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Calling the Tories Out on Bill C-15 – “The Politics of Fear”

By admin | November 3, 2009

“When questioned by New Democratic MP Libby Davies at the committee, Nicholson refused to provide two vital pieces of information: What evidence is there that this law will reduce crime? How much will it cost?

Canadians ought to be given these answers. Instead, Nicholson told the committee: “We are absolutely convinced in our consultation with Canadians that this is welcomed.” In other words, the government did a poll on the bill. As Davies rightly noted, “this bill is not about crime; it is about politics.”

Of course, in a minority Parliament, the opposition parties could kill this initiative. But while the New Democrats and the Bloc Québécois have voiced strong opposition to Bill C-15, the Liberals have indicated they will support it when it comes back to the Commons for third reading.

Why? Not because they think it is sound policy; they acknowledge in private that it is not. Rather, the Liberals do not want to give the Conservatives an opening to accuse them of being “soft” on crime. This is craven politics at its worst.” - From “‘Tough’ drug bill all about politics”

“Since the Canadian government justifies this criminalization, in part, as a means of protecting our youth, we are standing up and saying, ‘not in our name.’” ~ Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Retired Quebec judge John Gomery says the Harper government’s plan to create mandatory minimum jail terms for drug crimes is a “slap in the face” to judges and suggests the Conservatives don’t trust them to craft appropriate sentences for individual cases.
~ “Judges resent ‘implied criticism’ of mandatory minimum sentences: Gomery

About 73% of federal dollars on drug policy in Canada go toward enforcement. Only 2.6% goes to prevention, only 2.6% goes to harm reduction and about 14% to treatment. That is a very uneven balance. ~ MP Libby Davies

The Conservative government is slandering Liberal Senators in the House of Commons regarding Bill C-15. In reality, the Senate Committee is giving the extremely flawed bill a through investigation. Isn’t that their duty? Don’t Canadians deserve sober second thought about what will become the laws of our land? Do the Tories not appreciate that you can’t hastily blaze through democratic process?

“Senators are entrusted to uphold the foundation of our democratic system, based on a respect for minority rights. The Senate provides a voice for those who are overlooked, those who struggle to be heard, and those who are inclined to remain silent. This is a privilege we take seriously and we strive to accomplish great things in our role as Liberal senators.”
~ Liberal Senate

On the Canadian Department of Justice website their mandate states:

The Mission of the Department of Justice is to:

  • support the Minister of Justice in working to ensure that Canada is a just and law-abiding society with an accessible, efficient and fair system of justice;
  • provide high-quality legal services and counsel to the government and to client departments and agencies; and
  • promote respect for rights and freedoms, the law and the Constitution.

Integrity and fairness

As public servants supporting the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, we are committed to respecting and obeying the law and upholding the highest standards of integrity and fairness.

“Respect for rights and freedoms, the law and the Constitution….. upholding the highest standards of integrity and fairness….” The Conservatives seem to be ignoring the Department of Justice Mandate, because they have certainly ignored the rights of Canadians (fair and proportionate sentencing), is attempting to further steal freedom and personal autonomy (security of the person, which consists of rights to privacy of the body and its health and of the right protecting the “psychological integrity” of an individual. That is, the right protects against significant government-inflicted harm to the mental state of the individual. (Blencoe v. B.C. (Human Rights Commission), 2000) and have definitely not shown an ounce of integrity or fairness as they continue to provide no evidence to support the intended purpose of Bill C-15 – which is to reduce crime, recidivism, drug dependence, and make Canadian communities safer.

The Conservatives are blatantly playing “The Fear Card” which would surely make Harry J. Anslinger proud. In Canadian politics the fear-appeal is becoming increasingly rampant and widespread. I ask you to remember the following: whenever you hear any person in a position of legislative power and that person (or party) agitates the public’s fear of crime and proposes that supporting a bill will reduce the perceived threat, he or she may be using this tactic as a means to induce fear and to imply that other people or parties are not concerned with crime and community safety. When confronted with persuasive messages that capitalize on our fear, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

* How legitimate is the fear that the speaker is provoking?
* Do they present facts and evidence to support their claims?
* Will performing the recommended action actually reduce the supposed threat?
* Is the speaker exaggerating the fear or threat in order to obtain my support? (“profit from propaganda”)

In the Tory version of events, they profess the Liberal Senators are stalling and “gutting” the bill . But let’s take a closer look at the facts, shall we? I know it is a lot of information, but if politicians are going to table bills I believe that they must be honest with Canadians and supply truthful evidence. If they don’t they should be prepared to be “Called Out” (v. To announce to someone that one knows the others lies, deceit, intentions or misinformation.) on their lack of proof and give more than a “Because some Canadians told us” defense.

Previous to reaching the Senate, of the 16 experts called to testify on Bill C-15 at the Standing Committee of Justice and Human Rights, 13 called for the outright dismissal of the bill. Critics of the bill say evidence overwhelmingly shows mandatory minimums simply don’t work, can be extremely expensive to enforce, and cause more harm than good.

From the article “Ottawa embarking on its own war on drugs” June 12, 2009:

MPs approved the bill without any empirical evidence that harsh sentencing laws reduce drug crime. They endorsed the policy without any estimate of how much it will cost to jail thousands of marijuana growers and street pushers…. They changed the law without any plan to contain the spread of AIDS, hepatitis C and other drug-related diseases in the prison system.

The Liberals dared not look soft on crime. The New Democrats and Bloc Québécois were outnumbered.

It was a classic case of polls trumping facts.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson admitted as much last month when he appeared before the Commons justice committee. Challenged to provide proof from any country in the world that mandatory jail time deters drug use or improves public safety, he responded: “I can tell you, there is support for this bill from many ordinary Canadians who are quite concerned about drug abuse.”

He was asked for concrete information and he provided none: no research documenting the benefits of harsh drug sentencing laws, no jurisdiction where they’d cut crime. (I’d like to add that contrary to the fact that the Conservatives are trying to scare Canadians that something urgently needs to be done to deal with soaring rates of both violent and property crime, our streets are safer today than 20 years ago. Violent crime has been generally dropping for years, and was lower in 2007 than at any time in two decades. The same goes for property crimes — the recent rate is more than 40% below a peak in 1991.)

House of Commons, Wed 1 Apr 2009

Speech: Ms. Megan Leslie (Halifax, NDP):

“The bill is based on a deterrence theory of punishment for which there is no evidence. In their article called “Sentence Severity and Crime: Accepting the Null Hypothesis”, Anthony N. Doob and Cheryl Webster concluded that 25 years worth of research, sometimes in ideal conditions, had shown that there was no support for the idea that harsher sentences reduce crime. They also point out that:Deterrence-based sentencing makes false promises to the community. As long as the public believes that crime can be deterred by legislatures or judges through harsh sentences, there is no need to consider other approaches to crime reduction.

In other words, adding a harsher sentence is pretending to do something instead of actually doing something. The bill makes a false promise, to use their words. This approach is not smart on crime.

