Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to begin the debate at third reading of Bill .
I am pleased to note that this bill was adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of which I am a member. I would like to point out to the House that the bill was amended in committee and that most of the amendments were proposed by members of the Bloc Québécois and members of the NDP. I am pleased to see that these members worked hard and were able to submit constructive amendments to the bill, amendments which were adopted by the committee.
The Government of Canada recognizes that serious drug crimes including marijuana grow operations and clandestine methamphetamine labs continue to pose a threat to the safety of our streets and our communities. Bill is part of our strategy to address this problem. The bill proposes amendments to strengthen the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provisions regarding penalties for serious drug offences by ensuring that these types of offences are punished by an imposition of mandatory minimum penalties. With these amendments we are demonstrating our commitment to improving the safety and security of communities across Canada from coast to coast to coast.
During its review of the bill, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from the , government officials, including officials from the Department of Justice, and a range of stakeholders, including representatives from law enforcement. The bill was supported by law enforcement representatives who testified and by various other stakeholders, although the bill was not supported universally, as I am sure my friends from the opposition will point out.
As has been mentioned before, the government acknowledges that not all drug offenders and drug trades pose the same risk of danger and violence. Bill recognizes this. That is why what is being proposed in this bill is a focused and targeted approach. Accordingly, the new penalties will not apply to possession offences, nor will they apply to offences involving all types of drugs. The bill focuses on the more serious drug offences and the most serious drugs are targeted. Overall, the proposals represent a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences, such as trafficking, importation, exportation and production.
For schedule 1 drugs, that is, for drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, the bill proposes a one year minimum for the offence of trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking in the presence of certain aggravating factors.
The aggravating factors would be that the offence is committed for the benefit of, or at the direction of, or in association with organized crime; or the offence involved violence or threat of violence, or weapons or threat of use of weapons; or the offence is committed by someone who was convicted in the previous 10 years of a designated drug offence. Moreover, if youth are present or the offence occurs in a prison, the minimum sentence is increased to two years' imprisonment.
In the case of importing, exporting and possession for the purposes of exporting, the minimum penalty is one year if these offences are committed for the purposes of trafficking.
I should point out that this part of the bill was amended in committee by the government so that an offender who commits one of these offences and abuses his authority or his position, or if the offender has access to a restricted area and uses that access to commit a crime, a one year minimum penalty will be imposed. Moreover, the penalty will be raised to two years if these offences involve more than one kilogram of a schedule 1 drug.
A minimum of two years is provided for a production offence involving a schedule 1 drug. The minimum sentence for production of a schedule 1 drug increases to three years where aggravating factors relating to health and safety are present. These factors are: if the individual used real property that belonged to a third person to commit the offence; or if the production constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children who are in the location where the offence was committed, or in the immediate area thereof; or if the production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area; or if the individual placed or set a trap.
For schedule 2 drugs, somewhat softer drugs such as marijuana and cannabis resin, the proposed mandatory minimum penalty for trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking is one year if certain aggravating factors such as violence, recidivism, or organized crime are present. If factors such as trafficking to youth are present, the minimum sentence, quite appropriately, is increased to two years.
For the offence of importing or exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting marijuana, the minimum penalty would be one year imprisonment if the offence is committed for the purpose of trafficking. The government amendment mentioned above would also apply for an offender who abuses his authority, position or access to a restricted area in committing the offence, and he would also receive the minimum one-year penalty.
For the offence of marijuana production, the bill as amended proposes mandatory penalties based on the number of plants involved. For the production of 5 to 200 plants, if the plants are cultivated for the purposes of trafficking, the penalty would be 6 months. The minimum number of plants was raised to five plants from one plant as a result of an amendment that was proposed and vigorously debated at committee.
For the production of 201 to 500 plants, the minimum mandatory sentence would be one year; for the production of more than 500 plants, it would be two years; and, finally, for the production of cannabis resin for the purpose of trafficking, it would be a minimum jail sentence of one year.
The minimum sentences for the production of Schedule II drugs would be increased by 50% where any of the aggravating factors relating to health and safety that I have just described are present.
The maximum penalty for producing marijuana would be doubled from 7 to 14 years' imprisonment.
Amphetamines, as well as the so-called date rape drugs such as GHB and Rohypnol, would be transferred from Schedule III to Schedule I, and would thereby allow the courts to impose higher maximum penalties for offences involving these all too common drugs where unsuspecting victims are subjected to date rape.
The bill, as further amended in committee, would give the courts the discretion to impose a penalty other than the mandatory minimum on a serious drug offender who has successfully completed a court treatment program. I submit that this diversionary tactic is one of the strengths of the bill, and I know this is universally supported by the members of the committee.
Last, I should point out that the bill was amended to add a new section to the act. Proposed section 8.1 would require that a parliamentary committee undertake a comprehensive review of the provisions and operations of the bill two years after it comes into force.
To conclude, I am pleased that Bill has been thoroughly examined and rigorously debated by the justice committee and that we are rapidly approaching our goal of seeing this legislation passed into law. The bill was amended in committee, both by government members and by members of the opposition, and in my view these amendments are in keeping with the spirit of this bill and consistent with its objectives.
Bill is part of the government's continued commitment to take steps to protect Canadians and to make our streets and communities safer. We hear time and time again from our constituents that Canadians want a justice system with clear and strong laws that denounce and deter serious crimes, including serious drug offences. They want laws that impose penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes. This bill would accomplish that lofty goal.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate at third reading of the bill. Yes, we dealt with it at committee. I want to thank all members of the committee for bringing to the committee a very intelligent debate on anti-drug laws.
It is interesting and somewhat refreshing when we have a news story that is actually accurate. There is a news story today about the bill. There is one quote in there that says the following about the offences in the bill:
These are trafficking offences, these are people who are in the commercial business of selling drugs. If you're convicted of trafficking in drugs, I believe you should do the time that is indicated in this bill.
That is a quote in a national news story attributed to me, and I am happy the newspaper got it right, because it is exactly how I feel about the bill.
It is curious about the opposition to the bill. All that was printed from the perspective of the other opposition parties, and maybe they did not get their whole quote and that is fair, that has happened to all of us, but the only real quotes from the opposition are that we are going down the road the United States has gone and it has been a failure.
There is nothing quoted, and I have heard nothing in the House, and I would have listened in the House on the occasions I had to speak to this bill or in committee for the many hours we spent on these issues in general. I would have listened, had there been some compelling evidence to suggest that a person convicted of trafficking in drugs should not go to jail.
It is important because occasionally we lose sight of the fact that there is a whole book called the Criminal Code that talks about what the offences are. What is trafficking? It is very important that the public perception not be that we are trying to put people in jail who are in possession of small amounts of drugs, particularly marijuana. This is where the pressure point of the public seems to be, that if individuals have a joint, they will go away for six months under this new law. That is not the case.
We heard evidence from the Department of Justice officials, and even the government would admit that DOJ officials are not always on side with everything that is brought down the pipe. They said very clearly that would not be the case.
These are issues involving trafficking. Trafficking, under section 5 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, has been interpreted by the courts variously, but for instance, “--distribution means the allocation to a number of people and accordingly, cannot occur where there is one recipient.--” That is a case from the New Brunswick Court of Appeal.
Another one: “--where the transportation by the accused of a narcotic is incidental to the accused's own personal use of the narcotic, as distinct from transportation as part of a transaction involving others, there is not an offence of trafficking”.
As my friend from indicated, with his years of experience, it is not a walk in the park to convict somebody of trafficking in drugs. Trafficking in drugs, even marijuana, means that people are selling drugs for the purpose of a commercial gain. They are trying to increase the use of drugs.
Particularly, the bill gets into an issue that is very near and dear to me. The young children of our community are going to school in a different environment than when I went to school, and certainly when the member for went to school, which was considerably more years before I did. These are different times, and drugs are front and centre of the dangers that little children face every day. They walk to school. They go through playgrounds. They are faced with the possibility of being drawn into the net of drug use, which can ruin lives, families, and eventually may ruin our social mores in our community in general.
I sit back and think of what I am saying. Do I sound like a rabid Conservative? Am I a person who has become the Republican road show that we have seen for the last three years over there? When I look at the member for , I know that he is a family man. I know that he is a church-goer. I know that he believes in social mores. I have to think that he does not think that putting traffickers back on the street again so they can corrupt our youth and our society is a good thing.
This is where we draw the line with our friends who are free-willing on drug use, on drug sales, on drug trafficking, and the Conservatives who would say, if George Bush did it, it is okay. That is why we are the party of the middle, the party of responsibility, and we say this is a good act.
This legislation targets trafficking. For the first time the Conservatives might be getting it right. They are saying that in order to avoid sending someone to prison on a mandatory minimum sentence, that individual would have the opportunity to take part in rehabilitation through diversion to a drug treatment court. These are great tools. They have been used extensively in western democracies for some time.
We have been critical of the government's national anti-drug strategy. Its strategy consists of a bunch of neoprene, blue placards placed in front of any television camera saying it has an anti-drug strategy.
Where is the funding for the drug treatment courts? Why are there not more drug treatment courts across this country? I live in Moncton, New Brunswick. New Brunswick is a province of this country. In fact, it is one of the first provinces of this country. There is no drug treatment court in New Brunswick, and that is a shame.
By supporting the bill we are saying to the Conservatives that for however long they might be government, and we all hope that might be a shorter time rather than a longer time, that they increase funding to diversionary tactics, treatment facilities and institutions like drug treatment courts.
The other aspect that the Conservatives are learning from the years of battering in justice committee is that it is important to have regular reports to committee and to Parliament with respect to how their legislation is doing. That is contained in section 8.1(1). Reporting to Parliament on the effect of this legislation would be a positive step.
