Mr. Speaker, we are looking at the issue of tobacco use, which is a scourge on our society. This issue looms over our society on many levels, and has been doing so for decades. Over the years, significant financial resources have been put into the fight against smoking.
Tobacco use is a fairly complicated issue, as is contraband tobacco. This is clearly a health issue. We know that smoking is bad for people's health. Over the years, we have come to realize that not only do smokers suffer serious consequences, but those around them can also suffer. Years of research led to those conclusions.
Just as an aside, it is very telling to look at how tobacco and its health effects were dealt with during studies in the 1960s and 1970s. A similar approach is being used now with respect to other products that can be harmful to humans. For example, when a manufacturer of a potentially harmful product states that there is no proof that the product is harmful, reference is often made to tobacco and the fact that in the 1960s and 1970s, tobacco manufacturers said that studies were inconclusive. To an extent, that experience shaped how we look at things.
This issue has health consequences. Tobacco, especially contraband tobacco, also has a significant economic impact, especially on aboriginal reserves. We know that criminals are involved in trafficking contraband tobacco, but we also see that on reserves, more and more ordinary people are working in tobacco plants. It does not matter to them if the plant is operating within the law or is hidden in the woods. These people are not criminals. They just want to earn a living. They may not give much thought to all the legal aspects surrounding the tobacco operation they are working for.
Aboriginal reserves are very involved in manufacturing tobacco products, whether legally or otherwise. The problem is that these reserves are becoming more and more dependent on selling tobacco and manufacturing tobacco products, which makes them somewhat vulnerable. It is obvious to most people here the House that in the long run, tobacco consumption will decline. If an aboriginal reserve becomes dependent on the tobacco industry, what will people there do when the industry collapses, if it comes to that?
There are health-related questions and an economic aspect to consider. There is also a financial aspect for the government because the tobacco industry, in general, generates significant tax revenues for the government.
When a black market expands, it eats into government revenues. According to some experts, the black market accounts for almost one-third of the Canadian tobacco market.
For example, there are reportedly 300 smoke shacks in Canada. At these shacks, which we sometimes see on the roadside in aboriginal reserves, cigarettes are sold to aboriginal peoples, who have the right to purchase them without paying taxes, and also to other people passing through the reserve to buy these products tax-free. Furthermore, there are approximately 50 illegal cigarette factories, and some of them are quite large.
There is also organized crime. Trafficking in contraband tobacco is an activity that attracts organized crime, which is involved in trafficking in many other goods, including drugs and illegal arms. It is a scourge on several accounts.
Another important aspect with regard to our federation, one of the most advanced in the world in terms of the fight against trafficking in contraband tobacco, is that this involves at least two levels of government. The federal government must work with the provinces, and especially with provincial police forces, to try to address this problem.
This brings us to Bill . Let us talk a bit about what Bill S-16 would do.
First, it would bring the issue of contraband tobacco into the Criminal Code. A lot of people listening at home are probably surprised that selling contraband tobacco is not a Criminal Code offence at this time. People know that they should not be doing this and that there are legal consequences, but those consequences currently are not under the Criminal Code. They are under the Excise Act. There are fines under the Excise Act for engaging in the illegal sale of contraband tobacco.
Bill would add offences under the Criminal Code. It would add as offences selling, offering for sale, transporting, delivering, distributing or possessing for the purpose of sale a tobacco product or raw-leaf tobacco that is not packaged, unless it is stamped. These are the new offences that would be created under the Criminal Code.
The point is that it would allow the government to make it a more serious offence to engage in the sale of contraband tobacco, but it would also give prosecutors flexibility. A prosecutor would be able to decide whether to prosecute under the Excise Act, which would mean, I would imagine, that the burden of proof may not be as high, or whether to prosecute under the Criminal Code, which carries more severe offences. Therefore, the bill would provide more flexibility for prosecutors.
It would also empower all police forces to combat tobacco smuggling. Currently, only the RCMP can get involved under the Excise Act, but if the offence is under the Criminal Code, provincial and municipal police forces would be able to enforce the act. Of course, the bill would make consequential amendments to the definition of “attorney general” so that both the federal government and the provinces could prosecute offences through their Attorneys General.
The act would introduce minimum sentences for repeat offenders where there is a high volume of contraband tobacco involved. When we talk about a high volume, we mean, under Bill , over 10,000 cigarettes or over 10 kilograms of other tobacco products.
These minimum sentences would apply only where prosecution was on indictment versus summary conviction. What is interesting is that the minimum sentence would only kick in on the second conviction. The sentence would be 90 days on a second conviction, 180 days on a third conviction and two years less a day on subsequent convictions. I imagine that this means that the time served would be not in a federal penitentiary but in a provincial jail. The minimum sentences would apply only when the first offence was under the Criminal Code, not under the Excise Act, for example.
The Liberal Party is generally reticent to support legislation that has minimum sentences, because experts have told us that these simply do not work in terms of making society safer. In this case, we are willing to consider the minimum sentence, because it would not apply on a first Criminal Code offence. However, we want to study the matter a little more closely in committee and bring in the experts to tell us what the impact of these minimum sentences would be.
