Hon. Art Eggleton:
The fact is, colleagues, that the present system does a disservice to young Canadians. The present system is broken. It needs fixing. The fact is, there are extensive numbers of users of cannabis in this country, particularly between the ages of 18 and 25. It is one of the biggest usage levels anywhere in the world. It spawns a $7 billion illicit industry in this country.
The government has shown courage in bringing forth a transformational piece of legislation that changes this from one where we criminalize a lot of our young people; we give them criminal records that ruin their lives in many respects and that don’t give them the opportunity for the kinds of jobs and advancements they need in our society. The government has brought forward legislation that shifts this all toward health, safety and regulation of the industry to make sure of what the product is that our people are going to be consuming.
At the same time, it does provide education. They are well on their way in terms of providing the education now. We may not recognize a lot of it because it is geared towards younger people who have different kinds of access to information than perhaps some of us older folks do.
And yes, they do need to do an awful lot more. That must go hand in hand, right down the line with the implementation of this legislation. There is no doubt about that. The government has said it, but I think we have said it even louder, through all of the studies that we’ve done, the five committees including the one I have the opportunity to chair, Social Affairs, which has brought together some 200 witnesses in the course of our two months of dealing with the study and the other studies that went before. That’s a lot of information.
Yes, we came up with some ideas that we felt would make this legislation better. Now, the government did accept some of them, but some of the major pieces they did not. I must say that the part of their answer that disappointed me was, “Well, we respectfully disagree,” that common phrase, the reason being they felt they had a better answer. That’s in effect what they were saying.
I believe it would have been better for them to have delved into what gave rise to those amendments because the arguments we heard at committee were compelling and deserved attention; not just the wording of the amendment itself but what gave rise to it. They followed every detail that we were going through in the course of our studies, so I felt that was one thing that could have been done a little better.
When it comes down to the basics of moving to a health and safety perspective, one of the arguments that impressed me came from Dr. Bernard Le Foll, who is the medical head at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, known as CAMH. It is one of the pre-eminent institutions of this country. We’ve all quoted people from both sides of the argument. There is no shortage of people contradicting each other or coming up with different facts, different statistics or different analytics of the statistics. There was no shortage of that. One could create a lot of confusion over it.
I think it’s quite impressive when a pre-eminent organization head such as Dr. Le Foll says we should take an overall public health approach, not a criminal law approach. He said that we can greatly reduce the harms of illicit drugs, including cannabis, by focusing on the underlying public health issues. He added that most of the harms are caused by the laws we have put into place rather than by the drugs themselves.
This point was reiterated by the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, who told us:
In simple terms, it’s the criminalization of marijuana that creates harm, not marijuana itself.
So I think the basis of this bill is a good one for Canadians.
We didn’t get all of our amendments, but we did get a couple of things I want to note because they haven’t been mentioned yet today. One was the issues that were raised at the Aboriginal Committee. I think we got a pretty firm commitment from the government. That’s a major move. They needed to make that move and they knew where we stood on the matter in this chamber, and I’m glad they made the move that they did.
It’s a process at this point. It still requires a lot of good faith in how it proceeds, but at least we have that process in place, and the people in this chamber, many of whom were behind all of that happening, are involved in that continuing process.
There is another possible one that comes out of some of the arguments we made about double jeopardy or the double penalty that could result from somebody who is a permanent resident versus a Canadian citizen, which could lead to their not only getting the penalty under this cannabis law, but they could also find themselves being disqualified for citizenship or in fact deported.
Here the concern was over people with simple possession or simple kind of sentencing that might be provided or even a fine provided in those cases. The big drug dealer is a whole different sphere and those are not the people we are talking about here. We said for more minor offences, double jeopardy shouldn’t exist.
The minister said in a letter to a few of us who had a conference call with him last Saturday morning, “I would like to assure that I’m committed to carefully considering and addressing the immigration consequences of Bill C-45 and C-46. My department is examining the tools within my authority to mitigate immigration consequences, including discretionary tools.” And a group of us are going to follow up.
So I think there still is opportunity, through those two provisions that have come in the course of the back-and-forth discussions with the federal ministers, to bring about some improvements.
But now we’re at the stage where it’s time to address the message before us, and I simply say it’s time to accept the message.