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Bill S-10: "Penalties for organized drug crime act"
Debate in the Senate -
May 13, 2010

Bill S-10 Senate transcripts: May 11 | May 12 | May 13 |

Bill to Amend – Debate at Second Reading

*emphasis added

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Wallace, seconded by the Honourable Senator Mockler, for the second reading of Bill S-10, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.

Senator NolinHon. Pierre Claude Nolin (Conservative Senator):
Honourable senators, I think it is important to go over a bit of history. Bill S-10 proposes to amend the CDSA, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That law was adopted by this chamber in 1996.

When we received the bill in 1995, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs took the bill and studied it for three months. We heard from a vast array of experts and witnesses. At one point, the chair of the committee, the Honourable Senator Carstairs, decided to have an in camera meeting to determine what the feeling was around the table on both sides. Much to her surprise, she discovered that everyone, on both sides, was against the bill, Liberals and Conservatives alike. I was not surprised as I was new in the chamber and curious, so I had talked with colleagues from both sides. I can talk about that in camera meeting now because it is almost public. During that in camera meeting we decided that it was not appropriate for the committee to vote down the bill because we did not have enough information to do so.

I recommend that honourable senators read our report. It was Bill C-8 at the time, so it would be easy to go into the records and find the document. It is a rather long report in which we explained our frustrations. We also explained why we did not have enough information to vote the bill down. We recommended a joint committee of both houses to examine the subject matter of drug policy in Canada outside the constraints of a bill such as timing and pushing by the government. Therefore, we decided to recommend the creation of a joint committee.

An election followed immediately. It was 1997. The government decided on an election, so we waited until early 1998, at which time we tried to canvass colleagues in the other place to try to find an appetite for such a joint committee. We found much appetite and interest in many colleagues from all parties, including the Reform Party. I will refrain from naming individuals because they are members of the government now. They told me at the time, "Go for it, but we do not want to be part of it. Maybe we should refrain from being part of it in the House of Commons, but why not do so yourself in the Senate?"

I decided to take the challenge and I proposed to my colleagues the creation of a special committee of the Senate to examine the issue. It lasted for two and a half years. We heard from almost 240 witnesses from all across the country and from foreign countries as well. We concluded that the public policy in Canada was not proper. We listened to speeches and read documentation from the then government, and from previous governments, who all elaborated on drug strategies. They made great speeches on substance abuse, but the real strategy was not elaborate.

The main strategy was the law, and the law was a failure. Why? For reference, we studied the year 1999. For young Canadians between the ages of 12 and 18 in that year, we discovered that 70 per cent of them had used cannabis at least once in their lives. That was quite shocking information because those were our grandchildren, sons, daughters or nephews; it was my children and everyone else's children. It was shocking information for my colleagues in the committee to discover.

We convinced ourselves that the best policy would be for any government, not only federal but provincial as well, to put their differences aside and try to find a public policy that would aim to reduce the harm caused by the abuse of those substances, as that was the real problem. The rest is history. That report is still a popular document of the Senate.

Without naming countries, I must tell you that I was invited to discuss the matter with various governments abroad. Some decided to take the appropriate steps to move in a different direction with their own public policy. I will refer to some of those changes later.

I am often asked why I decided to tackle that subject. At the time, in 1995, my eldest son was 15 years of age and my other son was 14. My concern was those two individuals. The media was becoming interested in the subject and the fact that senators were also interested in the subject was almost laughable. As a result, my sons were asking me questions and I was not able to give them any answers. I had many questions myself. That is why that special committee was very dear to me and became dear to all colleagues who sat on it. It was important.

[* comment: I hope Ben Harper is asking questions about drug policy to his dad?]

Senator Wallace gave us a clear explanation of the purpose of the bill, which is mainly to crack down on major traffickers and organized crime. The theory whereby we must deter small time traffickers and work our way up to major traffickers may look good on paper.

The theory was quite simple: If you looked after the various traffickers and if you are smart enough and have invested enough money in the police and enforcement, you will be able to climb up the ladder. That is the theory, but it does not work that way in reality.

The problem goes much deeper than that and the solution is much more complex. In reality, even if we incarcerate a trafficker, the drugs will still be available. We are simply creating a job for another trafficker.

