulates in some respects recommendations 15, 16 and 17 made by the Working Group.
Moreover, the nature of this amendment is understandable, but from an operational standpoint, it poses a problem, in my opinion. First of all, in terms of mens rea, it is very important. In law, culpable intent is never an easy question to determine. In fact, it is always very difficult to ascertain, more difficult even that actus reus. Could you be more explicit? I appreciate that the department supports the amendment. If you have not already done so, I would appreciate it if you could clearly state your reasons for doing so.
You maintain that with this amendment, it will be possible to intervene before the final phase of production. Preemptive action could prove interesting. However, I am curious as to how many substances can be used in the production of methamphetamine and what action will be taken if a person is found in possession of one of these substances. How far will we go to determine culpable intent? I would like some reassurance from you about the scope of the bill. You seem certain, which means that technically, Quebec's Minister of Justice supported this amendment. I am working on the assumption that the federal Minister of Justice supported the operational nature of the amendment.
I want to start with the Department of Justice. After that, we will get back to you.
Mr. Aubin, could you tell us how this amendment will facilitate the investigation process? Last time, you were somewhat dubious, but perhaps your opinion changed over the holidays. After all, people's opinion can change.
Let's start with you, Mr. Yost.
I worked with the committee that formulated the recommendations. Here is the type of scenario presented to us at the time. Suppose that one evening, all of the equipment and chemicals needed to produce methamphetamine are discovered in the trunk of a person's vehicle. It is impossible to establish whether one or more individuals are involved. There is no doubt about what purpose this equipment and chemicals found under rather interesting circumstances are to serve. As a rule, large companies do not transport products from one location to another in this manner.
Normally, under these circumstances, we would look today to subsection 4(7) of the Act. Pursuant to this provision, if the substance found is listed in Schedule III, then possession constitutes an offence liable to a term of imprisonment of no more than three years. That did not seem adequate to us. We were very much aware of the fact that it would be difficult to institute proceedings in such cases on a regular basis. In many instances, the courts must establish the individual's intent. They must ascertain if that individual knew that the products were related to crime, for example. In English, we say the individual “knew or ought to have known”.
There certainly is going to be a burden of proof on the police in collecting evidence, and on the crown, to prove the intent. Many of these chemicals and apparatuses have dual purposes. They have perfectly legitimate purposes, but under certain sets of circumstances where people are known to accumulate chemicals known to be used for methamphetamine production and specific types of apparatuses that police commonly encounter in clandestine labs, such as 22-litre round-bottomed flasks, heating mantles that go along with them, and condensing columns, there is going to be a culmination of evidence brought together, along with whether or not there's an admittance from an accused, or overheard conversations, that would go to prove intent.
As for the simple fact of having a can of solvent at home or some of these other chemicals that a lot of us have at home right now, it's going to be a matter of the circumstances surrounding why they're in possession of those products and in what kind of state.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Mr. Warkentin, for appearing again at the committee.
Since your last appearance, you've made us aware of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. We did hear testimony from one mayor, via teleconference, from a town in Alberta, but I would be interested to hear this.
I also wasn't aware, until today, of the switch Canada has made in the last couple of years, which was mentioned, from being a net importer to being an exporter of methamphetamine. I would like your comment on what you're hearing from police forces, municipalities, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I think it's pretty significant that they're endorsing your private member's bill. Actually, I'll congratulate you on that, because to have that federation, which is pretty representative across the country, endorse your private member's bill I think is pretty significant.
I did want to take this opportunity to mention the government amendment, which you're aware of. You can add any comment you like. But I should say, for the committee, that what the government amendment does is simply add importation, and it clarifies the issue that had been raised by committee members, and rightfully so, of mens rea--that the individual must know of the future illegal use of the substances--being captured by this change in the legislation. Obviously, it's important that the individual know.
Could you comment, kind of broadly, perhaps, on some of the support your bill's been receiving, and also perhaps specifically on your response to the government amendments?
I'll start with the government's amendments. I appreciate the government's amendments, because I think they clarify, and in law clarity is essential. So I thank the government for the work on this in terms of establishing and ensuring that mens rea is included in the bill so there's a burden of proof on law enforcement to ensure that intent is there. Let it be my testimony that my intent was never to go after people who are innocent and would be found in a compromising position because they happened to have bleach and cold medication and a few other things in their trunk. I think what we want to do is ensure that intent can be proven. So I appreciate the amendments, and I think that's fantastic.
