(for the Minister of Justice)
moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak to Bill today.
Members will recall that, in November 2007, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill , which proposed a number of mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that appropriately high sentences are imposed on those who commit serious drug offences. This bill reintroduces those same provisions.
As we all know, the unveiled Canada's new national anti-drug strategy in October 2007. The national anti-drug strategy provides funding to prevent the consumption of illegal drugs, particularly among young people, to treat addictions and to fight drug-related crime.
This strategy has a two-pronged approach: the first focuses on a tougher response to drug-related crime and the second on victims.
The national anti-drug strategy includes three action plans: preventing the consumption of illegal drugs, treating addictions, and tackling the production and distribution of illegal drugs.
The action plan to fight the production and distribution of illegal drugs contains a number of elements, including sufficiently severe penalties for serious drug-related offences.
That is part of the context in which this bill should be seen. It takes action on one of the government’s major priorities, which is to attack crime, and especially organized crime.
The purpose of this bill is not to provide minimum obligatory penalties for all drug-related offences. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is quite complex when it comes to various offences and punishments. The punishment depends on both the kind of crime committed and the substance involved. The most dangerous substances that cause the greatest problems, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine, are included in schedule I of the act, and crimes related to them attract the most severe penalties, up to life imprisonment.
Cannabis and related substances are included in schedule II. Crimes involving them attract less severe penalties. In the case of trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, sentences of up to life imprisonment are only imposed in regard to quantities of at least three kilograms. Production of cannabis is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The least severe penalties of a maximum of 12 months in prison upon summary conviction are reserved for crimes involving substances listed in schedules IV and V. It should be noted, however, that most of the activities forbidden by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are legal if the person involved has the necessary licence, permit or exemption.
For example, the marijuana medical access regulations, which took effect on July 30, 2001, provide a complete procedure for people who suffer from certain health problems to apply for a permit to possess or cultivate marijuana for medicinal reasons with the approval of their physician or, in some cases, of a specialist. The number of plants that an authorized person is entitled to cultivate is based on a formula related to the amount of dried marijuana the person needs every day.
Some hon. members might think it is unnecessary to provide for minimum penalties like those in the bill in order to punish serious drug-related offences. However, these crimes are a growing problem in Canadian cities and stricter legislation is absolutely necessary.
We should remember as well that the security of Canadians is one of our government’s highest priorities. Their security is threatened by organized crime groups involved in the production and trafficking of drugs. These activities lead to increased crime, violence and danger to law enforcement officers.
Drug trafficking and production are also the largest sources of illicit money for organized crime groups.
Profits from the sale of drugs, estimated to be in the billions of dollars per year in Canada, are used to finance a host of other criminal activities.
According to the Statistics Canada Juristat bulletin entitled “Crime Statistics in Canada, 2004”, offences related to the cultivation of marijuana more than doubled during the last decade, going from approximately 3,400 in 1994 to 8,000 in 2004. According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia, approximately 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases were located in B.C. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%. Even though the number of marijuana grow operations in British Columbia stabilized between 2000 and 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced went from 19,720 kilograms in 1997 to 79,817 kilograms in 2003—a seven-year record—because of the size and proficiency of the operations.
Investigations by British Columbia Hydro revealed that at a certain point there may have been up to 17,000 marijuana grow operations. The increase in illegal marijuana production activities did not occur only in British Columbia, but everywhere in Canada. Even though we have no national data on the production of synthetic drugs, RCMP data indicate a constant increase in production operations. The RCMP carried out seizures in 25 synthetic drug production operations in 2002, in 51 operations in 2003, 60 in 2004, and 53 in 2005. Of these 60 seizures in 2004, 17 involved ecstasy production and 40, methamphetamine production. Of the 53 seizures in 2005, 60% involved methamphetamine production operations and 30% involved ecstasy production operations. The seizures of ecstasy and its components went from 1.5 million tablets in 2001 to more than 70 million tablets in 2006.
Illegal drug use can hurt us all. We are seeing that when it comes to methamphetamine producers and users. Unlike better-known drugs—heroin, cocaine, and marijuana—methamphetamine presents unique challenges. Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. Its production does not involve crop cultivation. In fact, one needs no special knowledge or training to produce it, and the chemical ingredients are relatively cheap and easy to obtain. As a result, the production of this drug is attractive to both pushers and addicts.