Someone else will step in and take over the clientele of the jailed trafficker and will even go so far as to provide information to the police in order to take control of the market that is now available.

Unfortunately, this thriving market is responsible — and not just in Canada — for the majority of homicides, and controlling it is fundamentally different from controlling other markets. The participants in this trade, and this is why this market is so unique, cannot turn to the police or the courts when there are arrears on payments or a breach of contract. Everyone has to enforce their own laws in order to protect their rights, and therein lies the danger. It is survival of the fittest.

How can anyone believe that those targeted by the bill, the big traffickers and organized crime, will be deterred from continuing in the drug trade by minimum sentences? These people already accept the risk of being caught. Even worse, they know they could be killed by new competitors! Today, there are more drugs on the market than in the 1970s, even in proportion to the population.

Prohibition has left its mark. Banning a substance only raises its price. That is the very simple dynamic of this market. In order for you to fully understand this, I will give you a very simple example: Coca-Cola. Everyone is familiar with this product. Imagine for a moment, for the purposes of this demonstration, that it would be possible for us to ban it, that is, to ban the production, sale and, therefore, the trafficking of Coca-Cola in Canada. What would happen? Do you think that those who like Coca-Cola would stop drinking it? Not at all. They would try to find a supply of it to satisfy their needs. What would happen? A black market would emerge. Clients would not stop trying to obtain the product, which would probably be of a lower quality.

You can see where I am going. The problem is not the substance. When you listen to speeches, stop being blinded by worry. Ah, drugs! You picture heroin addicts lying on the ground. Yes, drugs are dangerous, and yes, drug use has horrible consequences, but do not cloud the issue. That is why it is so important that we be thorough in the work we are asked to do. Do not confuse the effects of the substances with the effects of prohibiting those substances.

I mentioned Coca-Cola, but the same thing could happen with tobacco. The same thing is happening with tobacco. Yesterday, Senator Segal talked about contraband tobacco. Prohibit a product and there will be a black market for that product, just as there will be people who are drawn to the profits from that black market. There will be people who want to replace those who are currently making a profit. And the law of the jungle will take hold of that market. The problem is not cigarettes, even though they are dangerous; it is not Coca-Cola, even though some studies show that it is hazardous to health, and it is not cannabis. Studies show that cannabis has a relatively minor impact on health

We need to face facts: the problem is not the substance; it is the prohibition of that substance.

A few weeks ago, I made a statement in which I talked about a landmark study that had just been released by two professors in British Columbia, Professors Wood and Kerr.

They reviewed all the analyses and all the reports, namely, 15 international studies examining the effect of prohibition on drugs and drug use and drug abuse. What was their conclusion? Prohibition does not work. Prohibition causes even more problems. That is an important point for the committee to look into.

Honourable senators, I told you about the 70 per cent of young Canadians between the ages of 12 and 18. Some of you may remember a movie released in 2007 called Traffic. For those who are curious about that business, I implore you to try to rent that movie, sit down with some popcorn, and watch it. You will be astonished to see how it works. Michael Douglas is good in that movie. He portrays the drug situation in the U.S., and he suddenly discovers that his own daughter is part of the network.
. . .

I am torn. I do not agree with the bill, not at all. Honourable senators, read the summary of my report and you will see why. However, I want both this chamber and the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to look at it.

Let us say that I am almighty and I am able to convince you to vote it down; it will not go to committee. I will not recommend that you vote for the bill, so I will abstain, for one reason: I want the committee to look at the bill.

Honourable senators, I am no longer part of that committee. However, I will tell you a secret: I asked not to be part of that committee. Let me give you some advice in the few minutes that I have remaining.

First, the Kerr-Wood report. Honourable senators heard from Professor Kerr when we were studying Bill C-15. You need to hear from both Professor Kerr and Professor Wood. You must bring them to Ottawa, because they will bring their research papers. They conducted interviews all over the world and came to a very important conclusion: prohibition does not work.

Honourable senators, I recommend that you read the Bill C-8 report. I think the committee should go back to what your ancestors did with the mother law in 1996. Senator Baker was in the other chamber at that time, so he will be able to convince himself again how thorough we can make a study of a bill.

