Mr. Rob Moore (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-26.
As members know, the Minister of Justice tabled this bill last year. It proposes a number of mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that appropriately high sentences are imposed on those who commit serious drug offences.
The bill is not about applying mandatory minimum penalties for all drug crimes. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act contains a complex offence and penalty structure. Penalties depend on the nature of the prohibited activity and on the type of substance involved.
The most problematic and dangerous substances, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and morphine, are listed under schedule I. Offences involving these substances attract the severest penalties, up to life imprisonment.
Cannabis is a schedule II drug and attracts lesser penalties. It is only if at least three kilograms are involved that trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Production of cannabis is punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment.
The least severe penalties, up to 12 months' imprisonment on summary conviction, are reserved for offences involving substances listed in schedules IV and V.
It should be noted, however, that most of the prohibited activities in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are legal if committed by someone possessing the proper licence, permit or exemption.
For example, the marijuana medical access regulations that came into force on July 30, 2001, provide a scheme for sick individuals to apply for licences to possess or grow marijuana for medical use with the support of their doctor or, in some cases, with the support of a specialist.
As such, there are individuals in Canada who are exempted from the production offence contained in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and who are growing marijuana within their residences or in their yards. The amount of plants that the individual is permitted to produce is derived from a formula tied to the amount of dried marijuana product which the individual holder of the permit requires on a daily basis.
Some members of the House may be of the view that serious drug offences do not require a response such as the one contained in this bill. However, serious drug crime is a growing problem in Canadian cities and towns and a serious legislative approach is required.
According to Statistics Canada's Juristat, “Crime Statistics in Canada, 2004”, the rate of marijuana cultivation offences has more than doubled over the past decade, from approximately 3,400 offences in 1994 to 8,000 in 2004.
According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia, approximately 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases were located in B.C. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%.
Although the number of individual operations in B.C. levelled off between 2000 and 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced has increased from 19,729 kilos in 1997 to a seven year high of 79,817 kilos in 2003, due to the size and sophistication of individual operations.
Recent investigations by B.C. Hydro indicate the existence of up to 17,000 possible marijuana grow operations. The increase in the illicit production of marijuana has occurred not just in B.C. but across all of Canada.
There are no available national data on synthetic drug production. Available RCMP data, however, indicate a steady rise in these production operations, where the RCMP seized 25 synthetic drug production operations in 2002, 51 in 2003, 60 in 2004 and 53 in 2005.
Of the 60 operations seized in 2004, 17 were producing ecstasy and 40 were set up to produce methamphetamine. Of the 53 labs seized in 2005, 60% were producing methamphetamine and 30% were producing ecstasy.
I should add that we heard in justice committee about some of the very troubling effects methamphetamine can have on its users and about the difficulty in tackling methamphetamine production. We heard testimony on the devastating impact it can have on individuals. It is something that we should all be mindful of, because none of us, whether our communities are rural or urban, are immune from the challenge that the production of these drugs presents.
Unlike better known drugs of abuse such as heroin, cocaine or marijuana, methamphetamine presents some unique challenges. Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. It is not dependent on cultivation of a crop. Its production requires no specialized skill or training, and its precursor chemicals are relatively easy to obtain and inexpensive to purchase.
Part of the problem is that the purchasing and obtaining of those precursor elements, which are very much legal at the moment, are some very common chemicals that many of us would use in our day to day lives, but when they are combined in the proper doses in methamphetamine labs, they can produce extremely harmful results. These factors make production of methamphetamine attractive to both the criminal trafficker and to the addicted user.
Methamphetamine also presents a threat to law enforcement authorities. They must simultaneously combat both small toxic labs and superlabs which are primarily controlled by drug trafficking organizations.