Methamphetamine also poses a threat to enforcement authorities, which have to fight both small, secret labs and huge labs controlled by drug-trafficking organizations.
The small labs produce relatively small amounts of methamphetamine and are generally not affiliated with major drug trafficking organizations. A number of factors have served as catalysts for the spread of small labs, including easy access to recipes on the Internet. Indeed, widespread Internet usage has facilitated the dissemination of technology used to manufacture methamphetamine in small labs. This form of information sharing allows wide dissemination of these techniques to anyone with computer access.
Aside from marijuana, methamphetamine is the only widely used illegal drug that users can make themselves. Given the relative ease with which manufacturers or cooks can acquire recipes and ingredients, and the unsophisticated nature of the production process, it is easy to see why this highly addictive drug is spreading.
Methamphetamine production operations also pose serious public safety and health hazards to those in and around them. These operations can result in serious physical injury from explosions, fires, chemical burns and toxic fumes. They produce environmental hazards, pose cleanup problems and endanger the lives and health of community residents.
The collateral damage caused by methamphetamine includes impacts on families, school staff, students, law enforcers, fire fighters, paramedics, health care practitioners, businesses and property owners. These individuals suffer indirectly from meth use.
First responders may be exposed to production byproducts—the danger of fire or explosion—and may be the target of violence and aggression from addicts.
Communities in general may be exposed to violence, property damage, identity theft, decreased public safety, contamination of public areas from the disposal of cooking byproducts, and an unreliable or decreased workforce that impedes the safety of co-workers.
As you can see, Mr. Speaker, the use and production of illicit drugs can have serious adverse consequences for users, producers, families, law enforcement agencies, first responders and the community.
It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to make the laws in Canada, and we must ensure that those laws provide for appropriate measures to address serious problems. And make no mistake, drug use in Canada is a very serious problem. Some aspects of the situation have grown worse in recent years, and it is our duty to act in the face of this growing threat.
In response to the dangers posed by increased production and the worsening drug problem, the government introduced this bill, which proposes mandatory minimum penalties for those who produce and sell this drug.
The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act do more than just impose minimum penalties. The bill contains a provision that would enable certain offenders who ordinarily would be subject to mandatory minimum penalties to take part in a program given by what is called a drug treatment court.
A drug treatment court is a substance abuse intervention model that operates within the criminal justice system. Drug treatment courts provide judicially supervised treatment in lieu of incarcerating individuals who have a substance use problem that is related to their criminal activities, for example, drug related offences such as drug possession, use or non-commercial trafficking and/or property offences committed to support their drug use, such as theft or shoplifting.
Individuals may need to meet other requirements specific to individual courts or court systems to be deemed eligible for admission. Eligible accused persons must choose between the drug treatment court program and traditional criminal justice process, which can result in various dispositions ranging from fines to incarceration.
Typically, formal admission into a drug treatment court program requires the individual to plead guilty to his or her charges. If an individual fails to comply or participate in all aspects of the drug treatment court program, consequences range from an official reprimand or revocation of bail to termination of the program and the handing down of custodial or community supervision sentences.
Although a drug treatment court program is applicable only when eligible offenders choose it and give their consent, drug treatment courts constitute a form of coercive treatment. A well designed and properly implemented drug treatment court model has a number of key facets. The first is early identification of those who meet the program eligibility criteria and early treatment. Second, it includes access to several types of programs that treat the offender's problems with substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs, and mental health issues.
Third, there is extensive ongoing judicial contact with each participant. Fourth, there must be intensive supervision and drug testing to monitor and ensure abstinence from all intoxicants, coupled with positive reinforcement for compliance and sanctions for non-compliance. Fifth, a partnership is needed between drug treatment courts and community based organizations in order to improve program effectiveness. Sixth, there must be continuing education for those involved in the field, in order to improve the program's effectiveness. Seventh, a non-adversarial approach must be used in the court system to ensure both public safety and the rights of program participants. Eighth and last, comprehensive evaluation will monitor program objectives and measure effectiveness.