While mandatory minimums do not work, we do know what does work, and that is the four pillars: prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. Each pillar is equally important and they must be integrated and jointly implemented to be effective.

Sadly, we are not following the four pillars approach in Canada. In fact, we are doing the opposite. Listen to these numbers. Canada spends 73% of its drug policy budget on enforcement, 14% on treatment, 2.6% on prevention and 2.6% on harm reduction. These pillars clearly are not integrated and jointly implemented. They are clearly not even being valued equally by the government. We have a government that is solely focused on enforcement, which is only one piece of the solution. As a result, drug use continues to rise.

In 1994, 28% of Canadians reported to have used illicit drugs, but by 2004, this number was 45%, almost double….This is what happens when a government is not smart on crime.” (Read the whole speech here)

“Rob Nicholson has ignored the preponderance of scientific evidence and international experience, and now he is ignoring the Constitution”, said Kirk Tousaw, Executive Director of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation. “C-15 has profound implications for our criminal justice system and provincial budgets, the Senate has a constitutional obligation to study the implications of this bill, especially considering that the Conservatives did not.”

From “Stupid Is As Stupid Does“: “the government plans to increase the size, and budget for federal penitentiaries in order to accommodate the influx of prisoners resulting from the new crime bills. The annual budget for prisons has grown from $88.5-million in 2006-07 to $195.1-million this year. And is projected to reach $211.6-million in 2010-11.


“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren’t enough criminals,
one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”
- Ayn Rand


So the Conservatives are intent to supply more “criminals” to fill all the new prisons they plan to build, and the only “evidence”, which they failed to produce after repeated requests, is Canadians (all of us?) supposedly asked for Bill C-15. That’s it. Gee, reminds me of when Cannabis was first made illegal in Canada: “Early drug legislation was largely based on a moral panic, racist sentiment and a notorious absence of debate” ~ The 2002 Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs

Saying no to Bill C-15 today in the House of Commons

Excerpts from Libby Davies speech in the House

House of Commons
March 27, 2009

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be up first on this Friday morning to speak to Bill C-15, which is mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes and amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I represent the riding of Vancouver East and, as many people know, it is a riding that has been hit very hard with the seriousness of drug issues. For a number of years when I was first elected that the number of overdoses in the downtown east side was the leading cause of death. It was horribly alarming. It was the number one public health issue where people were dying needlessly, though these are preventable deaths, from drug overdoses because of prohibition and because of the illegal drug market, the black market, where people were buying things on the street and they do not know what they were. The level of overdoses was just horrific, and the chaos, the pain and the suffering that was caused in the downtown east side.

That still goes on today to some extent, but over the last 10 years, because of enormous efforts by the community and indeed right across Canada, particularly by drug users themselves who began to speak out about their own experience, the situation began to change.

It is very easy in our society to vilify and demonize drug users. It is very easy to label people as “criminals” and to label a drug user as a trafficker. In fact, under the law, even passing a joint to someone would be characterized as trafficking.

Not only are we trying to overcome the severe health and safety impact in terms of drug use in the downtown east side, but we’re also trying to deal with the terrible stigma and stereotyping that surrounds drug users.

The fact is that drug use exists at all levels of society. There are lawyers, professionals, engineers and all kinds of people who use drugs, whether medical or non-medical. If it is a prescription, that might be a substance use problem as well, whether a person gets it from a doctor or gets it on the street. It may be that a person is using drugs for recreational purposes, maybe marijuana.

It exists at all levels of society, but it is very much a class issue, because the enforcement regime that we have in this country, similar to the United States, is very much leveled at visible drug use on the street, basically people who are poor, people who are facing that stigma and often people facing challenges of mental health.

It is very much an issue that pertains to the poorest in our society who are involved in drug use and the enforcement, primarily in this country, as in the United States, has been leveled at those people.

About 73% of federal dollars on drug policy in Canada go toward enforcement. Only 2.6% goes to prevention, only 2.6% goes to harm reduction and about 14% to treatment. That is a very uneven balance.

For example, when the Auditor General audited drug policy in this country a few years ago, she remarked upon this and posed a question: What was the impact? What was the value? What were we getting for such a high emphasis on an enforcement and interdiction regime when drug use is actually going up in Canada?

It might interest people to know that in 1994, 28% of Canadians reported having used illicit drugs, but by 2004 that number was at 45%. Certainly, the policies we have had that have been so focused on the criminal regime and the criminalization of drug users have been completely ineffective. We only have to look south of the border, where the so-called war on drugs has unleashed billions and billions of dollars and where we see massive numbers of people incarcerated, to see what a failure it is.

Canada did have what was called the four-pillar approach, which was enforcement, harm reduction, prevention and treatment. That was adopted under a previous government. There was always an imbalance and an overemphasis on enforcement, but at least that four-pillar approach was there. I have to say that it actually began in Vancouver as a grassroots, bottom-up approach and then spread across the country.

This bill would take a radical departure from that four-pillar approach by emphasizing the enforcement regime even more, taking it to some greater lengths by bringing in a regime of mandatory minimum sentencing. I think this is a huge mistake. There is no question that it is the core of the Conservative government’s agenda around crime. It is about the political optics. I have called it the politics of fear. People are concerned about drug use and crime in their communities. They are particularly concerned about young people being involved in using drugs. However, this bill will not deal with that. This bill will not change that situation. In fact, the evidence from both Canada and the United States shows us that the opposite will happen. It will only make the situation worse.

I want to note in the record that a Department of Justice study in 2002 concluded that mandatory minimum sentences are the least effective in relation to drug offenses. The report said:

Mandatory minimum sentences do not appear to influence drug consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable way. A variety of research methods concludes that treatment-based approaches are more cost effective than lengthy prison terms. MMS are blunt instruments that fail to distinguish between low and high-level, as well as hardcore versus transient drug dealers.

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.

We will also see situations where people are more likely to plead not guilty because they know that they will be facing a mandatory minimum.

This idea that we are going up to the kingpins just does not play out, because those are the individuals who are in the best position to negotiate with prosecution officials and so on. Again history has shown us that with enforcement, the easy pickings are basically people who are low-level dealers. They are often users themselves. This bill will be so punitive in terms of individual people, but the worst thing is it will not change the outcome.

In speaking to the bill, I feel this is a critical point: are we going to go down this path where we say that tougher laws and enforcement are going to solve drug issues in local communities?

The Conservative members have clearly said that. I am very interested to see what the Liberal caucus does with this bill. I hope that we can defeat it. I hope we can say it is not the right way to go. The NDP does not think the bill should go through. It is not based on good public policy. It is going to be harmful and expensive. 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. For more of my speech go to

Interestingly, right on the Canadian Department of Justice website I find the report: “Mandatory Sentences of Imprisonment in Common Law Jurisdictions: Some Representative Models” by Julian V. Roberts With the assistance of Rafal Morek and Mihael Cole. Report prepared for the Department of Justice Canada © GOVERNMENT OF CANADA, 2006-11-09

Highlights from the 55 page report include:

The judiciary in Canada and elsewhere are opposed to mandatory sentences of imprisonment. The Canadian Sentencing Commission (1987) found in their survey of judges that slightly over half felt that minimum sentences impinged on their ability to impose a just sentence and that inappropriate agreement between defense and Crown counsel may result.