The justice committee held one set of hearings in Vancouver. Members were astonished by the fact that marijuana, which in some popular parliaments might be seen as a recreational drug which makes one peaceful, is the currency of organized crime in western of Canada and probably in the rest of Canada as well. It is a serious problem.
We have to do something to include marijuana. I have heard nothing from the other opposition parties that it would be okay if it were crystal meth. Those members are trying to push the button of sensibility on the issue of moderate marijuana usage. It is wrong to think that marijuana and the trafficking of marijuana is part of our Canadian culture. It is not. It is part of the cashflow of organized crime.
We have been through this legislation. It is time to put the bill on the books and hold the feet of the government to the fire. Its anti-drug strategy must be something more than a 5 o'clock press conference.
With that in mind, I want to close my remarks by moving, seconded by the member for :
That this question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a friendly remark before addressing the actual substance of Bill , which is extremely important because it will implement the Conservative government's anti-drug strategy.
When I was first elected to this House, people said that when the Liberals were in power, they governed like the Conservatives, and when they were in opposition, they behaved like the NDP. Today, listening to my colleague talk about Bill , I learned that Conservative policies haunt the Liberals, whether they form the government or the opposition.
That being said, this is an extremely important bill that is very disappointing. First of all, we have been hearing a lot of rhetoric from certain members suggesting that, if we seek some sort of alternative to minimum sentences and misguided crackdowns, it means we are going easy on organized crime in our communities. This kind of insinuation makes it extremely difficult to properly debate the issue.
The Bloc Québécois is against minimum sentences. We have maintained that position from the beginning of our existence, and I will explain why. We oppose such sentences, unlike certain parties who say they are against them but voted in favour of Bill . I imagine my NDP colleague will want to explain that when he gets a chance to speak, which will be soon.
We are opposed to minimum sentences and I will explain why. We do not, however, need any lectures about the need for vigilance against organized crime. I myself was the first member to introduce an anti-gang bill in this House, at a time when bombs were going off in Montreal, there were gang wars going on, and yet the elected representatives and officials of the government of the day were saying that there was no need for any new legislation and that organized crime could be broken up using the provisions on conspiracy.
That said, the Bloc Québécois is also responsible for the successful abolition of the $1000 bill, which was obviously a favourite of major organized crime syndicates. The former Bloc member for Charlesbourg, Richard Marceau, was the one who, in the dying days of the Martin regime, convinced the government to pass legislation reversing the burden of proof in connection with the proceeds of crime. I myself put forward a motion in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that would be instrumental in cracking down on the most criminal groups, one of whom of course is the Hells Angels.
So we have an impressive record that is clear evidence of our commitment, our vigilance and our desire to always foil organized crime and to keep our legislation up to date, since it is well known that organized crime is a constantly evolving phenomenon.
The government's problem is its ideological stubbornness, which is so deeply rooted that it sees everything in black and white. The Liberals, unfortunately, are no different in this respect.
Of course, when it is a matter of major drug trafficking networks, no one in this House would object to tough penalties. I am in favour of them and so, I am sure, are all my colleagues. If an individual gets involved in major organized crime and is involved in drug imports or exports, this has harmful effects on the legitimate economy of our communities and on the members of the community who get involved with these substances. We agree that the penalties need to be as tough as possible.
We do, however, believe that in the administration of these penalties there is a certain phenomenon at play. A judge assesses the context, and then has total freedom to reach his decision after having heard and absorbed all of the evidence, heard the witnesses, and of course examined the text of the law. That phenomenon is called judicial discretion.
The problem with this government is that, for basically ideological reasons, it has embraced mandatory minimum sentences. When the appeared before the committee, my colleague from Vancouver and I asked him, notwithstanding the fact that mandatory minimum sentences were part of the Conservative election platform, whether anyone from his department had assessed their impact. In other words, is there a correlation between including mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code and the deterrent effect sought and eventually observed? The answer is no. And yet, since becoming Minister of Justice, like his predecessor, he has been unable to provide studies that show conclusive evidence in support of mandatory minimum sentences.
Not only are mandatory minimum sentences an illusory ideology, but they also have an adverse effect on the administration of justice. In what way? Justice Paradis, a former judge from Vancouver who does not speak one word of French, told us that when he was on the bench and had to hear cases, minimum mandatory sentences made him uncomfortable. He also told us that when attorneys have to lay charges involving a mandatory minimum sentence that will tie the judge's hands, they prefer to choose other charges.
It was not the Bloc or the member for Hochelaga or our NDP colleagues who said that, but a retired judge who appeared before the committee.
I hope that we will eventually see the day when the Conservative government does away with its ideological dogma. Why not provide police officers with more tools? Every time our party has had the chance, it has supported putting more police officers in communities, broadening electronic surveillance and giving police forces more sophisticated investigative mandates. We agree that we need to fight organized crime and that we need a number of tools to do it. But we will not win by instituting mandatory minimum sentences.
The bill before us addresses trafficking. One kind of trafficking that is easy to condemn involves networks of people who import and export drugs. Often, seizures produce tens of kilos of cocaine and other controlled substances. The people involved are linked to organized crime, such as the Hells Angels and other similar groups seeking to profit from illegal activity and corrupt our society. But if four students get together to celebrate the end of classes and one of them has a joint that he or she passes on to another, according to the letter of the law, that constitutes a drug trafficking violation.
That can set in motion a mandatory minimum sentencing mechanism. For example, with respect to drug trafficking, thanks to God and the members who supported the amendment, the committee managed to get rid of the mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking in controlled substances if the person charged is in possession of fewer than five plants. A six-month minimum sentence still applies if the person is in possession of between 5 and 201 plants. Clearly, that is excessive. Those of us who are against mandatory minimum sentencing agree that just because three students have a little marijuana, that mechanism does not necessarily have to apply. That does not mean that we are inviting our fellow citizens to use marijuana. The Bloc Québécois is not suggesting that marijuana is part of Canada's food guide.
We know it is a drug, it can create dependency, and this is not desirable in a person’s life. Of course, we hope, and we sincerely call for there to be awareness campaigns to prevent any kind of drug use. However, the prohibition route is really not the one we should be going down.
In fact, in that committee, when we considered Bill , we also heard from law enforcement officials from the United States, and in particular Washington, who offered the example of New York. When we look at the American example, the results we see are striking. In terms of the administration of justice, the United States was the first to go down the mandatory minimum sentence road. But the states that have adopted mandatory minimum sentences are not the states that have won the war on drugs. There is no correlation between mandatory minimum sentences and winning the war on drugs. So as a society, we do better to put our efforts into awareness when we are dealing with something like trafficking in small quantities.
We should remember that on the last day of the Paul Martin government, this Parliament failed to adopt an alternative approach to penalties for marijuana offences. Once again, I would repeat that I have never smoked either cigarettes or marijuana, and that is not something I feel a need for in my life. But as a society, should we be putting offences relating to cannabis and marijuana and offences involving trafficking in large quantities, engaged in by groups like the Hells Angels, on the same plane in the offence scheme? That is where the bill makes no sense. We would have liked to see this distinction made.
For example, on the last day of the Paul Martin government, the Bloc Québécois had introduced this itself in this Chamber, and it was the member for who led the charge. And lead it he did. He is a very active member and he is much loved by his constituents. He is the green conscience of our party, and the connection between his green conscience and all the battles he leads can be seen.
So when we are looking at small quantities of marijuana, we would have hoped to see an offence scheme adopted that favoured fines over criminal penalties. In fact, in a few days, we will be tabling a report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights about driving while intoxicated. Without disclosing the recommendations, which are confidential, I can say that our committee will be proposing a somewhat less enforcement-oriented approach than is now contained in the Criminal Code.
It is too bad this government did not heed the alarm sounded by extremely knowledgeable witnesses such as Line Beauchesne, a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa. She reminded us that since the mid-19th century, the federal government has taken a prohibitionist approach. The government thought that the sanctions in the Criminal Code would deter people. That prohibitionist logic has not worked.
Obviously, that does not mean that I hope we legalize drugs and make them widely available. That means that we have to take different approaches to this problem. It is not as though we had a bill that increased the maximum penalties, for example. We have never had a problem with increasing maximum penalties. The government should have gone after major traffickers. Drug imports and exports are worth billions of dollars.
In 2001, the Auditor General determined that even with the whole existing repressive approach, the whole arsenal and all the money for the police—we are talking about millions of dollars—law enforcement authorities were able to seize less than 10% of the drugs on the Canadian market.
We are in favour of going after the major trafficking networks connected with the Hells Angels. That is why I want to mention a motion I have introduced in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I hope that before long, we will be living in a society where membership in the Hells Angels will be an offence in and of itself. I hope that there will be a list. The Bloc Québécois is waging this battle, and I want to acknowledge that we are supported by government members, the Liberals and the NDP.
We will not really address the drug problem with mandatory minimum penalties. The Hells Angels and other criminal groups—there are 38 in Canada—make a living from selling drugs. But if we succeeded in getting rid of these groups, would we not be solving part of the problem?
Another amendment was passed in committee requiring parliamentarians to conduct a review. We will therefore have to review the legislation. I do not know what the composition of the House will be at that point, and I do not know whether I will have the pleasure of taking part. Still, we passed an amendment stipulating that, two years after the section comes into force, there is to be a detailed examination of this legislation and the effects of its application together with a cost-benefit analysis of mandatory minimum sentences by the committee of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament, which Parliament designates for this purpose.
Obviously, this is increasingly common with bills. I recall our adopting such a provision for new reproductive technologies. I think parliamentarians adopted it when the set of regulations on tobacco was either passed or under consideration. It is one way for them to get feedback and verify a law's effectiveness. We could have objectives as lawmakers, but are these objectives met once the bill is passed? That, obviously, is a whole other matter.