What I think is important for us to recognize is that even within the regulation that oversees the precursor material, there are some problems in terms of....There's a harsher penalty for exporting these precursors without a permit than there is for being in possession of these chemicals domestically without a permit. So there's some conflict there.
We need to understand, as was noted, that we have moved from being an importing country to being an exporting country. Certainly we're manufacturing crystal meth here for domestic consumption, which is something that has changed over the last number of years, and we want to see that stopped.
Mayor McQueen did testify before this committee through teleconference. Her community has been affected to an extreme extent by crystal meth, and the areas around her community have absolutely seen the horrors of crystal meth. I guess that's what inspired me to become an advocate for this change, because I saw the effects on the ground. I saw the families that were being torn apart as a result of this drug.
Certainly that has been my experience as I met with RCMP officers from my own community. But since I brought this private member's bill forward, and as the media have drawn attention to it, I've had calls from around this country from families that are desperately trying to bring awareness to their communities.
One thing I mentioned when I was here last was that one of the side benefits of my bringing this forward has been my public advocacy among young people in terms of explaining to them the dangers of this drug and the fact that this can be sold to them as something else, such as ecstasy or some other type of product. I've had that opportunity, and I certainly hope, as we work together, we can protect our communities from this harmful drug.
Congratulations on bringing your bill forward. I think everyone in the committee agrees we would like to cut down methamphetamine use, and we are just working out the best way to do it.
I have a question for Mr. Yost. The department's responsibility is quite often to create legislation. It creates lots of legislation, actually, and brings it forward to deal with improvements in the justice system. I am curious as to why you haven't done a bill like this or a similar bill to it, if you have seen this problem.
If you were to attack this problem, is this the way you would do it, or would you, as some committee members have suggested, include a larger, comprehensive list of precursors that might be used in creating other drugs as well?
Yes, that is under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
With respect to the other question, federal, provincial, and territorial officials and governments have been working for quite some time on various drug issues. There is a bill in front of the House now to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to deal with mandatory minimum penalties and such.
This is a part of one report that has a number of recommendations federally and provincially. There are other things that are always being considered and may come forward at some time. But this amendment proposed by the government members, respecting methamphetamine in particular, would respond to what we've been working on with the meth report. Because of the harm of meth, that particular drug was referred to federal, provincial, territorial officials: what can we do about meth?
The Criminal Code is one part. There are things in the report about education, etc., that can be done in community action, so it requires more, but this responds directly to the recommendation for CDSA amendments made within that report last July.
Actually, my question also was about the proposed government amendment that has to do with the penalty.
One of the concerns I have is that we're dealing with a private member's bill that deals with one aspect of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act and one substance, in effect, or with a number of chemicals. So we're going from three years to ten years, and it's not clear to me what the rationale is for pulling that out.
It seems to me that taking one element is sort of a boutique approach. If we're going to change the Criminal Code, we need to have a rationale for whatever changes are being brought forward. I think it needs to be explained, maybe by the member whose bill it is. I would also like the counsel to comment on that, as well.
If it's just arbitrary, well then, it could be anything. There has to be some rationale about why we do these things in a bill and what's behind it. It can't just be political motivation. There has to be a rationale and a basis in law.
I do know that there's a Department of Justice report. I think it's from 2002. For example, I know that minimum mandatory sentencing for drug crimes is not shown to be particularly effective. Now, we're not dealing with that here, but I think there has to be some evidence that increasing the penalty to this extent is actually going to produce something. I wonder if the member has that or has anything from the justice department that would provide us with that information.
Mr. Warkentin, I apologize for not having arrived at the beginning of the meeting. I think you saw my slow progress. It took a little while for me to get from Centre Block to here.
I have read your bill. From the time it was first tabled, I participated actively in discussions with my own caucus on your bill and I'm supportive of your bill, in particular now that the questions that were raised have been addressed with the government amendment.
I have a question, though, and Mr. Yost, you're probably the best person to answer it.
The amendment would capture someone who knowingly possesses, produces, sells, or imports anything knowing that it will be used to produce or traffic in a substance referred to in item 18 of the schedule. Would that capture a company that produces one element that absolutely has to be used in the production of crystal meth and, because they are so lax in their internal controls and security that it is very easy for their employees to steal significant quantities, is then sold to produce? Would that capture a company?