The future of mandatory minimum sentences in Canada remains unclear. There is some
indication that minimum sentences are not an effective sentencing tool: that is, they constrain judicial discretion without offering any increased crime prevention benefits. Nevertheless, mandatory sentences remain popular with some Canadian politicians.

Where mandatory sentences do exist, they have been the object of considerable (and
growing) opposition from a variety of parties, including advocacy groups, judges,
academics and criminal justice professionals. This opposition has led to a number of
Bills to amend or repeal the mandatory sentences legislation. While a number of
countries have passed mandatory sentencing legislation within the last decade, there
is evidence that jurisdictions with the most severe mandatory sentencing laws are
beginning to repeal, or consider repealing, the most punitive sentences of

Trends in Mandatory Sentencing Legislation – After a decade in which a number of common law countries enacted mandatory sentencing legislation, there is clear evidence that several jurisdictions are now either repealing or amending these punitive laws. For example, in 2002 the Michigan mandatory sentencing laws were significantly amended. The effects of these amendments include the following:

• elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing for certain controlled substance
• creation of provisions that permit courts to consider important mitigating factors; and
• revision of the quantities of drug that trigger certain sentences.

This movement towards a more flexible, judge-determined sentencing scheme is a result of several factors with international repercussions including:

• a shift in public opinion away from supporting strict mandatory minimum sentencing
(see above);
• the impact of Advocacy groups such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Foundation (FAMM);
• growing public disenchantment with the “War on Drugs” that initially triggered many of the most punitive mandatory sentencing laws (see Eagleton Institute of Politics Center for Public Interest Polling, 2004);
• news media coverage of “three-strikes” cases in which offenders whose “third strike” consisted of a less serious felony and stories of offenders receiving lengthy prison terms for offenses such as stealing a bicycle from a garage have undermined public support for this kind of sentencing; and
• growing concern among criminal justice professionals that mandatory sentences have
played an important role in keeping prison populations from declining, even in an era of falling crime rates.

Mandatory Sentencing and Public Opinion – Although this report deals only with the statutory regimes with respect to mandatory sentences of imprisonment, it is worth noting that there is evidence from a number of jurisdictions that public support for mandatory sentencing has declined over the past decade. Mandatory sentences of imprisonment represent the most punitive sentencing reforms of recent years and are found in many western nations. Often justified by reference to public opinion, they have proved highly controversial in practice. Where do members of the public stand with respect to the issue? Few studies have addressed public knowledge of statutory minimum penalties; fortunately, the surveys that exist on this issue have generated the same findings: the general public has little knowledge of the offenses that carry a mandatory minimum penalty, or of the magnitude of the statutory minima. For example, in 1998, members of the public responding to the British Crime Survey (BCS) were asked if they were aware of the mandatory minimum prison term of three years for offenders convicted of burglary (see Roberts, 2003).

Even though this mandatory sentence had been the object of considerable media attention, less than one quarter of the sample responded affirmatively. This finding is consistent with earlier research in Canada that found that very few members of the public had any idea which offenses carried a mandatory sentence (Roberts, 1988 – It should not be surprising that public knowledge of mandatory sentences is poor. Opinion surveys conducted in several jurisdictions have shown that the public knows little about maximum sentences, sentencing options, alternatives to imprisonment, sentencing patterns, recidivism rates, or many other elements of the sentencing process (see Roberts and Hough, 2005, for a review). For example, respondents may overlook the fact that mandatory sentences of imprisonment violate important sentencing principles such as proportionality in sentencing. In addition, mandatory sentences of imprisonment may prove expensive by increasing the costs of the correctional system as more offenders are admitted to custody (and for longer periods of time).)

There is clear evidence that even in the United States, where support is stronger for mandatory sentences, public support for the concept is declining. For example, in 1995 over half of the sampled public in the US held the view that mandatory sentences were a good idea (Roberts, 2003). In 2001, this percentage had declined to slightly more than one-third of respondents (Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 2002; Roberts, 2003). In fact, over half the polled public in the US now favour the elimination of “three-strikes” mandatory sentences (Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 2002). The most recent polling on the issue of mandatory sentencing comes from the state of New Jersey. When asked whether mandatory jail or mandatory drug treatment was the more effective approach to non-violent offenders, respondents chose treatment over imprisonment by a three to one ratio (Eagleton Institute of Politics Center for Public Interest Polling, 2004). Three-quarters of the sample favoured allowing judges to set aside mandatory sentences “if another sentence would be more appropriate” (Eagleton Institute of Politics Center for Public Interest Polling, 2004).

The Future of Mandatory Sentencing – It would be overstating the case to say that the pendulum has swung away from mandatory sentencing to a model of sentencing that privileges judicial discretion. However, it is clear that public and legislative interest in mandatory sentencing laws has declined, and is likely to continue to decline in the near future. Although the public supports tough sentencing measures for violent offenders, the experience with mandatory sentencing legislation in a number of countries has shown that these laws do little to promote public confidence in the sentencing process.

This report has demonstrated that while mandatory sentences of imprisonment proved popular in the 1990s across a number of common law jurisdictions, closer examination of the laws reveals that many countries allow courts the discretion to sentence below the minimum when exceptional circumstances exist. This usually means that courts are permitted to consider mitigating factors relating to the offense or the offender, in some cases, as long as the judge provides written reasons for doing so. In addition, while the general public appears to favour the use of mandatory sentences for offenders convicted of the *most serious offenses and repeat offenders, there are important limits on public support for strict mandatory sentencing laws. When the public is provided with more information regarding the law and the circumstances surrounding the offense and the offender, the tendency is not to favour punitive sanctions such as mandatory minimum sentences.

*most serious offenses ~ s. 718.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada states: “sentences should be proportionate to the offense and reflect the degree of responsibility of the offender.” I already predict a Constitutional Challenge of Bill C-15 the first time someone is charged with “Production and Trafficking” for a backyard garden of 5 cannabis plants, or an 18 year old is sentenced to 2 years in jail for passing a joint (trafficking) to their 17 year old friend close to a school.

Another report on the Canadian Department of Justice Website is:
Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures

Thomas Gabor, Professor
Department of Criminology
University of Ottawa
Nicole Crutcher
Carleton University
Research and
Statistics Division

An excerpt from section 5.4 Mandatory Sentences for Drug Offenses states:

Some of the most sophisticated research in this area has
been undertaken at the Rand Corporation (Caulkins et
al., 1997). Through various mathematical models, Rand
researchers compared the cost effectiveness of various
drug prevention/control strategies, including lengthy
MMS. Their analysis considered the cost of each
strategy and the expected yield in terms of both drug
consumption and crime reductions. Their conclusion
was that conventional sentences imposed on dealers are
more cost effective than long MMS reserved for fewer
offenders and that treating heavy users is more cost
effective than either approach in lowering drug use or
drug-related crime. MMS were found to be the most
cost effective strategy only in the case of the highest level
dealers; however, the low thresholds at which MMS
tend to kick in means that these laws are more likely to
ensnare low-level offenders. Also, high-level dealers are
more likely to avoid MMS, as they are in a better position
to have information to trade for an exemption from
these penalties. Finally, these investigators note that the
time horizon of evaluations is critical, as MMS become
less cost effective over time.