The small labs produce relatively small amounts of methamphetamine and are generally not affiliated with major trafficking organizations. A number of factors have served as catalysts for the spread of small labs, including the presence of recipes easily accessible over the Internet. Indeed, the widespread use of the Internet has facilitated the dissemination of technology used to manufacture methamphetamine in small labs. This form of information sharing allows wide dissemination of these techniques to anyone with computer access.
Aside from marijuana, methamphetamine is the only widely used and widely abused illegal drug that is capable of being easily produced by the abuser. Given the relative ease with which manufacturers or cooks are able to acquire recipes, ingredients and the unsophisticated nature of the production process, it is easy to see why this highly addictive drug is spreading.
Methamphetamine has a number of impacts on users, on our communities and on society generally. The quality of life among users of methamphetamine is typically greatly diminished. Addicts may experience dissolution of relationships, social isolation, altered personality, difficulty with academics, loss of employment, involvement in crime, trouble with pre-existing mental illness, drug related psychosis and brain damage, health risks and declining physical fitness.
Furthermore, individuals may be unmotivated to seek help as methamphetamine can create seemingly high levels of energy and productivity. Communities can become vulnerable to petty crime, social disorder, associated risk to health, increase in violence and increases in large scale labs and drug trafficking.
Production operations also pose serious public safety and health hazards to those in and around production operations. These operations can result in serious physical injury from explosions, fires, chemical burns and toxic fumes. They produce environmental hazards, pose cleanup problems and endanger the lives and health of community residents.
The collateral damage of methamphetamine includes impacts on families, school staff, students, law enforcers, fire departments, paramedics, health care practitioners, businesses and property owners. These individuals experience second-hand symptoms of meth use.
First responders may experience exposure to production byproducts and may be subject to violence and aggression from addicts, or frustration and stress from inadequate resources, or judicial restraints preventing them from taking action.
Parents may also experience emotional and financial stress as a child goes through treatment, strain from missing work, fear, embarrassment, shame and guilt. The family may also encounter gang related crime, contamination, violence and disciplinary problems as the child continues to abuse the drug.
Furthermore, siblings and children may experience neglect, abuse and negative influence from family role models. Staff and students in the schools may face users with behavioural problems, classroom disruptions, absenteeism, negative peer influence, and once again, possible contamination. The stress of having insufficient resources to handle these issues is also a cause of stress.
We all know, every one of us who represents communities from coast to coast to coast, that communities in general may be exposed to violence, property damage, identity theft, decreased public safety, contamination of public areas from the disposal of cooking byproducts, and an unreliable or decreased workforce that impedes the safety of co-workers.
There are also significant health risks and costs associated with dismantling labs and removing processing agents from these locations.
As parliamentarians, we are this country's lawmakers. It is incumbent upon us to see that our laws provide appropriate and adequate measures to address serious problems. Our government has responded to the dangers caused by meth production by this bill, which proposes mandatory minimum penalties for those who produce the drug and traffic in it.
The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are not exclusively about imposing minimum penalties. The bill contains a provision allowing for certain offenders who would normally be caught by the proposed minimum penalties to be dealt with by drug treatment courts.
A drug treatment court is a substance abuse intervention model that operates within the criminal justice system. Drug treatment courts provide judicially supervised treatment in lieu of incarcerating individuals who have a substance use problem that is related to their criminal activities, for example, drug related offences such as drug possession, use or non-commercial trafficking and/or property offences committed to support their drug use, such as theft or shoplifting.
Individuals may need to meet other requirements specific to individual courts or court systems to be deemed eligible for admission. The eligible accused must choose between the drug treatment court program and traditional criminal justice processing that can result in various dispositions ranging from fines to incarceration.
Typically, formal admission into a drug treatment court program requires the individual to plead guilty to his or her charges. If an individual fails to comply or participate in all aspects of the drug treatment court program, consequences range from an official reprimand or revocation of bail to termination in the program and the handing down of custodial and/or community supervision sentences.