We have to be careful that these minimum sentences catch the serious criminals and not, for example, a young aboriginal person who is perhaps not 100% aware of what he or she is doing and is acting as a mule, transporting cigarettes, maybe even without his or her knowledge. Obviously, we want to keep aboriginal youth out of jail. We do not want to see them go down that road if it can be avoided. The fact that the minimum sentence does not apply on the first offence is something that allows us to consider supporting the bill throughout the process and certainly allows us to vote for it to send it to committee.
We also want to study the fact that we are basically, in some ways, duplicating offences, because there are fines under the Excise Act. Are we just duplicating for the sake of a public relations effect, or will the bill really be effective? We can only tell once we bring in the experts.
I would also point out that there is an interesting contradiction in the bill, because usually, under the Criminal Code, if someone commits an offence and had committed a prior offence, but the prior offence was committed more than 10 years earlier—in other words, 10 years has elapsed between offences—generally, the court does not consider the first offence in its decision. This is not the case with Bill . First offences, even if committed 10 years prior, would still enter into the consideration of the court's decision. We want to look at that, and we would want to know why the contradiction exists in this case.
The government sometimes prefers easy solutions or symbolic gestures that make the public believe that the government is acting decisively, even though the proposed solutions are sometimes ill-conceived and simplistic whereas the issues require more complex and nuanced responses.
We must do more than just rely on Bill . For example, there are at least three things we must do in addition to introducing, debating and passing this bill.
First, an ongoing advertising campaign that is well funded by the federal government or other levels of government is required. I believe that the Conservative government has already made a commitment in that regard. The advertising campaign is needed to raise awareness because a fair number people stop by smoke shacks on reserves to buy cartons of tax-free cigarettes. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the sale of these cigarettes is connected to organized crime in a number of ways.
If we tell most people that that is the case, they might think twice before buying tax-free cigarettes, even though it may be more expensive for them. I think that most people do not want to contribute to the problem of organized crime. If we explain to them that they are contributing to the rise of organized crime by buying contraband cigarettes, many people will not buy cigarettes at these sales outlets.
Second, we need to invest in enforcing the act. I know that the government announced that it was going to create a special unit within the RCMP to combat trafficking in contraband tobacco. I hope that an appropriate amount of long-term funding will be allocated to this.
There is also the problem of the border crossing between Massena and Cornwall. This border crossing, which was located on Cornwall Island, was moved to Cornwall, on the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River. Right now, the government is considering moving the border crossing again, this time from Cornwall to Massena, which is on the American side of the river. The government is supposedly negotiating with the United States in this regard. Many observers and stakeholders, including the tobacco industry and the Government of Ontario, have reservations about moving this border crossing.
I am therefore asking the government to think carefully about what it is trying to accomplish by moving this border crossing and to leave it on the Canadian side of the river. The Government of Ontario and Minister Madeleine Meilleur in particular are asking the government not to move the border crossing.
This matter requires the co-operation of the federal and provincial governments. The government will also have to work with the provinces, particularly Ontario. Ontario is currently not monitoring farms that grow tobacco leaf, which opens the door to using raw materials for the production of illegal cigarettes and other tobacco products.
That being said, dear colleagues from the other parties, we are going to support this bill at second reading. I expect that we will be examining the issue in the fall, if Parliament is not prorogued. I hope that we will be able to ask the experts who come to testify in committee some fairly detailed questions.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in support of Bill .
I want to begin my comments by saying that I agree with my colleagues across the way. When it comes to contraband tobacco, there are a number of challenges that have to be addressed. Certainly there is the issue of young people or individuals who smoke, the demand for tobacco and an increased demand for contraband tobacco, and the whole aspect of crime prevention.
However, up to this point the challenge has been the legislative gap. Law enforcement has only been able to charge individuals who are involved in this kind of illegal activity under the Excise Act. As legislators, we have a responsibility to look at issues like this and address them in their totality. That is why this piece of legislation is important and vital. However, it is not the only piece to combat the problem of contraband tobacco.
We do not want to target individuals, such as a young person who has contraband tobacco on their person. That is not what we are talking about. As my colleague from the Liberal Party mentioned, we are talking about organized crime and very serious traffickers who are involved in all kinds of other illegal trafficking.
I will begin by talking about the technical parts of this bill and some of the changes that would occur. I also want to talk about what Public Safety and the RCMP are doing in terms of the new unit we committed to in 2011, which is being formed right now.
Bill is another part of our government's plan for safe streets and communities. It focuses on tackling crime and putting victims' rights ahead of criminals. We are setting the conditions for fair and efficient justice.
The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to create a new offence of trafficking in contraband tobacco. This new offence would carry penalties that would better reflect the harm caused by the trade in contraband tobacco. Specifically, the bill would impose mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for persons who are convicted of this offence for a second or subsequent time. It would not be for the very first criminal offence, and it certainly would not be an offence charged under the Excise Act. A second offence would be under Criminal Code charges.
The proposed new offence against dealing in contraband tobacco would prohibit the sale, possession for the purpose of sale, offer for sale, as well as the transportation, delivery or distribution of a tobacco product or raw leaf tobacco that is not packaged unless it is stamped. The terms “tobacco product”, “raw leaf tobacco”, “package” and “stamps”, would have the same meaning as they have in section 2 of the Excise Act, 2001.