Hansen (1999) asserts that the tide is turning against
MMS for drug infractions. He notes that they have done
little to reduce crime or to put large-scale dealers out of
business. Rather, they have filled prisons with young.
low-level, non-violent individuals at great cost to
taxpayers. Hansen points out that, in Massachusetts,
84% of inmates serving mandatory drug sentences are
first-time offenders.

…MMS fail to discriminate between these hardcore drug
dealers and those who feel compelled to sell due to an
addiction or difficulties encountered in participating
steadily in the work force. The implication is that
employment opportunities, more accessible drug
treatment, and alternative sentences would be
preferable to the “iron fist of the war on drugs.”

Harsh MMS and the “drug war” approach in general
show little effect in relation to drug offense. Judges
routinely circumvent the “mandatory” death sentences
for drug trafficking in Malaysia and the tough MMS in
the US have imprisoned mostly low-level, nonviolent
offenders. MMS do not appear to influence drug
consumption or drug-related crime in any measurable
way. A variety of research methods concludes that
treatment-based approaches are more cost effective
than lengthy prison terms. MMS are blunt instruments
that fail to distinguish between low and high-level, as
well as hardcore versus transient drug dealers.
Optimally, it would appear that tough sentences should
be reserved for hardcore, high-level dealers, while
treatment may be more appropriate for addicted dealers
and employment opportunities may be more cost
effective in relation to part-time dealers who are

Conclusion: 9.5 Mandatory Sentences for Drug Offenses

Severe MMS seem to be least effective in relation to drug
offenses. Studies using a variety of methodologies
seriously question the value of the “drug war” approach.
The draconian penalties in Malaysia are routinely
circumvented by the judiciary and the tough MMS in the
US (both at the state and federal levels) have imprisoned
mostly low-level, nonviolent offenders. Drug
consumption and drug-related crime seem to be
unaffected, in any measurable way, by severe MMS.
Both mathematical modeling techniques and field work
arrive at the conclusion that treatment-oriented
approaches are more cost effective than harsh prison

9.9 Concluding Remarks

From a utilitarian point of view,
incarcerating occasional, non-violent offenders, for
substantial periods, constitutes a colossal waste of
justice system resources.

…Therefore, MMS should not be
introduced merely to placate a political constituency or
without regard to a thorough understanding of the
infractions or offenders for whom they are intended.

Also skipped over by the Conservatives, from an earlier post of mine: Unleash the Lawyers:

“The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) opposes the passage of Bill C-15, amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, because it would create a complicated system of escalating mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses that would not be an effective deterrent to crime.“The CBA suggests that public safety concerns can be met with existing laws,” explains Sarah Inness of Winnipeg, member of the CBA’s National Criminal Justice Section. “The Bill could create unjust and disproportionate sentences and ultimately would not achieve its intended goal of greater public safety.”

“As lawyers in criminal courts across the country every day, we know that major drug offences are treated very seriously by the courts,” notes the CBA submission. “Judges have effective guidance from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code to determine a fit sentence for the individual offender given the circumstances of the offence.”

“Crown prosecutors highlight relevant aggravating factors to judges. Judges can give those factors appropriate weight in determining if and when incarceration ought to be imposed, and the length and venue of such a sentence.”

The CBA notes that some offenders are good candidates for rehabilitation. “Minimum mandatory sentences will result in offenders who could have been rehabilitated remaining incarcerated long after their detention acts as either a deterrent, is required for public safety, or promotes rehabilitative goals.”

The Bill would reduce the number of guilty pleas, lead to more trials and more delays, and require additional resources to prosecute and incarcerate more offenders, according to the submission.”

This group of professionals who are directly affected by the fallout of Bill C-15 state:

“The CBA has consistently opposed mandatory minimum sentences for the following reasons:

  • They do not advance the goal of deterrence.
  • They do not target the most egregious or dangerous offenders.
  • The have a disproportionate impact on those minority groups who already suffer from poverty and deprivation.
  • They subvert important aspects of Canada’s sentencing regime, including principles of proportionality and individualization and reliance on judges to impose a just sentence after hearing all the facts in the individual case.” ~

Further proof of the flawed bill:

Minimum mandatory sentences mimic ineffective U.S. model

OTTAWA, April 24, 2009 — Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) and
the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network are calling attention to the fact that legislation currently before Parliament will fall short of its intended purpose. Bill C-15, An Act to Amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, imposes mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses but will fail to protect youth or decrease drug use — the very goals it seeks to address.

“Bill C-15 is being touted in part as a tool to protect youth and decrease drug use,” says Tara Lyons, Executive Director of CSSDP. “But evidence shows mandatory minimum sentences don’t accomplish these goals.” Her organization is concerned by the possibility Canada will see a marked increase in the number of young people imprisoned as a result of mandatory minimum sentences because this occurred in the United States. “Since the Canadian government justifies this criminalization, in part, as a means of protecting our youth, we are standing up and saying, ‘not in our name.’”

“Bill C-15 is bad public policy,” says Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “Furthermore, we see that the United States is now
reconsidering mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses because they don’t work.
Not only do they not work, they are bad for individual and public health because they lead to the imprisonment of yet more people with addictions. In prisons, they face higher risks from drug use because prison officials fail to implement needed HIV prevention measures, despite acknowledging the reality of drug use inside and the fact that many prisoners have addictions.” Read Bill C-15: Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses
An open letter to the federal Ministers of Justice and Health, here. Take note of the numerous cosigners opposed to this bill.

FYI: The Drug Treatment Court Program operates (as of June 2009) in only six cities and so will not be available to large numbers of offenders.

Craig Jones from the John Howard Society, Richard Eliot from the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and Tara Lyons from the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy speak about some of the insidious consequences of the Conservative’s Bill C-15 that is currently at the Justice Committee for some much needed revisions.

From the Center of Addiction and Mental Health: CAMH submission on Bill C-15 excerpt:

CAMH believes that mandatory minimum sentences are not an effective response to illegal substance use in Canada and encourages the Committee to reconsider this approach.

