Libby speaks out against the Conservatives’ flawed drug bill

House of Commons
September 27, 2011

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Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, there is possibly one thing we agree on, and that is the Conservatives have branded and wrapped themselves in a cloak of crime and punishment. As a result, they are blind to the evidence, the costs and the fact that we have the lowest crime rate since 1973.

The Conservatives are blind to building safe and healthy communities. They are blind to the horrendous experience of the U.S. in its war on drugs regime, which now is slowly repealed, including the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing, as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre just pointed out, because of its catastrophic failure to both the people and society. The Conservatives are blind to the evidence in Canada and to the real impact these bills would have on the lives of people and communities overall.

Added to that, the Conservative members are blind to parliamentary democracy. With this bill and the steady stream of other bills that we have seen, they are only interested in manipulating people, creating fear and division and creating a “them and us” scenario. I believe, from the bottom of my heart, the omnibus bill before us today is offensive. It is politically motivated and would have enormous negative impacts.

I was involved in some of these bills previously, particularly the drug crime bill, which I will go into.

Listening to the debate, I find it astounding to hear how the Conservatives are completely divorced from the reality of what is going on. They cannot recognize that we have the lowest crime rate since 1973. They cannot comprehend or deal with the fact that federal and provincial prisons are skyrocketing and prisoners are double and even triple bunking, resulting, in part, from bills like the Truth in Sentencing Act, which was passed in the last Parliament.

I wish the Conservatives had the courage to bring forward a truth in prison costs bill because maybe then we would have a better handle on what is really going on here.

The fact is these nine bills have no relevancy together. They have been politically put together in one bill to ram them through the House in 100 days.

That defies the reality of the 2010-11 annual report that just came out from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. It shows us that almost three-quarters, or 72%, of all cases handled by federal prosecutors last year involved drug cases, about 58,000 cases. Of those cases, only about 2% were complex, meaning that the vast majority of them were actually straightforward in terms of the impact of some of these bills and the kind of law enforcement approach that the Conservative government has taken.

The Conservatives also hid the real costs of this bill and all the bills in the package from Canadians during the election. We know that the real costs will be billions of dollars both in terms of the provincial cost in prisons and the federal costs.

I have heard so many times that the Conservatives are trying to bring in the bill on mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes as a bill that will be tough on organized crime and big traffickers. We heard the Minister of Justice say that again today, as he has so many times.

The reality is that mandatory minimums do not deter organized crime. Instead, they almost exclusively affect small dealers, street level traffickers and non-violent offenders, while leaving the door wide open for organized crime to step in and fill the void created by the sweeps at the lower end. Even the Canadian Justice Department, in its report of 2002, concluded that mandatory minimum sentences were the least effective in relation to drug offences.

The Minister of Justice has never been able to offer a shred of evidence that mandatory minimums are a deterrence; that they work. He was grilled on this in committee the last time the bill went through the House. This is now the third time we have had the bill before us. The minister could not offer any evidence that mandatory minimums were effective or that they would deal with our complex drug issues. All the evidence is to the contrary. The evidence indicates that the bill would have many harmful effects, including increasing the prison population and changing Canada’s drug strategy from a four pillar approach that includes enforcement, prevention, treatment and harm reduction.

We know the Conservatives changed that strategy in 2007. Again, they are totally focused on the proposition that somehow a new bill, a new offence, a stiffer penalty, a mandatory minimum would deal with some of these complex issues.

I have a letter that has three pages of organizations and individual experts who have all studied this legislation, particularly, as it applies to mandatory minimums. They all have come to the same conclusion. There is no evidence that the legislation is warranted and would actually assist our society overall.

I would point out, again, more evidence. The auditor general, when she audited drug enforcement a few years ago when we had a special committee on the non-medical use of drugs, produced a very significant report that called for an increased emphasis on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. What became clear was something like 73% of federal funds were being spent on enforcement, 14% on treatment, 7% on research, 2.6% on prevention and 2.6% on harm reduction.

Even the auditor general, from a very neutral, independent standpoint, came to the conclusion that the so-called drug strategy was not working, that it was not effective and that it could not be shown to be transparent or actually assisting in terms of drug issues in local communities.

The drug bill, in particular, which the Conservatives tried to get through the Senate and through the House, is taking Canada in a completely wrong direction. It is a direction that is very expensive, it will have no effect on drug use itself and it will only increase the prison population, creating a new set of overpopulation that with it will come health and safety concerns and problems that then will manifest themselves within the prison system. Anybody who does not understand that, as I said at the beginning, is simply fooling themselves and is blind to the reality and the evidence that is now before us.
The Conservative government changed the drug strategy in 2007. As result, we have now been down this path similar to the U.S. experience. The Americans have begun to understand that even the most right-wing conservatives, as quoted by my colleague, in the U.S. recognize the massive failure of the course of incarcerating people, of relying on an enforcement approach and mandatory minimums. Surely, Canada has lessons to learn from this.

I want to say this loud and clear, and I am very glad that all my colleagues are speaking out on the bill. We feel the bill is offensive in the way it puts together nine significant bills that should be dealt with individually. In particular, there is no evidence that the drug bill will work. On the contrary, all the evidence indicates that it will be harmful and costly. It is the wrong direction for our country to take.