There are a number of key facets of a well designed and implemented drug treatment court model. These include: early identification of those who meet the program eligibility criteria; access to treatment programs that integrate evidence based practices of the offender and substance abuse treatment to meet individualized needs of participants; extensive ongoing judicial contact with each participant; intensive supervision and drug testing to monitor and ensure abstinence from all intoxicants; positive reinforcement for compliance; partnership among other drug treatment courts and community based organizations; continued education for those involved in the field to promote effective operations; the use of a non-adversarial approach in the court system to ensure public safety as well as the rights of program participants; and comprehensive evaluation to monitor program objectives and measure efficiency.
That is something we should also all agree on. We want to have programs that work. If a program does not work, then obviously there is something wrong with it and we need to take a serious look at it. If a program does work, then we should encourage participation in that program.
Compared to traditional criminal justice approaches, the intent of a drug treatment court is to permit motivated clients to avoid incarceration and other sanctions and to allow them access to treatment service more quickly due to dedicated services and resources. It is also to encourage clients to remain in treatment until completed, through intensive and frequent monitoring and supervision by the court. Obviously, our number one goal for those who are addicted to drugs is to treat them and have them become contributing members of society once again.
Participating in a drug treatment court program is intensive and demanding. It includes court attendance up to twice a week, random urine testing, and attendance and treatment from daily to weekly as clients progress through the program. At some sites there is a primary treatment provider, for example, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, whereas at other sites there are various community agencies providing primary treatment services.
Drug treatment courts have a great deal of promise. We will be monitoring their effectiveness. This proposed legislation has been drafted in such a manner as to ensure that drug treatment courts would not be negatively impacted by this important bill.
Canadians demand that the criminal law provide adequate penalties for those who engage in serious drug crime. This bill responds to that demand and provides tough, yet fair, mandatory minimum penalties. I urge all members of the House to support these measures.
Mr. Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about Bill C-26 and on the topic of justice, as this government sees it.
I must say I am very pleased to speak to this bill and this government's justice program, but, frankly, I have several concerns about this. Indeed, this government has introduced and will continue to introduce bills that do not work.
It gives me a great deal of anxiety to look at written laws that do not respond to what they are intended. I have some time to elaborate on that.
I listened to the bright and articulate Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, who shares part of a county with me in terms of representation. Our people are not a world apart. It gives me a great deal of anxiety to hear him suggest, perhaps naively, that the bill would have its intended effect.
The government rolls out bills in front of blue plastic platforms and talks about the new government. Cabinet ministers are paraded around in ridings the Conservatives would like to hold, or hold onto slimly. They roll out justice bills in advance of discussing them with stakeholders, in advance of discussing them as a future agenda at the justice committee and in advance of having any real discussion about law reform with a law reform commission. Canadians would be interested to know that there is no law reform commission. There is no body that can discuss and promulgate laws that affect all of us, and which have the teeth they are intended to have.
The government can try to get a three minute spiel on the evening news, which it uses to tell Canadians that it will stop all drug production and send all producers to jail for longer terms. It feels this will end the problem. That is naive, which is better than saying it is devious. The Conservative government put bills before Parliament then prorogued Parliament so those bills never saw the light of day. It then reintroduces the same bills and new bills knowing they too will likely never see the light of day. It is almost devious. If I sat on the other side, I would probably know the big game plan, but to most reasonable people involved in criminal justice issues, including police forces, prosecutors, social workers, the Conservative justice program is intended to fail.
The Conservatives have been in office for two years now so they cannot claim to be the new government. If we had socks that old, we would not call them new socks. That is an old sock over there. The odour is pronounced. This says to me that the Conservatives have not really come to terms with how to make society safe.
There is one non-partisan point that binds all parliamentarians here. We all want safe communities. Try as it might, the Conservative government, the old sock government, wants to paint those of us in the opposition ranks as people who do not care about safety and society. Perhaps those things first motivated some of us to get into Parliament. I see mayors on this side of the House. I see people who have experience in emergency measures organizations, who have been involved on police commissions and who have headed police commissions. To suggest parliamentarians do not want to save society stinks like the old sock justice program that the Conservative government has introduced.