You know, we've been discussing it here as though the amendment has been moved. And I believe it will be moved, but....
The original bill as it came to us from the House, approved by the House at second reading, did not have any provision involving importing. That has been added in. I raise that because that's a scope of the bill issue. I'm just going to say it now and leave it. It can dangle out there as we move forward.
The new subsection 7.1(2) proposed in the amendment has specifically to do with sentencing, and the original bill had no sentencing provision. The House as it adopted the bill did not advert to sentencing, nor did it advert to importing. I accept that the reference to item 18 in schedule 1 comprehends the same concept as to what crystal meth is known to be or thought of to be now.
I suppose I'm asking for the mover--not so much Mr. Yost, but the mover--to say, “Yes, I think this is within the scope of the bill.”
One day I'm going to ask Paul Saint-Denis how he gets to be in Bali when this comes up and I have to substitute.
This is not a government motion, obviously. It is, however, not unusual, I would imagine, for a government and the minister responsible to ask, if this thing becomes law, are there weaknesses that should be addressed in committee, and if so, what are they and how might they be fixed? And that's this process here.
The standing committee can certainly do with the amendment as it wills. Among the issues that were identified within the Department of Justice, a simple one, which was already talked about, concerns being too tight with methamphetamine; you'd want to have every salt and derivative. The legislation as it stands now has sections dealing with production, import-export, trafficking, etc., and import had been missed. That was something that seemed to be missing in the bill. Then there was the question of the penalty, and what penalty would fit in more with the structure. I addressed that earlier in response to some questions. The current penalty for schedule 3 trafficking, production, etc., is ten years max, and therefore, if you're putting everything together with the intention to do it, it would seem to be an appropriate level.
First, when it comes to the issue of trafficking, trafficking is clearly pointed out in the original bill. Even if you were to look under the definition of trafficking, what does that mean? It means transport, it means deliver, it means sell, it means a number of things under the definition of trafficking, and certainly import.
So are we stretching things to a point where we have to define the precise words of what we're faced with in this particular bill? I would have to suggest to the committee that import and trafficking really are part and parcel of the same thing.
When it comes to the sentencing aspect, under the broader section where penalties have been assigned, section 46, sanctions are covered. So yes, there is a specific sanction here, but that is in keeping with section 46 already.
This is my ruling on the particular amendment, that it's acceptable.
Fundamentally, Mr. Chairman, I think you did well to rule on the scope of the bill. I also think that we need to be flexible when dealing with a private members' bill. We may have less flexibility when it comes to matters of government policies since clearly, we work from the assumption that a member does not have the same resources at his disposal as the government. However, I must say that one thing bothers me. I say this with all due respect and without any animosity whatsoever, because we do plan to support the bill, and I do think the member has rightly singled out a problem that warrants our attention. I've been an MP for 14 years. I'm coming up on 15 years next year. The Justice Department and drafters of legislation have always enjoyed a very close relationship. That relationship must be safeguarded for the sake of equality. All MPs who are not ministers must benefit from the same equal treatment.
Often, Justice Department officials have given expert testimony on the substance of a bill. Clearly, we are dealing with something different this time around. I'm not saying this to embarrass our witness. Clearly, his objective is to serve the committee well, and nothing more.
I'm tempted to put a question to the government. Mr. Lee is quite right to say that this is not a government amendment. However, at the same time, any member of Parliament can propose an amendment to a private members' bill. That is not a problem. Who is the drafter of the amendment? Is it the Department of Justice or the legislative drafters at the House? I hope it is the latter, because we need to safeguard the principle whereby the government should not be intervening in the drafting of private members' bills. At the same time, all MPs must have access to the same resources. I simply want some assurances that this principle will be safeguarded, and I hope that Mr. Yost and the parliamentary secretary can assure the committee that the amendment was crafted by House legislative drafters. This is an important principle.
As for everything else, Mr. Chairman, I think the Member should be proud of the fine work that he has done.
Shall the amendment carry?
(Amendment agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
(Clause 1 as amended agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the title carry?
Some hon. members:Agreed
The Chair: Shall the bill as amended carry?
Some hon. members:Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill as amended to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the committee order a reprint of the bill as amended for the use of the House at report stage?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: The meeting is adjourned.