We would have been more comfortable with the idea of aggravating circumstances rather than minimum sentences. The Criminal Code—as my colleagues no doubt know—provides in section 718 that a court may take into account a number of circumstances specific to a context and impose a harsher sentence.
We support, of course, the imposition of a harsher sentence when an offence is committed for the benefit or at the direction of a criminal organization. We agree that when an individual committing an offence uses or tries to use violence it should be considered an aggravating circumstance, as should the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence.
We obviously agree that when an offence is committed within a school, in school grounds or in a place frequented by young people it should be considered an aggravating circumstance.
We would, however, not have wanted these specific circumstances to culminate in a mandatory mechanism that leaves no room for legal discretion. I refer of course to mandatory minimum sentences. That seems a mistake to us.
Those are the comments I wanted to make on Bill . We will not support it in the vote at third reading.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to debate the final stage of Bill , which I am sorry we are doing. I am very disappointed that the Liberal members moved a motion to prevent any further extension of the debate. They have obviously done that very consciously because they, like the Conservatives, want to see this bill go through. They do not want to deal with any of the controversy around this bill, so that is very disappointing. Nevertheless here we are at third reading and I do have some comments to make about the bill, why it is seriously flawed and why we are opposing it.
I want to begin by saying that, as the Conservative member mentioned, I represent a riding, Vancouver East, where we have had a very serious drug problem. When I first was elected in 1997, I think the first issue I dealt with was that so many people were dying from overdoses that were entirely preventable.
The rate was alarming. It was higher than heart attacks, strokes, cancer or accidental deaths. It was from drug use and it was because people were buying substances on the black market, such as heroin, crack and various cocktails, and people did not know what they were taking. Sometimes something would hit the streets and it would be deadly, and we would have seven people dying over several days. It was one of the first issues I dealt with and it became literally a life and death issue that I felt compelled, as a newly elected member of Parliament, to deal with.
When I look back 12 years ago, at that time it would have been very easy to take this traditional response to substance use problems in our society, to say that we have to crack down, we have to get tougher and we have to have tougher laws. As I began talking with people in my own community, when I began speaking with doctors and health experts, when I began talking with drug users themselves who rarely get heard because they are very vilified and demonized in our society, I began to realize that the whole regime of our drug laws, the enforcement and the way it happens, is actually, in many cases, more harmful than the drugs themselves.
Criminalizing drug users continually and pushing people to the margins of society where they can get very little help and where they are outside the health care system was actually creating a worse situation in terms of the individual health of drug users, where we had a skyrocketing rate of HIV, AIDS and hepatitis C. It was the worst in the western world. It was an epidemic in the downtown east side, but it was also affecting the whole community in terms of crime and a lack of feeling safe. It really affected the overall health of the community.
It was at that point that I began to realize that the approach we had traditionally taken in Canada, which was very similar to that in the United States, was a failure. Many of us began to look further, to what was happening in Europe, to see where very different strategies had been tried in dealing with substance use, where there were, for example, safe injections sites and a much broader continuum of dealing with drug use as a health issue and focusing on that. There was enforcement as well, but it was primarily focused on it being a health issue.
Europe had, for example, a heroin medication program for chronic users, where instead of people having to buy their heroin on the black market, they could actually get a prescription and go through rehabilitation. There are tons of studies on this to show that what happened in Europe over many years had a very different impact than what was happening in the United States and Canada.
I became very convinced that the so-called war on drugs and emphasizing a law enforcement approach was really a very failed strategy. As the member for pointed out, this was very much reinforced by the Auditor General's report in 1998 or 1999, which showed that 90% of federal costs on drug policy were actually spent on enforcement, to no effect. She questioned what the value was and what kind of rationale was behind these policies.
I thought for a while that we were making progress in this Parliament when we adopted the four-pillar approach. It began in Vancouver, led by big city mayors. It began with the former mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen.
It was continued by the successive mayor, Larry Campbell. It was a municipal grassroots approach. It began in the local community because we needed a different approach to drug policies in this country. So the four-pillar approach, based on prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement, was adopted, and it was beginning to move across the country.
I thought we really were beginning to make some progress and people were beginning to want to have an honest debate about drug policies and recognize that prohibition itself is an issue that we need to examine and take on, and that prohibition, just as we saw in the 1930s with alcohol, where it fueled organized crime, where it fueled increased violence that had an impact on innocent civilians, is exactly what we are seeing today in these gang wars that are taking place in Vancouver.
Then a Conservative government was elected and we embarked on this mad journey of a crime agenda that is so closely associated with what we have seen in the United States that I find it frightening. To me, it is not based on any sound public policy analysis. It is not based on any evidence. It is based on some sort of ideology and plays on people's fear, because there is fear about drug use.
All of us as parents worry about what happens to our kids when they are in school and whether they are being lured by dealers. These are all fears that we have about safety in our community, but what I find really difficult, because it is so politicized now and so politically motivated, is to lure people with the idea that by bringing in tougher and tougher laws that we are somehow solving the problem.
That is the problem with the bill. It is based on the premise that mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes will improve the situation that we see in our local communities, that it will help our kids, that it will help drug users, that it will help deal with big kingpins, the big traffickers, the dealers that people worry about.
I believe we have a responsibility as members of Parliament to actually examine that question and to ask ourselves, is that the right direction? Is that the right route to take?
I began with the and asked him to please show us the evidence that mandatory minimums work, because everything I had seen coming out of the United States was telling us that they do not work. In fact, many of the states are now repealing, have repealed or are about to repeal their mandatory minimums.
So I thought, if we have a Conservative government that wants to take us down this road, at least let us see the evidence that the government has that it will work. Let us see the evidence and the estimates of what it would cost the judicial system. How many more people would it put in jail? What would be the cost to the provincial and territorial system?
However, the minister could not answer that. All he could say was that Canadians had told him that they wanted this to happen.
I felt very dissatisfied by that answer. I thought it was a very pathetic answer, and it really exposed the lack of analysis and substance that brought this bill forward.
In committee, we heard from some pretty remarkable witnesses. We heard from 16 witnesses, 13 of whom were strongly opposed to the bill and to mandatory minimums. In fact, the executive director of the John Howard Society forwarded the committee information about 35 studies, and he actually produced 17 of them, that showed that mandatory minimum sentences do not work in this area. We had overwhelming evidence showing that this is a very failed approach.
I feel that we are at a point now where it is just pretty awful that the bill will go through. I have been listening to the Liberal members, scratching my head and wondering, what on earth are they thinking? Why are they trying to fool us? Why are they trying to fool the Canadian public that by somehow lining up with the Conservatives on the bill they are doing the right thing?
I know there are individual members there who probably do not agree with this bill. We just heard from the member for who did introduce a bill on decriminalization of marijuana, which I very much support.
The bill is going in the complete opposite direction. I do not know how the member, or other members who I know have a similar view can, in any good conscience, can support this.
We know from the experience in the United States, contrary to what the Conservatives tell us, the bill is not levelled at the big kingpins. It is levelled at the low level dealers. It is levelled at the users who also deal because that is part of the cycle.
The idea that minimum sentences would be a deterrence to these folks is completely false. We have so much evidence to show that they are no deterrence at all. All minimum sentences will do is put more people in jail, people who already deal with substance use issues and need medical and social support, treatment and rehabilitation, and good housing.
We have to figure out why people become addicted and how to help them out of that. The government cannot just throw out a bill and give a six month sentence to one person and a three year sentence to another. People will be thrown into a system and will come out even worse.
The Canadian HIV-AIDS legal network recently produced a report about the lack of accessibility to harm reduction practices in our prison system, whether it is needle exchange or health support, which is truly shocking. People are being put into an environment and coming out much worse than when they went in.
The bill is completely harmful in its consequences. I really believe that it should be defeated, and that is why, from day one, the NDP made it clear that we thought it should be defeated.
I want to deal with some of the issues that have been brought forward.
There has been a suggestion in the debate that if we do not support the bill, there will not be any enforcement. It has been suggested that the bill is about bringing in an enforcement regime and that what we have is not working. There is no evidence of that.
Bill proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In the current act, trafficking, as I pointed out earlier, is already subject to life imprisonment, so is importing and exporting and production for the purposes of trafficking.
There is already a whole set of aggravating circumstances contained in the CDSA similar to Bill . The courts already have the legal tools to use aggravating circumstances, whether it is carried use, or threaten to use a weapon, or the use of violence, or being near a school ground, or a previous conviction or the use of the services of a person under the age of 18 years to commit or involve such a person in the commission of a designated substance offence. These already exist in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
I come back to the fundamental question that has to be answered by the government. Why are the Conservatives introducing a regime of mandatory minimums when there is no evidence showing that they will work? In fact to the contrary, this will only make it worse.
The Conservative member for said in committee, after we had heard from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association:
I suppose I will accept the representation made from the John Howard Society and the Civil Liberties Association that this bill is targeted to the so-called low-level distributor or low-level dealer. You may be correct that it may not be as effective as we would like in going after the kingpins. I may accept that.
Conservative members know what the bill is about. Even though they say publicly that this legislation goes after the big guys, that it will make us all safe, because the bill is so broad and because it will capture so many people, they know it will be low level distributors, many of whom are also users, who will be caught.
I would argue that is why the Conservatives included a small aspect in the bill around drug treatment courts. They want to give people the idea that at least there is some alternative regime to allow people to go through a drug treatment court.
The big kingpins, the big drug dealers are not going through drug treatment courts. They are the ones who negotiate their way out of anything. They are the ones who have the resources to do that. The people who go to the drug treatment courts are the poorest of the poor. They are the people who are visible on the street. This is very much a class issue as well.
Drug use exists at every level of society, whether it is lawyers or professionals, but the visibility of what we see is on the street. That is where the enforcement is being levelled and that is where people are being sent into these drug treatment courts.