Those members do not mean what they say. A long time ago they had another one of those blue plastic background announcements with law enforcement officials at bay. They announced that they would create 2,500 new positions for police officers across Canada. They have not done that.
Most of the laws the Conservatives roll out require a certain amount of police presence, and that is an understatement. I can suggest that most of it, when it comes to the detection of drug manufacturing facilities, will require a significant outlay of police resources.
The hon. parliamentary secretary will know that in the Dieppe-Moncton-Riverview area, even before the RCMP took over the municipal force there, the joint forces operation for drug detection was up and running. It continues to run very well. It is like anything else and will be saddled with more duties under a law such as this, which will have well trained police officers wondering if the shoot of a marijuana plant in two places is two plants to get it over the 500 mark, or if it is one to get it under the 500 mark. These are problems of detection which have not been resourced. The government is not serious about its criminal justice agenda.
The other thing Canadians must know is what this law has in one part of it, and it might seem to be well-meaning. Again, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the parliamentary secretary over there. He probably thought, when he parsed the legislation on this law, he was protecting school areas and people who frequent public areas when he agreed to put his minister's pen to subclause (ii) of clause 1, which says that the mandatory minimum punishment of two years will apply if:
|| (A) the person committed the offence in or near a school, on or near school grounds or in or near any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of 18 years,
If we all knew where everybody under the age of 18 years was at all times, there would be many happy parents, school superintendents and police forces. This is so vague as to fall on its face. I pray the able committee members at the justice committee, if and when the bill should be referred to the justice committee, can fix this. This goes to the point that in their rush to get in front of that blue plastic sign and give a moment of news release, the Conservatives did not yet again produce a proper law that we could look at and say with some satisfaction that the bill would change our society.
I have been a lawyer for some 20 years. I have been the mayor of a municipality. I know, as all members of the House do, that drug abuse is a problem in any western society. It is a problem in any world society. It is a problem with which many people are grappling. Parents are involved in grappling with these issues. Teachers, doctors, nurses and people from all walks of society, not only members of the justice committee who belong to the Conservative Party of Canada, are all involved in this. Why is there not more attention paid to consulting the stakeholders and coming up with bills that will work when it comes to drug abuse?
The whole other problem of treating the addict as a criminal has to be addressed. Unfortunately, because of the time involved, it cannot be done tonight.
Bill C-26 against controlled substances does not provide the balance needed to reduce crime, substance abuse and drug use, nor does it protect public health. The public health aspect is very important in this debate.
Instead of these commitments, and with no real bills, we are left with a strategy that comes from south of the border, the United States, one that mirrors the Bush administration's policies. Yet these same American policies are doing nothing but overcrowding American prisons.
This bill will lead us down the same path as the one chosen by the United States. There will be many more people in Canadian prisons, if this bill and other Conservative bills are passed and enacted in this country. However, this does nothing to resolve our country's drug problems.
There is no question that sentences are very important and they are an important part of the solution. I look forward at justice committee to hearing this evidence that serious sentences, mandatory minimums for drug use in particular, would have the effect of decreasing drug use and drug abuse, and decreasing crime as a concomitant of that. I am looking forward to those studies because I am afraid they do not exist.
Fighting crime with longer sentences does not work. If it did and there was insurmountable evidence of that, I get back to my premise that we are all interested in a safer community, a safer Canada. So if the evidence were overwhelming that mandatory minimums, longer sentences, longer prison time served actually would keep society safer, why would we not be for it?
In order to bring up good legislation through the process here in Parliament, we have to have evidence-based legislation. We have to show that if we pass this law, this will be the effect. We cannot just say it in front of the blue plastic sign in front of the TV cameras. Tougher penalties for people who produce and are trafficking in drugs will only scare the small time producers and organized crime will fill the gap.
