Debate on Conservative drug war bill

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Dana Larsen
Debate on Conservative drug war bill

Here's some excerpts from various Members of Parliament speaking about Bill C-15, An Act to Amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

You can find links to the full speeches and debate here.

Read C-15 for yourself here

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Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

I know what the line will be of the Conservatives who are debating the bill. They are going to get up and say, "This is about getting those terrible gangs, the big crime dealers, the big drug lords and all of that". Again the research shows us that that is not what happens.

In fact because in this bill they have included provisions around drug treatment courts, I think it is further evidence that what they will really be doing is focusing on what is called the low-level offenders. This is where mandatory minimums do not work. It is not a deterrence.

In fact what it will do is completely create chaos in our judicial system, in the court system. We know that for any mandatory minimums that are two years or less when people end up in the provincial court system, we are now going to be facing a huge overload in the provincial court system. Do the provinces know that? I kind of wonder if they realize what is coming down the pipe here.

It is really time to embark on a common sense approach and accept the overwhelming evidence that the war on drugs has caused more death, pain, harm and crime than we can bear. It is time to stop it.

I do not think that is going to happen overnight. However, let us at least have the courage to see what has failed and see the alternatives. We could begin with marijuana, real education, and look to decriminalization or even legalization, or we could continue on the tragic course of playing on people's fear and trying to convince people that tougher laws will make it all go away. It will not. Let us say no to the bill. Let us adopt a public health approach and do the right thing.

Mr. Daniel Petit (for the Minister of Justice)

Canadians security is threatened by organized crime groups involved in the production and trafficking of drugs. These activities lead to increased crime, violence and danger to law enforcement officers.

Drug trafficking and production are also the largest sources of illicit money for organized crime groups. Profits from the sale of drugs, estimated to be in the billions of dollars per year in Canada, are used to finance a host of other criminal activities.

In response to the dangers posed by increased production and the worsening drug problem, the government introduced this bill, which proposes mandatory minimum penalties for those who produce and sell this drug.

The proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act do more than just impose minimum penalties. The bill contains a provision that would enable certain offenders who ordinarily would be subject to mandatory minimum penalties to take part in a program given by what is called a drug treatment court.


Mr. Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Liberal.):

Bill C-15 is a fairly good stab at an acute problem in our country, which is the enforcement of people who break the law with respect to the use, importation and trafficking of drugs.

It is not as contemporary as we need it to be when we are talking about street gangs, which in some cases might be two people. As members know, the organized crime provisions in the Criminal Code apply to three people.

This bill will enact a two year mandatory prison sentence for dealing drugs such as cocaine, heroin and meth to youth, or for dealing those drugs near a school or an area normally frequented by youth. A two year mandatory prison sentence will also be imposed for the offence of running a large marijuana grow operation of at least 500 plants. These are very targeted sentences which, when problems are increasing exponentially particularly in certain areas of the country, we cannot oppose. These are wonderful provisions for a very specific problem.

No one on this side is against incarceration for people who do wrong. No one is against that, but to think it is a cure for the problems that ail us, to think that is the only solution is wrong. That the government, in doing this, has not committed adequate resources for the facilities that will incarcerate them is also the double end of the false hope that Canadians might have in this situation.


Ms. Nicole Demers (Laval, BQ):

It is disappointing that the bill does not contain measures to help youth and adults get off drugs. As mentioned earlier by my colleague for Vancouver East, some projects are working very well. For example, InSite, in Vancouver, was very effective and significantly reduced risks associated with injection drugs.

However, the government does not believe that these are good programs. Even though the World Health Organization, the mayor and police of Vancouver and doctors say that InSite is a good program, the Minister of Health says that the government does not want it, that it is not a good program, that we absolutely must rid ourselves of anyone who takes illicit drugs and that we should get rid of InSite. That is not how we will fix the problem.

Contrary to what our Conservative colleagues tell us, minimum sentences do not work. They do not work in the U.S. where crime is on the increase. This has been observed for years, ever since minimum sentences were introduced, and the system does not work any better. Judges have to work out ways within their various jurisdictions to get prosecutors and the American justice system to deviate from the law and allow them to set the sentences themselves. They are very much aware that minimum sentences do not work and that, very often, they are far too heavy for the crime committed.


Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):

I will be supporting this act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, part of a package of measures aimed at addressing gang violence as Canada has over 400 gangs with roughly 7,000 members and firearm related injuries annually costing $5.6 billion.

Strong drug laws are needed to fight elicit drugs which remain a significant problem in Toronto and, indeed, across Canada.

Drug abuse impacts users, their children, family members and sometimes entire neighbourhoods. Moreover, drug use is associated with crime, from simple possession to organized crime, to fighting for control of the drug trade, to serious addiction problems that may lead users to commit crimes for cash.

A strength of the bill is the drug treatment courts as part of the solution. These courts aim to stop drug abuse and related criminal activity through court-directed treatment and rehabilitation programs. Each court has a multi-disciplinary justice and health care systems team led by the judge who oversees each participant's progress. Compliance, which is objectively monitored by frequent substance abuse testing, is rewarded and non-compliance sanctioned.


Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):

It is important to remember the history of alcohol prohibition. The United States went very seriously into alcohol prohibition back in the 1920s and 1930s and made it illegal, prohibited it, in exactly the same way that drugs are prohibited today in Canada. If we look at the history of what happened with alcohol prohibition, we will see not a close parallel but an exact parallel to what is happening in our society today with regard to drugs.

I want to give some examples that are in a report called “We Can Do It Again: Repealing Today's Failed Prohibition”, which is presented by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of law enforcement and court officials who are working on ending drug prohibition, and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation of the United States. They reviewed some of what happened under alcohol prohibition. If we go over these points, we will see the exact parallel to what is happening in our society today.

We are not talking about removing all drug regulations. We know there still needs to be a regulatory regime in place, but an appropriate one. The health officers of British Columbia have also raised concerns about drug prohibition as a strict policy and have said that we need to face the health implications and get on with coming with a better regulatory regime in Canada. I do not believe the bill is a step in that direction, which is the way we should go.



Ms. Megan Leslie (Halifax, NDP):

I would like to share with the member a conversation, an email exchange, that I have been having with a professor at Dalhousie Law School about these kinds of changes and mandatory minimums. That is what the bill is really about.

He pointed out that a huge problem with the Criminal Code is the practice of making ad hoc changes on a regular basis that are entirely inconsistent with each other. The last comprehensive review of the sentencing provisions by Parliament specifically aimed at reducing the use of jail. Section 718.2(e) states: “All available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders“.

This proposal flies in the face of that, preventing the use of anything but imprisonment.

Further, I would point out why a minimum sentence for having one marijuana plant when say manslaughter does not even have a minimum sentence. Aggravated sexual assault, section 273, has no minimum sentence. Abduction of a child under 14 has no minimum sentence. Abandoning a child under 10, so its life is likely to be endangered, section 218, has no minimum sentence.

However, if someone has a marijuana plant we are going to send them away to jail for six months. This is ad-hockery at its worse.

Dana Larsen

Can a moderator please delete this thread? I didn't mean to make two threads...