The evidence of the drug treatment courts is very mixed. I have serious problems with them. If we believe people should get help, why would we wait until they are convicted and then ask them if they would like get some treatment? Part of treatment is to make an early intervention. If we wait until people are all the way through the justice system and then say that we will help them is a completely ridiculous way to organize a continuum of support and help required for people who face addiction issues.
The Liberals are very much hanging their hat on the drug treatment courts, saying that they are going to go after the drug treatment courts, that we need more of them. However, they are very controversial as to whether they are working.
I would also like to read into the record what the said when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security back in April of this year. He said:
Why is it that we're having to convert our prison system into a mental health hospital system? Why is it that people are ending up in prisons who shouldn't be? The fundamental problem is this. Why are we not getting adequate health care to individuals? Why, when they have their first couple of encounters with the courts, do they still not get adequate health care?
Understanding how you get there is important, because by the time someone has had serious enough problems that they're in the federal penitentiary system, it's pretty hard to put the puzzle back together again. What we want to do is find ways to deal with it well before that happens, and that's better for society. It's better for the individuals involved; it's better for the taxpayers; it's better for our prison system....
There are so many contradictions. On the one hand, the minister himself is questioning why so many people are being sent into incarceration who really should not be there. On the other hand, we have this draconian bill.
I did call it radical. I believe mandatory minimum sentences are a radical approach that has been shown not to work. We will be sending more and more people into the justice system where they are not going to get the help they need and they are not even going to get the help they need from the drug treatment courts.
The bill will go through. I am very glad that at least the NDP was able to get through a couple of amendments, one of which was to have a review of the bill within two years. I hope there will be enough of us around, and I am sure there will be a strong NDP contingent here, to ensure the bill is reviewed. We will do it very objectively, and as the member for says, if necessary, have it repealed. That is very important. We were glad we were able to get through one amendment to provide an exemption for one to five plants.
At the end of the day, this is probably the worst crime bill the Conservatives have brought forward. It has no evidence to support it. It is purely driven by a political agenda. It is going to hurt people. It is going to send more people into our prison system. It is not going to solve our substance use issues in local communities or nationally. It is going to drive us down the road where the U.S. went, which has been the most colossal failure that we could imagine, financially, politically and in terms of its justice system.
That is where we are headed with the bill. It is a huge mistake. I am very glad the NDP is voting against it. I appreciate that the Bloc is voting against it also, but I wish the other parties would too.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill .
Government members seem to think all they have to do is come here and list the provisions of a bill and that is their speech, but that does not speak to why the government is doing things. It does not speak to the impact the government is expecting. It does not address what the opposing views may have been and how they have been addressed or how they have been dismissed or how they have been compensated for. When committees handle bills, it is important that they bring back to the House a sense of where they have been on their important journey dealing with issues that are very important to Canadians.
However, the starting point of this bill was flawed in the first place because it was presented as a justice bill. Therefore, members should understand that we are dealing with a justice issue, not in the context of other important elements such as health issues and certain other areas. In fact, it is even narrower than that because it simply is another proxy for the government to say that it is tough on crime because it has brought in mandatory minimums. If we listen to the speeches and read the transcripts of the speeches that government members have given on this bill, they have continued to say that there is going to be a mandatory minimum and people say that is good because the offenders are not getting a penalty otherwise.
Not one of the government members included in his or her speech, and I listened carefully, that all of the offences that are referred to in this bill are subject to penalties of up to life imprisonment. Do members realize that? I do not think a lot of the people who are following the debate realize that. We are talking about very serious criminal offences. We are talking about drug offences and trafficking related to organized crime, utilization of weapons, dealing with these problems in the schools and being plagues on society. These are very serious crimes and they are subject to imprisonment up to life. I will read from the bill itself. This is the justice language, but these are indictable offences and liable to imprisonment for life. It says “for life”. It does not say “up to life”. Members have to read it. It is imprisonment for life. There is judicial discretion.
We are dealing with the most serious crimes. We are dealing with organized crime, those who are the plagues on society who use drug money to finance all other kinds of criminal offences. That is very serious. I suppose that anybody who is going to be charged with an offence related to organized crime is going to get a penalty up to life. If the government prescribes a mandatory minimum of one year, how is that important? Does it not say something? If a mandatory minimum is being put in, then some people are getting no sentence for this serious crime under the existing law. Is that true? I do not think so.
Mr. Brent Rathgeber: It is true.
Mr. Paul Szabo: There is plea bargaining; I understand that. If we want to talk about what happens in the real world, in the courts, we will see examples of where they will sacrifice prosecuting some low-level participant in criminal activity for an opportunity to get at the bigger kingpins, as it were.
There are all kinds of these things out there and people have to understand that. I am not a lawyer and I am not an expert in the courts, but I can say as a layperson that if we are dealing with an indictable offence that is subject to imprisonment for life and we say that we are going to also add a mandatory minimum of one year, that tells me that this life thing is not real. Why did the government members not explain that? They have to explain it.
There is a reason I want to speak to this bill. The member for mentioned something about my age and that I have been around a long time. Well, it has been 15 years, but I have learned a lot.
Back on October 30, 1995 in the 35th Parliament, I stood in this place and gave a 40-minute speech. At the time, lead speakers actually had 40 minutes. I was the chair of the health subcommittee on Bill C-7 regarding the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This bill actually started under the former Mulroney government but was never dealt with. It finally came before the 35th Parliament and the subcommittee was set up because it was not just a problem of health; there were justice and criminal issues that had to be addressed. There was a whole bunch of issues within society about decriminalizing marijuana and the advent of designer drugs. All of a sudden, people were getting very clever on how to manufacture drugs which were not even known. They had different chemistries and names and they were not included on the list. As a consequence of second reading debate, we found that it was necessary to expand the list.
A subcommittee was established. The member for was on that committee as well. There were thousands of communications and representations and dozens of submissions and witnesses on broad aspects. One of the important reasons we were doing that is that Canada, which is a signatory to many international conventions, had been identified as having failed to live up to its international obligations and had become basically a shipment point for the export of drugs to other countries. This was a very serious issue. We were under a great deal of pressure. I will refer to that a little later.
When we were finished our work, it was clear that it was important that we not only have a national drug strategy but that we also have the tools and plans to make that drug strategy work. When a drug strategy works, it is not just a matter of someone having done something, whether it be possession or trafficking, being a given a penalty, going to jail and everything is fine; it involves people. There are people involved in drugs at all levels. There are users, traffickers, the people who are financing and everybody in between. People are hurt. Families are hurt.
As has been discussed by a number of members, there is the importance of having some balance, such as a harm reduction strategy. How do we deal with these things? There is the aspect of a four pillar approach: harm reduction, prevention, rehabilitation and treatment, and enforcement. It requires much more.
This bill is simply a proxy for the government to say it is getting tough on crime and there will be a mandatory minimum for terrible crimes. Incidentally, and the government does not tell us this, people are subject to life imprisonment already. It did not go far enough.
As a matter of fact, the other thing government members did not mention in their speeches was proposed section 8 in Bill . Proposed section 8 states:
The court is not required to impose a minimum punishment unless it is satisfied that the offender, before entering a plea, was notified of the possible imposition of a minimum punishment for the offence in question and of the Attorney General’s intention to prove any factors in relation to the offence that would lead to the imposition of a minimum punishment.
In other words, notwithstanding what the bill prescribes, the crown attorney has to give notice before someone enters a plea. There is discretion, in fact, if Parliament passes this bill, notwithstanding what members from the Conservative Party said that it is going to be mandatory and people are going to jail, no, the bill hands it over to the courts, to the crown attorneys, plea bargaining and all of that other stuff.
I should mention that the speech I gave was on October 30, 1995. It was significant in my life, and I think in Canada's life, because that was the day of the last Quebec referendum. That is why there were many people engaged in other things. I was asked to give the lead speech on it.
At the time, we debated, we discussed, and the committee went for over two years to address all the issues and concerns that had been raised at second reading. It went to committee. We started getting feedback from our international partners in terms of dealing with drugs, and Canada was a laggard and needed to do something.
Interestingly, many of the points now raised in this debate are the same issues and points that were raised in 1995.
We could not legislate a number of these things. These were recommendations coming out of the committee. These were pleas on behalf of a committee, and a committee report. It said not only does the bill have to be dealt with, we have to deal with scheduling of drugs and with designer drugs. We have to deal with fortified drug houses, for example, organized crime. We have to deal with rehabilitation and treatment and we have to deal with prevention. We could not put that into a bill because that was beyond the scope of the bill, but we reported on those things.
Still today, the solution to all problems of the government is that if people commit an offence it is throwing them in jail. I suppose that is fine for some, but what is the reality in the courts where people are going through the system and they are being judged with regard to the offences that are being referred to?
Back in 1995, the courts were overcrowded. There was no money for rehabilitation and treatment. There were no resources to have effective prevention programs. There was no comprehensive strategy to address the whole family of problems in the world of drugs. There was a plea by Parliament back in 1995, and the same kinds of problems continue today.
The fastest growing industry in the United States now is the prison industry: building jails. It is a system where if one commits an offence, one goes to jail. They say, “We will squeeze them in there. We will keep building jails. We will start privatizing them.” It is a growth industry. It is the biggest growth industry in the United States.
In a small way we are following that same kind of pattern, that when we have crimes we put people in jail and that takes care of it. However, eventually those people come out of jail, they go back into society. Many of them are repeat offenders.
Our system of justice incorporates the whole principle of rehabilitation, but it does not often work. If there are no resources, how can we expect people to come out of jail with a sense that they did something wrong, it was not a good thing, it hurt a lot of people, their life is going to get fixed up and they are going to have the support to make sure they continue on the straight road.
That is not part of the Conservative philosophy. The Conservatives' philosophy is, “They are criminals. We are putting them in jail and we will throw away the key. We are getting tough on crime.”