The aspect of gangs and organized crime is something that every community in Canada has to grapple with again. There is no one piece solution to this, but this certainly is not it. As written, it would seem, and we will hear the evidence at committee, that there is a crackdown intended on many small-time, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, on many small operations that can be put together with household materials and with common accessories for heating and containing liquids and powders.
However, no one is condoning small-time operations, but to crack down solely or to target mostly small-time producers, there is just going to be inevitably a gap. Unless we get to the issue of addictions and what we are going to do to deal with societal issues regarding addictions, the demand side of this equation is not going to be effective.
It seems that all republican, read this now as Conservative in this country, all republican dogma on the war on drugs is supply-based. Take out the supply and the problem is gone. Well, it did not work during prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. If we take out the supply, that is just a layer of the supply. There will always be a supply if there is a demand.
I am sounding like a raving capitalist and I apologize to my Conservative friends for that, but supply and demand is very much at issue here. What should be tackled is the demand side. How do we make it so that there would be no more demand for crystal meth? How do we make it so that a teenager at a party is not given a date rape drug? Because we do not want anyone to use it, we have to attack the demand for the drugs. There is nothing in the bill that talks about that whatsoever.
Eugene Oscapella, a criminal lawyer who teaches drug policy, would be one of the experts who would come to a committee and give evidence. When we ask the minister questions on the first day of the committee hearings, we will be assured that he is contacted and spoken to because a recognized expert in drug policy living right here in Ottawa would certainly be someone that the minister or the parliamentary secretary or someone from the blue plastic old sock gang should probably get to see. He would say organized crime does not care about the law. With the changes to the law as proposed, the government is doing a service for organized crime.
Would that not be awful, that a government in Canada would actually benefit organized crime? It is certainly not what is intended. I will give my colleagues on the other side the benefit of the doubt. They cannot intend this, but by bringing forth such poor legislation it may very well be the effect of this.
The bill needs to reflect a balanced response to substance abuse and drug addiction which includes of course prevention treatment, enforcement and harm reduction measures.
Did I mention that 2,500 police officers and 1,000 RCMP officers in total were promised by the government and not delivered upon? When one makes a promise to fund something, all one has to do is pass a budget. I believe the government has passed two and things called mini-budgets. So, it has had the opportunity.
Prorogation and blue plastic background in announcements could not have interfered with the ability of the finance minister, if the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice really wanted, to put the money behind where the talk was to make sure that there would be 3,500 more police officers on the streets now or in this case, in the bushes of parts of this country where grow-ops are taking place.
Now, there is no one in the bushes of the places where these grow operations are taking place. Has the government walked the walk? No. It just talks the talk.
On mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, we have had a lot of evidence during the hearings on billsC-9 and C-10 but Bill C-10 in particular with respect to mandatory minimums. Again, if they worked, we would be all for them.
There have been mandatory minimums in certain situations where it has proven that they acted as a deterrent for the institution of criminal acts. However, do we really think that by taking people, for instance at the lower end of the chain, who are making drugs in their kitchen and are using drugs in their home, and that by going to prison alone is going to stop the production of that drug in total or help those people to become meaningful members of society?
What does it do for the addiction issue? Where is the extra funding which would have to come to Correctional Service Canada, to the parole officers across the country, to the correctional services officers across the country, and to the various attorneys general in the provinces across the country who will need funding for all of their officers who supervise probation orders and conditional sentences? Where is all of the money to back up these laws?
Instead, we have a stack of laws, many of which were not intended to pass, many of which were killed by prorogation, and many of which show that the government is not interested in getting tough on crime or tackling crime. It is interested in tackling the airwaves.
What can we do to get us out of this mess? We can actually put politics aside, talk about a safe society, put our money where our mouth is, and send the bill to committee to see what can be done about reducing the number of harmful grow operations, which if not detected would destroy our society.