A first-time offender convicted under the new offence would face a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment on summary conviction, and up to five years' imprisonment if prosecuted on indictment. Repeat offenders convicted of this new offence involving large amounts would face mandatory minimum penalties. In cases involving 10,000 cigarettes or more, or 10 kilograms or more of any other tobacco product or raw leaf tobacco, a second-time offender would face a mandatory minimum penalty of 90 days' imprisonment. A third-time offender would face a mandatory minimum penalty of 180 days, and a person convicted of a fourth offence or more would face a mandatory minimum penalty of two years less a day.
We believe this provides a very balanced approach. It is not an overly harsh approach, but one that certainly provides new legislation and tools that law enforcement need in order to combat contraband tobacco trafficking.
Bill would also amend the definition of Attorney General in the Criminal Code so as to give the Attorney General of Canada concurrent jurisdiction within the provinces to prosecute this new offence. Again, the Excise Act only applies federally. This would give provincial police the ability to lay these same types of charges under the Criminal Code.
I believe these proposals represent a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious contraband tobacco activities. The bill proposes minimum penalties only in cases where there is a specific aggravating factor, and that would be the quantity of tobacco product.
Contraband tobacco threatens the public safety of all Canadians, our communities and our economy. Many people think it is a victimless crime, that it is individuals wanting to buy cigarettes for less money. However, that could not be further from the truth.
There is a huge organized crime aspect to contraband tobacco, and it threatens all of us, certainly our children and our young people. It also has implications for relationships with our international partners, especially the United States. The trade in contraband tobacco fuels the growth of organized criminal networks and is attacking the health of our Canadian youth.
We only need to look at the closest schoolyard to see that impact. When we look at areas where schools have designated a smoking area, it is sad to say that there was a time when that was going down, but it is evident that more and more young people are starting to smoke. We even see smoking in the media and in Hollywood movies, even though smoking is taboo. Sadly it seems that more and more young people are smoking, and contraband tobacco only feeds that.
A study conducted in 2007, 2008 and 2009 on the proliferation of contraband tobacco at high schools in Ontario and Quebec reveals that nearly one-third of the cigarettes found at Ontario high schools and over 40% of those at Quebec high schools were contraband products. That speaks volumes about the problem that contraband is tobacco is causing and the impact it is having as far as young people beginning to smoke.
We also know that studies show if young people begin smoking at an early age, it is much harder for them to quit. It is much harder for them, even as adults who may want to stop smoking. It becomes very difficult. We can see by the evidence that contraband tobacco is certainly fueling the proliferation of our young people who are smoking.
Obviously a problem of this magnitude requires a comprehensive set of responses, as I said at the beginning of my speech. Bill contributes to this response by strengthening our criminal law framework's response to trafficking in contraband tobacco. Bill S-16 is only a part of the government's broader response to combat the trafficking and cross-border smuggling of contraband tobacco.
Another key element of our response is the establishment of a 50-officer RCMP anti-contraband tobacco force. This was the commitment we made in 2011 and we are following through on this commitment. This new force builds on the existing RCMP strategy, which focuses on reducing the availability of and demands for contraband tobacco, and again, the involvement of organized crime that plays such a big role in the contraband tobacco problem in Canada.
Another critical part of our broader, law enforcement response is the fact that the RCMP and Canada Customs have seized record quantities of contraband tobacco.
As I mentioned earlier, organized crime plays a central role in Canada's contraband tobacco trade, with the result that most of the organized crime groups across the country involved in illicit tobacco markets are also involved in a number of other forms of criminality. It is never just one contraband product that they are trafficking; they are usually involved as well in other banned illegal substances, guns, and the smuggling and trafficking of humans.
The problem is further complicated by the international aspect of the illicit tobacco trade. On this issue, it is important to recall that Canada and the United States share a long history of law enforcement co-operation. Recent and ongoing threat assessments have identified organized crime as the most prevalent threat encountered at our shared borders. As we work together with our partners and with our friends to the south of us, we recognize that the problems that we have at the borders, and indeed smuggling of guns, tobacco or whatever might be smuggled, is primarily done by organized criminals in Canada and the U.S.
This includes significant levels of contraband trafficking, as I said, ranging from illicit drugs and tobacco to firearms, primarily handguns. Handguns are the primary firearm that is being trafficked and used in organized crime activities. I mentioned human smuggling, which is sadly becoming a greater problem. Our government is certainly addressing human smuggling and even human trafficking.
Recognizing our mutual interest in the security of our shared waters on the coasts, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, Canada and the United States explored the concept of integrated cross-border maritime law enforcement operations. Commonly, this has been referred to as the shiprider agreement. It would permit marine law enforcement vessels to be jointly crewed by specially trained and designated Canadian and American law enforcement officers who are authorized to enforce the law on both sides of the international boundary line in the course of integrated cross-border operations.
Again, this represents a very practical and efficient solution to illegal activity at our borders, especially in our waterways. It would give law enforcement authorization in America but primarily in Canada. We are obviously looking to the Canadian side, where we would be able to work together with our partners to combat this problem, as well as other organized illegal activity that could happen at the border. Designated law enforcement officers from the RCMP and the United States Coast Guard, and other law enforcement agencies from Canada and the U.S., would now be able to conduct seamless policing operations to disrupt organized crime and criminal activity at the border.
Canada and the United States piloted a project between the RCMP and the U.S. Coast Guard that authorized integrated cross-border maritime law enforcement between these two organizations.