I think the country is probably worse off if all we do is continue to throw people in jail without trying to deal with the importance of rehabilitation, treatment and crime prevention. Where are those things?
As the federal government, we can pass laws that can amend the Criminal Code and drug laws. Who enforces those? Who is responsible? The responsibility for dealing with crime on the street is substantively within provincial jurisdictions. They, most of them, are the ones that are responsible for the courts. They are responsible for the programs. They are responsible for most of the jails. We have federal judges, but there are also provincial judges.
If we continue to pass laws that pass on more onerous responsibilities and all they are doing is filling up jails, who is going to pay for it? How are they going to be able to afford to discharge those responsibilities that are thrown at them by the federal level of government?
There has to be a shared responsibility. If the system is going to work, we need a strategy that covers all the possible approaches to dealing with serious crime whether or not there is a possibility of rehabilitation or appropriate treatment to deal with people who have been in the drug system. We have to deal with prevention.
I became a member of Parliament in 1993, and the first committee I was on was the health committee. I remember health officials coming before the health committee to talk about the state of our health system in Canada. They told us at the time that 75% of the money spent in the health system was on fixing health problems, addressing illness, and that only 25% was spent on prevention.
I will never forget it. There were 200 green rookies who had just been elected. Officials came before a committee of Parliament, and they concluded that how we spend our health dollars in Canada, with 25% on prevention and 75% on dealing with problems after we had them, was not sustainable. That has stayed with me all my years as a member of Parliament: the value of prevention versus punishment.
Our health system has tried to move in that direction, and it is very difficult, but I think that a dollar spent on prevention provides much more benefit in terms of better health for Canadians than a dollar spent on fixing problems and cures. We have to deal with it before it happens. That is part of why I wanted to speak on this.
I want the government members to know that I do not have a problem with mandatory minimums conceptually. If the courts are not able to do their jobs for one reason or another, there should at least be some period of incarceration. We need to defend the principles. The Liberals brought in mandatory minimums before the Conservatives. We had mandatory minimums in Canada, though not in all areas. It was not a philosophical thing, but it was not across the board.
However, the government seems to think that all it has to do is bring in 10 or 12 justice bills, prescribe mandatory minimums right across the board and that will tell everybody it is getting tough on crime. All it is really doing is filling up the jails and making angry people who will come right back to society. It is going to get worse, and it has in many cases, although some of the statistics I have seen seem to fly in the face of that in certain areas and for certain types of crime.
If we look at what happens in a period of recession and economic duress, the property crime in Canada goes up. It will track unemployment. It did in the last recession, and it will do so in this one too. That is going to put more stress on the system. We have to learn from history about how this works.
I want to conclude by saying that if the members are going to speak in this place, I do not want them to read the bill or give me all the provisions; I want them to tell me why we are doing this and to tell me the truth, that these provisions have life sentences associated with them.
However, proposed section 8 with regard to mandatory minimums sets conditions and provisions whereby the crown attorney and the people in the courts can basically decide that there will not be a mandatory minimum. Not one of those members said it, because it takes away from their argument that we are getting tough on crime. We are simply delegating that decision to the courts. The bill is not setting mandatory minimums; we are delegating that opportunity to the courts. There is much more that goes on in the courts. The members have not addressed it, and they have not done their jobs.
Madam Speaker, I shall continue on the theme of the hon. member for and respond to his argument at the outset that it is a pity that the party he represents in the House has not understood the same thing as he has. If his party had understood the same thing as the hon. member for Mississauga South, we would not be at this point today and there would be no chance of this bill being passed. However it will be passed, thanks to the complicity of the Liberal Party. This bill seems to us totally unnecessary and dangerous. My colleague from Mississauga South is perfectly correct. We will not be filling the prisons with the real criminals, but with people in the early stages of becoming criminals.
The Bloc was opposed to, is opposed to and will continue to vigorously oppose minimum prison sentences because of four important points. This is not just my opinion. First of all, these minimum sentences “do not advance the goal of deterrence. International social science research has made this clear”. The Conservatives and some Liberals are vocal advocates of the opposite view. They need only look to the United States, where minimum prison sentences have been imposed, to realize that this has not solved the crime problem, which indeed is now much more deep-rooted.
In New Zealand and Australia, and specifically Northern Australia, an institute has produced a report entitled Mandatory sentencing for adult property offenders. They studied the issue thoroughly and found that a law passed in 1992 that imposed minimum sentences was useless and had solved nothing. Not only had it not reduced crime, it had increased it. Individuals are not prevented from committing crime by fear of a prison sentence. That is not my opinion: it is in the report.
The Conservatives are so vocal and insistent on this that we asked them to provide us with just one study. The hon. member for can report to the members of his party and ask them if it is true that they have not produced a single study. Their answer will be incomprehensible. We asked them for one and they have not produced it, whereas we have submitted 12 studies. The Liberals submitted a few, and the Conservatives not that many, since they do not have any, but the Bloc and the NDP have invited expert witnesses who have studies that demonstrate that minimum prison sentences are of no use.
I ask my colleagues, including the hon. member for , to listen to what these studies have said.
The evidence shows that long periods served in prison increase the chance that the offender will offend again... . In the end, public safety is diminished, rather than increased, if we “throw away the key”.
This was said by the federal Minister of Justice in a 1990 study entitled Directions for Reform: Sentencing, Corrections and Conditional Release. This was when the Conservatives were in power under a certain Brian Mulroney, though it is true that at that time they were called Progressive Conservatives, whereas they are now Reform Conservatives. So we have it in black and white. They have seen the studies, but they continue to maintain their position.
We also need to draw hon. members' attention to the fact that mandatory minimum sentences have been harshly criticized in a number of other major studies, including the report of the Canadian Sentencing Commission.
This is not our idea. It does not come from the evil separatists. The ones who say so are the Conservatives, the Reformists, and they turn up with this bill. That was my first point, but I have three more.
Second, the Bloc Québécois has always and will always be opposed to mandatory minimum jail terms, and will fight them vigorously because they:
...do not target the most egregious or dangerous offenders, who are already subject to stiff sentences. [—precisely because of the nature of the crimes they have committed]
I will repeat for the hon. member for and certain members of his party, who will perhaps understand.
More often, it is less culpable offenders who are caught by mandatory sentences and are subjected to extremely lengthy terms of imprisonment.
Those are not our words. They are written in black and white in reports and all my quotes are from those reports. The position of the Bloc Québécois is based and focused on that. It would be interesting for my colleague from to speak to his Liberal party colleagues, who do not get it at all. The member for Mississauga South and the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights got it somewhat, but they claim they have no choice.
No choice but to do what? Fill up our prisons?
One thing is for sure: the prisoners will get out one day. Our Conservative-Reform friends have to realize that the prisoners will get out one day. Mandatory sentences are given to the least guilty offenders, and they are the ones who get sent to crime school. When it comes to minimum prison sentences, the problem with the Conservatives and some of the Liberals is that they do not understand that a person given a minimum one-year prison sentence, for example, is eligible for parole and will get out after serving one-third of the sentence. That does not solve the problem. The Conservative-Reformers do not get it. They do not understand that the prisoners will get out.
Usually, people who work for organized crime—the real target of this bill—are given heavy sentences anyway. As recently as yesterday we saw that in the Hells Angels file in Quebec.
I still have two points I want to discuss. My third point is this:
Mandatory minimum penalties have a disproportionate impact on minority groups who already suffer from poverty and deprivation. In Canada, this will affect aboriginal communities, a population already grossly over-represented in penitentiaries, most harshly.
I am not the one who said that. A federal Reform-Conservative organization said that. Juristat, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, reported on the issue in Juristat: Returning to Correctional Services after Release: A Profile of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Adults Involved in Saskatchewan Corrections from 1999/00 to 2003/04. That appeared in vol. 25, no. 2, published by Statistics Canada in Ottawa in 2005.
I do not think that the Conservatives get it. They will be targeting a poor and disadvantaged segment of the population. We all know that. I will not elaborate on that now. My NDP colleague from Vancouver has already discussed the huge problem with aboriginals and minorities several times.
They are the ones who are going to pay for an unfair, unacceptable law that makes no sense. We will keep on opposing it. Mandatory minimum sentences are not the answer.
Last but not least, I want to make the point that mandatory minimum sentences subvert important aspects of Canada's sentencing regime, including the principles of proportionality and individualization—the member for should not move, because I am going to explain what these two big words mean—and reliance on judges to impose a just sentence after hearing all facts in the individual case. What this means is that the government is trying to direct the judicial system by introducing laws that will require judges to impose mandatory minimum sentences.
What the Reform Conservatives and part of the Liberal caucus do not yet understand is that the problem is not when offenders go into prison, but when they come out.
These guys—90% of inmates in federal prisons are men—go to prison after the judge has explained to them why he imposed a three-year sentence, for example. The judge explains his reasons and talks about rehabilitation. In some cases, he may tell the offender that it is not appropriate to talk about rehabilitation, because there is not much chance that rehabilitation will be available for him. The judge will also tell him that it is important that society be protected and that, as the offender does not seem to have understood that, he is being sent to prison for three years.
Imagine the judge's surprise when, eight months after handing down a three-year sentence, he sees the guy in the street. The judge calls the police and explains that he sentenced the offender to three years in prison. The judge is told that the offender was a model inmate. The judge replies that he had trafficked in drugs and had been given a three-year sentence. Yes, but he went before the parole board, and because this was his first offence and he was not a bad guy, he was released.
There is the problem and that is what the Conservatives do not understand. It is simply that prisoners do not serve their sentences. One day the Conservatives and part of the Liberal Party caucus will have to realize that the problem is not when offenders go into jail but when they get out.
There absolutely must be respect for judges. This bill does not respect judges; it imposes minimum sentences. All the necessary tools were already in place.