Third, look into the New Zealand experiment. In 1998, the Government of New Zealand created a committee similar to the one we have here in the Senate. They came to the same conclusion.

We recommend that: based on the evidence received, the Government review the appropriateness of existing policy on cannabis and its use and reconsider the legal status of cannabis.
Inquiry into the Mental Health Effects of Cannabis Report

They changed their laws and adopted regulations for how to deal with substance abuse. I think honourable senators should look into the New Zealand experiment.

I recommend that honourable senators also examine also the California experiment. Many of you will know that, in California, there is a proposal to legalize cannabis for tax purposes. It would be interesting for the committee to hear from legislators from California. I do not think the legislators have a good reason; I think they are missing the point. There is a lot of money involved in that business, but it should be a health issue, not a fiscal issue.

Honourable senators, I think the committee should travel. Do not look into this important issue exclusively in Ottawa. Many Canadians are aware that such a bill is coming back and they are following our proceedings. It is important that honourable senators seek the interests and opinions of all Canadians, not just Canadians living in Ottawa. This subject is too important to focus on only one area of the country.

Honourable senators will discover that when we began our study in 1995, the support for a change in public policy, i.e., legalization or decriminalization, was roughly 35 per cent. Do you know what that number is today? It is 70 per cent. Ninety per cent of Canadians support the medical use of cannabis. One of the consequences of Bill S-10 is it will affect millions of Canadians who use cannabis daily for medical purposes. I do not, and probably you do not, want to affect them.

The minister [Rob Nicholson] told us in committee that it was not his aim, nor that of the government, to affect those people. That is why we have to consider the indirect consequences of such a bill.

I will abstain and suggest that the bill should be sent to committee.

(On motion of Senator Tardif, debate adjourned.)

The 2002 Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs presents their final report, entitled,
"Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy"
(Senator Pierre Claude Nolin was the chair of the committee )

Bill C-8 - Eleventh Report - June 13, 1996
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

RECOMMENDATIONS: Joint Review of Canada's Drug Policies

WHEREAS the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health has undertaken to review Canada's drug laws and policies this fall;

AND WHEREAS this review is in response to calls for an independent, open, objective, non-partisan reassessment of Canada's drug laws and policies;

AND WHEREAS the Senate may considered conducting a parallel, independent review of Canada's drug laws and policies;

THE Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs strongly urges that a Joint Senate and House of Commons Committee be struck to review all of Canada's existing drug laws, and policies and programs.

Without restricting its mandate, this Joint Committee should be authorized to:

  • Reassess Government's approach to dealing with illicit drug use in Canada, its effectiveness in curtailing drug use, and its fairness of application;
  • Develop a national harm-reduction policy to minimize the negative consequences associated with illicit drug use in Canada; and recommend how such a harm-reduction policy would be implemented, including viewing drug use and abuse as primarily a health and social policy issue;
  • Study harm-reduction models adopted by other countries (treatment and alternative programs for illicit drug use); consider whether such programs should be implemented in whole or in part in Canada;
  • Examine Canada's role and international obligations under the United Nations drug conventions to determine whether alternative measures to prosecution and punishment are possible under the conventions;
  • and if not, consider whether Canada should seek an amendment to the United Nations drug conventions which would allow alternative harm-reduction measures to permit signatory parties to comply;
  • Revisit the LeDain Commission's findings and recommendations and determine what further action is needed;
  • Explore the health effects of cannabis use; consider whether the decriminalization of cannabis would lead to increased use and abuse, both in the short- and long-term;
  • Explore using the Government's regulatory power under the Contraventions Act as an additional tool to implement a harm-reduction policy.

In addition, the Joint Committee should undertake intensive public consultations to determine the needs of different jurisdictions across Canada, including large urban centres where the societal problems associated with the illicit drug trade are more visible. The goal should be to devise a made-in-Canada drug strategy where all levels of government work effectively together to reduce the harm associated with the use of illicit and legal drugs.

Related Links:

Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy objections to Bill C-8 (1996)

The International Journal of Drug Policy, VOL 7, NO 3,1996
Canada's New Drug Law: Some Implications For HIV/AIDS Prevention In Canada
Diane Riley and Eugene Oscapella, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

Bill S-10 Senate transcripts: May 11 | May 12 | May 13 |
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