The shiprider pilot project had immeasurable impact upon cross-border criminal activity, including removing the border as an impediment to effective border policing. Again, this is a very practical and very efficient way of border policing. For example, during the 2007 pilot project, the RCMP and the U.S. Coast Guard officers participated in more than 187 boardings, which resulted in the seizure of 1,420,000 contraband cigarettes.That is a huge number of cigarettes that were intercepted and stopped because of the pilot project, which has been very effective.
A framework agreement to govern deployment of regularized shiprider operations was signed in May 2009, following the successful pilot project. Legislation seeking to implement the agreement was enacted in 2012.
Today, the contraband tobacco market is largely driven by illegal operations in both Canada and the U.S. Ontario and Quebec have the highest concentration of contraband tobacco manufacturing operations, the majority of the high-volume smuggling points, and the largest number of consumers of contraband tobacco. Certainly, members of Parliament from both Ontario and Quebec will be recognizing this as a problem in each of their provinces. However, we do recognize that it is a national problem to be addressed at the national level.
Locally, there is so much that can be done. We are working together with law enforcement in both provinces, the RCMP team as well as other integrated teams but, legislatively, we have to address it at the national level in order to be able to look at the areas where it is growing and address those problems.
The 2012 national threat assessment on organized and serious crime, prepared by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, has identified 58 organized crime groups which are involved in the contraband tobacco network. We are not just talking about somebody going across to the United States, buying cheap cigarettes and bringing them back for their relatives or selling them to neighbours. We are talking about a very serious problem. If we do not deal with it as a criminal activity, it will continue to grow.
I know we appreciate the involvement of stakeholders that also recognize this problem. That is why we have introduced this legislation.
These criminal networks reinvest profits from the manufacture and distribution of contraband tobacco into other forms of criminality, including the trafficking of illicit drugs, firearms and human smuggling.
Furthermore, and again this is a key part of this issue, the RCMP reports that violence and intimidation tactics continue to be associated with the contraband tobacco trade. As any organized criminal activity will prove, there is an increase in violence, in the threat to public safety and other criminal activity associated with this.
The federal government launched the RCMP's contraband tobacco enforcement strategy in 2008. They worked together.The contraband tobacco enforcement strategy focuses on reducing the ability of, and demand for, contraband tobacco, and the involvement of organized crime.
In addition to the enforcement measures of this strategy, the task force on illicit tobacco products was formed to identify concrete measures to disrupt and reduce the trade in contraband tobacco. We worked together with our partners and other agencies throughout the country. This task force brought together a number of different facets and stakeholders, and law enforcement to look at how we reduce the demand for, stop the production of, and disrupt the illegal activity surrounding contraband tobacco.
Based on the recommendations of the task force, the Government of Canada announced in May 2010 an investment of $20 million for a series of measures to disrupt the supply of and demand for contraband tobacco. Again, I know the opposition talked about resources to do this. We are really taking a very strong, measured approach where we have the legislation that we need but we are also providing resources to tackle this problem. That is the way we have to look at it; we cannot just come at it from one angle but from a number of levels.
These measures are paying off. Since the inception of the contraband tobacco enforcement strategy in 2008 and up to May 2012, the RCMP has laid approximately 4,925 charges under the Excise Act, 2001, and disrupted approximately 66 organized crime groups involved in the contraband tobacco trade throughout Canada. Again, this is paying off.
There is still more work to be done, but we can see that the RCMP is able to target, intercept and stop this activity. What they need now is an ability to charge under the Criminal Code and to have mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders and those who are trading in large quantities of tobacco.
During that time period that I mentioned, approximately 3.5 million cartons or unmarked bags of cigarettes were seized nationally by the RCMP, along with numerous vehicles, vessels and property. Those numbers are staggering, when we think that that number of cigarettes is being sold illegally, getting into the hands of our children, sometimes tainted with who knows what, as my colleague has mentioned. There are so many problems surrounding contraband tobacco. We can just look at the numbers: 3.5 million cartons sized by the RCMP.
We are proud that the strategy is having an effect. Again, we believe that this bill will just add another layer of strength to the contraband tobacco enforcement strategy.
Taken together, these initiatives are having a measurable and positive impact on reducing the contraband tobacco market. It is clear that the illicit tobacco market is dominated by criminal organizations, motivated by the lure of significant profits and relatively low risk.
Enforcement actions are therefore directed at increasing the risks associated with contraband tobacco activities, dismantling illegal manufacturing facilities, disrupting the supply lines, apprehending key figures, confiscating conveyances such as trucks and boats, and seizing the proceeds of crime. Again, it is a whole strategy where, piece by piece, law enforcement can take apart the organized crime element of the contraband tobacco activity. These actions will achieve a disruption in the flow of illicit tobacco and weaken the organized crime groups involved in the production, distribution, smuggling and trafficking of contraband tobacco.
To achieve these goals, the RCMP has engaged in joint targeted initiatives with law enforcement partners and other stakeholders across Canada and even, as mentioned earlier, internationally. These initiatives range from short-term to long-term investigations, from simple to complex, and include varying awareness campaigns.
While we do recognize we have made gains, we also do realize that as legislators we need to do more. We need to make sure that Bill passes, that criminal activity is indeed targeted, and that there are mandatory minimum sentences associated with organized crime for individuals who are trafficking large quantities of contraband tobacco.
|| That this question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
Unfortunately, time is short. I will not make use of the privilege of making a 20-minute speech. That way, any of my colleagues who so desire will have the opportunity to talk about this bill by expressing their concerns about or their support for the positive aspects of Bill .