I know we must refer to specific sections and clauses. Let the Conservatives go and look it up. They did not read section 718 of the Criminal Code carefully. They should reread it. It sets out the sentencing principles to be followed by a judge when imposing a sentence. It talks about rehabilitation, the protection of society and the risk of recidivism. All the criteria are found in that section and judges are familiar with it.
When a guy appears in court for drug trafficking for the fourth time, will the judge give him a conditional sentence? Of course not. Only a few Conservatives believe that.
I was a lawyer for 30 years and I can say that when I went before a judge with a client charged with his fourth trafficking offence, there was no question of obtaining a conditional sentence. The judge would speak to the individual, explain to him that it was clear he had not yet understood, and explain why he was giving him such and such a sentence.
Respect for the judiciary is extremely important as is the principle of sentencing. We are not the ones saying it. The Supreme Court of Canada has acknowledged that incarceration should usually—I say usually—represent the criminal sanction of last resort and that it may be less appropriate or useful in the case of aboriginal offenders.
I cite the Supreme Court ruling in the Gladue case in support of this argument. The Conservatives do not get it and do not seem to want to understand that there must be respect for judicial discretion.
Imposing minimum sentences solves nothing and does not reduce the crime rate. There is no study showing that, and goodness knows I did try to get hold of one. I started by asking the minister, then his staff, and then all the deputy ministers and representatives in the Justice Department, but no one could provide a study that proved that minimum sentences solve anything.
The problem with Bill is that it has the effect of depriving judges, when passing sentence, of the discretionary power to properly determine the penalty that best balances the fundamental objectives of sentencing.
I will try to put it in simpler terms for some of my Conservative colleagues so they can understand. The more you imprison people, the less you solve the problem. If they do not get that, it is a pity. They can come up with tons of bills, but there is no room in the prisons. They just need to go and check that out. It is not hard to do so, so let them go and check it out.
There is a provincial jail in the Quebec City area, another near Amos and one near Hull. So they do not need to travel far, there is one just across the river and it is filled to overflowing. It is chock full. They do not even know where to put inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. The problem is that they are filling up the prisons but offering nothing to inmates.
When we look at Bill , we see one aspect, that the individual can receive a lesser sentence—the judge will not be obliged to impose a minimum sentence—if he successfully completes a treatment program appropriate to his condition. The problem is that there are no treatment centres. It is all very well to put it into a bill but there are no treatment centres.
The problem with the member for is threefold: one, he does not hear two, he does not listen; three: he will repeat it back all wrong. There is no appropriate treatment centre. There is no money for it. They will send people to prison but they are not able to provide appropriate treatment. We are hearing this from the penitentiaries.
Does he know how it works? The member for still does not understand. With a three-year sentence, an individual is eligible for parole after one third of his sentence. Eight times three is 24, so after eight months, he is eligible.
That individual has no prior offences, it is his first sentence and his first time in prison. What happens in such cases? It takes four months to even look at his case. What happens then? He is sent to the Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines federal reception centre, put in a corner and observed. Officials will wait a little and analyze his case in order to choose the appropriate treatment. Then, after three or four months, a decision is finally made: he is sent to a minimum security prison or a maximum security prison.
The problem is that there are no services for him in the meantime. If he is eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence, what happens? He had a two-year sentence—eight times three is 24—so he has four months left to serve. What will he do? He will go play cards and he will not be offered any services. None. That is the problem that the Conservatives just do not understand. Mandatory minimum sentencing solves nothing.
I know I am nearly out of time, but if I could pass along a message to our friends in the Liberal party, I would say they should reconsider their position and have another look at this bill, which solves nothing and will not reduce crime rates. I will not waste my time on the Conservatives, who will understand nothing of this. The only way to make the Conservatives understand that minimum prison sentences are useless is to beat them in the next election, and that is what we are all hoping for.
Madam Speaker, great passions are stirred in this place when drugs and organized crime are discussed. Mix that in with politics and one has quite the elixir.
First, I will address the passion that is elicited by all members of the House. I think that underneath the contentious issue of Bill , there lie common interests that need to be enhanced, explored and then considered in light of what the bill proposes. I think when we agree on those common interests, even members of the House who show support for the bill, particularly those who have not read it, will perhaps give some pause and reconsideration. The effects of this will be very real in their communities and constituencies.
Most notable is the effect that is intended by the government's own writing, and from the support we are hearing from the Liberals, in a strangely hypocritical way, is not going to have the effect of reducing organized crime in Canada. As its first principle, we must all agree to that. The organized crime intervention within the drug trade is causing ruination and havoc within our communities.
We must do away with the concept and idea that this sits only within the urban centres of Canada. In the northwest of British Columbia, as in northern Alberta where my friend from Fort McMurray comes from, the encouragement of the organized drug trade does not know the bounds of a city limit. It does not stay within Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. It exceeds beyond those limits. The organizational level of drugs coming into our communities has increased year after year.
Some of my colleagues have referred to the difficult times we are in right now and that drug use goes up among Canadians particularly in an economic downturn. However, it also happens in the reverse.
Even in very good times, when there was more money than folks knew what to do with in places like Fort McMurray, the drug trade was as strong as ever, if not stronger. We see it in the downtown offices of Toronto on Bay Street. We see it absolutely everywhere in society. The touch and the influence of organized crime within this trade has become more and more prolific, despite the efforts of successive government that time and time again have stood in the House and said that they will get tough on organized crime and that this bill or that bill will do it.
There is some belief within the powers that be in Ottawa that they have the answers, that they have somehow figured out the magic bullet to solve this. In fact, they go against many of the wishes of those working at the grassroots level, at the street level, in the clinics and in the public advocacy groups, which are fighting on behalf of the victims of organized crime. Those people have made serious interventions and contentions about the bill, backed with evidence, and I will get to this in a moment, and the government chooses to ignore that evidence.
The government has said time and time again that law must be based on fact. That seems reasonable. We are lawmakers in this place. We seek to write laws that will then be used in our courts and by our lawyers to punish those guilty of crime and to let free the innocent. When I asked the chair of the committee for those facts, the studies and research, he said that it had to be logical and that was all. As if that was an argument ever to be presented in Parliament, an argument that one member's opinion of logic therefore overrides the idea of research, or study, or understanding of an issue. That does not work. That is not serious debate. That is no way to write law. That is no way to help protect innocent lives of Canadians.
There has been much talk about, from the New Democratic side at least, the concept of the four pillar approach to drug crime, particularly organized drug crime. This does not come from nowhere. This came from municipalities that had been dealing with the ravages of organized crime year after year. When they looked to their federal and provincial governments, they found them wanting. Therefore, this solution came from the people who dealt with the issue.
The first of the four pillar prevention approach to drugs is prevention. It is to try to make the thing not happen in the first place, which is usually the most cost-effective way to make anything happen. It is always more expensive to clean up the mess after the fact than to stop it from happening in the first place.
The second pillar is treatment and understanding that those who are addicted to drugs often face a whole list and multiplicity of challenges within their lives. These are not folks who are simply hell-bent on causing wanton destruction in our communities, despite the advertisements we see in the mail from the government. These folks are facing all sorts of challenges.
I believe there is a compassionate element somewhere buried deep within the Conservatives. I scratch and search for it day after day, a compassionate, truly almost spiritual element that says they must have compassion for people, they must not sit in complete judgment of all those, but that they must show themselves to be compassionate legislators, compassionate leaders of the country, except when it comes to an issue like this. Then suddenly compassion and understanding are not to be found. The Conservatives scream out loud and they condemn groups and societies. There is a class tone somewhere in there that we pick out of the fibre of the speeches given by Conservatives.
However, we seek compassion always. It is our better nature. It is what we as Canadians take pride in and it ultimately achieves the very goals that we all hold in common, which is to reduce the crime, the misery and suffering and the power and the influence of organized crime. We are all seized with that, as we should be, not political opportunism, not moments to score points and produce another couple of million mail-outs prior to elections to try to convince Canadians that tough on crime means something. Everything we do in this place, at our best, should be based on evidence and understanding of the issue.
Now there is always the law of unintended consequences. There is always the law that says when we try to do one thing, even with good intentions at times, another thing might happen.
Fortunately for Canada, the lesson has already been lived out in the U.S., south of the border, where every extreme measure available to government was taken to tackle organized drug crime. The Americans tried everything, and the further south it went, the crazier it got, to the point where they were making such draconian laws, they simply could not build jails fast enough to catch everybody.
How did the drug crime situation fare by taking out every weapon they possibly could and making every law they possibly could as draconian as possible? Drug crime in the U.S. went consistently up, to the point where a number of the major states that led in this initiative of minimum mandatory sentencing for drug crimes are now rescinding those laws.
Here is Canada, with the Conservative government showing up late to the party, looking at no evidence but only ideology, because it is logical to them and therefore must be true, presenting no facts, no evidence, and saying, “This must be the right course because George W. Bush said so; this must be the right course because we in the Conservative Party think so”.
If our true intention is to alleviate the suffering and pain caused by the drug trade and organized crime, if we arrive back at that first principle and we then seek from that first principle the solutions that we can all agree with, then we could arrive at something that would, lo and behold, look a lot like the four-pillars approach where we had prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.
With four pillars, one almost imagines four legs of a table, that in order to build something strong, we would try to make those legs strong and of somewhat equal length so that we could put something on it, such as a community.
When we look at government spending to this point on those pillars, we see harm reduction, one of the most important, at 2.5% of all spending. We see prevention, preventing the bad thing from happening to the person and society in the first place, at another whopping 2.5%. When we look at research and treatment, we see 7% and 14%. Now let us arrive at the big ticket item, enforcement, which is at 73%.
The table that this government and the previous government have constructed is so lopsided, how can the government expect anything other than the condition and the seriousness of organized drug crime to continue to get worse? The organized criminal groups are laughing at and mocking the government.
