Canada's Original Think Tank

Third reading of Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill (debate on amendment by Senator Housakos)

Third reading of Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill (debate on amendment by Senator Housakos)

Third reading of Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill (debate on amendment by Senator Housakos)

Senator Eggleton: 

Thank you very much. Colleagues, on the question of the three UN drug conventions, I think it is worthy to take note of the comments that were made by the Minister of Global Affairs at the Foreign Affairs Committee because I think it puts it in good context. She said:

. . . we do believe that our approach is consistent with the overarching goal of the conventions, which is to protect the health and welfare of society.

On the point about children, she went on to say:

. . . I think that a clear objective of the legislation is to be clear about what is legal and what is not legal when it comes to cannabis. To move it out of criminal groups, out of that whole space, and to be clear that this is illegal for children and it is illegal to be promoting and selling cannabis in anyway to children. . .

I think she has put the three UN conventions in proper context at this point in time because it’s a changing situation. Even former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan was part of a commission at one point in time that suggested it needed to be decriminalized, that we needed to change all these rules. A very prominent blue ribbon committee, he was part of, suggested that needed to happen. These are old and some were based back decades ago.

The circumstances are changing. We see changes in different countries of the world. The fact that last year, when the narcotic commission was being appointed, Canada got re-elected in a contested situation when they knew that this bill was already in existence, indicates the UN does believe it is time to be able to make changes.

Secondly, much of the attention in the debate so far has been attached to the border with the United States, a very critical issue, of course. We already have adopted an amendment that is very similar to the one that Senator Housakos has put.

Last week, we adopted the report of the Social Affairs Committee. It had several recommendations, not amendments to the report but separate recommendations. Indeed, all of the recommendations on this very issue, either from Foreign Affairs or Defence and Security, were all recommendations to the government to do this or do that and to try to settle this or that issue with the United States. This is one we adopted:

Your committee supports the recommendation of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence to continue this dialogue —

I pause here to say, because we heard it from the officials, that dialogue is already under way. The recommendation continues:

. . . with the United States government, and calls on the federal government to present a plan in Parliament which will clarify and firmly communicate Canada’s position so as to minimize the impact on Bill C-45 on Canadian travellers.

It’s already there. It’s already part of the record, except for one difference: Senator Housakos is suggesting delay. Well, I understand that. I mean, he, together with his colleagues, opposed the bill. They opposed it on second reading and they are going to oppose it on third reading; so, yes, they want to find any means they can to delay it. But that is definitely not in the interest of health and safety, which is the original reason for reducing the crime element in all of this. It’s not in the interests of that to have a further delay.

Now, when the officials appeared before the Social Affairs Committee, the official from Global Affairs said U.S. federal law currently prohibits the importation, possession, production and distribution of cannabis even though it is legalized in certain U.S. states. He went on to say that the U.S. federal government has clarified they do not plan to change their approach at the border in the event that cannabis is legalized in Canada.

In fact, a Canada Border Services agent said that it would not be a primary question: Have you ever smoked cannabis? He said if somebody comes to the border and their clothes are reeking of it, yes, there will be questioning about that because of the possible intoxication of a person trying to gain entry into that country. But I’ll use more polite language and say I really think colleagues have gone overboard in their suggestions that this is going to suddenly create a problem for the 13 million people who travel from Canada into the United States every year.

I don’t see that as happening and I think they are already into discussions about this. We have passed a resolution that is very similar to the one that Senator Housakos is putting, so I would say that we do not need the amendment, and I will not support the amendment of Senator Housakos.

The Hon. the Speaker pro temporeSenator Eggleton, would you take a question?

Senator Eggleton: Yes.

Senator Housakos: Senator Eggleton, I don’t quite agree with the interpretation of the facts of Foreign Affairs as you put them forward. The Foreign Affairs Committee made a recommendation based on the evidence we heard. The recommendation, of course, that we made was nowhere near as rigid as it should be in protecting the interests of that strong relationship and the strategy we have of continuously thinning the border so we can continue to expand our commercial trade with the U. S.

I know that this current government and some of its supporters are not that preoccupied with those issues between Canada and the United States, but my question to you is: Are you going to ignore the testimony of the minister herself, who came before the committee and acknowledged that they had not taken steps in order to mitigate the potential conflicts that are going on based on the testimony that we heard from Canadian officials and the American officials that have made it crystal clear? They have said that regardless of the Canadian legislation, the American law stands as it is and they are going to enforce it in the most rigid of fashions at the border.

Senator Eggleton: We certainly heard from those same officials. We heard from numerous other witnesses, and you do hear that there are matters still to be resolved but that’s what is already under way. You said you wanted a plan; okay. We said in the recommendation that I just read a moment ago that, yes, there should be this plan, so we don’t need your amendment at all. It has already been adopted.

Senator Housakos: Senator Eggleton, I remember in the last campaign in 2015 this being a cornerstone of the Liberal Party’s platform. It’s 2018. You still have a reliable confidence this government will resolve the problem in the next 12 months when they couldn’t resolve it in the last three years? Please.

Senator Eggleton: Of course I understand that, coming from the official opposition, as you call yourselves. That is part of your role. You listen to whom you want to listen. We have heard enough evidence to indicate that the matter is in hand.