The use of time allocation motions has been a real tragedy in our democracy during the 41st Parliament. This bill addresses a very important issue that affects society in many ways. It is a public health, tax collection and major crime issue. It is truly appalling that the government is so foolishly restricting our attempts to put forward constructive proposals in order to stimulate debate and potentially improve this bill, if needed.
This debate is all the more necessary because Bill is designed to amend sections of the Criminal Code, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. Quite the opposite, actually.
This bill comes to us from the Senate, not from the , which would have been logical and certainly preferable. The government's approach is very questionable and does not help us in our work. It raises questions about the government's motivation and about what it is hoping to achieve by introducing this bill.
I am not denying that it is good to be able to use this bill to discuss this issue. However, is Bill the best way to fight contraband tobacco? Unfortunately, this bill raises more questions than it answers.
Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the two-year anniversary of my short career here in the House. During my time here, I have had the privilege of being the critic for small business and tourism, for one.
There is no denying that contraband tobacco, in addition to being a criminal activity and a real threat to our society, is a very serious problem that threatens the profitability of many small businesses.
Often, these businesses are owned by just one person who has a similar status to an employee. These business owners, who may have one to three employees, are just trying to earn an honest living.
These small business owners shoulder almost all of the responsibility for the business and they often do not make very much money, particularly in the first few years after they start or acquire the business. Absolutely anything that reduces their profit margin poses a very serious threat to their business. It can make the difference between earning an honest living or the business failing or going bankrupt. We hope that many of those businesses avoid bankruptcy, but there are motivated entrepreneurs who are prepared to enter the business world whose businesses fail and disappear. That is just how it works.
All small convenience-store-type businesses make a lot of money from tobacco sales. They can make a bigger profit from tobacco than they can from many other products. A significant drop in the sale of tobacco products seriously cuts into the profits of these types of businesses.
I think that we can quite easily reach a consensus with the government on this issue. In fact, we are in favour of any measures that support small businesses, as long as the government gives us the opportunity to present our arguments and suggest improvements that will allow us to address the challenges associated with the fight against contraband tobacco.
I would like to focus on a very questionable aspect of this bill. I had the great privilege of being a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for a time and helping the committee examine bills, particularly private members' bills that amended provisions of the Criminal Code. Unfortunately, these private members' bills too often failed to meet their objectives. As part of the study of these bills, we often heard witnesses strongly declare that the proposed measures, despite their good intentions, would not help the situation and could even make it worse.
The aspect of the bill that I seriously question is the mandatory minimum sentencing for various types of offences. I hope that this will be examined in more detail by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
I would like to talk about the testimony of former Supreme Court justice John C. Major, who appeared before the committee. As a very experienced and learned legal expert and a former member of the Supreme Court, Justice Major was in a position to correctly assess the pertinence, usefulness and effects of mandatory minimum sentences. I do not wish to repeat everything he said, but he did conclude that there was no conclusive evidence that mandatory minimum sentences are a deterrent and of any real use.
In fact, Justice Major, and other witnesses as well, said that, in the complex and subtle mechanism of court proceedings, the fact that there are mandatory minimum sentences could even be an incentive for the parties in question. In fact, the prosecutors and the defence attorneys could come to an agreement to avoid this type of measure with the judge's agreement, simply because it would not allow for any room to manoeuvre in a criminal case.
It does go quite far. In the end, it would be detrimental to the work done in the justice system to enforce the Criminal Code. This will become apparent in the coming years, if we are not already seeing it in certain cases. This very serious consequence deserves to be studied in depth. In my opinion, it is the most debatable aspect of this bill.
I urge government members to seriously consider, question, or at least take the time to assess the adverse effects of mandatory minimum sentences. If we should continue down this road, we will at least understand how this can usefully be applied to fighting crime related to the illegal trafficking of tobacco.
Mr. Speaker, cigarettes are a scourge. There is no doubt about that. They are a health hazard and lead to serious addiction.
Over the years, measures have been taken to control tobacco as much as possible and to dissuade people from taking up smoking. As some of my colleagues mentioned, very young people will start smoking despite all of the warnings, and they will often be far more affected by their dependence on cigarettes.
The NDP also recognizes that contraband cigarettes—the illegal sale of cigarettes—is also a scourge because they are often sold for less and can encourage new smokers and young smokers. Contraband cigarettes help perpetuate the negative impact of smoking.
I have the honour and privilege of representing the riding of LaSalle—Émard, which is on the Island of Montreal, in Quebec. There are a large number of convenience store owners in my riding. I had the opportunity to meet with the convenience store association, whose members are feeling the economic impact of contraband cigarettes. That is what is so paradoxical about this product, which is such a health hazard. The government is making money off it and trying to control it at the same time. Convenience store owners are feeling the economic impact of contraband cigarettes. Quebec and Ontario are often affected.
Documents provided by the Library of Parliament indicate that, under current laws, namely the Excise Act, 2001 and the Criminal Code, cigarette seizures by the RCMP have been increasing over time. There has been a tremendous increase. The number of seizures was quite low between 2001 and 2004, and then it suddenly skyrocketed.