The government came in with a so-called crime agenda. What have we seen in the streets of our communities and cities since the government came in saying it was going to get tough on crime? It worked well in a pamphlet. It did not work well in legislation and it continues to fail Canadians each and every day.
I do not understand why the government would not at least sponsor a study or two, something it could make public for us to enter into the debate with that says minimum mandatory sentences, in some cases, would work really well, that the government has done some research and it actually lowers the effect of drug crime in Canada. However, the government does not produce a thing. The members just scream out logic. What kind of argument is that? Did these members of Parliament come to this place and promise their constituents that they would not do research, they would not read things, they would not improve their knowledge of a situation to enhance the debate and then arrive at laws that all of us could agree on and work towards?
Instead it is this divisive thing again, divide and conquer, the so-called wedge issues that the party seems obsessed with, as if forming government were just a practice in manifesting wedge issues, time and time again, as if that were leadership, as if that would take Canada to any new place, a better place for Canadians. It just develops a bunch of random issues that the Conservatives think their base, whatever that might mean, might get excited about, and wedge just enough of the electorate over so they could grab absolute power, and then look out. Then they would do the things they want to do.
That is not leadership. That is no way to govern. That is no way to be the Government of Canada. That is not something to be proud of.
I step back to Skeena--Bulkley Valley, the place I represent in northwestern British Columbia. We have seen both sides of the economic cycle. We have seen the boom and we watched the gangs move in with their drugs. We have seen the bust and we watched the gangs move in with their drugs. They get organized in the city, and they take their shipments and all the rest and move them up the line. The misery goes up the line, and property crime, abduction and people entering into prostitution follow for us as well.
Our communities are tightly knit. They are small. They are truly community-based. We see it in our community halls. We see it in our churches. We see it at the local coffee shop every day when we hear about somebody else's kid who hit the road down to Vancouver or who is off in Edmonton and cannot be found. They do not know where they are. They do not know what happened to them.
There is no one in this place who should stand up and say that one party or another has somehow the territory or the marked ground to say they care about these issues and another one does not. It is insulting to all of us. It is insulting even to the person who says it. There is such a lack of grasp and intelligence and compassion as to speak ill more of the speaker than the receiver.
The government must come to understand when we are dealing with such a serious issue as this, and not simply take all the hard work of those municipalities, organizers and community groups that have said we must not simply do the enforcement alone but must have other aspects of this if we hope to achieve our goals, and toss all that out the window and say, “I have the solution; it is minimum mandatory, and whisk, whisk, it will all be done”.
This is also a government that used to pride itself on fiscal management. Obviously, that reputation has taken a sound beating, because every time the finance minister opens his mouth, the budget deficit grows again, time and time again. Fiscal management might not be one of the things the Conservatives will campaign on in the next election, but we will see.
Even now, at this point, we ask the government to produce one document, one estimate of the expected cost of the bill, something the government consistently asks for when dealing with private members' bills, bills that come from New Democrats and others. It is one of the government's first questions: “What is it going to cost the taxpayers? We are fiscally prudent; we are Conservatives.”
Lo and behold, when we ask what is the cost of this little number, the government says it is not going to tell us. Why is that?
Part of the reason is that most of the costs are going to be incurred by the provinces, because most of the folks who will be ensnared by the bill will end up in provincial jails. Therefore, I guess the government says it is not its concern because it is the federal government. It is all the same taxpayer. The taxpayer has a right to know, when the government proposes a piece of legislation, what the cost may or may not be.
We are not even asking for the exact figure, but just a range, an estimation, a best guess. We are asking for something so that when the government makes these choices, when it spends more than three quarters of its money on one pillar and virtually ignores the rest, the taxpayers can know what kinds of costs, considerations and choices the government is making.
Ultimately, being in government, having the reins of power, having the significant levers of power that a government has, boils down to choices and options and what the government thinks are the best choices for the betterment of all Canadians, not its wedge issue, not its base, not some sort of narrow thing it can slap into a ten percenter in a mail-out and convince Canadians that it is in fact the knight in shining armour to save the day. It has been doing it for years and still things get worse.
The costs are an important element. It just simply cannot be ignored. I still await a single Conservative member to stand up in the debate today on the bill that we are about to vote on, or even a Liberal member, because the Liberals are going to support it, and say what they think the costs are. That would be fair. That would be honest. That would be intelligent. That would be wise leadership to simply say what the range of costs would be, and some of it will be taken by the federal government and some of it will be taken by the provincial governments. The taxpayer needs to know. Is that fair? Is that understandable?
I encourage my Conservative colleagues, if we can have a few moments of questions and comments, to slide in the figure if they know it. If they do not know it, they can say that too, and that is fine.
However, to simply ignore the costs as though they are not a factor at all in making a law seems ludicrous, as though it does not exist, as though, if they just do not mention it, it will not be there. Perhaps my wishes will be answered, but I suspect not.
We also need to ask ourselves if the first principles remain for all of us, if we can find that sacred little piece of common ground in this contentious and passionate debate. Organized crime and drug laws should be passionate, because that is why people send us here. It is to express our passion and use our intelligence and find the best ways forward. If that sacred common ground around the idea of reducing organized crime in Canada will be satisfied with Bill through the use of minimum mandatory sentences, a little bit of evidence would go a long way.
There were 18 reports presented and another 15 or so cited in the committee hearings. An overwhelming number of witnesses spoke to the harm of these sentences, not even the harm as much as the ineffectiveness, the inability to cause the effect that the government is hoping for.
When the Association of Chiefs of Police, I believe it was, came forward, they talked about the bill but made no comment whatsoever on minimum mandatory sentences in this bill. If they were so fantastic and the police were dying to have that tool in their kit, one would think they would have mentioned it. One would think they would have said, “By the way, the government has really knocked it out of the park on this one”, but the witnesses did not say that, and witnesses presented evidence to the contrary.
At the end of the day, crime can be a difficult thing. It is obviously a difficult thing to handle. The Conservatives came in with crime as one of their main pillars. They were going to fight crime, hopefully not perpetrate it.
In that agenda we have seen time and time again the ineffectiveness of the law. Presenting this minimum mandatory piece to specifically address drug crimes and say it will go after the big gangsters is a little reminiscent of the initial attempts at prohibition in the U.S., when the logical idea, which was probably said in Congress at that time during the debate, was to simply stop the alcohol runs, bust them up, just Eliot Ness them all. That would do it. That would stop all that illegal Al Capone business.
How did the U.S. stop it? It went after the money. It went after their taxes. It followed the money and then sucked dry that element of organized crime and alcohol and then lifted prohibition in that case.
How do the Italians pursue it now as they go after the Mafia? Do they run around giving minimum mandatory sentences? They go after the money. Time and time again, they go after the money.
What is the focus of organized criminals? They are in it for the money. If they could sell widgets and make this kind of cash, they probably would too. I hope the government does not ban widgets. One never knows; there may be a whole organized widget system going on and people will suffer under that as well.
We have to understand that if the government is serious and intends to craft better laws to fight organized drug crime in Canada, it must at least do two things to satisfy this place. One is to present the evidence that shows they work, because other jurisdictions have tried. The second is to present, as a choice for government, that the costs incurred, which the government has not admitted to yet and pretends it does not know, are justified, that this is a good choice in the four pillars.
Madam Speaker, when I was preparing notes for today, I began thinking about my experience when I was at university, in law school in Windsor, the best law school in the country by the way.
In that period of time, prior to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms being brought into play in Canada, there was a sentencing provision under the Criminal Code that if someone imported any drug, there was a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years.
In this period of time, the mid-1960s, late 1960s and early 1970s, being across from Detroit, Michigan, a great deal of personal use of marijuana was going on. Quite regularly, people would be moving back and forth across the border. It is the most active border in the world, actually, certainly in North America. Families and friends were moving back and forth. They were shopping on both sides of the border. There was entertainment and recreation on both sides of the border.
People were regularly being caught and accused of possession of marijuana and of importing it into Canada. Then they were automatically exposed to a sentence of seven years. There were a number of those sentences imposed. Fortunately, in most cases our prosecutors had the good will and the good sense to drop those charges. If the prosecutors moved at all, they would move on charges of simple possession. However, what happened was that a good number of people's lives were ruined, people who were sentenced to prison for seven years for what was a simple possession of marijuana.
That ended shortly after the charter came into effect. Our courts simply said that the consequences and the penalties were so disproportional that it amounted to an offence under section 12 of the charter in terms of it being cruel and unusual punishment. So that section was struck down.
Now, some 35 years later, we see the government taking us back to that type of era. Maybe that makes them feel good as Conservatives, but it certainly does not make for good public policy.
What we are going to see, although none of the penalties in Bill are as severe as seven years in terms of mandatory minimums, is a substantial abuse perpetrated on people who are drug abusers and those who are trafficking in marijuana at the lower end.
From the evidence we have heard repeatedly from our police forces, including the evidence we heard in the committee hearings for this bill, we know that the vast majority of people who are going to be caught by this legislation, who are going to be imprisoned for mandatory minimum periods of time, anywhere from six months to three years, are by and large users of drugs, whether marijuana or stronger drugs, who have gotten caught up in the whole cycle, the whole under-life of the drug trade, and who are in fact trafficking in order to feed their habit.
I think it is appropriate that we think about and understand how organized crime has taken over, almost exclusively, all of the drug trade in this country, and to a significant degree right across the globe. We have to see it as a pyramid, a very large-based pyramid with a very small, fine point at the top. The kingpins and the ones who really make the money off the drug trade are the very small numbers at the top, and then there is this huge base below.