Compared to traditional criminal justice approaches, the intent of a drug treatment court is to permit motivated clients to avoid incarceration and other sanctions and to allow them access to treatment services more quickly due to dedicated resources. It is also to encourage clients to remain in treatment until completed, through intensive and frequent monitoring and supervision by the court.
Participating in a drug treatment court program is intensive and demanding. It includes court attendance up to twice a week, random urine testing, and attendance and treatment from daily to weekly as clients progress through the program. Although some participants start treatment in a facility, they all attend outpatient programs.
At some sites there is a primary treatment provider, whereas at other sites various community agencies deliver treatments. The drug treatment court team follows the client's progress closely. There are preliminary meetings set up to detect problems and find possible solutions to difficulties, to client relapse and to non-compliance. Coming before the court enables the client to inform it of his progress, and for it to reinforce compliance and progress made, and to sanction non-compliance or set new conditions or interventions with a view to helping the client break out of the crime-dependence cycle.
The drug treatment court programs show great promise and their results will be monitored. This important bill has been drafted in such a way as to not have any impact on treatment programs.
Canadians are calling for the criminal law system to set proper penalties for the commission of drug-related crimes. This bill responds to that desire and will provide for severe but fair minimum sentences.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill .
It is my great pleasure to rise on this topic and on the topic of justice in general. The preface would be in that old common law saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Usually that goes to the rights of an accused, but what I would say for the Canadian public, on the floor of the House, is justice is being delayed. The government has been in power three years and we still have problems with crime.
I have been in the bowels of the government's justice machine. Two things we do not want to see, but need, are the making of laws and the making of sausages. I was also on the floor of meat packing plants in Moncton in the old days. I do not think members really want to see sausages being made. I am not sure members would want to see the laws being made by the government over the past three years either.
The Conservatives really have not been effective. If we want to get at the root causes of crime and if we want to do what we all want as parliamentarians, which is to have safer communities, we have to look at the beginning and the end. We have to look at the whole situation with respect to crime. We do not go to CTV or CBC, get on the news and say, “We're doing something about crime. Look at the bill we're introducing”. We do not have successive parliaments have their work interrupted by prorogations. That is what the government has done. It has denied justice by delaying justice.
Even when the government gets around to what it sees as its fix, its panacea, which is just legislation, it does not seem to get that its legislation alone will not solve the problems we have with organized crime, drug abuse and the drug culture and drug crime industry in this community.
That is why I will take some time to not only review Bill , but the whole issue of drugs in our country.
A few weeks ago we had a delegation in Ottawa from British Columbia. I know it met with members of the government as well. We would not be honest with ourselves if we did not say to the House that we are, in a bit, reacting to a very serious situation in British Columbia, but there are serious situations in North Preston and Halifax. There are serious situations in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and all across the country.
However, the people on the front line are the men and women in law enforcement, the men and women in the prosecutorial offices and the men and women who wear uniforms to enforce our laws in the province of British Columbia.
That delegation included the attorney general of British Columbia, who came with some very specific demands. The chief law officer of the province of British Columbia came here with specific demands that had not been addressed by the government. They were not gargantuan tasks. They were tasks we would expect of a reacting, competent government. As I mentioned, not only does it have a very capable Queen's Counsel, a member of Parliament for some 20 years, Attorney General, it also has two very good parliamentary secretaries, representing the best of English speaking Canada from Albert County, New Brunswick and the best of French speaking Canada from Quebec.
Notwithstanding those heavy resources and great minds that are applied to this subject, the government has not been able to respond adequately, swiftly and thoroughly to the needs of the attorney general of British Columbia. They involve relatively simple things, simple things that the laws have evolved to become obstacles to the law enforcement officials in British Columbia. The whole issue around disclosure, as I mentioned in one of my interventions, has become very cumbersome for law enforcement officials.
There is a bit of a paper war between prosecutors and police forces with respect to having to comply to the need for disclosure as bolstered by the law in Stinchcombe. The prosecutors sometimes want paper files. They are not ready to move to electronic files, that is fine. Police officers who compile some of the initial information are tied up quite often making copies thereof. The prosecutors in many provinces have to go over the evidence themselves in order to prefer the charges. In some cases, that means watching hours of video.