Lessons from the United States – Canada only has to look to the United States to examine the effects of mandatory minimums on the state and federal criminal justice and corrections systems. In the 1980s state and the federal governments in the United States established minimum penalties including lengthy prison sentences for even small possession charges for federal drug offences. Research over the last 20 years in the US has shown that the prevalence of substance use has not decreased, and that the main effect these policies have had is to significantly increase the public cost of the criminal justice system and importantly, the size of the prison population throughout the US (Gabor and Crutcher). From 1980 to 1995 the number of people imprisoned for drug law violations in state and federal prisons increased by 700%; from 51,950 to 388,000. This increase is attributed to harsher enforcement policies and mandatory minimum sentences (Drucker). As well state spending on corrections increased from $12 billion in 1987 to $49 billion in 2007, and federal spending increased from $541 million in 1982 to $5.5 billion in 2003 an increase of 925% (Pew Center on the States and Hughes).Recently, several states have recognized that the policies of harsher sentences and continued incarceration of drug offenders have not been effective and have begun to implement policies that address the ever growing prison populations. For example, Texas, which saw a 300% increase in its prison population from 1985 to 2005, has recently expanded the drug treatment system as an alternative to incarceration (Pew Center on the States). Similarly, New York has also decided to repeal its mandatory minimums for drug offences and replace them with increased drug treatment and drug court programs (Peters). As the United States moves towards repealing mandatory minimums because of the crushing financial burden they impose, we urge the federal government not to take Canada down this path.

Aboriginal Population – CAMH is also concerned about the potential negative effect of mandatory minimum sentences on Canada’s Aboriginal population, who are already disproportionately represented in Canada’s prisons. Aboriginal people continue to have high levels of representation in custody. According to the 2006 Census, Aboriginal people represented 4% of the adult population in Canada, yet they accounted for 24% of adult admissions to provincial/ territorial custody, 19% of admissions to remand and 18% of admissions to federal custody (Landry and Sinha). Aboriginal peoples are also over represented in the substance using populations and require special efforts by government to address the social and economic determinants of addiction; the documented rate of illicit drug use among First Nations alone (7.3%) is more than double the rate of the general Canadian population (3.0%). Other research suggests that prescription abuse could be on the rise and requires further study (Dell and Lyons). CAMH is encouraged by the announcements of new funding for Aboriginal treatment services, but has concerns that mandatory minimum sentences may exacerbate the individual and community difficulties faced by Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.


RE: BILL C-15 …. As a result of the foregoing, the CCLA believes that there is no place for mandatory minimum sentences in Canadian law, and particularly in Canada’s drug strategy.
Accordingly, the CCLA recommends that all mandatory minimum sentences be
excised from Bill C-15.

This letter was sent to Canadian Senators to voice objection to Bill C-15 on behalf of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council(WRCPC).

July 20, 2009
Dear Honourable Senators,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council (WRCPC). Our Council’s mandate is to advise, recommend and stimulate actions which reduce and prevent crime, victimization and fear of crime. As part of this mandate we review the impact of legislation on our local community, residents and its organizations. It is at the local level that crime and victimization and fear of crime are most acutely felt.

At our regular monthly meeting in June 2009 the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council discussed Bill C-15, which seeks to impose mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses. We understand that Bill C-15 has passed third reading and is now before the Senate — a time when all Senators have the opportunity to officially express their views on this issue.

Upon an in-depth review of the evidence the WRCPC unanimously voted to not support Bill C-15. The most important element in that decision was that mandatory minimum sentences take away discretionary judicial power which is the cornerstone of the Canadian justice system. Judges are the most qualified people in the criminal justice system to impose consequences for a crime committed while keeping in mind the circumstances in which the crime occurred, the appropriate measures of
retribution and the goal of rehabilitation. Bill C-15 seeks to prohibit Judges from using their expert knowledge to assess each case on an individual basis to determine the most suitable sentence.

Crime is a complex issue and one shoe simply does not fit all.

Many mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are currently being repealed or decreased in the United States as it has been proven that these laws do not reduce crime and especially not drug crimes. In fact, the experiences of the Unites States have shown that their correctional facilities are overflowing with young, non-violent, low-level offenders and that such overuse and misuse of incarceration comes at a formidable expense to the American public each day. We urge you to reconsider Bill C-15 in the light of good evidence, public expense and the judicial principles that are the underpinning of Canadian justice.

We urge you to keep discretion in the hands of the most qualified professionals in the criminal justice system to ensure that drug offences are dealt with in a just manner and with a view to prevention.

When the Horner Commission released its statement in 1993 that crime prevention in Canada deserves a chance it was not a statement about being soft on crime but a statement about needing to turn Canada’s attention to prevention beyond jails.

Communities across the country have done so and we count ours among the leaders in this regard. All Canadians wish for and deserve to live in a peaceful and safe society. We all want justice to prevail. We share that goal across all party lines. The challenge lies in balancing safety and justice in a way that is rooted in good evidence. The WRCPC believes that mandatory minimum sentences go against sound reasoning and will not accomplish what they set out to do. The smart thing is to
invest in prevention while keeping the application of justice out of political debates and in the courthouses where it belongs.

Thank you for your attention and we wish you the best in your complex and important deliberations.

John P. Shewchuk
Chair, Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

I’d like to end with the personal story of Mr. Philippe Lucas. While all the above mentioned statistical research and empirical evidence is crucial, we must not forget this bill is going to affect the lives of Canadians.

Presentation to the House of Commons Justice Committee on Bill C-15

Hello, My name is Philippe Lucas, and I’m the founder and Executive Director of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, a graduate research fellow with the Center for Addictions Research of British Columbia, and a Victoria City Councilor. I’m also one of about 3000 Canadians authorized by the federal government to use cannabis for medical purposes.My use of medical cannabis began in 1995 while I was studying to become a high school teacher at the University of Victoria. After a routine medical examination suggested high liver functions, my physician conducted a test for hepatitis C which came back positive. It turns out that as a result of an operation in Ontario 13 years earlier, I had become a victim of Canada’s tainted blood supply.

Medical cannabis alleviates the nausea, loss of appetite and localized pain that often accompany hepatitis C. However, finding a safe and consistent supply has been a challenge for many Canadians, so in 1999 I left a career in education to open the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, a non-profit medical cannabis research, distribution, and advocacy center located in Victoria B.C.

In late 2000, about 14 months after the VICS first opened its doors, we had a break-in that led to my arrest and prosecution. I was charged with three counts of trafficking for the distribution of cannabis, and although the VICS re-opened within 10 days, I spent the next two years in court fighting for the rights of sick and suffering Canadians. After hearing how the VICS had positively impacted the lives of its members, Provincial Judge Higginbotham granted me an absolute discharge, praising the work being done at the organization and citing that – and I quote – “Mr. Lucas enhanced other peoples lives at minimal or no risk to society, although he did it outside any legal framework. He provided that which the Government was unable to provide a safe and high quality supply of marijuana to those needing it for medicinal purposes.” End of quote.

Since that happy day in the summer of 2002, I’ve begun a Master’s degree at UVic, I’ve gotten married and started a family, and last November I was elected to Victoria City Council and as a Director to the Capital Regional District. Additionally, the VICS has gone from a small dispensary on the Western edge of Canada to an internationally recognized research center that has become the template for responsible and effective patient-centered medical cannabis access around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, I share this story with you today to reflect that had the bill that you’re currently considering been in effect at the time of my arrest in 2000, all of the wisdom and deliberation of Judge Higginbotham would have been for naught, and his words of praise would ultimately have meant very little, for he would have had no choice but to sentence me to a mandatory 2 year prison term. This would have affected my life and the lives of the VICS’ 900 members in innumerous ways.