What about discussing how much resourcing this bill will need? What about getting rid of silly definitions that parse between 500 and 501 plants and at or near a public place where young people are headed? What about working on the bill together and what about actually having an act which will do what it says, which is to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and make consequential amendments which will make our society safer? We are all for a safer community. Let us work toward getting there.
Mrs. Carole Freeman (Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today at second reading of Bill C-26. In this bill, the government is targeting those who produce and distribute illicit drugs by imposing more severe penalties on them. This is part of a major anti-drug strategy with a budget of more than $64 million unveiled a few months ago by the Prime Minister.
Even though the purpose of Bill C-26 seems clear, I think that its ultimate goal, to reduce consumption of illegal drugs, would be better achieved with more subtle measures that would produce truly positive results. That is why it is important to understand this bill, to hold onto the parts of it that have merit and to reveal the problems hidden within it.
First, I would like to point out that the current legislation already includes good tools to fight drugs. Since 1997, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act has prohibited the import, export, production, sale, acquisition and possession of drugs and controlled substances, except when regulations permit it for medical purposes. At the time, the legislation created a new offence, production of a controlled substance. It also amended certain penalties in accordance with rulings of the Supreme Court, which had ruled that a minimum seven-year sentence for the import and export of drugs was far too severe.
Under the legislation, trafficking is defined as the selling, giving, administering, transporting, sending or delivering of one of the drugs listed in Schedules I through IV. The legislation also includes precursors of substances listed in Schedules I through V. Precursors are the ingredients used in the production of a controlled substance listed in the schedules.
Now that we know the context of this bill, I would like to focus on a worrisome aspect that I have criticized many times in previous bills and that is minimum sentences. With respect to heavier minimum sentences, it is clear that the Bloc Québécois has never doubted the importance of taking measures to reduce the consumption and production of drugs.
At first glance anyone would say that this bill provides more safety and more means to control drugs. However, before drawing hasty conclusions, the first thing to do before addressing a problem is to understand it in its entirety, grasp its scope and assess its consequences. We have to put things in perspective.
It is important to remind people that Statistics Canada indicated in 2006, before Bill C-26 was put on the table, that Canada's overall national crime rate, based on incidents reported to police, hit its lowest point in over 25 years, driven by a decline in non-violent crime. The crime rate dropped by 3% over the previous year and by 30% since 1991. When we look at the problem as a whole, we see that crime is going down in Canada. This is a major trend that has been observed for many years.
Obviously the Bloc Québécois does not want to minimize the situation. Any tragedy is one tragedy too many and statistics hide the human tragedies that affect families. We have to realize that the current system is producing positive results. We have to avoid giving up these gains by adopting measures whose impact has not been fully examined.
Bill C-26 relies heavily on minimum sentences, and specifically on the supposed deterrent effect of harsher sentences. That has never been clearly proven. Harsher sentences are imposed by our neighbours to the south, who obtain results that are not particularly convincing. I would say that minimum jail sentences are not a greater deterrent than adequate supervision in the community.
However, as a member of a responsible party that does not ignore reality, I have to recognize that drug-related offences have increased slightly.
For example, again according to Statistics Canada, the total number of drug offences rose by 2% in 2006. In fact, the picture of drug use is changing slightly. Cannabis-related offences, such as possession, make up 60% of all drug offences, but were down 4%.
We understand the situation, and we are aware of the issues. Moreover, quite recently, my colleague from Hochelaga and I examined Bill C-428 to consider the best way to combat the emerging problem of methamphetamine use.
We are contributing to the war on drugs, which brings me to a positive aspect of Bill C-26. The bill allows judges, with the consent of the prosecutor, to require offenders to take part in a drug treatment program. If the offender successfully completes the program, he avoids the minimum sentence. I believe that this is a good way to rehabilitate offenders.
I therefore believe that we are going to refer Bill C-26 to committee for a more detailed examination.