One would think that a government responding to need would say that it has the power of legislative reform and the power to introduce amendments that might address Stinchcombe, that might address the exactitude and timeliness with respect to disclosure. However, we might also expect that it would react by giving money and resources to both prosecutorial services and police forces in order to comply with the need for disclosure. However, nothing like that was done. The response was always legislation.
Funnily, on this side we saw today that even when all the opposition parties seem willing to get this to committee quickly, the seemed to be the only one in the room who did not get the song sheet. He did not seem to understand that everybody wanted it to go to committee and he had a bit of a fit, which did not advance the ball at all.
We are not against these bills going to committee to be studied. They will go through the rigour that the committee has always brought to legislation, when the House has not been prorogued and the work of committees permanently stopped, which has been the case in the three years that the Conservative government has had its hands on the wheel.
I was involved in municipal politics. At that time, we only a three-year term. If I did as little in my entire mandate for the citizens of Moncton as the government has done on the justice dossier, I would not have been acclaimed to my second term. Three years is enough time for the people on the other side to stop saying that people on this side are born again to the justice issue.
I think of the member for and all that he has done to contribute to the laws of our country and Conservatives say that he is born again. If Liberals are born again, that means the Conservatives were never born at all or, if they were, they are like puppies in the first few days. They have wool over their eyes and they do not see the larger issues that, after three years, should be so apparent. There are issues with respect to the root causes of crime and drug issues with respect to how we will implement issues around the four pillars that the people from British Columbia live by in the inner city.
Even proponents of the Conservative justice agenda, and I think primarily of the representatives of the board of trade from British Columbia who were here yesterday, recognize that the legislation alone is not enough. Even they would say that no one is born a criminal. One has to become a criminal and embrace a lifestyle that leads to incarceration. Unfortunately, time and time again the government has brought forward legislation that only talks about one of the pillars or, if we want to get technical, one of the principles of sentencing as found in the Criminal Code, which is the issue of incarceration.
Bill is a fairly good stab at an acute problem in our country, which is the enforcement of people who break the law with respect to the use, importation and trafficking of drugs. It is particularly important to underline, as my friend the parliamentary secretary did, the action with respect to a certain rise in the use of methamphetamine.
There has been some success, without any of these laws being enacted, that should be heralded in the House today. Not surprisingly, the story comes from New Brunswick. This kind of activity by our police forces takes place every day in Canada, and they are not heralded enough.
We are in an era when good RCMP officers have had their expected wage increases reduced, as if they were other civil servants or like other members of Parliament. In a day and age when the RCMP is having some difficulty in recruitment and some issues with respect to their municipal contracts across our country, we might want to ask ourselves, and Canadians as well, what the is doing with respect to the RCMP. How is the esprit de corps at the RCMP?
Would it not be good to read stories like this all the time? In fact, the story emanates from Moncton, New Brunswick, and it goes as follows:
The number of seizures in New Brunswick of the drug methamphetamine has doubled in the past year, RCMP say....The number of meth seizures jumped to 90 in 2008 from roughly 45 in 2007.
That is a good news story. As my friend, the parliamentary secretary, said, this is a particularly pernicious and addictive drug. This is proof that the RCMP, with proper resources, and forget about all the new laws involved, can crack down on what exists now.
My initial plea is for the government to wake up on two fronts. One, it is proposing legislation that is but a small part of a resolution or improvement in the situation, which in one case we have suggested should go right to committee. Members will find with respect to Bill , at least with respect to the Liberal Party's position, that we also support it going to committee for study, but I have not heard from the Conservative side anything that suggests there is anything else in the Conservative agenda with respect to fixing the situation.
There was a little crack in the armour at committee recently, when the other parliamentary secretary said that no one was suggesting that these bills were the be-all and end-all. That is a good start. The road to improvement is looking in the mirror and realizing that we are leading Canadians to believe we are fixing the crime situation with our nightly newscasts. However, it would be refreshing to hear from the Conservative side. It would be refreshing to hear those members say that there is a long road to climb, that funding adequately police forces and prosecutorial services is one of those things and investing morally and mentally in the ideas of harm reduction and prevention and early childhood intervention with respect to the root causes of crime is another. These would be refreshing thoughts for all Canadians to hear.
With respect to the bill itself, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would be amended to include a one year mandatory prison sentence, which would be imposed for dealing drugs such as marijuana when carried out for an organized crime purpose.