The legislative summary suggests that law enforcement priorities may have played a role as well. Trafficking in contraband cigarettes has increased significantly and not just Canadian cigarettes, but imported cigarettes as well. Under the current regime, the RCMP can already make major seizures. We can see that in the statistics in the chart, which is very clear and quite graphic. Dealing with this scourge was a priority.
We must debate Bill , which is also called the Tackling Contraband Tobacco Act. This bill originated in the Senate and seeks to create a special provision on contraband tobacco. Again, I am not denying the fact that this is a scourge and that we must deal with it here in the House. However, I want to talk about the laws currently in effect to deal with this problem. Under the current legislative regime, RCMP seizures have gone up.
We saw that tackling contraband cigarettes may have been made a priority. That is why I am puzzled. I am not saying that I do not support Bill , but I am wondering about the measures already in place that seem to be doing the job.
As I mentioned, the Excise Act, 2001, is in effect and we also have the Criminal Code.
Charges under the Criminal Code may include, but are not limited to: fraud, conspiracy, conspiracy to commit offences, participation in activities of criminal organization, and possession of property obtained by crime.
Under the Excise Act, 2001, the offences are:
||...selling, offering for sale, purchasing or possessing unpackaged or non-stamped raw leaf tobacco (section 30) and the possession, sale or offering for sale of tobacco products that are not stamped (section 32), both of which are “hybrid offences”.
The Excise Act, 2001, already provides specifics that truly tackle the illegal sale of tobacco.
We are still talking about the enforcement and impact of Bill . The legislative summary goes on to say:
|| Criminal enforcement under the Excise Act, 2001 may be carried out by “any police force in Canada” that is designated according to certain conditions. It appears that the RCMP is the force designated as such. In comparison, all police forces may enforce Criminal Code provisions.
This covers quite a bit in terms of the enforcement and impact of existing legislation.
The parliamentary secretary also talked about something mentioned in the legislative summary:
|| The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs submitted observations with its report on the bill, suggesting that the government consider providing provincial police with enforcement powers under the Excise Act, 2001, as well as under the Customs Act.
Once again, this is about problems related to enforcing the law.
I would like to share an interesting example. It is important to understand that a number of stakeholders are involved in enforcing this law. However, a number of stakeholders also find themselves on the other side of the law, that is, breaking the law.
Coming back to the legislative summary, it states:
|| For example, in the Cornwall area, there are various efforts such as joint investigative units and a task force to encourage collaboration between various enforcement organizations such as the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Cornwall Community Police Service and the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service.
In my opinion, that is a good example of co-operation between all stakeholders in order to enforce various laws that fight contraband.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that the NDP takes the problem of tobacco contraband in Canada seriously. I mentioned this in my introduction and I am saying it again now.
Tobacco contraband is a problem that affects health and public safety, tax revenues and the profitability of small businesses, as I already pointed out. For that reason, the NDP has asked the federal government to take action on this issue and to co-operate with the communities affected the most. That is very important.
The government must provide the necessary resources to the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP in order to properly deal with the problem because it is also an international issue.
Unfortunately, as we saw in the most recent budget, the government did not. The cuts will hinder the fight against counterfeiting and contraband.
Mr. Speaker, I am sharing my time with the very hard-working member for .
I am pleased to say a few words about Bill
This bill contains a number of very important amendments to the Criminal Code aimed directly at the criminals who are flooding Canada with illicit tobacco products that undermine the Canadian economy, fuel addiction, and add to the already serious long-term health issues associated with smoking.
As we have heard, this is not the first time that Canada has faced the challenge of contraband tobacco. When the problem first arose some two decades ago, it had to do with our own legally manufactured and exported tobacco products being smuggled back into our domestic market at greatly reduced prices. Through a combination of tax policy and enforcement measures, we were able to stem the tide of this early onslaught of contraband tobacco.
Since then, the primary legislative vehicle for controlling this illegal trade has been the Excise Act. This legislation combines fines, jail terms and forfeitures to enforce the prohibition against selling tobacco products that have not been stamped. Stamping indicates that the excise tax has been paid. Unfortunately, despite this legislation and despite the efforts of dedicated law enforcement officials, contraband tobacco remains a serious threat to the public safety of Canadians, their communities and the Canadian economy.
Although there are several sources for the contraband tobacco products that are entering Canada, the illicit trade is driven largely by illegal operations run by criminal organizations in both Canada and the United States. In this regard, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec have the highest concentration of illegal manufacturing operations, the majority of the high-volume smuggling points and the largest number of consumers of contraband tobacco.
In response, the government launched the RCMP contraband tobacco enforcement strategy in 2008 with a focus on reducing the availability and demand for contraband tobacco and on weakening the involvement of organized crime in this illegal industry. At the same time, the task force on illicit tobacco products was formed to identify concrete measures to disrupt or reduce the trade in contraband tobacco. The next year, the task force presented a lengthy report to the in which it noted that at least 30% of Canadian tobacco purchases involved contraband tobacco.
One of the primary drivers of this illicit trade, aside from the willingness of consumers to pay markedly reduced prices, has been the shift from single individuals or small groups conducting sporadic smuggling to organized crime groups doing the smuggling and distributing the illicit tobacco through their criminal networks.
Clearly, the time has come to take steps to come to grips with the growing nature of this illegal activity and the growing involvement of criminal organizations whose related activities include the smuggling of other items into Canada using the same networks, which is particularly alarming.