It would have robbed my wife and I of our wedding in the summer of 2002 and of the subsequent birth of my daughter Sophie; would have negatively impacted my ability to continue my studies and research; and it would have prevented my candidacy and election to Victoria City Council, where my focus has been on ending homelessness in our region, promoting public health approaches to substance use, and increasing food security for Vancouver Island.

Additionally, a lengthy prison term would have led to the end of the good work being done by the VICS, which includes supplying organic cannabis and cannabis-based therapies to over 900 critically and chronically ill Canadians, and participating in and publishing more medical cannabis research than any other organization in the nation, including Health Canada.

This experience has given me the opportunity to consult with a number of U.S. states in the creation of their own patient-centered medical cannabis policies, and to assist the Israeli Ministry of Health with their nascent federal medical cannabis access program. None of this would have been possible under C-15.

According to the Canadian Addiction Survey conducted by the Canadian Center for Substance Abuse in 2004, there are currently over one million Canadians currently using cannabis for medical purposes, and yet less than 3000 are currently protected from arrest and prosecution through Health Canada’s Marijuana Medical Access Regulations, a federal program that has been found unconstitutional five times in as many years for overly-restricting legal access to medical cannabis. When coupled with an ever-increasing national arrest rate for cannabis related crimes and the mandatory minimums proposed in C-15, we have a recipe for disaster that could impact tens of thousands of Canadian patients.

In an effort to save on costs and control the quality of their medicine, many of Canada’s medical cannabis users currently produce their own cannabis, at times sharing it with fellow patients. Cannabis enforcement in Canada casts a wide net, and will inevitably ensnare cancer patients, people living with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C sufferers and those affected by MS, epilepsy and chronic pain who currently benefit from the use of cannabis. As a result of mandatory minimum sentences, judges will be powerless to stop this unjust application of criminal law on Canada’s critically and chronically ill, or to prevent the unnecessary suffering that is sure to follow.

Despite incredibly strong evidence from federal studies, independent academic research, and the experience of our American neighbors that mandatory minimums are ineffective at reducing substance use or addiction, the Justice Minister has defended this bill by suggesting that Canadians are generally supportive of such laws. Although I have no doubt that Canadians wish to see a reduction in problematic substance use and associated crime, they deserve policies that will actually achieve this goal, and not ill considered responses that have been proven to actually increase judicial and incarceration costs as well as the transmission of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C with no positive impact on drug-related crime, violence or addiction.

Additionally, the drug court exemption provided in Bill C-15 will only be applicable in the few Canadian jurisdictions that host these courts, and the evidence from both Canada and the U.S. shows that despite the best of intentions drug courts have a very poor success rate and are of questionable efficacy at reducing substance use, addiction and crime. I ask this committee to consider how a person suffering from cancer or HIV/AIDS who uses medical cannabis to relieve the symptoms of their condition or the side effects of treatment could possibly benefit by being diverted into a drug court program that prohibits and subsequently punishes the very use of this medicine through incarceration? Perhaps more pressingly, how does our society as a whole benefit from the perhaps unanticipated but unavoidable persecution of critically and chronically ill Canadians?

As a fellow elected official, I often seek the public’s opinion on major matters under consideration, and can understand the desire to have our federal drug policy reflect the thoughts, values and beliefs of most Canadians. However, the members of this committee would do well to remember that for the last 10 years every national poll conducted on medical cannabis shows that over 80% of Canadians support medical access to cannabis. This is true across all provinces and party lines.

Additionally, over 50% of Canadians now support an end to cannabis prohibition, which is a far larger mandate than any of the national parties received during the last federal election. However, in matters of such huge importance to both public health and public safety, we need to allow evidence to trump both ideology and public opinion. In regards to mandatory minimums, the evidence is abundantly clear: they simply don’t work. Extensive studies conducted on mandatory minimum sentences throughout the world show that Bill C-15 won’t reduce substance use, won’t reduce crime and violence, and simply won’t make Canadians any safer. In fact, quite the contrary: Bill C-15 will further entrench a failed criminal justice approach to substance use, and will inevitably add to the suffering of some of our sickest citizens.

In fact, C-15 will debase every segment of society it touches: from the police officers saddled with the difficult job of enforcing these ineffective laws, to the judges forced to incarcerate otherwise law abiding citizens and to imprison critically and chronically ill Canadians and those working so hard to help them.

Canadians want and deserve laws based on science, reason and compassion, not fear, prejudice and misinformation. Ladies and gentlemen of this Committee, I assure you there is no single bill that you’ll consider during your term in office that has a greater potential to needlessly squander tax payer funds, to lead to violations of both human rights and civil liberties, and to increase unnecessary suffering and the spread of disease than the bill before us today.

As elected officials we have a clear moral, ethical and legal responsibility to review the available evidence while considering the potential impact of new legislation on the electorate. In regards to Bill C-15, that can only lead us to a single logical conclusion: for the sake of each and every
Canadian, parliament must strike down Bill C-15.

Thank you for your time and attention, and for your good work on this important matter;
I look forward to your questions. ~


While Bill C-15 will cause much damage to Canadians through incarceration, Stephen Harper thinks its a hoot to sing “I get HIGH with a little help from my friends”, from

“Stephen Harper is singing a song about an act, passing a joint, that would under C-15 qualify him for a 6 month Mandatory Minimum prison sentence for ‘trafficking’ marijuana” said Jacob Hunter of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation, “This Conservative government wants to throw people in jail for an act as simple as passing a joint, yet has no problem sending it’s leader out to sing about it; the hypocrisy of this government is astounding”In 2007, Stephen Harper attacked the Beatles for contributing to a “drug culture” that he vowed to combat. Now, two years later, he is singing perhaps the Beatles most popular, and blatant, song about using marijuana.

“The fact is that this Prime Minister’s legislation would throw John Lennon in jail right beside Marc Emery if he were alive today” continued Hunter, “Mr. Prime Minister, John Lennon didn’t belong in jail, Marc Emery doesn’t belong in jail, and the 50,000 Canadians arrested for marijuana possession last year don’t belong in jail; it is time to end this rank hypocrisy and end marijuana prohibition.” ~

Stephen Harper = Hypocrite

Prohibition and the War on Drugs has become an extremely lucrative, institutionalized part of our government. Government agencies profit greatly from this war against people. Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on punishment instead of social and community programs that will help people overcome poverty, mental health problems and addictions which prevent crime in a much more effective, humane and compassionate manor that Canadians have always been known and praised for. The Conservatives are also not distinguishing the fact that most “violent drug crime” is not being committed by drug users (mere possession or petty theft is their usual charge) but by those who set out to profit from selling illicit substances – the prohibition created black market is literally a gift to organized crime from our government. ( Al Capone, anyone?)