Another thing the government could do is this. I happen to know that the Department of Justice, if asked, would be ready and would embrace the idea of looking at the definition of organized crime.
There were improvements to the Criminal Code, which interspersed organized crime definitions, but when we compare it to the RICO statute in the United States, it is more narrowly defined. It is not as contemporary as we need it to be when we are talking about street gangs, which in some cases might be two people. As members know, the organized crime provisions in the Criminal Code apply to three people.
The criminals have been much more sophisticated and they have grown much readier to adapt to legal situations than our Parliament has in making the laws to react.
This does not have anything to do with mandatory minimums, or conditional sentences or being tough on crime. This has to do with looking at the Criminal Code as an organic document. I do not want to get too farm-like, but if we have an organic document, it is a bit like a garden. We have to tend to that garden and understand that certain crops need to be fertilized. Some need to be covered, protected and watered. That is what the Criminal Code is like.
Certain provisions are so antiquated that the only brilliant Conservative attorney general would turn over in his grave, and that was Sir John Thompson in 1892, who wrote the Criminal Code. I know I am going back over 100 years to give a great compliment to the Conservatives. I guess that is endemic to this place. The fact is he wrote the Criminal Code and he would turn over in his grave to see how antiquated it is in some ways.
After three years, the government ought to say that it has to take ownership of its failure in making the Criminal Code a more modern document.
With respect to organized crime, the Criminal Code has to do be updated. With respect to the Criminal Code and all the issues around warrants, electronic or otherwise, prosecutors have to go to graduate school to figure out how many different types of warrants they might have to apply for in front of judges before they are able to use them.
These things are completely non-contentious. They are things that could have been brought to Parliament in the first year, the second year, now, or hopefully next week, if anybody listens to the sense in my speech. These are things that could improve the enforcement of our laws.
This bill will enact a two year mandatory prison sentence for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin and meth to youth, or for dealing those drugs near a school or an area normally frequented by youth. A two year mandatory prison sentence will also be imposed for the offence of running a large marijuana grow operation of at least 500 plants. These are very targeted sentences which, when problems are increasing exponentially particularly in certain areas of the country, we cannot oppose. These are wonderful provisions for a very specific problem.
What is missing in this crime prevention program is a more holistic approach. Why have we not heard the Conservatives talk about bringing forward other legislation that will be more effective?
We have had the argument regarding mandatory minimum sentences in past Parliaments. The opinion is divided. I am not an expert on this, but I know that other members of the committee have sat through hours of testimony from a multitude of experts who are very divided, but by and large the experts are saying that tougher penalties for people who produce and traffic drugs will only scare the ma and pa producers. That is good. Anybody who is doing any of these crimes should be scared. I am talking about the second pillar in the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing, and that is deterrence. Let us hope it deters some of the young and inexperienced and ma and pa producers. That is a good thing. However, it will not deter organized crime.
Bill and Bill are somewhat related, and although they deal with organized crime, they do so in a fashion which, without changing the definition in the code, might not have the effect that we are all hoping for.
The Canadian public has to be aware that just because two bills came forward and just because they seem to be targeted at very specific, acute and well-known problems today, that does not mean those problems are going to be fixed tomorrow. It would be leading the Canadian public down a road of false hope if the Canadian government, represented by its , got in front of a camera again and suggested that this is all going to be fixed. He has been saying that since I first got here, and it has not been fixed.
Another important element is that these mandatory sentences have been tried in other jurisdictions. Mandatory drug penalties have helped turn the United States into the world's leading jailer with more than 2.3 million people in prison, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies in London. The U.S. also has the highest per capita rate of incarceration, with 751 people in jail for every 100,000 in population. That is more than Russia, more than China, more than Canada.
No one on this side is against incarceration for people who do wrong. No one is against that, but to think it is a cure for the problems that ail us, to think that is the only solution is wrong. That the government, in doing this, has not committed adequate resources for the facilities that will incarcerate them is also the double end of the false hope that Canadians might have in this situation.
With that, and in conclusion, as a member of the committee I continue to hope that we will work in a very non-partisan fashion as we have in this Parliament. I compliment the two parliamentary secretaries. I look forward to reviewing the bill.