This is the context in which we must evaluate Bill .
Briefly, the bill is one part of a two-part response to the issue I have described. The first part is the bill itself. It proposes to amend the Criminal Code to create a new hybrid offence of trafficking in contraband tobacco, with mandatory minimum penalties for repeat offenders. The second part of the response is the implementation of a strengthened anti-contraband enforcement strategy that includes the establishment of an anti-contraband force made up of 50 RCMP officers. Both of these proposals respond to the 2011 election platform commitments of this government.
I will go into a bit more detail on exactly what is contained in Bill .
First, the bill would create a new offence in the Criminal Code to deal with contraband tobacco trafficking. Indeed, the bill would prohibit the possession for the purpose of sale, offer for sale, or the transportation, delivery or distribution of a tobacco product, or raw leaf tobacco that is not packaged unless it is stamped. The terms “tobacco product”, “raw leaf tobacco”, “package” and “stamped” have the same meaning as in section 2 of the Excise Act, 2001. This would ensure consistency in our national enforcement efforts.
Pursuant to these proposed amendments, the maximum penalty for a first offence would be up to six months' imprisonment on a summary conviction and up to five years' imprisonment if prosecuted on an indictment.
Repeat offenders, convicted of this new offence in cases involving 10,000 cigarettes or more, 10 kilograms or more of any other tobacco product or 10 kilograms or more of any raw leaf tobacco would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 90 days on a second conviction, a mandatory minimum of 180 days on a third conviction and a mandatory minimum of 2 years less a day on subsequent convictions.
The amendments proposed in the, appropriately titled, tackling contraband tobacco act would not only respond to our domestic problems but would equally respond to the broader international efforts to combat trafficking in tobacco. Let us recall in this context that tobacco smuggling by definition means the illegal movement of goods over national frontiers. Tobacco smuggling is a particularly widespread illegal activity and has an impact on a great number of countries. Thus, Canada is not alone in wanting to put an end to this illicit commerce.
In any attempt to combat organized crime's involvement in tobacco smuggling, one must recognize that organized crime adopts all forms of corruption to infiltrate political, economic and social levels all over the world. This issue has been addressed at both global and regional levels and continues to receive substantial domestic and international attention.
The international community has adopted many international instruments dealing with criminal law. These international agreements attest to a country's recognition of the need for international co-operation to tackle international crime. One aspect of international co-operation that is repeatedly found in these instruments deals with mutual legal assistance. This form of international co-operation is one of the most powerful tools employed by governments to reduce the incidence of international crime.
Therefore, not only does tobacco smuggling necessarily contain an international dimension, one that sometimes involves several countries and the crossing of several borders; it also involves, as our own law enforcement representatives have informed us, significant organized crime group participation. Bill would not exist in isolation. While this new legislation would help Canada combat tobacco smuggling, it would also help us combat tobacco smuggling and organized crime outside our own borders, not just in Canada alone.
In closing, I thank hon. members for their attention and urge them to consider the broad context in which Bill must be assessed. Once they have done that, I am convinced they will agree with me that this bill ought to be passed and implemented without delay.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise in my place today and speak to this legislation. I would like to thank my colleague the member of Parliament for for sharing his time with me, for his excellent speech and for his support of the bill.
I rise to speak in favour of Bill . This enactment proposes amendments to the Criminal Code to create new offences for trafficking in contraband tobacco and to provide minimum penalties of imprisonment for persons who are convicted of a second or a subsequent time for this offence.
This legislation would prohibit possession for the purpose of sale or offer to sale, the transportation of or the delivery or distribution of a tobacco product or raw leaf tobacco that is not packaged, unless it is officially stamped. The terms “tobacco product”, “raw leaf tobacco”, “packaged” and “stamped” have the same meanings as in section 2 of the Excise Act, 2001.
The maximum penalty for a first offence would be up to six months' imprisonment on summary conviction and up to five years' imprisonment if prosecuted by way of indictment. Repeat offenders convicted of this new offence in cases involving 10,000 cigarettes or more, 10 kilograms or more of any other tobacco product, or 10 kilograms or more of raw leaf tobacco would be sentenced to a minimum of 90 days on second conviction, a minimum of 180 days on a third conviction and a minimum of two years less a day on all subsequent convictions.
Overall, the proposals represent a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious contraband tobacco activities. The bill proposes mandatory minimum penalties only in cases where there are certain aggravating factors present.
Trafficking in contraband tobacco is a serious problem that requires serious remedies. As some members will recall, a contraband tobacco market became a significant issue in Canada in the late 1980s. During that period, more and more legally manufactured Canadian cigarettes destined for the duty-free market began making their way back into the Canadian underground economy. The high retail price of legitimate cigarettes made the smuggling of cigarettes across the border a striving and lucrative illicit business.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian customs seized large quantities of contraband tobacco. The RCMP was also engaged in investigating this illegal activity at its source. These investigations eventually led to several tobacco companies having to pay more than $1.5 billion in criminal fines and civil restitution.
While this type of smuggling activity largely has subsided, the illicit tobacco market in Canada has rebounded in recent years, involving contraband tobacco that is primarily connected not to the diversion of legally manufactured products but to the illegal manufacture, distribution and selling of contraband tobacco products. It also includes to a lesser degree the illegal importation of counterfeit cigarettes and other forms of illicit tobacco from abroad.