Although we hear from the government that the intent of Bill is to target the traffickers and that little group at the top, the reality is it will not do that. We know that beyond any shadow of a doubt because exactly the same type of approach was taken starting 20 to 30 years ago in the United States. We have gone through a whole generation using this approach. The intent was the same, that is, to go after the kingpins, the real leaders, the ones who really make the money off the drugs. What happened and what continues to happen, other than in those states that have begun to repeal those laws, is that it was the base that was caught. It was the base that was imprisoned for extended periods of time. It was the base that overloaded the prisons, which took money from other social programs and dumped it into the prisons because it was the only way to keep up with the need.
As we heard, there are some small parts of the approach in Bill , such as the date rape drug change, and moving those drugs into a controlled substance list in order to be better able to try to control it, that in fact would gather support from ourselves and I believe from the Bloc Québécois.
This bill really is about ideology from the Conservative government. It is about an ideological belief that if the government throws all this weight behind a punitive approach to controlling the drug trade, it will be successful. It is glossed over to some degree by saying, no, the government's intent is to go this way, but the reality is the government knows it is not going to work. The Conservatives have absolutely no evidence to show that this will work and they have overwhelming evidence to show that it will not work.
When we hear the demagogic comments from the member from Fort McMurray about victims and when we hear other Conservatives in this debate stand and talk about victims, it is shameful they are taking that approach. It is shameful the way they have conducted this campaign in the last number of elections because they lead the Canadian public, who are victims of organized crime, to believe that this is a solution. That is dishonest. It is totally out of keeping with what we know about how to deal with the drug problem. They continue to perpetuate that and that is shameful.
We know if we are going to deal with the drug problem, much as we dealt with alcohol abuse in terms of impaired driving, and much as we dealt with the campaign to try to reduce the consumption of tobacco, there are alternative methods, there are alternative programs that in fact are effective.
If we approach this as we in the NDP have argued, that the government look at prevention, that it look at enforcement, and only then go to the punitive, it would be effective. I can point to any number of countries around the globe that use that methodology to reduce drug consumption. In fact, even in those countries, there is an argument to be made that they could be doing more and be more effective in reducing it.
We can look at what has been done in this country to combat the consumption of tobacco and how effective that has been. The consumption of tobacco in this country has dropped from close to 50% at its peak, down to around 16% or 17% now. There is no reason to believe that we could not do the same thing with the consumption of illicit drugs and, in particular, with the consumption of marijuana and cannabis.
Then we look at what in fact is done. We spend this huge amount of money on enforcement and the punitive end, in terms of corrections in particular, and so little on the preventive end. In that regard, I want to draw to the House's attention what happened in the United States. In 1986, when the Americans began at a national level using mandatory minimums on drugs, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was expending $862 million for corrections, just at the federal level. Each state also has its own prison system. Just two years later, the amount jumped to $1.2 billion. Five years later, in 1991, it was $2.1 billion. In 2010, for the coming year, the request is for $6 billion to be spent on corrections. Over that 20 year period, if my math is correct, it has increased by a multiple of about eight.
We are going to see the same pattern here, although I have to say that the provinces are going to bear the brunt of it. As I said earlier, most of the mandatory minimums getting at that base are going to be in the six-month to 18-month range. All of those sentences, based on our relationship with the provinces, are spent in provincial prisons.
I want to emphasize what happened in the United States as the Americans moved mandatory minimums in at the state and federal levels. We heard evidence at the committee on this bill that in New York State, for every increased dollar that was spent on prisons and corrections in that state, a dollar was taken out of education in that state. There was a direct dollar-for-dollar correlation. Again, we have every expectation that is what is going to happen in Canada.
Because we will have to build additional prisons and increase the number of staff in the existing prisons, we are going to be looking at a shortage of tax dollar revenue for other social programs. Whether it be education or health, the dollars simply are not going to be there. That is particularly true given the current fiscal crisis and the economy overall.
There is another point I want to make about this. It was interesting to listen to the member for in terms of his analysis that this bill was somehow not going to do anything. Quite frankly, I hope he is right. I hope we do not see a significant influx of new inmates in our provincial and federal prisons. I have to say that I do not share that optimism. I believe we are going to attempt to enforce the terms of this bill right across the country in all the provinces and territories.
When we do that, we are going to see, in my estimation, increases at the provincial level of at least 10%, and it could be as much as 25%, in the incarceration rate in our provincial prisons. It will be less than that at the federal level. I can say this because we just had evidence as recently as a week ago in front of the justice committee of the impact that other legislation is going to have on the increase in population.
In spite of assurances from the , the reality is that every one of our federal prisons is over-occupied already. We just had confirmation of that yesterday from Mr. Sapers, who is the federal Correctional Investigator. He said that any increase of any substance in the prison population at the federal level is dangerous. We do not have enough programming now.
We heard in front of the justice committee a week or so ago on another bill that we already have, in every single prison in this country at the federal level, cells that were designed for one person regularly over-occupied by a second person. We are at the stage where there are three inmates in cells that are only designed for one and that will continue to increase, not only because of this bill, although this is probably going to be the most significant one, but others the government has introduced.
In spite of what we heard from the member for that more prisons are being built, that is absolutely false. There was not a dime for new prisons at the federal level in this year's budget or last year's budget. There was an increase in spending simply to deal with inflation, but there was not a dime for new cells. As we continue to overload the prisons, we are going to see cells with three inmates when there should only be one.
We are at a stage where we are so far behind in international protocols that we have signed onto in terms of the occupation in our prisons that we are probably going to be faced shortly with a charter challenge. That is going to mean perhaps a number of prisoners being released earlier. It is certainly going to affect the sentencing and what our judges are going to do if that case ultimately goes ahead and is successful.
This bill will just lop on a whole bunch more new inmates. We come back to the argument that if we do that, at least we get them off the streets for a while. I have heard that repeatedly from the at the committee. What we also heard repeatedly at the committee from police agencies across the country is if we take the person off the street, because organized crime has so much control over the drug trade, that person is simply replaced by someone else immediately. That is a phenomenon which is not unique to Canada; it is true right across the globe. If organized crime is involved in the activity, the person who went to jail is replaced by someone else immediately. It does not reduce the trade in drugs in this country one iota, not at all.
We have a policy that is going to increase the number of inmates. We have a policy that is going to cost a huge amount of money. It is not just the corrections systems. What is going to happen to legal aid? What is going to happen to the judiciary in terms of the number of judges we are going to need?
When faced with a mandatory minimum, people do not plead guilty. They may try to make a deal to get it dropped, but they do not plead guilty. Already as much as 50% of the cases in our courts are drug related. That is going to increase dramatically in terms of time consumption because people are going to stop pleading guilty, or if they do plead guilty, it is because the mandatory minimum was dropped. Therefore it makes the bill ineffective.
If the courts are going to continue to push for the mandatory minimum, which I believe they are going to do, the time consumption is going to go up dramatically for these cases. We are going to need more judges, more prosecutors, more police to be in court for longer periods of time. There has been no budgeting for that either.
There is a boycott right now in Ontario of the legal aid system because of the low rates that are being paid and it is the most extensive plan in the country. We are faced with that as another problem.
My colleague from talked about unintended consequences. I would like to believe that the Conservatives do not know about these unintended consequences, but we told them. Our political party has told them. All sorts of experts have told them. The Conservatives are so ideologically driven that they are going to go ahead with the bill, and to the shame of the Liberals, they are going to support them. I cannot understand what the Liberals are doing, other than for straight partisan politics and not wanting to be seen as weak on crime. It is bad strategy on their part. It is bad for the country.
In summary, this is a bad bill. It is bad public policy. It is not going to do what it is supposed to do. It is absolutely useless and we should all be voting against it.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity today to join in the debate on Bill , an act that has the effect of imposing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences.
I listened with great interest to my colleague, the member for , explain the rationale behind the bill, if there is such a rationale, which is an attempt to somehow, through minimum mandatory sentences, increase public safety in our country, and the failure of this bill to have that effect.
Lest we be under any illusions, we should know one thing. The starting point is a current law when it comes to offences under our Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The seriousness of the penalties already exist. The maximum sentence for trafficking, exporting, importing and production for the purposes of trafficking in schedules I and II in the act is life imprisonment.
There is no doubt that our criminal law already takes extremely seriously this type of crime. The law recognizes that this kind of activity can be seriously detrimental to individuals and to our society. That is the maximum sentence.
The fact is the appropriate sentence for an individual case is a matter for the discretion of a judge. The judge will use his or her judgment in accordance with the law, legal precedent and the facts and circumstances of each case to define an appropriate sentence. What this law does is say that Parliament will say, regardless of the circumstances, the individual, the facts of a particular crime, there will be a mandatory minimum.
Here is what Justice John Gomery said about the previous bill to the same effect. I think parliamentarians know a lot about Justice Gomery and his inquiry into the scandal related to the activities of the previous government, the Gomery Inquiry. Mr. Justice Gomery said, “This legislation basically shows a mistrust of the judiciary to impose proper sentences when people come before them”.
However, it does more than that. It fails to follow the principle that our judges have been given an important task in determining not only the guilt and innocence of an accused, but also the appropriate sentence under the supervision of appeal courts.
The bill also fails to follow a principle of governance, that decisions should be evidence-based. If the Conservatives are going to say that the bill will protect the public, as we have heard speakers from the other side say, then let us see the evidence that supports this.
In fact, the justice department said in 2002 that mandatory minimum sentences did not appear to influence drug consumption, which is one of the things people are concerned about, or drug-related crime in any measurable way. If we are talking about being tough on crime, the bill, according to the justice department in 2002, is not going to influence drug-related crime in any measurable way.
Where is the evidence to support any notion that Bill would in fact reduce drug consumption or drug crime? If we do not have that, what are we doing seeking to push through a bill that is going to do something that is harmful, and I will get to that in the rest of my speech, costly and ineffective in reducing crime, or doing the thing we want to do, which is to influence a reduction in drug consumption?
That is the problem with this bill.