Retired Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper thinks we should legalize drugs after what he witnessed fighting on the front lines of the “war on drugs.” Norm is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which any citizen can join at

We’ve come a long way since “Just Say No” – now it’s time for all of us to “Just Say Know“. Education is the key…. right now the Conservatives are depending on you to rely on their misinformation, prove to them you can’t and won’t be fooled.

For even more info on Bill C-15, including how to write Canadian Senators with your own views about Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, please visit

I hope the information I have compiled helps my fellow Canadians see through the Tory “Tough On Crime’ Mantra and recognize the obvious – that Bill C-15 is an abhorrent and deceitful attempt to gain votes by praying on the fear of all Canadians.

Shame on Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

As I mentioned and illustrated above, opponents of Bill C-15 have provided a plethora of research, studies and testimony regarding Bill C-15. I feel it is important to list all pertinent information (as well as the links to show where I received it) and ask again, where is the evidence from the Conservatives to support Bill C-15? That is also a question you can pose to your Member of Parliament. How’d They Vote? lists who voted yes, no, or who abstained. For those of you with Conservative and Liberal MPs who voted yes, ask them how they could support a bill that will potentially make your community less safe, cost taxpayers millions more in judicial and correctional spending and will no doubt unnecessarily damage the lives of too many Canadians. Don’t be afraid to inquire with Liberal MP’s who showed no backbone and passed the bill because they did not want to be called “soft” on crime. Don’t you think your MP should be “smart” on crime instead?

To learn more about cannabis and the origins of prohibition I highly recommend you watch the award winning Canadian Documentary “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High“, and if you can, read the two best books I have ever read about prohibition: “Reefer Madness – A History of Marijuana” and “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” by Jack Herer. (provided free online by the author so everyone can read it)

Additional info and media reports:

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights EVIDENCE CONTENTS Monday, May 4, 2009
Testimony From:
Mr. Hugh Lampkin (Vice-President, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users)
Ms. Deborah Small (Executive Director, Break the Chains)
Mr. Kirk Tousaw (Beyond Prohibition Foundation)
Mr. Gord Perks (Councillor, Toronto City Council, and Chair, Toronto Drug Strategy Implementation Plan)
Mr. Jerome Paradis (Member, Board of Directors, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP))
Mr. Philippe Lucas (Executive Director, Vancouver Island Compassion Society and Canadians for Safe Access)
Professor Eugene Oscapella (Barrister and Solicitor, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Ottawa, As an Individual)

Testimony of Mary Price
Vice President and General Counsel
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)
Prepared for the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Canada
October 28, 2009

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Bill for Drug Offenses” Petition @ Care2petitionsite

Campaign: The Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy
(CSSDP) No to Bill C-15 Petition @ ipetitions

The BC Compassion Club Society
Stop Bill C-15 Facebook Group (6 997 Members)

Crush Bill C-15 Facebook Group (939 members)

STOP BILL C-26, now C-15! Facebook Group (5 130 members)

A message to Canada: Don’t repeat mistakes of U.S. ‘war on drugs’

By Deborah Peterson Small May 25, 2009

YouTube playlist of Bill C-15 Committee Meetings

Bill C-15 Could Fill Prisons

Law and Order Ottawa: Bill C-15 is wrong approach to drugs

Canada’s war on drugs bucks the global trend

Georgia Straight – October 22, 2009

`Tough’ drug bill all about politics
Toronto Star – May 10, 2009

Plan for minimum, mandatory drug sentences draws fire
National Post – May 3, 2009

Expert doubts mandatory sentences effective – Feb 25, 2009


Total correctional-services expenditures in 2005-06: almost $3 billion

Share spent on custodial services or prisons: 71 percent

Associated policing and court costs in 2005-06: more than $10 billion

Number of correctional facilities in Canada in 2005-06: 192

Annual cost of incarcerating a federal female prisoner in 2004-05: $150,000 to $250,000

Annual cost of incarcerating a federal male prisoner in 2004-05: $87,665

Daily cost of incarcerating a provincial prisoner in 2004-05: $141.78

Daily cost of alternatives such as probation, bail supervision, and community supervision: $5 to $25


No Evidence

~From 40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd. SESSION Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights EVIDENCE CONTENTS Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thank you very much.

Thank you for coming today, Minister.

I think this is a very significant bill because it does show a very changed direction, in terms of Canada’s drug strategy. I think the central question before this committee in examining the bill, and I want to put to you, is the question of mandatory minimums for drug crimes.

You’re probably familiar with the justice department report from 2002 that pointed out that mandatory minimums are the least effective in relation to drug offenses. Certainly in the U.S., where there was a huge movement to mandatory minimums, they’re now moving away from that. Many states are repealing their mandatory minimums.

One question I have for you is this. What evidence do you or the department or your government have that mandatory minimums will work for drug crimes, and will you table that evidence? I think we need to see what studies you rely on. Or is this just a continuation of a political position the Conservative government carries?

I think we also have to consider the consequences of this bill if it were approved as it is. For example, mandatory minimums that are less than two years would be an issue, for sure, for the provincial courts and prison system. They would bear the costs of that. So I’d like to ask you directly what you have estimated in cost to the provinces for the implementation of this bill. Secondly, what increase in the size of the prison population would result? I’m sure you’ve done this research to know what the consequences of this are.

I guess to point out what a blunt instrument this bill is and how it’s using this hammer approach for all aspects, I’d like to raise this question with you. How do you believe that a mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of one plant of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking would stop organized crime or gang-related crime?

Finally, could you offer any observations? Do you think the war on drugs in the U.S. has been a success?

Can I have half an hour on that one, Mr. Chairman?

You’ve covered quite a bit of ground, Ms. Davies, I have to admit.

Your first comment had to do with mandatory prison terms. I agree with you–

For drug crimes specifically.

Yes, for drug crimes. So you have no trouble with mandatory penalties for gangs or anything else? That would be good.

No, no, I’m not talking about that; I’m talking about mandatory minimums for drug crimes, and what evidence you have on that.

I have no trouble with that.

I first of all believe…and the government has taken this as a comprehensive approach. As you will know, under the national anti-drug strategy we’re getting the message out to particularly young people that drugs are a bad idea, that this is not the way to go in life. We’re doing that through education and advertising. We’re working with non-governmental groups and government organizations to try to get the message out. I approve of that.

I just talked to the Liberal MP about drug courts; I agree with that.

You say we’re using a club on this. I disagree. I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable about sending to jail for a year somebody who’s bringing drugs into this country for the purposes of trafficking. I think they should go to jail–

For one plant.

–if they are importing drugs for the purposes of trafficking. And that’s a determination of the court.

As I indicated, too, if you’re speaking with respect to grow-ops, which are specifically identified, you could have a grow-op of 100 plants. You may have sold 95 plants yesterday and have just five plants left. Well, guess what? If you’re in the business of trafficking, you’re in the business of trafficking.

But I did make it clear that this bill is not directed at possession by the person who grows a plant and who’s not in the trafficking business. Again, it would be….