Organized crime groups play a central role in the contraband tobacco trade in Canada, and this means that this illegal activity is linked with other kinds of crime. Most of the organized crime gangs that are involved in the illicit tobacco market are also active in other forms of criminal behaviour.
The problem is further complicated and exacerbated by the fact that some of the illegal manufacturers that supply the Canadian market are on the U.S. side of the Akwesasne Mohawk territory, which spans the border between Quebec, Ontario and New York state.
Members should know that transnational crime of the type found in contraband tobacco smuggling is considered a threat to public safety and national security and has a direct impact on individual Canadian businesses and our economy. It also has implications for relationships with our international partners, especially the United States. In this regard, however, Canada and the U.S. share a long history of law enforcement co-operation across our shared border.
Contraband tobacco is driven largely by illegal operations on both sides of the border. The provinces of Ontario and Quebec have the highest concentration of contraband tobacco manufacturing operations, the majority of high volume smuggling points and the largest number of consumers of contraband tobacco.
Criminal organizations are motivated by the lure of significant profits and relatively low risks in this sphere of illegal activity. Enforcement actions are, therefore, directed at increasing the risks associated with contraband tobacco activities: dismantling illegal manufacturing facilities, disrupting distribution supply lines, apprehending key figures and individuals, confiscating conveyances such as trucks and boats, and seizing the proceeds of crime. These actions have the dual goals of disrupting the illicit flow of tobacco and weakening the organized crime groups involved in the production, distribution, smuggling and trafficking of contraband tobacco.
To achieve these goals, the RCMP has engaged in joint targeted initiatives with law enforcement partners and other stakeholders across Canada and even, as mentioned earlier, internationally. These initiatives, varying in their degree of complexity, include short- and long-term joint investigations, outreach and awareness campaigns and active participation in inter-agency contraband tobacco task forces and groups. Unfortunately, contraband tobacco remains a serious threat to our communities, and if left unchecked, organized crime will continue to profit at the expense of the health and safety of Canadians.
Recent intelligence indicates a rise in counterfeit tobacco products entering the Canadian market. These illegal products are then transported through nationwide networks for sale to consumers as a cheaper alternative to legitimate tobacco products, thereby making them more accessible to Canadian youth.
Protecting society from criminals is a responsibility our government takes very seriously. Overall, the proposals represent a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious contraband tobacco activities. This bill proposes minimum penalties only in cases where there are certain aggravating factors present.
This bill is part of the government's continued commitment to take steps to protect Canadians and to make our streets and communities safer. Canadians want a justice system that has clear and strong laws that denounce and deter serious crimes, including illicit activities involving contraband tobacco. They want laws that impose penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes, and this bill would achieve that.
I encourage all of my colleagues and members on each side of the House to fully support Bill . It is high time we made this the law of the land.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the excellent member for , who is a great MP, by the way.
At first glance, this bill, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code and tackle contraband tobacco, appears to be a small bill that amends a provision of the Criminal Code. However, rather than addressing the real problem and focusing on prevention, the bill once again amends the Criminal Code in order to make the justice system stronger. This is a very noble cause or objective. However, the problem is that every time the government wants to address a problem, rather than allocating more financial, material and human resources to the organizations that are actually doing the work in order to address the real problem, it amends one or two sections of the Criminal Code and leads people to believe that these measures will solve all of the problems and that everything will be fine as a result.
I do not believe that solving the problem of contraband tobacco is that easy. We are talking about first nations, but contraband tobacco is a problem all across the country. Illegal cigarettes are flooding the market, and our young people are being shamelessly targeted by false Internet advertising. Why do we not pass similar legislation to deal with these ads?
It is so easy to go online and order illegal cigarettes, which come from all over the world and are often made by children who work in atrocious conditions. The cigarettes end up on the market. What impact will this have on the health of our young people?
Most of the provinces have extremely effective programs to combat smoking among young people. The federal government is trying, once again, to follow suit by investing in prevention. Prevention should take place at schools and in the schoolyards, but it also requires leadership. Our leaders need to take charge of the situation and send a clear message to the public that tobacco use is harmful to health.
Illegal tobacco is harmful to our health and also to our economy. Every year, contraband in Canada causes us to lose more than $2 billion in taxes. We must set aside financial and physical resources, since smuggling is going on in our waters, such as Lake Champlain, Lac Memphrémagog, the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. The Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP do not have the physical resources they need to catch smugglers. They need resources on the ground or else they will not be able to fight crime.
The Canada Border Services Agency is not inspecting packages because of an apparent lack of resources, time and personnel. How is that possible? It is unacceptable in a society like ours. This government brags about creating 1 million jobs. Give me a break. It cannot have created 1 million jobs, because we see no real evidence of that. Instead, what we see is that this government is ineffective and does not take action. Day after day, it makes investments in the wrong places.
Prevention starts with our young people. We need to encourage them to play sports, read books and visit libraries and museums. Not museums that the Conservatives have modelled around their own ideology, but museums that provide an accurate portrayal of history. We must get them interested in things that will help develop their minds and that will open them up to the amazing opportunities and possibilities available to them as citizens of a country as rich and developed as ours.
As I said, we must take action and show leadership, and this leadership must start at the top.