Go ahead.

I respect your opinion on that, but my question is what evidence do you have that mandatory minimums for these drug crimes will actually work, that they’re actually deterrents? What evidence is there?

It’s been a long time, Ms. Davies, since we’ve had a number of these mandatory penalties here, but we’re absolutely convinced, from our consultation with Canadians, that this is exactly what Canadians want us to do. We want to send out the right–

Do you have evidence?

We have the evidence that Canadians have told us that.

Any studies?

With respect to resources, I can tell you that this bill is welcomed across this country. You can check with the attorneys general, in British Columbia and other jurisdictions here. They want us to take action on drugs–and gangs, admittedly; they want both in there.

So we’ve introduced both of those, and we’ve received widespread support at the provincial level. I can assure you that with respect to my colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, the resources are there, and will be there for this and indeed for all the legislation we have introduced to Parliament.

I hope you get behind us. I’ve got to tell you something: check with your constituents on this.

Oh, I do, regularly.

I think the people will say, look, the Conservatives are on the right track.

I take it you have no evidence, though, about mandatory minimums.

You have to send out a strong message to the people who are in the business of destroying these things there.

We have the mandate of the Canadian people–

But you have no evidence to offer.

–and they have told us, Ms. Davies, that this is what they want to see us move on.

The Chair:

Thank you, Ms. Davies. Your time is up.

40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd. SESSION Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights EVIDENCE CONTENTS Monday April 27th 2009

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Thank you very much.

First of all, thank you to the witnesses for coming today. It’s very interesting to hear your testimony. We don’t often have witnesses come to a committee and just tell us, point blank, to abandon this bill, to get rid of this bill, that it’s no good from beginning to end. So I think that’s a message we need to consider very carefully.

We had the minister here last Wednesday. I tried to get him to tell us what evidence he had that mandatory minimums work. Unfortunately, he couldn’t offer any. I also wondered what the costs were going to be. I think that’s so important. In terms of a royal commission and an independent panel, these are things that should be done before embarking on something like this, not after.

One of the two things I’d really like to get at is who this bill is really aimed at. There’s a suggestion that it’s going to go after the big dealers and the kingpins and get all of these violent people off the street. The fact that the drug courts are in there suggests to me that the more low-level folks are the ones who are the easy targets, and that it’s those people this bill is really aimed at. I’d be interested in your observation in terms of who you think would be impacted most by this bill.

And second, in terms of the impact of mandatory minimums, both on individuals affected and on the justice system as a whole, former Judge Paradis, a provincial court judge from B.C., said that he thinks mandatory minimums in this case would be a great motivator for trials and would jam up the court system. Basically, people are going to plead not guilty. They’re going to do everything they can to avoid a mandatory minimum.

We don’t have the evidence before us, but I wonder–and I’m addressing this to Ms. Lyons, Mr. Jones, Mr. Elliott, and Mr. Norton–if you have any information in terms of what you think would be the impact on the justice system overall. Do we have any idea of what the cost would be? Has anybody tried to figure this out? You are holding up a very thick binder. Maybe there’s some information in there.

I feel that the committee needs to know this before we blindly go ahead and adopt this very radical approach to something about which we have no evidence to say it will even work. Whatever we think about drug policy overall, will mandatory minimums work? That’s really the question we’re trying to grapple with.

Mr. Craig Jones (Executive Director, John Howard Society of Canada):

Ms. Libby Davies:
Do you have any information on costs?
next intervention previous intervention

Mr. Craig Jones:
Yes. You can have this.

Ms. Libby Davies:
What is it?

Mr. Craig Jones:
This is a volume of peer-reviewed evidence, international in scope, studying the effects and consequences of mandatory minimum sentences. This is the evidence the minister wouldn’t provide for you, because virtually all of it comes down against mandatory minimums.

Now I’ll go to your direct questions.

The international experience–not only that of the United States–on mandatory minimum sentences is that they have a net-widening effect, number one. They gather up more and more people at lower and lower levels of criminality. Specifically in the United States, where mandatory sentences have been, as it were, perfected, they have had the effect of growing the rate of incarceration to historically high levels. You know, or you should know, that the United States is the world’s leading incarcerator at this time.

Ms. Libby Davies:
And has its drug use gone down, by the way?

Mr. Craig Jones:
No, its drug use has not gone down, nor has the rate of crime gone down anywhere proportionate to the growth in the rate of incarceration.

Number two, they do clog up the court systems.

Number three, they transfer discretion to prosecutors and police officers, but surreptitiously. They do not have the intended effects on the discretion of judges, because in the international evidence, judges and prosecutors surreptitiously subvert the mandatory sentences in order to ameliorate the harsher consequences.

Ms. Libby Davies:
Is there any disproportionate impact on race, disability, or visible minorities generally? That’s something we’ve seen in the States. I don’t know whether that’s in some of the evidence that has been gathered.

Mr. Craig Jones:
That is one of the signal lessons from the United States. Mandatory sentences fall most disproportionately on populations already disadvantaged or racialized. All of that is in the international literature, notwithstanding Dr. Plecas’ finding that it is methodologically unsound.

I would really like to see his deconstruction of the methodological problems in the literature that he–

Ms. Libby Davies:
As a matter of interest, how many studies are you aware of? Can you give us an estimate? Is there a whole breadth of studies on this issue? I know of some that are being done, or have been done, in the United States. Anyway, maybe you can provide that information.

Mr. Craig Jones:
There are probably 35 in this volume alone, and this is out of date by a couple of years.

Ms. Libby Davies:

Mr. Elliott, could you respond?

Mr. Richard Elliott (Executive Director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network):
I might briefly add some information from both the U.S. context and from Vancouver.

When you look at the experience in the U.S., studies have shown that just over 5% of federal prisoners who are in prison for offenses involving crack cocaine and 11% of federal drug defendants are high-level dealers, but it’s mostly low-level dealers who have been spending time in prisons in the U.S. In fact, to answer your specific question on the differential impacts on different populations, what we’ve seen with the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences in the U.S. is that the federal incarceration of women of colour, and specifically black women, has increased by 888%. They are the people who have borne the brunt of mandatory minimum sentences: poor people, black people.

In Vancouver, we have some data from the Vancouver injection drug user study, which samples some of those who are the most vulnerable and most street-involved people who use illegal drugs. Of those, 20% reported having dealt drugs, and it was usually small-scale dealing. In fact, it was people who reported factors associated with the highest levels of addiction, such as high-intensity drug use, who were most associated with drug dealing.

The activities they engage in as dealers are direct street-level selling, 82% of them; middling or carrying drugs, 35% of them; and steering or sending addicts toward dealers, 19% of them. The most common reasons they gave for engaging in this drug-dealing behaviour were to support their own drug addiction or to pay off debts related to drug use.

These are the people who are most easily targeted for the enforcement of mandatory minimum sentences. These are the people who are the most vulnerable. We’re got lots of experience from the U.S. We’ve got data from Canada that says the same kinds of patterns would play out here.

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